Santa Claus is a figment of your imagination. One hundred years ago there were few on the Island more imaginative than J. LeRoy Holman. He was one of two sons who had taken over their father’s retail business, R.T. Holman Ltd. in Summerside.
of J. LeRoy’s
duties was organizing the annual Santa Claus parade and he liked to utilize the
latest technology. If, both he, and the business were alive today there is
little doubt that Santa would arrive for his parade by rocket ship, blasting to
earth at a nearby parking lot.
the early years of Holman’s
store, Santa arrived aboard a sailing vessel that docked at Holman’s wharf in
Summerside harbour. Back at the turn of the 20th century he came by train. Yes,
Virginia, there once were passenger trains on the Island.
few weeks before Christmas, a Holman’s employee would be dispatched on the Western
train to Tignish carrying a valise for his Santa costume and a second, full of
candies. The next day he would return as Santa. Advertisements were placed
informing the people of Prince County that Santa would be on the train and
would arrive in Summerside station at an appointed hour where he would be met
and paraded to the store on Water Street. Enroute he would hand out the candy
to the children in the villages where the train stopped.
things went off without a hitch. One year, after the advertisements were
placed, expectations created, and a crowd at the station in Summerside, there was no Santa
when the train arrived. People were asked to return the next day when Santa was
sure to turn up; they did, but he didn’t.
following day a telegram was received pleading with J. LeRoy to come west and
fetch his Santa Claus, “He’s
been drunk in Coleman for the past two days.”
the early days of flight, J. LeRoy, who always wanted to make a big impact with
arrival, announced that this year, Santa would fly into Summerside in an
airplane that would land on the roof of Holman’s store.
building still stands in downtown Summerside, it’s four stories high, with a flat roof
and is a city block long. It was conceivable that people unfamiliar with
airplanes might believe such a feat was possible.
the day of Santa’s
arrival a large crowd gathered in the street in front of the store to witness
this miracle of transport. Up on the west end of the roof, lying flat, out of
the crowd’s view, was the silhouette of a bi-plane with wings attached and
cutouts where the pilot and Santa would be seen. A small gasoline engine with
the muffler removed was nearby.
man in the crowd shouted, “Here he comes” and pointed east, diverting the crowd’s
attention. Up on the roof, the silhouette was flipped erect on to its wheels,
the engine fired up, making a helluva racket, and a waving Santa and his pilot
pushed the contraption along the roof. To all below it didn’t take a lot of
imagination to believe that the aeroplane had just landed and was gliding to a
the 1940s, after the air base was established in Summerside, Santa was often
photographed just emerging from one of the military aircraft. He would then
placed aboard an appropriately decorated float and driven through the streets
of Summerside to Toyland in Holman’s store.
float was usually one of Holman’s delivery vans wrapped in paper and disguised as a sleigh.
One year, either the wrapping was too well sealed, or there was a leak in the
vehicle’s exhaust. As the parade progressed along Water Street, the driver of
the float passed out and the vehicle crashed into the front of Smallman’s
store, one of Holman’s chief competitors. The driver survived, Holman’s was
embarrassed and Smallman’s enjoyed the publicity.
Smallman's and a host of other Island retailers are long gone. But, imagination,
Santa, and Christmas survive. May yours be a merry one.
- Alan Holman is a freelance
journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org