CALGARY -- Opportunities to visit Santa are more limited this holiday season with the presence of COVID-19.

In another move to protect the public, Santa Claus will no longer be able to listen to children's Christmas wishes in-person at more than a dozen Canadian malls.

Cadillac Fairview (CF), the company that oversees 19 shopping centres across Canada, announced the decision Friday, calling it "a difficult, but prudent" course of action.

Instead, visits with the jolly old elf will be added to the online repertoire previously released by CF, which owns and operates Calgary's Chinook Centre and Market Mall in Alberta.

A full list of the affected locations is available on its website.

“We want to continue to offer our shoppers a safe and comfortable shopping experience and we felt with some of the increasing government restrictions, we decided it would be best to move Santa to a virtual experience,” said Darren Milne, general manager of CF Market Mall.

He added that all guest will be able to enjoy virtual Santa experiences online with CF Storytime LIVE on its Facebook page — prior bookings will be notified of this change.

Milne also said there will be no layoffs and contracts with staff who portray the classic Christmas character will be honoured.

The dean of Calgary-based Santa School says they are prepared for this pivot.

“We had a feeling that this was coming,” said Jennifer Andrews, head of program that train Santa impersonators for-hire.

“It’s pretty shocking but obviously the (public health) measures need to be carefully met with.”

She says they are preparing a truck outfitted to look like a sleigh for an open-air, physically-distanced Santa experience — and more details about drive-thru visits are coming soon.


Southcentre Mall, in southeast Calgary, is going ahead with an in-person photo-op with Santa with an adapted set.

The queue is physically distanced with floor markings, hand sanitizer is provided, an elf performs temperature checks — and sitting on Santa’s lap is not allowed.

Instead, he sits in the front seat of a bright red pickup truck with a transparent face covering. Children can either sit below the vehicle or in the truck bed for the picture.

“In a year where things have been so difficult we just want to have a little bit of a normal experience to the degree it can be,” said Alexandra Velosa, Southcentre's marketing manager.

Parents and children say they excited to have an experience with jolly old Saint Nick.

“I want to make happy memories and when I’m older show my kids what we had to do when the coronavirus hit, with Santa,” said nine-year-old Eva Hummer.

“It’s pretty good to have the chance to show them that Santa is here and he’s ok,” said mom Creselle Boyo.

Velosa says she hopes the event will spread joy and not germs.