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From the archives: Christmas — Esquimalt style

Of all the holidays, Christmas is the favourite for many people with traditions.

  • Mon Dec 26th, 2016 11:00am
  • News

By Greg Evans

Of all the holidays, Christmas is the favourite for many people with traditions ranging from decorated trees and special musical concerts to traditional seasonal food and, like Hanukkah and Solstice, spending time with family and friends.

One tradition is Santa Claus and over the years a number of local residents have played the role of the prominent citizen of the North Pole. Two are fondly remembered – Chief Petty Officer Bill Hargreaves (retired) and Allan Fleury. Hargreaves, nicknamed Moose, was voted CFAX citizen of the year runner up in 1989 for his many annual cruises to the Gulf Islands and isolated communities on the coast on behalf of the Victoria Junior Chamber of Commerce. Fleury, nicknamed Big Al, took over the reins after Hargreaves passed away. He had a custom made Santa Claus suit, was rosy cheeked and always smiling and for many children, represented Santa himself. A member of the Esquimalt Legion, he was the recipient of the Meritorious Service medal and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal. Today, Doug Scott carries on this tradition.

Generosity was also abundant in the community. One example was the Christmas dinner put on by Mrs. Ranns for many years at the Sailor’s Club (it later became the Tudor House) for service men and civilians alike. The dinner was often paid for by local citizens such as Robert Pooley. Locals could also use the large meeting room on the second floor for community Christmas events.

Another tradition and not that well known, is one of long standing in the Royal Navy and subsequently in the Royal Canadian Navy. It was customary on Christmas Day for a ship’s captain and the youngest man on-board to change places for the day and for the officers to serve dinner to the men. In the 1920s it also became common practice for Royal Canadian Navy officers to send Christmas cards to one another. The cards usually employed a version of their ships badge — sometimes official sometimes unofficial — along with season’s greetings. Unfortunately this tradition seems to have ceased.

A local tradition is Esquimalt’s Celebration of Lights. The event includes a parade, entertainment and a light up of town hall, and the Esquimalt plaza, while a more recent event is the Living Christmas Tree Village in the recreation centre which brings together local community groups and businesses and their decorating talents.