HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L.
Thanks to the Rotary Club of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the tradition of bringing Santa to remote communities along the Labrador coast is taking place again this year.
It’s a tradition that has been happening for over half a century.
The club’s past-president, Geoff Goodyear, describes communities along the Labrador coast as amazing as well as isolated.
The Santa to the Coast project is a way to bring the famous man in red and the magic of Christmas to children living in these communities.
The tradition started 58 years ago, Goodyear said, when the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force stationed in Goose Bay began collecting gifts for children living along the coast. The gifts were packed onboard a DeHaviland Single Otter on skis which then headed for the coast.
“When ice conditions permitted, Santa would land on the harbour and hold audience and dispense gifts. When conditions were poor, gifts were often dropped by parachute,” Goodyear said in a write-up about the project.
The Christmas project was handed over to the Rotary Club of Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 1990. The club has been running the project ever since.
Goodyear said there have been some changes over the years. There are now landing strips in the communities they visit and throwing packages from an aircraft is no longer permitted.
Goodyear was eager to send accolades to Universal Helicopters and Air Borealis (formerly Air Labrador) for their unwavering support of the project over the years.
“Rotarians and their families and various community groups gather two days before (the trip to the north) at Universal Helicopters’ hanger and we pack up to 700 gift bags for the kids,” Goodyear explained. “It’s an assembly-line format and we have a great time.
“Then the gifts are transferred to the Air Borealis’ operations where they load it all aboard a DeHaviland Twin Otter. Any space that’s left is stuffed with Rotarians who double as Santa and his elves.”
This year’s adventure is planned for Dec. 15 when Santa will be travelling to Rigolet, Postville, Makkovik and Hopedale.
“Visited communities usually take this opportunity to hold grand holiday events including Santa Claus parades,” Goodyear noted. “There are always large crowds to greet Santa despite temperatures which can dip as low as -30C.
“The program continues to be a great catalyst not only for club fellowship, but also for connecting with remote regional communities.”
Goodyear has been photo-documenting the project for about a decade.
“To see those children come out on the ramp to see Santa is really something. It’s a phenomenal start to Christmas both personally and for the (Rotary) club,” he said.
Current Rotary Club president Mike Spurrell has been part of the Santa to the Coast project for the past eight years. He has had the pleasure of assisting Santa on two trips to the North.
“I am truly proud of the long-standing commitment that this club and its members, as well as its community and business partners, have taken on for so many years,” Spurrell said via e-mail.
There is a tremendous amount of behind the scenes in preparing for Santa to the Coast, he said.
However, for Spurrell, and the other Rotarians, the reward is well worth the effort.
“To see the joy on the faces of the children, parents and elders alike when we land with Santa and start handing out those packages is truly heartwarming and really brings out the meaning of the Christmas Season for so many of us,” Spurrell said.