Fenelon Falls’ Santa Day, night parade, a hit for 20 straight years

By Geoff Coleman

Fenelon Falls' Santa Day, night parade, a hit for 20 straight years
Fenelon Falls Live's Mike McConnell and Deputy Mayor Doug Elmslie. Photo: Geoff Coleman.

It has become such an institution that a generation of Fenelon Falls and district residents may not believe it, but there was a time when the Fenelon Falls Santa Claus parade was held in the afternoon. It became a night time affair in 1999 and has never looked back, growing into an all-day event. This year, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the evening parade, events are scheduled on the Friday and Sunday bookending Santa Day, always held on the last Saturday of November.

The idea for a night time parade came out of the 1998 year-end wrap up organizing committee meeting. The ’98 parade had generated fresh momentum with an extended route, and increased number of bands and floats, and talk turned to further improvements. Committee members were enthused by the thought of an evening parade, and when a day of events preceding it was floated, Santa Day was born. 

Scott Woolfrey took over chairing the committee that year, and while he was a Fenelon Falls resident, he worked in Mississauga. He spent many hours on his commute working the phone with other early risers like Bob Pennock and Frank Kinzinger organizing the day. He describes community response as nothing short of phenomenal, with local businesses getting on board, and scores of volunteers stepping up. 

Following workshops on how to light up a float, the 1999 parade boasted 30 illuminated entries. In subsequent years, organizers actually had to turn away parade hopefuls. Woolfrey went on to say that even though there was a lot of work involved, it never felt like work. The success of the day made it easy to freely volunteer his time. He stepped down five years later when the machinery was in place to keep the event running smoothly. 

What does it take to create a day like this in the village? For starters, more than 200 sponsors. Most of them are from the greater Fenelon Falls area, but support comes from Minden and Lindsay, too. Then there are well over 250 volunteers that contribute before, during and after the event. Mats and tables are delivered and removed, trees are decorated and set up in businesses, floats and bands are marshalled, and garbage is removed from the aftermath on Colborne Street. 

Santa Day features over 20 activities downtown, and officials estimate on a day when Mother Nature cooperates, around 10,000 people take part. With the exception of three fundraising efforts, every activity is free. 

Behind it all, of course, are the organizers. Councillor and Deputy Mayor Doug Elmslie currently chairs the committee which starts meeting in January for that year’s activities. Twenty members comprise the steering group that long-time community volunteer Judi Adamson calls the best committee she’s ever served on. “Everyone gets along, and while discussion does get heated at times, everyone knows that we are trying to do what’s best for Santa Day and the village.” 

In 2009, a post-parade fireworks show was added — initially as a one-time celebration of the tenth anniversary of the evening parade. Public response was so positive, it became an annual highlight. For the 20th anniversary, concerts on Friday night and Sunday afternoon will augment the festivities. 

Fenelon Falls Live (another volunteer community organization) was tapped to organize shows with a wide generational appeal, and FFL’s Mike McConnell booked Eagles tribute band, Hotel California for Friday at the Community Centre and the Peterborough Concert Band Sunday at Fenelon Falls United Church. Hotel California tickets cost $10 and must be purchased in advance. Orders (maximum of two per email address) can be placed at . The concert band show is by donation. 

Santa Day in Fenelon Falls has to be seen to be appreciated. It is described by people who love living in Fenelon Falls, as the day when they are most proud of where they live.

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