Future of Saint John Santa Claus Parade unclear after organizer calls it quits

Saint John is looking for a new organizer for the annual Santa Claus Parade after Uptown Saint John called it quits.

Uptown Saint John says annual event does not align with its objectives anymore

The 2017 Saint John Santa Claus Parade was the 65th. (Uptown Saint John)

The future of the annual Saint John Santa Claus Parade is unclear after the organizer has called it quits.

Uptown Saint John has organized the event for the past 15 years but informed council in a letter this week that someone else needs to take over.

The non-profit business improvement association has "recently has been reviewing its strategic goals as it relates to the direct benefits of our resources and our members we serve," wrote executive director Nancy Tissington.

"We have identified that this programming does not align with our objectives."

The parade, which celebrated its 65th year in 2017, is "really more a labour of love," Tissington told CBC News.

Something had to give.- Nancy Tissington , Uptown Saint John

She has been at the helm for the past four years and says it's been "a pleasure," but estimates it requires about four months of full-time, dedicated work.

There are a lot of logistics involved, she said, including handling the registration of about 70 to 80 floats, booking bands, arranging policing and keeping the website up to date.

Uptown Saint John has organized the parade for the last 15 years, but the groups focus has changed. Nancy Tissington is the executive director of Uptown Saint John. 7:46

A small group of volunteers helps.

But Tissington said it became too much for her and the only other full-time Uptown Saint John employee to handle on top of their other duties, including the biannual Chop Chop Restaurant Week, the tee-up to Christmas event called Uptown Sparkles held on Dec. 1 and a new initiative being launched in March, called Shop the Block, in support of retail.

"Something had to give."

It was a unanimous board decision "to move away from this and let the community pick it up," said Tissington.

"It's very much about finding the best return on investment of the funds that come from the levy from the small businesses."

Mayor optimistic

Mayor Don Darling said he understands and respects Uptown Saint John's decision that organizing the parade is not one of its "core objectives."

"I think they're owed a lot of gratitude for taking that on for that many years," he said, remarking that the parade has improved under the group's stewardship.

Darling said he's committed to seeing the long-standing tradition continue.

"I think there has to be a Santa Claus parade."

He said he has seen first-hand how important the parade is to the community, particularly the youth, having ridden on council's float the last couple of years.

"I've been just really amazed at the crowds," said Darling, estimating they're 20-people deep along some parts of the route.

Saint John Mayor Don Darling said he will consult with council and city staff 'very soon' about finding another group to take over organizing the long-standing tradition. (CBC)

Ideally, Darling hopes a community-based organization will step up to help.

"But if push comes to shove, my position would be that we [the city] would need to find a way to organize this event."

The city's 2018 budget is $1.4 million less than last year and saw the police and fire department budgets each slashed by $1.25 million.

"I guess until we have the conversations and we figure out what exactly is involved and have a meeting with Uptown Saint John, I'm going to be optimistic about it, that we're going to be able to pull this off."

Darling said he expects to start those conversations "very soon."

"Thankfully we have a bit of time."

Tissington thinks a large corporation might be a good fit for the parade, suggesting it would be a "great team-building exercise" for employees.

Otherwise, a "good corporate citizen" might be able to help city staff through sponsorship, she said.

Partnering with the Lancaster Santa Claus Parade on the city's west side is another idea being explored, said Tissington.

Whoever takes over, Uptown Saint John is willing to share all of its information and do whatever it can to help ensure a smooth transition, she said.

With files from Information Morning Saint John