Firefighters bring Christmas spirit to underprivileged Calgary kids

Firefighters brought the Christmas spirit to thousands of Calgary children on Sunday afternoon with their 50th annual Children's Christmas Party.

1,900 families enjoyed lunch, visiting with Santa and presents

The Calgary Fire Department's mascot, Sparky, hugs attendees at the firefighter's annual Children's Christmas Party at the Stampede Corral. (David Will/CBC)

Firefighters brought the Christmas spirit to thousands of Calgary children on Sunday afternoon with their 50th annual Children's Christmas Party.

The tradition dates back more than five decades to when firefighters in the city used to fix up broken toys for families at Christmas, Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth told CBC News. 

Brady Tattersall retired from firefighting 17 years ago, after spending 33 years with the department. He was present for the first Christmas party in 1967 and has volunteered every year since.

"I used to drive a toy truck and we delivered the presents right to people's houses," he said.

"It makes you feel good that you can help somebody else."

This year was a far cry from that first year, with over 4,200 people in attendance.

"It speaks to the economy, it's not the greatest right now. But good for them for putting on this event for everybody. It means quite a bit," said Ken, one of the parents in attendance, who only gave his first name.

Firefighters pay for the party themselves, raising $50,000 each year, along with donations from companies and the public.

The nearly 1,900 families were invited by the Salvation Army, Calgary's two school boards and local agencies. 

Attendees were treated to a hamburger lunch, a dog show and other live entertainment, a visit from Santa Claus, and gifts for all children under 12. 

Jamie Blayney, of the Calgary Firefighters Toy Association, told CBC News that 200 members volunteered this year, serving up over 5,000 hamburgers and 8,000 bottles of pop to attendees. 

Fire Chief Steve Dongworth said that the celebration isn't just for the families — it helps the firefighters feel good, too.

"We're often visiting with people on the worst day of their lives. To be here and to be having fun with the community, that is tremendous," Dongworth said. 

With files from David Will