Santa's Weston Workshop
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Santa’s Weston Workshop

The Santa Claus Parade was started by the now-defunct Eaton’s department store in 1905 with just one attraction: Santa. This year, on Sunday, November 15, the parade will feature twenty-six floats, twenty-one bands, and more than a million pieces of candy. To get a sneak peek at this year’s edition of the one-hundred-and-five-year-old parade, Torontoist visited its Weston-area workshop last Thursday and talked to the people behind the magic—including the big man himself.

The workshop is full of whimsical sketches of floats, like this one.

All of the parade’s floats are built in the workshop on Wendell Avenue from designs developed by the parade’s architects with input from corporate sponsors. According to Ian Gregory, one of the workshop’s painters and decorators, the average float takes three to five people about three months to complete. And although the floats change from year to year, many of the parts are reused, including the Styrofoam, frames, and engines—one old 1950s Volkswagen engine has been used for decades, and might just be one of the oldest things in the parade. (Thankfully, the parade’s usually dismal website has been updated.)

Does anyone else find Lego cleavage a little disturbing?

Most of the floats feature recognizable characters and products such as Barbie, Lego, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, and even Allan’s Big Foot candies. “Because we’ve got more sponsors, we’ve got more stuff people recognize—more commercial stuff—so things have to be dead on,” Gregory told Torontoist. “Before things used to be generic; we could just put in a bear, and nobody really cared exactly what it looked like. Now Barbie has to look like Barbie…I think that people see something more recognizable—especially these days with the kids—and I think they attach to it much more easily than some bear or something. But as long as it’s Christmas-y, the kids are going to love it.” We asked Santa if there were any changes to his personal float, and he told us that it’s the same as last year’s; his is usually only updated every three or four years.
Even though this is his hundred and fifth parade, Santa still loves coming to Toronto. “I like looking down the parade route and seeing what colour seems to be the magical colour of the year,” Santa explained to us. “It’s amazing, sometimes you can look down and see the throngs of people and there seems to be one colour. One year, everyone was wearing yellow.” Santa, it seems, is also a man of the people, as he only uses his sleigh on Christmas Eve, and when he has to get to Toronto for the parade, he books a flight just like everybody else (though we imagine he has a special landing field at the North Pole).

Ross Morton, left, and Michael Tibollo, right, clowning it up.

This year, more than two thousand people will take part in the parade, including the financial donors who play the parade’s celebrity clowns. “It’s a riot,” Ross Morton, one of the parade’s clowns and the CEO of LOGiQ3, told us. “You just forget about your work and everything you’ve got to deal with, and for one day you have a fantastic time. You take someone who’s staid, conservative, reserved, and almost shy, and all of a sudden, he’s a clown. That’s the beauty of it. Nobody knows who you are, you’re anonymous, and you can do whatever you want. That’s why it’s fun.”
Although it only lasts for a day, the Santa Claus Parade is a year-round endeavor. “We work all year,” Alf Iannarelli, the parade’s director, told Torontoist. “As soon as one is over, we start planning the next one.”
The Santa Claus Parade starts on Sunday, November 15 at 12:30 p.m. at Bloor Street West and Christie Street; to take complete advantage of Yonge-Dundas Square, it now proceeds along Dundas Street West instead of Queen Street West. (The full route is here.) The free Santa Claus Parade Breakfast returns this year, and will be served at Yonge and Dundas Square to five thousand parade-goers from 9 to 11 a.m.
All photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.