Orillia school bus driver, Wayne Campbell, says the students he drives to school each day are convinced that he is Santa Claus, and they have every reason to believe so.
Each day, students are greeted with Campbell's jolly big smile and his snow-white beard as they board their bus to school. The kicker is, Campbell really is Santa Claus ... dressing up as the jolly old gent each season at Orillia Square mall.
Campbell started growing out his beard when he was younger. Back then it was to complete his 'biker' look, while he was still carving out his 23-year-career at CFM Specialty Home Products on Patterson Road.
“I would be Santa for our Christmas parties back then, and I’d need to go to a costume shop to get some white spray for my beard. Now my beard is as white as can be and it’s perfect for Santa,” he said.
The now 64-year-old has enjoyed being Santa for 25 years and in that time, he’s had the honour of meeting thousands of children. This will be his third year as Santa at the mall.
“I love children, I always have, and that’s why I drive the school bus. A lot of the kids on my bus either think I’m Santa or Santa’s brother,” Campbell said with a laugh.
The Orillia native has always loved Christmas and the magic that surrounds it.
“There were a couple of times when I was a kid where my father got laid off just before Christmas and the Salvation Army donated toys and a basket in order for us to have a Christmas,” Campbell explained.
“Every year, I try to donate some time or money to the Salvation Army because of what they have done for my family in the past.”
Campbell says being Santa helps him give back to the community that helped give his family a magical Christmas on more than one occasion.
“To bring happiness to a child and to see the glow on their face means everything to me. They give my beard a tug, and when it doesn’t come off, they think wow, that’s the real Santa. The magic in their eyes is amazing,” he said.
Campbell doesn’t take the Santa gig for granted. In fact, he takes it quite seriously.
“I’m 100 percent in character once I put the suit on. I would never go into a liquor store or do anything that could be viewed as negative when I’m Santa. I feel that it’s a very sacred, magical thing and it should be respected,” he said.
Last year, Campbell wasn’t able to be Santa for local kids because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was difficult for him.
“It was very disappointing, but this year the mall is going to have a sheet of plexiglass in between the children and I and you won’t see it in the photo,” he explained.
“It would be nice if we could go back to normal. To think some kids will have a memory of having a mask on and Santa having a mask on, that’s a lot different than our memories growing up.”
Despite the pandemic dampening some of the Christmas spirit, Campbell has no plans on retiring from being Kris Kringle.
“I’m considering retiring from driving the school bus. I’m getting arthritis really bad which makes it difficult to drive the bus without getting a lot of joint pain,” he said.
“I hope to do Santa until I can’t walk anymore. I really enjoy doing it and it’s still a fun thing for me.”
Santa, aka Wayne Campbell, will be at the Orillia Square mall beginning Dec. 4 and 5 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.
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