Yes Lene, There Is a (an Accessible) Santa Claus
At a certain point in life, you realize that the mystical, magical creatures who populated your childhood are perhaps more prosaic in origin. The Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Santa… Adulthood takes over and the world loses a bit of its shine.
And then something happens to make you realize that the magic never went away.
As you know, I’m a big fan of the Toronto Santa Claus Parade. I live close to the parade route, making it easy to pop out to be part of the fun. In the past 18 years, I have shown up in good weather and bad, only ever missing one parade. I love every part of it. The floats, the costumes, the building excitement in the crowd, the sense of community and mutual joy, and the way everyone, adults included, plotzes when Santa finally arrives.
In the last couple of years, it’s been less fun. Something happened and the good-natured Toronto crowd morphed into people who seem to believe going to the Santa Claus Parade was an extreme and very competitive sport. People were no longer there to be part of the crowd, but to make sure that they and their children — including infants who had no idea what was going on — would be first in line. The previous very Canadian awareness of fairness went out the window and latecomers would muscle up in front, regardless of whether this meant blocking the view for children and wheelchair users.
Two years ago, I finally had enough and got in touch with Santa’s elves on Twitter. Yes, of course Santa is on social media. How else would he know who’s naughty and nice?
I advocated for a designated wheelchair area along the parade route and last year, Santa delivered! There were a few kinks along the route to Berczy Park where this area was located, but I ended up being closer than I ever had before. People still put their chairs on the street in front of me, but because I was on the sidewalk, I could see over their heads.
Well, sort of.
This year, I got back in touch with the elves to confirm the location of the designated wheelchair area and have a chat about crowd management. As usual, they were absolutely awesome, representing the Guy in Red with grace, humour, and commitment to accessibility. I sensed that perhaps I had a surprise in store.
The day dawned, cold and wintry. Really cold. For only the second time in my history of attending the parade, I brought a blanket and borrowed a hat from The Boy. I didn’t care if I looked dorky, because even bundled up and covered by a blanket, there were times I envied the little ones, encased in snow suits. Did I mention it was cold?
I arrived at Berczy Park and at first, couldn’t find the wheelchair area. Then the crowds parted and it’s entirely possible that a beam of light appeared through the grey, wooly-looking clouds, shining on a really big sign hung on fencing around an area near the curb. That was one amazing designated wheelchair area!
Interestingly, despite the fencing and the line of wheelchairs, able-bodied latecomers still spied this relatively uncluttered area and headed straight for it, entirely — and obliviously — blocking a seated view, as well as the view of the children just behind us the barricade.
But it didn’t matter. Because the elves had dispatched one of their taller compatriots to be sentry, guarding the integrity of the designated wheelchair area. And every single time, he politely, but firmly, directed able-bodied spectators to go elsewhere.
For the first time in 18 years, I and all the other spectators in wheelchairs had an entirely unimpeded view of the parade. It was incredible. Every single photo in this post is the result of being able to see everything, without having to crop out heads, backs, and bottoms, or using my zoom creatively.
Although I have had fun before, it is nothing like being able to see it all. Thank you to the parade elves for making it possible.
And for proving that yes, there really is a Santa Claus.