Source: the Toronto Sun, November 3, 1980.
Santa Claus made his annual trek to Toronto this past weekend, arriving on a float to bring good cheer to children of all ages. Over the next few weeks, he’ll make the rounds of local shopping malls to listen to last-minute gift requests before sending final orders in to his workshop…but only for the nice.
As good and bad children age, they soon discover Santa is either a charming mythological figure who represents the spirit of the season or a semi-benign symbol of consumerism. But to Richard Dildy, Santa was a shield through which adults told lies to impressionable youngsters. For two years, he took his crusade to tell Toronto’s youth the cold, hard truth about jolly old St. Nick to prime locations where his target audience would be found. While his aim was born out of childhood heartbreak, to many onlookers, he was the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Prior to his Santa-education efforts, Dildy, a computer technician who resided in East York, drew media attention in October 1978 for his unique methods of finding companionship. Having separated from his wife, Dildy sank into depression as efforts to build new relationships in local bars and discos led to a collection of fake phone numbers. He took a piece of cardboard and wrote “SEPERATED AND LONELY! I NEED A GOOD WOMAN FOR LOVE AND COMPANIONSHIP. POSSIBLE MARRIAGE! WILL CONSIDER SMALL CHILDREN. MUST BE SINCERE!”
After a ten minute walk along Yonge Street from Dundas to King, he received fifteen phone calls. The number of interested women grew as word of his quest spread, culminating in a short article in Jet magazine. After hundreds of inquiries, Dildy found his partner—his estranged wife. The attention his signage drew led Dildy to create more, which he proudly carried or donned to protest various injustices he saw in the city.
Sometime between 5 and 7 p.m. on the evening of December 6, 1979, Dildy shouted to holiday shoppers at the Dundas Street entrance to the Eaton Centre that Santa Claus was a fake and children shouldn’t be raised to believe in such fantasies. As a crowd gathered, some of whom were laughing at Dildy, police told him to leave. He departed, but after, in the words of the Sun, “imbibing some Christmas spirit,” he returned several hours later to resume his protest. Crowds gathered on both sides of Yonge Street to listen before he was arrested for causing a disturbance. Refusing to sign a release to appear in court at a later date, he spent the rest of the evening in jail.
He gave local media the following reasons for his contempt for the jolly old elf:
This is a scientific world we’re living in. We’re going to the moon and outer space, but we’re still telling our children that reindeer fly…All I was saying is that people have to stop lying to their children. I say give kids science and the new math. But don’t give them any fantasies and red-nosed reindeer flying around in the sky.
Dildy’s case went to trial in February 1980. He showed up at Old City Hall with a sign that read “DOWN WITH SANTA! UP WITH TRUTH! STOP LYING TO THE KIDS! SANTA CLAUS MUST BE EXPOSED!” He restated his previous grievances and added that the holiday was over-commercialized. Lawyer Charles Roach argued that Dildy’s message singled him out for police attention amid the carollers, charity bell ringers, and street preachers who were in the vicinity. On February 22, Dildy was given an absolute discharge, with Judge S. W. Long ruling that it was only the act of shouting and not his message that was cause for alarm.
Perhaps that judgment emboldened Dildy to raise the stakes when the 1980 holiday season rolled around. The Santa Claus Parade was scheduled earlier than usual that year, but Dildy was prepared when the procession came down University Avenue on November 2. Armed with a sign that read “KIDS! SANTA IS A PHONEY AND FULL OF BALONEY SO PULL A CHRISTMAS PRANK AND GIVE HIS BEARD A YANK!,” Dildy joined the parade and yelled, “There is no Santa Claus!” To cries of “Get his man off the street” from the crowd, he was arrested and charged with the same offence as the year before. This time, he told the press that the charges did not deter him but made him stronger: “I intend to intensify my struggle.”
Defending himself in court, Dildy revealed what lay at the heart of his crusade: preventing children from suffering the same disappointment and adverse effects he had experienced when he discovered that Santa didn’t exist. He claimed to have been so devastated that he lost interest in his schoolwork, which caused his grades to plummet. “I only wanted to save children from possible harm,” he told Judge David Scott. The bench was not impressed—Scott noted that “attacking Santa Claus is akin to attacking motherhood and apple pie and the results are predictable.” The judge offered some holiday leniency and gave the unemployed Dildy forty-five days to pay a fifty-dollar fine instead of the usual five days when the verdict was issued on December 23. When Crown Attorney Peter Griffiths raised no objection, Scott noted: “There is a Santa Claus and his name is Griffiths. How can I go against Santa Claus?”
After Dildy’s death in 1988, freelance photographer Al Peabody, who befriended him after covering one of his protest walks, remembered him with fondness. “He was a true activist,” Peabody told the Star. “Maybe his methods would make him seem like a crackpot, but he was no crackpot. I had the greatest regard for him and respected him highly.”
Additional material from the October 12, 1978, December 7, 1979, February 8, 1980, February 23, 1980, November 3, 1980, December 23, 1980, and January 12, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star; and the December 7, 1979, November 3, 1980, and December 23, 1980 editions of the Toronto Sun.