Remembering the Fort Erie Santa Claus Parade
Submitted by Christine Whelan
Nov.11, 2021, VOL. 3 ISSUE 6
As we get closer to November 20th, and the 2021 Fort Erie Santa Claus Parade, the Observer decided to take a look back, over the years of the parade and embrace the memories of joy that has been bought to the community — each time, wrapping it up, of course, with that ever-popular, much-anticipated Ho! Ho! Ho! in the grande finale.
The earliest image that surfaced was a newspaper clipping from 1950 of a Cinderella float with many characters taken at the bottom of Jarvis Street. So we know that the Fort Erie Santa Claus Parade goes back to at least 1950.
In perusing the Louis McDermott Collection on the Fort Erie Public Library website, as I often do, I found a few photos taken by what was the weekly Fort Erie newspaper then, The Times Review from 1978 and 1979 of festive floats and children with good ol’ St. Nick.
Reaching out on social media, I found that several residents had stories to tell, memories to share, photos to dig up.
At some point after 1950, the parade ceased to be experienced for some time. It was Barbara Boyer who told her story of bringing the parade back to life.
“Resurrected in 1972”
“The Santa Claus Parade was reborn in 1972 by a quartet of ladies at a kitchen table.” Boyer shared. She, Lola Mann, Gerry Hammett, and Nancy Stratton just made the decision.
“Gerry had a daughter a little older than my children. Lola had young children.” And realizing there wasn’t anything like this for their children and others, they decided to organize and re-build a Santa Claus parade.
“Yep, we just did it. The first parade, we went up Jarvis Street, and if you blinked, you missed it.”
They did have a lot of community support, “We had awesome help. We had a lot of people volunteering and offering suggestions and ideas.”
At the time, Barbara owned The Times Review so promotion of the parade came easy. “The staff at the paper never knew helping put this together was in their job descriptions.” She laughed warmly. “There was no budget. Just terrific folks who offered help with prizes, food, floats, etc. It was fun.”
By the second year, more people became involved. “And then it grew from there. The E.L. Crossley Tour Band joined in. Eventually, the Fort Erie Secondary School got a float. We invited the Fire Company and they brought their trucks and horns, giving out candy.”
Then the tides of change rolled in again. “When I sold the newspaper in the early ’80s, we turned it over to Sandra Flake. She ran it for a couple of years. It then became a town thing, which is where, I think, it belongs.”
Fort Erie Residents Remember
I had posted on a popular Facebook Group, Fort Erie – “Our Town”, asking residents if they had any photos or memories they’d like to share. Sign of the times; research.
Terry Anger recalled, “I have great memories being in the fire department. Loved seeing the children’s eyes light up when we were handing out candy canes. Lots of the elderly loved getting them also. It was a favourite time for all of us.”
Amy Farynycz shared, “I’ve walked in the parade for the last eight years with my girls who dance through the streets every year with Peacock School of Dance! So much fun. Looking forward to it.”
Betty Oliver reflected, “We used to walk the parade every year until 1998. My husband passed away in September 1997. My son and I did the parade that year – more or less in his honour.” She shared that there was an article written in The Times Review about it.
Kathy Legault remembered that she and a few others used to walk in the parade with their St. John’s Ambulance Therapy dogs. Lesley Kinghorn commented that her husband has been in every parade since the first one in 1972.
This was a year that stands on its own. With the country in full swing pandemic restrictions, the decision to cancel the parade was made far ahead of time. Also decided, was a replacement for the parade, one that still included Santa Claus.
Fort Erie Festivals and Santa Claus Parade created a drive-in experience with Santa and fireworks. Families drove to the Fort Erie Racetrack parking lot and parked in lines, guided by volunteers, to see Santa and watch fireworks from their cars. It was a creative solution to adversity that will go down in history.
It made me smile to find out that, after chatting with Barbara Boyer one evening about her experiences coordinating the Fort Erie Santa Claus Parade over the years that she did, she had another experience in real-time.
She posted, “The memories you stirred up. After chatting, the darned brain wouldn’t shut off. Oh, the tidbits that came back during the night — exhausted today from the interrupted sleep — but what fun. Just about ten years of memories, and people, and funny incidents. Thank you for the trip down memory lane.”
We often hear that Christmas is magical. In hearing and reading about the memories I’ve surfaced from this “research”, I think we can consider the Santa Claus Parade and all things around it — from the floats to the bands, to the candy and hot chocolate, to the priceless volunteers, and community connections, to, oh yes, we can’t forget, Santa Claus — a magical event shared by all in Fort Erie.
Enjoy the parade!
Photo: Fort Erie Santa Claus Parade, December 5, 1979 (FE Times) FEPL