‘Toys for the North:’ RCMP, RCAF bring Christmas to remote northern communities

By Natasha McKenty | December 22, 2022

Estimated reading time 10 minutes, 8 seconds.

Christmas has landed in Canada’s most northern communities, thanks to a “cross-organizational collaboration” between the “O” Division Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canadian Toy Association (CTA), Thomson Terminals Limited, and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

Christmas has landed in Canada’s most northern communities. RCAF Photo

The annual “Toys for the North” initiative has been delivering toys to remote Canadian communities, such as the Northwest Territories, Labrador, Manitoba, and northern Ontario, since 2010. In a statement, the RCMP said that to date, the campaign has distributed over $1 million worth of toys to roughly 4,000 children who may not otherwise receive them.

This year, CTA’s donation was valued at “more than $470,000, a record-breaking amount in a single season for the initiative,” the association said.

Toys and essential items are stored at Thomson Terminal and then transported by Thomson to CFB Trenton. North Star Air Photo

According to RCMP Toys for the North coordinator Cpl Angelique Dignard, this year will be the “best year yet.” The focus has been to increase reach, “better serving the communities receiving donations.

“We want to continue to bring joy to children across Canada’s North and reach as many children as possible,” added Dignard. “We are overjoyed that this year we are able to expand the program into communities in the Northwest Territories.”

Toys were delivered to Poplar Hill First Nation, Sachigo Lake First Nation, and Webequie First Nation. North Star Air Photo

Throughout November, donations were collected through corporate partnerships and Greater Toronto Area (GTA) RCMP employees. Toys and essential items were stored at Thomson Terminal and then transported by Thomson to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Trenton, Ontario.

“I am blown away by the generosity of not only the toy industry, but also by individuals who donate their time and resources to provide toys, handmade items, personalized hygiene packs, and snowsuits for children across the North whom they will never meet,” said Dignard.

According to the RCAF, on Dec. 1, 8 Wing Trenton Commander Col Leif Dahl, and Commanding Officer of 2 Air Movements Squadron, Maj Cameron MacKay, “were present at the arrival of the donated toys to 8 Wing.”

RCAF aircraft arrived at Thunder Bay International Airport in early December “full of toys” and “teen packs.” RCAF Photo

On Dec. 3, an RCAF CC-130 Hercules arrived “full of toys” and “teen packs” at Thunder Bay International Airport, where North Star Air and Gardewine Group triaged and took over the distribution. Gardewine Group transported the sorted gifts to North Star Air hangars in Pickle Lake and Red Lake, Ontario, where the final leg of the journey continued.  

The following week, the “flagship” of North Star Air’s fleet, a Basler BT-67 (with Santa onboard), delivered the toys to Poplar Hill First Nation (near the Ontario-Manitoba border), Sachigo Lake First Nation (Northwestern Ontario), and Webequie First Nation (540 kilometers north of Thunder Bay).

And as toys are transferred from offices to warehouses, to the arms of children, volunteers eagerly watch for social media updates, declaring that the part that makes all the effort worth it is the images of children smiling as they receive a gift from Santa.

Follow the feel-good journey on the RCMP’s FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Tracking Santa

As the Christmas Eve countdown begins, the Canadian NORAD Region (CANR) will start “monitoring and escorting Santa as he completes his journey through Canadian airspace,” the Canadian Armed Forces said in a tweet.

According to a press release, “NORAD has been tracking Santa since 1955, when a young child dialed the misprinted phone number from a department store advertisement in the local newspaper.”

As the story goes, when a U.S. Air Force commander on duty answered the phone on that fateful Christmas Eve, he quickly assured the child he was Santa and assigned “a duty officer to continue answering calls.”

CF-188 Hornet pilot Capt Felix St-Jean (kneeling), supported by maintainer Cpl Amélie Tremblay-Gauthier, will escort Santa through Canadian airspace in eastern Canada on Dec. 24, 2019. Both are from 3 Wing Bagotville, Que. Cpl Louis Gagné Photo
CF-188 Hornet pilot Capt Felix St-Jean (kneeling), supported by maintainer Cpl Amélie Tremblay-Gauthier, escorted Santa through Canadian airspace in Eastern Canada on Dec. 24, 2019. RCAF/Cpl Louis Gagné Photo

“NORAD defends North America by using complementary, multi-domain defense capabilities, including military aircraft, radars, and satellites,” explained MGen Iain Huddleston, Commander of the Canadian NORAD Region. “These capabilities and assets also enable CANR to escort Santa safely through Canadian airspace on Dec. 24. I want to reassure all children and their parents that we will do everything we can to ensure Santa’s safe passage across Canada while he delivers joy and gifts.”

The press release reads: “When the jets intercept Santa, it’s a friendly occasion; NORAD fighter pilots tip their wings to say, ‘Hello Santa. Welcome back, and good to have you on our radar again.’ Santa always waves. He loves to see and greet the pilots.”

On Dec. 24, a video of Santa’s sleigh as he enters Canadian airspace (accompanied by NORAD CF-18s) can be viewed here.

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