The Whistling Santa of Caulfeild Village

By HAROLD VALENTINE and TREVOR LAUTENS 

He’s a classic. Some Santas are sincere but painfully unconvincing. Some are starvingly skinny, as if the North Pole could use a food bank. Some have joylessly droopy beards heading south onto their chests. The red suits of course are instantly identifiable but some are so fusty-foosty I’d be glad to direct their wearer to my favourite West Vancouver dry cleaner for a little rehabilitation.

   This Santa Claus is, as the saying goes or used to go, the real deal (not that I’m fond of the phrase).

   He’s a mirthful girthful who wears Santa’s extra avoirdupois healthfully, as if his flesh is taut with constant hard work and bespeaks good bones underneath the less-than-sylph-like figure. Under his bespectacled blue eyes he has Santa’s high apple cheeks that can’t be faked. Up close it’s plain that the flowing beard grows out of his skin and isn’t manufactured at the wig shop.

   But this Santa has one other striking difference separating him from other Santas.

   He whistles.

   Like a canary he whistles.

   He’s the Whistling Santa of West Vancouver’s Caulfeild Village.

   He’s an institution. He’s presided for years over the shopping centre’s Salvation Army kettle.

  This Santa whistles with seductive natural skill. Nothing like it since the early Bing Crosby, if you’ve lived so long (in the past). And with a rangey repertoire. Sacred, popular. Away in a Manger. Deck the Halls. We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Hark the Herald Angels Sing. The Little Drummer Boy. Jingle Bells (obligatory). I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (please, not that!). Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

   And also: Up on the Rooftop. O Little Town of Bethlehem. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. We Three Kings. Walking in a Winter Wonderland. Ode to Joy. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. What Child Is This? O Come All Ye Faithful.

    And many more. The clear, clean notes cut through the thick December air, gently contrapuntal to the vehicular and commercial clatter and raising spirits. “Some people,” he says, “come all the way from the other side of the parking lot wanting to know if the whistling is real or a recording, then invariably add something to the kettle.”

   That kettle is an icon of the world’s great, arguably most generous organization (veterans of WW2 have testified that the SA charged them nothing at their canteens and for other services, unlike certain others).   

   So it’s a tad odd that he’s not a member of the Salvation Army – or of any church. Holds no formal religious or spiritual affiliation. Not a bit preachy. Not holier-than-thou. Just does good. Which makes him even more universally Santa-like.  

    It began with Mrs. Claus:  “My wife was the first of us to work on the kettles, and dragged me, kicking and screaming, to become a part of it too.” Santa is vague about how many years ago. (But would Santa count in human years?) They’ve done the kettle turn in Whistler, Squamish, North Vancouver. Currently Mrs. Claus works the kettle at Fresh St. Market, in West Vancouver’s Ambleside neighbourhood.

   For three or four years the Clauses travelled the ferries every morning and night from their Sunshine Coast home – long, exhausting days over the six-week kettle program season.

  This year they volunteered only for Friday or Saturday shifts. “So what does Mrs. Claus do? She says that we have to put in some extra shifts in Sechelt for the SA on the coast.”

    Santa relates he was born in the U.S. and was named for a relative whose last name – you couldn’t make this up – was Jolly. He vividly recalls when his mother “sat me down and said ‘Well, dear, actually there is no Santa Claus. Most of your toys are from us, your grandparents and other relatives, but you have always had some that were labelled from Santa Claus. Maybe I should have told you sooner. Now that you know the truth, you must not tell the younger kids, including your brother and sisters, that Santa isn’t real.’ ’’

   Santa paused, mused: “I can’t say that I was very happy with this new information. … From that point on I was much more wary of anything that was told to me.” (Perhaps that skepticism about authority influenced him to move here as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War with his Canadian-born wife.)

   But he’s long revisited that youthful disillusionment: “My mother may have been right that Santa didn’t exist and bring those presents, but she was also wrong.”  

   He emphasized: “I am NOT a spiritual person, but I believe that good is better than evil. That evil sometimes presents itself as good. I think that I understand the core teachings of Jesus and agree with them. I also believe that evil has twisted some of them, and people are confused about what to believe. For myself. I believe in Santa Claus!”

   Be amazed. A man who, any rational person would say, not only dresses up as Santa Claus but actually believes in him. As Santa Claus would, wouldn’t he? That is, if he really existed, wouldn’t he believe in himself?

   Not to lure anyone into questioning what thoroughly up-to-date progressive persons – adherents of the rational, to repeat – know is mere myth, superstition, folklore. They aren’t children. (They haven’t the deeper wisdom of children.)

