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Santa Claus in Conversation

November 21, 2023

Santa Claus (Wayne Lott) at Slices and Scoops

For 15 years, Wayne Lott was a firefighter for Ajax’s fire department. One of the department’s outreach programs was to help with Christmas celebrations at hospitals and long term care facilities. Hoping to have Santa come to visit, they were looking for volunteers, and Wayne offered to help as he could. In his early years as Santa Claus, Wayne had to wear a beard, but he found that he enjoyed the connections that he made. “The chief would let us take one of the trucks to the hospital or home, and we really had a good time.”

Wayne became a captain with the fire department, but was transferred to public works after he had a heart attack. He worked ploughing snow, commuting down to the city from a trailer park on Balsam Lake. In 2004, Wayne moved to Fenelon Falls and retired, because he needed to be there for a family member. After becoming a full-time local resident, Wayne plowed snow for the City of Kawartha Lakes for three years, and is well remembered around Fenelon Falls as a gas attendant at the UPI and Ultramar.

Shortly after he moved to Fenelon Falls, a customer pulled into the Ultramar and took an interest in Wayne. The driver worked for Cherry Hill Programs, a company that specialized in experiential photography at tourist destinations, and immediately recognized that Wayne had a round face like Santa. He saw that he would make a great Santa Claus and encouraged him to start growing his beard. At the time, Fenelon Falls’ Floyd Fletcher had been Santa Claus for many years. In fact, the community was home to Santa’s Choice Motorcycle Club, comprised of Santa Claus and his look-alikes.

Especially in the holiday season, there were a lot of places that wanted Santa Claus to visit, and it soon became a full-time, year round profession. “I bet half the people in town don’t know my birth name, it’s just Santa to them.” Becoming Santa Claus is more than a job, it’s a calling. “When you are out doing your shopping and see someone at the store, you are their Santa Claus.”

Santa Claus particularly enjoys spending time at Santa’s Village. “It is another world when you walk through that gate. The first stop is the toy shop where the kids make toys, then give them back to me so I can give them to kids who don’t have a mommy or daddy. There are all kinds of rides and I love to go on the rides with the kids—especially the roller coaster and zip line. I asked the girls who work there to show me how to land properly from the zip line—but there are hundreds of kids on each side of the river laughing, especially when I land. I go on the Ferris Wheel, the horse ride and a squeeze into these little air planes. At Santa’s village, it’s not just about talking to Santa, it’s about interacting. I even go swimming with the visitors.”

Santa has spent a lot of time at shopping malls, including 19 years at the Barrie Mall.  “In Barrie they had a breakfast with Santa. The first time they had it there where fifty kids, then there wasn’t a seat in the mall and there were 350 people waiting. I enjoying being involved with the kids, going on a train ride through the mall, and playing all kinds of games. When children come to see Santa, either they want to believe or they don’t, and they want the best day of their life, and that is what I try to give them. There is more to it than just sitting on Santa’s knee, then making way for the next one. Seeing Santa is something special.”

Santa appeared on a live Breakfast Television broadcast for 12 years. “I would go down an escalator at the Sheraton Hotel across from Nathan Phillips Square. Hundreds of people would be gathered there, and I would go on the stage, say a few words, and then go to the chair, where kids could have their picture taken with Santa.”

Each year on the last Saturday in November, Santa Claus enjoys being part of Santa Day in Fenelon Falls. During the day he visits Westland Insurance (formerly Stewart-Morrison or Palmer Insurance), having his picture taken with local kids. Then at 4:30 he heads across town to be part of the Santa Claus Parade. As he makes the annual journey up Lindsay and Colborne Streets, Santa does not just ride in the sleigh, he is very animated in showing his delight in seeing the crowds. He calls out kids’ name as the float makes it way up the street. With all his activity, the sleigh bounces and reindeer bob up and down as they conclude the night time parade. The local volunteers do a great job of looking after Santa, making sure he has a meal as he prepares for the parade. After the parade, the sleigh takes him right to his home.

