A fanciful blend of the religious and the commercial

By MPP Toby Barrett

This year, for the first time in decades, I had an opportunity to attend the Toronto Santa Claus Parade – originally known as the Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade.

I actually didn’t get to see the parade, because of the Queen’s Park vote to get college students and faculty back to work, but I did get to walk the completely cleared mile of Bloor Street  — pre-parade — except for one youngster playing street hockey.

Initiated in 1905, the Eaton’s parade was one of the first now-traditional Christmas parades across North America. Every year it ran until 1981. Eaton’s never again organized a Santa Claus Parade. The company itself went bankrupt in 1999.

But look at their legacy – locally our Christmas season is ushered in with the early parades in Port Dover and Caledonia; the Delhi, Dunnville, Cayuga and Hagersville night parades, and Langton’s finale.

Simcoe’s Panorama – Ontario’s original light show – evolved from their previous parade in the 1950s. My wife, Cari, recalls being one of 20 blackbirds in the pie on a float during those early parades.

Then, as now, our local parades continue to draw tremendous crowds of the young and young-at-heart. They remain an iconic spectacle, if you will, of this wonderful time of year – a thrown-together blend of the religious, the commercial, civic pride and just plain fun.

Not one to even try to compete with “the big guy” I showed up at the Port Dover and Caledonia parades on my tractor as “Blue Santa” to explain, ‘if I can cut your taxes you’ll have more money to buy presents for your kids’. Many thought I was trying to represent the Toronto Blue Jays. Truth be known, I’m a hockey guy and an L.A. Kings fan because of our area’s local connections

Hagersville’s night parade, as with Delhi, Dunnville and Cayuga, present a sea of light for welcoming crowds, lit-up farm equipment and tractor trailers, Shriners, a Hereford, and an obstinate goat that ended up being carried the length of the route by its owner. Langton’s parade featured a great selection of light and heavy horses, plus an opportunity afterwards to pick up our tree and do some Port Rowan Christmas shopping.

Christmas spirit always receives a boost locally with, at the flip of a switch, the opening of Simcoe’s Christmas Panorama River of Lights.

Volunteer crews work – as they have for nearly 60 years — to set up the approximately 60 displays. These range from the three little pigs to a red tractor to a plethora of Christmas-related exhibits including horse-drawn wagon rides and lots of hot chocolate. Panorama brings the tales and legends of our youth to life every evening in a stunning display of 300,000 lights looped around and through the trees.

Besides bringing joy and a smile to the face of young and not-so-young, the exhibits attract people from afar – boosting business and our winter tourism economy.

Our area across Haldimand-Norfolk is also blessed with school concerts, church plays and so many other formal and informal festivities. Highlights for me include the Simcoe Salvation Army Concert with the Waterford High School’s Choir, and this year’s presentation of Handel’s Messiah at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Theatre, courtesy Ronald Beckett and Arcady.

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone! And all the best in the New Year!