It’s his busy time of the year, but jolly ol’ St. Nick made his annual Toronto visit, thrilling the estimated 1 million people lining the streets Sunday to get an early start on their festive cheer during the annual Santa Claus parade.
The route started at Bloor St. W. and Christie St., snaking its way through the streets until it finished at St. Lawrence Market. Prime spots were at a premium, with early birds showing up hours early, armed with blankets and camping chairs, to get a front-row seat. There were also plenty of folks who decided to come later and got creative, making their own bleachers using two ladders and plank placed across their rungs.
“Is Santa real?” asked Jason Chirigoni, 5. “Is it just a guy in a costume?”
His father, Frank reassured him, saying “He’s real. He’s going to be here.”
Doubts of veracity aside, Jason already had his list for the man, asking for a guitar, piano, remote-controlled helicopter and a Star Wars book.
The big man didn’t disappoint when he finally made his appearance.
“I think he saw me,” said Francis Ogola, 4, who was up on her father, Kwame’s, shoulders near Bloor St. and Avenue Rd. “I liked his float best.”
Corralling a bunch of junior parade critics, we asked what their favourites were — with the caveat that they couldn’t say St. Nick’s float because he was obviously number one.
“The Lego one,” said Andrew Cameron, 6.
“I liked the silver ducks,” said Ashley Smith, 5, referring to a Swarovski Crystal-sponsored float that actually featured swans.
While for most the parade was all about fun, several parade-goers contacted the Star to complain that parts of the centre median along University Ave., south of Queen’s Park to Richmond St., was cordoned off, with seats saved for VIPs and the families of corporate sponsors (of which the Toronto Star is one.)
“It’s a yearly ritual for us to go down there and we usually go to the same spot each year, along University Ave., but the whole centre island was cordoned off,” said Bruce Russell, who brought his kids Ainsley, 7, and Cameron, 4.
Parade president Peter Beresford said seating areas are saved for sponsors every year. The exact location has moved around, but Beresford says the centre median will be used again next year. He called that a small gesture to the companies who raise the $1.6 million it costs to run the parade.
“The parade is sponsored by companies,” he explained. “It’s not sponsored at all by any public funding whatsoever. All of the money comes from sponsors, and so for 31 years, the way we thank them is by providing some special seating for them, as a special thank you for everything they do.”