By Dianne Cornish
Rising costs and uncertain funding is threatening the survival of the Flamborough Santa Claus Parade.
Unless there is a significant cash injection this year, there is “a real possibility” that this Saturday’s parade through Waterdown’s downtown core will be the last, said Mary Lamb, chair of the 10-member volunteer committee that plans, organizes and executes the annual procession every November.
Now in its 17th year, the parade costs about $35,000 to stage, compared to $10,000 during its early years. About $5,000 is raised each year from the Loonie Bins that are carried along the parade route by volunteers and filled with voluntary donations from parade watchers. The only other funding comes from corporate sponsorships and a donation of about $6,000 from the City of Hamilton that covers policing costs. But the in-kind donation for police services from the city is being phased out next year and replaced by another stream of funding through the Community Partnership Program.
The committee has applied for a grant of $10,750 for next year, but the exact amount it will receive won’t be known until February 2013. The group is also faced with another new cost this year; it will have to pay $3,500 to hire a professional road closure company to put up and remove barricades on roads that have to be closed for the event. In the past, committee members set up pylons and barricades, but a provincial regulation required the change for safety reasons.
The costs have become insurmountable, so much so that Lamb said, “The success of the Loonie Bins at this year’s parade will be the key determinant as to whether or not Santa will again return to our wonderful town.”
With the parade attracting in excess of 40,000 spectators every year, it’s estimated that one in every eight people donates a loonie. Lamb and Shannon Newell, secretary-treasurer of the committee, are encouraging parade watchers to be extra generous this year, digging deeper into their pockets and throwing $5, $10 or $20 into the bins.
“If more people can donate to the Loonie Bins, we can make it,” said Lamb, who has chaired the volunteer committee for the past 17 years. “We’re not going down without a fight.”
Last year, the bins contained only one piece of paper money, a $20 bill. While committee members are mindful that not everyone can afford to donate, they encourage those who can to be generous. “A donation of $20 is still a great value for a night out with the family,” Lamb said.
Even though voluntary donations are asked of those who can afford to give, parade organizers have always taken great pride that the parade is a free event “so that absolutely everyone can attend, if they wish.”
The committee’s largest expense is paying for the marching bands featured in the parade; this year, that cost is $14,200. Money is also needed to pay for the big teams of horses that appear in the procession; that cost $3,500 last year.
In recent years, there were additional costs, including the purchase of a new sleigh for Santa, an upgraded website and new parade signs.
There’s no denying that the parade has fallen on hard times, say organizers. It has operated at a net loss for several years, Newell said, while also noting that its entry fees are nominal compared to its City of Hamilton counterpart. Fees for sponsors are $200 in Flamborough compared to $1,000 in the city; non-profit groups pay $25 compared to $200 in Hamilton and corporations pay $175 compared to $500. “Our goal is to keep the fees low so that any group who wished to join could do so without financial strain,” explained Newell, now in her 16th year as a committee member.
Some of the biggest headaches for committee members are caused by the bureaucracy at city hall. The application for next year’s parade had to be filed by mid-October this year and was 70 pages long. It took Newell 20 hours to complete.
Phasing out the in-kind donation for police services and replacing it with another stream of funding has also added another layer of uncertainty about the amount of grant money that will be available next year. While it will be based on actual 2012 police costs, an email to Newell from the city’s administrative and CPP coordinator Rosanna Melatti said, “...future grants may not represent the full costs of police services delivered to your event.”
“The Santa Claus Parade remains the last event that Flamborough has to call their own since amalgamation (with the City of Hamilton),” Newell noted. Lamb agrees, pointing out the demise of events such as the Victoria Day weekend fireworks and the downtown Waterdown parade, also held on the Victoria Day weekend.
Despite the many personal sacrifices and hours of work entailed in planning and staging the parade, members of the local committee want it to continue. Newell explains her motivation in simple terms: “As the mother to two children, aged eight and seven months, I will never get to watch the parade with my children. However, I do this so that other parents can see the joy on their children’s faces as Santa Claus approaches, for if we were not involved, there would be no parade to watch.”