   But the astute reader will have noted that nowhere in this stick of type have I revealed his name.

   That’s because he politely declined to publicly state it. Not out of fear of ridicule or whatever. But because he thinks such personal self-hyping would detract from the deserved subject, the Salvation Army.

   So for all I know – which is little enough and, as time passes, getting less – his real name is:

   Santa Claus.

   And he whistles.

  Holland House Communications Ltd., Vancouver. Copyright 2019.

The Village Scold

An irregular column on West Vancouver matters (the logo stolen from the great Bruce Hutchison)

By Trevor Lautens

Give this a workout on your tongue:

Premier Pamela Goldsmith-Jones  

Pam for Premier!

Standing ovation? Or screams of horror? Is Halloween over?

My Agent 5%jwKnD7, who knows his or her way around town, states that Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, former West Vancouver mayor and one-term Liberal MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, is casting a covetous eye on the premiership of British Columbia.

Such secrets are impossible to keep. I may be the last to know. If wrong, I will plead, as Humphrey Bogart famously said in Casablanca: “I was misinformed.”

Of course I reacted with journalistic professionalism to this awesome rumour. I emailed Ms. Goldsmith-Jones and put it to her.

She replied instantly. With classic political boilerplate: “Thank you very much for writing to me.  This is to acknowledge that I have received your correspondence and will read it and reply as soon as I can. …”

I’m ashamed if I sound cynical. No reasonable person expects a political leader to drop everything, even a large campaign contribution, to immediately answer a constituent. Then again, someone has to speak up for the unreasonable. We are so numerous.

Moving on: Ms. Goldsmith-Jones’s email then helpfully furnished the link to a media aide, Morgan McCullough.

I explained my mission to him and named a deadline.

Mr. McCullough didn’t even provide a sincere pretense. Didn’t respond.

The political playbook here is join-the-dots convention to any astute reader, of which I have no other. Two possibilities.

One: Goldsmith-Jones really is seeking the premiership.

Second: She isn’t.

But if she isn’t, the well-thumbed guide to the theatre that is politics teaches that there is no such thing as bad publicity, short of abusing animals or the discovery of being a closet Christian.

And if she is, there’s only the annoyance that it slipped out. Such announcements are about as spontaneous as Greek tragedy. They are carefully plotted and shrewdly timed theatre. You knew that.

Don’t confirm. Don’t deny. Either way it’s a story for the media. Of course it’s humiliating to be one of the  manipulated, but would I rather be delivering telegrams on my Humber bicycle for CP Telegraphs? Damn right, if I were 15 again and with a huge secret crush on the meltingly lovely Gloria Greenfield.

At any rate if Goldsmith-Jones harbours the ambition to replace John Horgan, the incumbent premier in Victoria, there are some roadblocks to leap or outflank, including many of her own making. And obviously she must dispatch the present provincial Liberal party leader, Andrew Wilkinson. He may not dispatch lightly.

But, as outstanding legislative columnist Vaughn Palmer often writes, that’s for another day. The sure thing is that Goldsmith-Jones leaves her present gig with $98,000, hardly a living allowance, in severance pay. And with a touch of bitterness? Agent wuH3wbCsb5, one of my quietly polite spies, suggests: She left because she was disgruntled that she never got a cabinet post. Well, I never got Gloria Greenfield either. D’you hear me grumbling?

*

Meanwhile, all is not sweetness and light down at West Vancouver town hall. With an Angus Reid poll indicating that Mary-Ann Booth has a 41 per cent approval rating, she’s secure in the mayor’s chair – a hot seat some council meetings. 

Like at last Monday’s (Nov. 4) not untypical session. At one point first-term councillor Marcus Wong spoke with quietly measured respect for councillors he disagreed with on the issue at hand. When he finished, Booth in effect accused him of bad faith.

Murmurs from the public gallery – which has become more unruly as council personal antipathies have blurted into the open. Booth’s looks were severe. “I am the chair and I can speak to Coun. Wong,” she said. “This is nothing improper.”

The gallery volume was turned up. As was Booth’s discomfiture. “If anyone speaks up I will ask you to leave,” Booth warned. “And I am serious about that.”

Nigel Malkin’s West Vancouver Community Stakeholders isolated this contretemps and circulated it on the internet with arguably unseemly glee. Booth must hope that Malkin’s movement will run out of energy – and novelty – before the 2022 election. But her next three years don’t look enviable.

Trevor Lautens has been apprenticing in the newspaper business for 66 years. The above may be quoted liberally with attribution. Copyright Holland House Communications Ltd., 2019.