Santa Claus isn't coming to Ottawa's major malls this year
Bayshore, Rideau, St. Laurent, Place d'Orléans shelve traditional visit from St. Nick
Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won't be dropping by any of Ottawa's major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won't be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.
I think it's best that we protect everybody ... and I think this year we want to protect Santa, too. He's getting up there.- Dr. Jane Liddle, pediatrician
"Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year," Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.
Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities "due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country."
Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.
Virtual visits with Santa
Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.
"Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa," said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. "You'll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live."
At Place d'Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a "selfie with Santa" — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who's been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.
"We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer," according to a statement on the mall's Facebook page.
Santa will still be appearing in the flesh at some shopping centres, including Hazeldean Mall in Kanata, but there will be plenty of precautions in place: temperatures will be checked, hands will be sanitized and masks must be worn.
There will be no sitting on Santa's knee, either: a Plexiglas shield separating St. Nick from the youngsters will be cleaned between each visit.
Ho ho hold off, pediatrician advises
Photographer Frank Fenn, who oversees "Santa's pop-up portrait shop" at Hazeldean Mall, said extensive planning went into creating a safe, physically distanced experience.
"Ultimately, it's about delivering the magic at Christmas, and whether we're still in a pandemic in a year or two years," said Fenn.
Ottawa pediatrician Jane Liddle said she wouldn't advise parents to take their kids to see Santa this year, whatever precautions are in place.
"I'm concerned that there is the possibility of spreading the virus in those type of environments," Liddle said. "I think it's best that we protect everybody ... and I think this year we want to protect Santa, too. He's getting up there."