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Then & Now: Meet the white-bearded men in the fancy red suits

A brief history of Sudbury’s Santa Clauses 

Sudbury’s first official Santa was Wilf Salo, who did the jolly job for more than 50 years before retiring in 1987. It's said this Père Noël could say Merry Christmas in 14 different languages.

Sadly, we were not able to track down a photo of Salo in his red suit and beard.

Salo was advertising manager for Silverman’s Department Store and, in 1934, he donned a red suit with white furry trim to promote sales in the store’s toy department.

He quickly became very popular in December each year as the special guest of the Shriners and the Lions Club, and he appeared at many other charity functions. He visited hospitals and made house calls. 

During the holiday season, he had a daily half-hour live show on CKSO-TV for 35 years. His appearance in the annual Christmas parade attracted large crowds of excited children.

Salo was born in northern Michigan in 1909 to Finnish immigrants who moved to Northern Ontario when he was a young boy. When the family returned to Finland a few years later, Salo, then 15, chose to stay in Canada and supported himself working as a railway linesman and as a miner. In 1924, he moved to Sudbury and found work as a mechanic, a taxi driver and a bakery truck driver. 

Prior to his career at Silverman's, which began in 1929, Salo studied bookkeeping at Sudbury Business College and took correspondence courses in advertising and marketing.

In his younger days, Salo was a well-known local wrestler who competed at the Grand Theatre and the old Palace Rink, which was located on Durham Street and demolished in the late 1930s.

After leaving Silverman's, Salo started the Soucie-Salo Safety Supply Company on Lorne Street (Got that jingle in your head yet? “Soucie Salo, saves the day!”).

Interviewed by a newspaper reporter in 1993, Salo said, "I see Santa Clauses at the shopping mall, and I think 'Hell, they have no feeling in them.’ I always liked children and I always tried to handle them with care."

Salo and his wife, Nellie, had one daughter. Joyce Salo McKenzie, a figure skater, who was inducted into the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame in 2014. She won a junior division bronze medal at the 1949 Canadian Championships and claimed the Northern Ontario senior ladies title in 1949 and 1950 while representing the Copper Cliff Skating Club. Joyce was the inspiration for Lyn Cook's book “The Bells of Finland Street,” writes historian Oiva W. Saarinen in his book about Sudbury's Finnish community.

When he wasn't Santa, Salo volunteered with numerous community organizations. Named Sudbury's Citizen of the Year in 1977, he served as a chair of the Sudbury Housing Authority, was a life member of Sudbury Lions Club, a Shriner and a member of the Masonic Order. He was also an honorary member of the Canadian Jaycees. 

Santa Salo lived a long life and passed away in 1999.

Businessman Nick Dellelce was St. Nick for three decades. He took his job seriously and attended dozens of special events during the Christmas season.

Rodney Campbell drove the reindeers for many years as the official Santa of the Santa Claus parade. Campbell told Northern Life in 2006, he started to grow his beard in August and would shave it off on Christmas Eve.

Lawyer Brian Howe took up Santa's reigns when Campbell retired.

Sudbury’s first Santa Claus Parade was held in 1958. Organized by the Sudbury Jaycees, the parade featured Santa’s Rocket Express, Mr. Peanut, marching bands, RCMP officers, an army of clowns and several 

beauty queens.

Film footage of the 1958 Santa Claus Parade can be viewed below.


As well, you can check out the video below, an 8mm film of the 1960 Santa Claus Parade.


The first night parade was held in 1999. In recent years, the parade has been organized by the Santa Claus Parade committee with community partners Downtown Sudbury, the City of Greater Sudbury and Greater Sudbury Police Services and with the assistance of numerous businesses and community groups.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Santa Clause Parade has been cancelled.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury. She writes mostly about history for Sudbury.com. Then and Now is made possible by our Community Leaders Program​​​​​​​

Sources
Between a Rock and a Hard Place, A Historical Geography of the Finns in the Sudbury Area by Oiva W. Saarinen
Transcript of Wilf Salo's interview on Memories and Music (1974-1982) with Gary Peck, City of Greater Sudbury Archives.