Send in the clowns…

celebrity-clowns.jpgWe had a great time at the Parade on Sunday.  Every year it just gets better and better and this year had to be the best of all (that is until next year).

The day started early for my brother Will and I when we got up at four in the morning to drive to the warehouse to drive the truck down with the rest of the parade. 

It was freezing outside the warehouse, but inside it was hot as the last of the floats were moved out and into position to join the procession going down to Bloor Street and the staging area.  The floats are driven by Toronto paramedics and they are a great group who really have fun driving the floats.

 They told us to be here at 5:30 and promptly at 6:30, just as the sun was starting to rise, the parade began to move along the streets of Toronto, heading south toward downtown.  Our police escort leap frogged us on motorcycles closing off the streets ahead of us as we raced along at a blazing 20 km per hour.

We finally arrive at Christie Pits by 8:30 and Will and I park the truck at the front of the Parade and head off to get breakfast.  However, this stretch of Bloor Street has changed and there are no longer any friendly greasy spoons where you can clog your arteries with bacon and eggs to fortify yourself for the day ahead.  We finally end up eating in a Korean bagel joint near Bathurst Street.  I long for the days when you could go to Sneaky Dee’s for breakfast at any hour. 

waiting-to-go.jpgAfter breakfast the rest of our crew gather and we wait for the arrival of the celebrity clowns.  Our objective is distribute every last bag of candy and cookies (250,000) down the entire length of the parade.  In the past few years we have run out before the parade is over and the children waiting on Yonge Street and near the St. Lawrence Market end up with nothing but the clowns’ good wishes (which have to count for a lot). 

The truck led the way this year and gave us a rolling supply of candy and cookies to restock the float.  We ran the candy from the truck to the float by using a couple of club cars (those long golf carts that grounds keepers use). 

Our band arrived and almost immediately disappeared again, off on a quest for “refreshment”.  But, what made me more nervous was that the 200 plus celebrity clowns had not arrived.  Finally, there was the howl of sirens from the police escort leading two large school buses down Bloor Street toward us.  The clowns were here.  The fun was just about to begin.

The celebrity clowns are the titans of industry and commerce who pay $1,000 a piece for the pleasure of dressing up and cutting loose once a year.  And they really get into it, covering everything and everyone in sight wth sillly string, honking horns and scaring small dogs.  The children who line the streets around us love the show and the celebrity clowns play it to the hilt.

As we open up the back of the truck to allow them to fill their bags with Mini Eggs and Mini Oreos it quickly turns into total mayhem – a virtual clown feeding frenzy.  Soon, however, they are flush with candy and are off setting the pace for the day and delighting the crowd. 

they-make-it-all-worthwhile.jpgWe focus on the task at hand, of keeping the celebrity clowns supplied with candy to toss to the crowds.  It is a task that is in parts chaotic, challenging and joyous.  When tensions rise or things do not go as planned, I take a second to take a look at the crowd.  The unabashed expressions of hope and joy on the faces of the children brings me back to the underlying reason we are all here – to do our part in making the Parade the greatest show on earth.

And on a day like Sunday with brilliant sunshine, spectacular floats and great bands it all comes together perfectly.

After an hour and a half that seems to blur past, we reach Front Street with the clowns still throwing out candy (a record for us) and an empty float and a truck filled with empty boxes.  Somehow in all the mayhem and chaos we achieved our objective – to supply candy to the clowns along the entire route and to have no candy left over.

We are one tiny component in this gigantic show.  So many people make the Toronto Santa Claus Parade – Alf and his dedicated parade crew, the Board of Directors, the Sponsors, the Celebrity Clowns, the bands, the drivers and the thousands of volunteers who come together every year to make our Parade the best in the world.

Special thanks to my friend Irv Handler who took these excellent pictures as well as Marshaling a section of the parade.  If you would like to see more of Irv’s pictures as well as hundreds more of the Parade and are a Facebook member go to the Santa Claus Parade Group.

One Response to “Send in the clowns…”

  1. Tricia Dower says:

    I had no idea you were so involved in the Santa Claus Parade, Peter. I remember (we’re going back a while, now!) when Eaton’s pulled their sponsorship and it almost folded. I still have a photo of two celebrity clowns from sometime in the ’80s — Joe Barbaro and Neville McCarthy from The Halifax. An amazing tradition, those clowns, and that parade.

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