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Santa and the parade will return one day

santa clause parade file photo


As founder of the original Fort Macleod Santa Claus Parade in 1982, I can understand and appreciate the disappointment people are feeling about cancelling the 2021 version of the parade.

I see it in comments on FB, and so I want to extend some heartfelt thoughts of support for the organizers, and for the whole community and those southern Albertans who have made this an annual tradition — but yes — miss the parade and festivities around it this time of year.

It’s been a time of disappointments globally since March 2020. And we all know it has been a time of hardship and tragedy for those directly impacted by this pandemic we are all living through. 

The parade and events that we all have loved will hopefully return. I do identify closely with all the volunteers, sponsors and leadership committee for the wonderful Fort Macleod Santa Claus Parade, edition 2021. It hurts very much to take these tough decisions.

I have kept on with helping out festive events and this past two years here, we have had to cancel one of Canada’s biggest music festivals I was president and board member for — Ottawa Bluesfest—which over nine days attracts more than 300,000 people, has some 150 acts, 4,000 volunteers, several hundred contract staff and also is a real economic generator for suppliers and hospitality businesses of the region. 

And yes, we bore the brunt of a lot of criticism for these decisions — so I can relate. 

Ironically, the first Fort Macleod parade in 1982 was born out of a cancellation. In August 1982, Frederik Eaton cancelled the Toronto Santa Claus parade and the outcry against him was huge. It had been televised for many years and I remember thinking — what will children watch this year ?

And so I pitched the idea to the September meeting of the Fort Macleod and District Chamber of Commerce. I heard later, that they thought I might be a few bales short of a load on that one, but, no one thankfully trashed the idea. 

After Thanksgiving  I put big poster boards in the Main Street Office windows to list the organization or business who was going to sponsor a float.

Weeks went by and no one signed in. It was after Remembrance Day that Steve of Home Hardware came in and said, “I am sick of walking by and seeing this blank poster — put down Home Hardware.”

And so it started, and more floats signed the posterboard  those last three weeks of November. We got publicity from as far away as Winnipeg, Edmonton and points in between. It seemed that we were the only Santa Claus parade on the prairies at the time.

The final threat came the night before the parade — that year held the first Saturday in December. Colossal chinook winds came in as we were working late doing signs and other preparations. Around 10 p.m. the power went out in the whole town. We worked through this with flashlights.

I had thought about cancelling the parade all during that day, but we heard Bert Heath — the last horse farmer in the area — had driven his team of old work horses and wagon in, about 15 kilometres from “Out South Macleod.” Bert had made the effort and I resolved — so must we.

Miraculously around 5 a.m. on parade morning the wind had ceased. The first parade marched on at 11 a.m. that day and has for years since giving delight to thousands and bringing the community together to feel the spirit of this time of year. 

An unbroken tradition until things out of anyone’s control there has put it on hold — for now.

I salute all the organizing committees and supporters from 1982 to present. Event planning is listed as one of the top 10 most stressful jobs lists there is — behind front line health, first responders and air traffic controllers. 

Cancelling an event is arguably more stressful than actually holding the event itself, for those of us who do this — we truly love seeing the joy on people’s faces when  the event goes on successfully. That is our motivation for doing this all again, and again. Cancelling sucks — no other way to sugar-coat the down feelings one goes through when you are faced with this decision.

So please keep the faith. Santa and the parade will return to smiles and celebrations.