Over the years that Santa Claus has been coming to Santa Day in Fenelon Falls, the event has really grown. “It has gotten bigger, with more people coming out. It has made a big difference having an automatic machine at the insurance office for photographs, and the grand stands to sit and watch the parade. Every year something new is added, with new people getting involved—horse and wagon rides, strawberry shortcake, Churches contributing warm up locations, and the Town Crier Athol Hart. I like that it is not about money, money, money—everyone can take part and it is the town all coming together. I see the happiness.”

Santa Claus is someone who is instantly recognizable wherever he goes. Kids have a special rapport with Santa, from the first time that they meet him. Many kids have an openness in talking to Santa that they would not have with anyone else. “They pour their hearts out and want someone to listen to them. Often, I have no real answer, but at least I can give them hope. I have learned never to promise anything, because deeper down they will be hurt if it does not come true. I often say, ‘I will see what I can do.’ I also often ask the kids: ‘Can you do me a favour when you get up in the morning and put on your listening ears so you can hear Mom and Dad?’”

“Sometimes, kids ask very difficult questions: Can you bring daddy home? Can you bring Mommy home? Can you help mom stop drinking? I don’t want anything for Christmas, I just want my family together.” Santa makes a great effort to remember each kid who comes to visit. “When I was at the Barrie Mall, one year, twin girls came to visit with Mom and Dad, but the next year it was just one little girl with her parents. Her sister had passed away right after Christmas. I gave her a big hug, and it was amazing the connection we had. About the fourth year they came back, a little boy had been added to their family, which helped to fill the gap. They came to see me for about twelve years. … When a kid tells me something, it stays with me, unless they tell me otherwise. I only broke that bond once, and I had a talk with the mother. She was not picking up on how her son was feeling.”

Often kids bring a gift or a card with a drawing as a present. “If it has their phone number or their address, I always send them a letter or I call. I often ask if they like the gifts that I gave them this year.” Being Santa Claus is a time-consuming job. “I spend my whole life being Santa, to tell you the truth. I never stop thinking about it. I buy cards to send to the kids, and write a message in each one. There are four that I phone—the ones that have lost someone important in their lives.”

Being Santa Claus is such a commitment that, “to be a good Santa you need to have a good partner. My wife backs me all the way, and she is a good critic too. If something is not going well, she will tell me. Gail is my Mrs. Claus.” Santa and Mrs. Claus have 18 grand children and 9 great-grandkids. “They all call me Santa Poppa.”

It is a very different experience for kids to have Santa Claus as their great-grandfather. “They brag about it. A couple of the times they brought their friends over to meet Santa. Then their friends say, ‘but he has no red suit and he is just like you and I?’ I don’t dress as Santa to go to their Christmas.”

Wherever Santa Claus goes, he is treated to cookies. “I’ve never eaten a cookie that I didn’t like, but now macadamia is my favourite. Chocolate chip used to be my favourite, but a girl came to me with a bag of macadamia nut cookies. Right behind her was her brother with a box of Oreos. But when I tried those macadamia cookies, they were special.”

“I will be 81 years old in January, and being Santa Claus is the best thing that I have done in my life. I have had a lot of jobs over the years, and being Santa is definitely the most fulfilling. I think I get more out of being Santa than the kids do. I get to see them grow up, and see the changes in their lives. It’s hard to explain the feeling that you get, and my wife feels the same way as she watches. I will do this as long as I can. … There is a special magic if you believe!”

Santa Day in Fenelon Falls is November 25 from 11 am to 4 pm, with the night-time parade, starting at 5 pm. This year, in addition to the petting zoo, pony rides, and wagon rides, Critter Visits will also be there. Daytime activities will include cookie decorating, ice sculpting, hand bells, carolling, as well as a chance to see the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Grinch, and Santa Claus, of course. The spectacular night time parade has new floats and street performers. For more information see: www.santaday.ca

Fenelon Falls’ Santa Day Committee would like to thank everyone in the community who contributes to making each year a little bigger and better than the one before.

This story is a memory and nobody’s memory is perfect. Sometimes details get a little mixed up, things get forgotten or overlooked, and the perspective is inevitably subjective. If you notice something that not right, have something you would like to tell us, or a memory to share the museum would be happy to hear from you: curator@maryboro.ca

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