‘Not Exactly Smiling’: Star uses iconic photo of Canadian Santa for auction in aid of charity

The Toronto Star is auctioning off a photograph of its famed Santa Claus, only one in a series of images taken during one of the city’s coldest winters in decades.

The Grand Ronde Lodge in Whistler, British Columbia, is offering the snapshot of Santa sitting on his chair in front of the fireplace, an above-ground heater in hand, with a massive cash box waiting to be filled.

Bids are being taken now online through Monday at 6 p.m. EST for four ceremonial tickets and unlimited alcoholic beverages for two in the Grace Lodge on Dec. 8, the Star’s end-of-the-year fundraiser.

The money will go to help pay for Christmas lights, gifts and decorations throughout the city.

Tipping the East Coast tail of the Hudson Bay Company began in 1825, however, and continues today in Canada and the United States.

“Old Saint Nick’s� first run in Toronto was in 1928, when, as Joe Dixon of the Star recalled in a 2008 interview, the tradition of charity and jolly old elf participation began after a group of Toronto residents, all involved in another fundraiser, approached Santa Claus after the event.

“They said to me, ‘Santa, we can’t afford a present for our entire family for Christmas, but there’s something special about you that we just can’t let go,'” Dixon said. “So I began passing out pocket money and telling people if they would like, they could volunteer to be our Santa.”

A boxful of $1, $5 and $10 bills began pouring in, turning Dixon’s happy police officer character into a real life Saint Nick. He kept the tradition going, even after the lineup to be next to the real deal grew lengthy and a waiting list formed. Dixon said there were likely at least 20 Santa Clauses for a stand-alone pose, and perhaps two dozen or so with that many or more with a second pose.

When the event eventually moved away from Dixon, the paper in 1989 gave visitors pictures with Santa with cash taped to their laps and sneakers. Now, however, the phone line is staffed with a Santa’s presence, and handlers are available to answer questions. But phone lines were not manned the night the photo was taken.

Seventy percent of the proceeds in the mid-2000s went to children’s causes in the Toronto area, as Santa’s son James never lived in Toronto, Dixon said. Now, however, the image takes many forms: the Expressions of Support social media page, which has over 5,000 followers; the seasonal page for the Star, which has more than 500,000 followers; and the formal charity page, which hosts over 550,000 people a year.

While the overall effort has waned in recent years – in 2017, the Fund raised $4.7 million – much of the money goes to needy causes. Dixon said the current Sunday fund counts 90,000 requests for assistance from Toronto families alone, helping their children to visit the doctor, attend college, stay out of trouble or to receive a laptop to help them continue in their studies.

It’s still a worthwhile cause, though the now Internet-famous and forever-iconic photo of Santa may no longer be available.

Mike Smith of the Whistler Lodge said “Santa is an ambassador of Christmas.” He doesn’t know if the photograph is for an auction or has already been sold. The primary goal is to raise awareness and funds, he said.

“We thought, ‘Why not?” Smith said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got a Santa Claus — you’re being asked to participate in this with him. You’ve got photo opportunities. And it’s a small deal because it’s real and it’s tangible and it’s relevant to your community. If you’re doing something good for your community, give us a call and let us know.”

The view from the Facebook page said, “Well … Santa’s … not exactly smiling. If you have the gold to bid on his wallet, bring it on.”

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