Santa Claus parade rolls through downtown Saturday

Winnipeg's 103rd Santa Claus parade gets underway Saturday with all of the lights, floats and mascots that make it a hugely popular event, drawing some 60,000 people downtown.
The key figure of the Santa Claus Parade, Saint Nick, waves to the crowd along Portage Avenue in 2010. (Tara Brown/

Winnipeg's 103rd Santa Claus parade gets underway Saturday with all of the lights, floats and mascots that make it a hugely popular event, drawing some 60,000 people downtown.

Road closures

People hoping to take in the Santa Claus parade on Saturday — or avoid traffic snarls in the area — should take note of the following road closures.

2:30 p.m.: Portage Avenue will be closed from Sherbrook Street east to Westbrook Street, by the Forks.

4 p.m.: Main Street will be closed southbound from McDermot Avenue to Graham Avenue, and northbound from St. Mary Avenue to Portage Avenue.

Also closing to traffic at 4 p.m. are:

  • Pioneer Avenue from Main Street to Westbrook Street.
  • William Stephenson Way from Main Street to Waterfront Drive.
  • York Avenue from Fort Street to Main Street.

The parade starts at 5 p.m.

All the affected roads will start to reopen after the parade ends.

Winnipeg Transit will be rerouting all buses that run through downtown starting at 3 p.m. The routes will return to normal at around 11 p.m. Go to Winnipeg Transit's website to find out more about the route changes.

The parade starts at the corner of Portage Avenue and Young Street and heads east to Portage and Main Street, before turning south and ending on William Stephenson Way near The Forks.

This year it will feature slightly more than 100 floats and about 3,000 volunteers and performers.

The 15 blocks of the Santa Parade route will each be hosted by a company or organization creating a block party atmosphere and featuring different types of entertainment from mascots and musicians to street hockey.

Visit the CBC at Portage and Spence Street, near the start of the parade route from 3:30 until 4:30 p.m. The Grace Bible Church Choir will be singing carols and CBC personalities John Sauder and Janet Stewart will be on hand.

There will also be draws to win CBC goodies.

All block parties will wrap up just before the parade starts.

Leading the way for the main event will be nine mascot reindeers desperately trying to find old Saint Nick and his sleigh, according to organizers.

A number of elves will also be walking the route to kick off the Christmas season. They, along with the reindeer and Santa will meet up at The Forks, where the public is invited to a meet and greet.

Vintage parade

Footage from 1948

Plush cookie pillows will be available for purchase and to be autographed by the reindeer.

During the parade, volunteers will be collecting non-perishable food items and gently-used clothing and toys for the Toy Mountain campaign. The Salvation Army will deliver the items to needy children in the city.

Kids are also encouraged to have their letters to Santa ready, as those will be picked up by Canada Post along the route.

The grand marshal of the 2012 parade is Olympic soccer star Desiree Scott.

Portage will be shut down to traffic at 2:30 p.m. to prepare for the parade, so getting around the area after that will be tricky. Be sure to get a place early.

Parade history

Eaton's Department Store held its first Santa Claus Parade in 1905 in Toronto and it was so successful that in 1909 Eaton's started parades in Montreal and Winnipeg.

Due to rising costs, Eaton's in Winnipeg organized its last parade in 1965. Capt. George Smith of the East Kildonan Fire Department, on behalf of the Winnipeg Firefighters Club, bought the Parade from Eaton's for $1.50. That marked the start of the community-based format the parade still follows to this day.

From 1966 to 1975, the Winnipeg Firefighters worked very closely with volunteers from schools around the city to carry on the parade tradition. And in 1975, the Winnipeg Jaycees, now JCI Winnipeg, took over the stewardship of the parade.

In 1987, the Christmas Cheer Board began its relationship with the parade, collecting donations and non-perishable food items along the route.

In November 1998, the City of Winnipeg hosted the CFL's Grey Cup championship game and Manitoba Hydro, along with event organizers, organized a Grey Cup parade in downtown. Hydro continued to sponsor an annual night-time parade, the Power Smart Festival of Lights Parade, in downtown from 1999 to 2005.

When the Grey Cup returned in 2006, JCI Winnipeg joined forces with the City of Winnipeg and Manitoba Hydro, rolling their events into one big Santa Claus Parade.

The next year, in 2007, JCI Winnipeg and Manitoba Hydro agreed to a joint-title sponsorship to hold the Power Smart / JCI Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade. The Santa Claus Parade then became a night-time, lit parade.