Besides the mail, the other most important event on the lighthouses was the arrival of Santa Claus! 1
One cannot imagine the excitement of the kids during the week before the scheduled Santa arrival. Depending on the station, this could take place anywhere from December 6th to December 18th. Couldn’t leave it much later otherwise Santa wouldn’t get all his other work done.
Cookies were baked, rooms were cleaned (really!) and the best clothes laid out.
By the way, Santa had his own special helicopter – sometimes a big one, sometimes a small one!
In the early days he was transported by ship and flown off the ship by a very small helicopter so that he could visit the lighthouse children. Later he had his own private Coast Guard helicopter for the day and night, which flew him out of Victoria, BC or Prince Rupert, BC.
On the day of the scheduled arrival nobody could settle down, especially the children. With two young families on a station there could be from 2 – 6 children for Santa to share mysteries with. Usually the two families got together in the preparation of eats and drinks. There was an odd nip available too! Santa was OK, but we could not give the pilots anything with alcohol! Lots of coffee!
The Coast Guard radio usually radioed ahead that Santa was on his way. “Estimated time of arrival about 10:30”. Everybody was standing up at the helicopter pad waiting in anticipation.
“McInnes Island . McInnes Island. This is Coast Guard 358. Will be landing in 15 minutes and shutting down. We don’t require the tractor but we do have a small mailbag for you. In case anyone is interested we also have Santa onboard!”
“358 McInnes. Roger. Thanks. Everybody is waiting for Santa.”
When the chopper landed the pilot shut down the engines and Santa emerged from the left door all dressed in red and white with a big bag of toys 2 for the kids. Once the blades of the helicopter had stopped moving the children were allowed on the helicopter pad to greet Santa and escort him to the house. Incoming mail was picked up and also outgoing mail was placed in the chopper’s cargo area. Once the pilot was free of the helicopter he was escorted to the house as well.
A decorated Christmas tree 3 usually greeted the guests and Santa sat down to talk with the children and dig in his bag for the gifts. The pilot was entertained, coffee’d and fed until he was full. No need to pack a lunch today! (And he still had more lightstations to go to!)
Depending on weather and time, the visit usually lasted from 1/2 to 1 hour. The pilot was in charge and set the schedule depending on where he had to go and the weather conditions. Remember, this is December in the middle of the ocean!
Upon departure all personnel escorted the guests to the helicopter, sorted out the departing mail and Christmas parcels for other lightstations and stood back to watch the helicopter wind up and slowly rise into the cool December air – Santa and the children waving to each other as the helicopter became a small speck in the sky on its way to another lighthouse.
1 For many years in the Victoria District, Santa Claus was played by Pen Brown from the Victoria Coast Guard Base and former Pine Island lighthouse keeper. He was not your normal Santa Claus shape but a bit of padding disguised his lack of obesity and his friendly manner made up for the rest. Another man to mention was George Thomas who was doing the duty before Pen Brown and retired in 1978. He had a good Santa shape too. Read about Pen Brown and his Santa contribution on this Nauticapedia page. Excellent story.
In the Prince Rupert District, for 41 years  Jim West, sign painter in the town, has been the Santa Claus for the kids without fail. His portly shape and friendly smile made him the perfect Santa. In earlier years he used to powder his beard white but in later years this has not been necessary he told me!
3 On stations with no trees like Green Island , a couple of Christmas trees were usually flown in on the December grocery run about mid December. Otherwise we easily found one on our heavily treed island.
The unique video with music below is the Santa flight from December 2006 in the Prince Rupert District – photos from Susan “the elf”
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