From the east coast to the west coast, Canada is filled with large roadside attractions designed to capture the attention of passersby so they will stop and perhaps spend a few dollars. When my family traveled to a cousin’s wedding in Montreal nearly 20 years ago, my parents and I stopped at every such monument we encountered so that my daughters could get out, stretch their legs and get their photo taken with each new wonder.
In Saskatchewan, there are two such large figures that look festive and welcoming in the winter but appear strangely amiss and bizarre under the summer sun – Kenaston’s snowman and Watson’s Santa Claus.
Visitors to Watson can stop and take their picture with the gigantic Santa Claus. There are also two elves painted on plywood with holes where the faces should be so people can take pictures of themselves as Santa’s helpers. A big red sleigh with a picnic table and a dumpster painted to look like a present complete the display, all of which is lit up with Christmas lights.
Having grown up in the neighbouring small town of Kelvington, I know the excitement that Santa’s annual visits bring. I say visits because apart from his jaunts down local chimneys to fill stockings before Christmas morn, there was also a Saturday when he would visit the local high school and hand out treat bags to the kids. Practically every child in town would turn out for these visits – telling Santa what they wanted for Christmas, getting their picture taken with the jolly fellow and, then, rifling through their treat bag to see what sort of candy he had given them. The only children who weren’t excited were the two-year-olds. At that age, boys and girls tend to find the big guy scary, and tears often emerge rather than smiles.
Watson claims to be the first small town where Santa showed up to meet the local children. The man in the red suit had been making annual visits to big department stores in the cities for many years but, until then, rural children had to be content with stories about the toymaker from the North Pole. Then, in 1932, a local hardware store owner named Jake Smith decided to change that. He arranged for Santa Claus to arrive in Watson on the train that year, and he has been visiting every year since then.
In Watson, Santa’s annual visit has turned into a full-day affair with games, races, crafts, face painting and sleigh rides in addition to visits and pictures with Santa. A huge bonfire wraps up the day’s festivities. Watson definitely does Santa Claus Day in a BIG way!