Hundreds of firefighters and volunteers guided more than 60 festive floats through downtown Ottawa on Nov.18, as the 54th edition of the Help Santa Toy Parade raised funds and collected toys for families in need.

Organized by the Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association, the parade collects cash donations and unwrapped toys for Ottawa’s Toy Mountain campaign.

Cameron Taylor, a firefighter from the Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association and the chair of the Help Santa Toy Parade committee, said the cash collected will be exclusively used to purchase toys for families who can’t afford the additional expense of gift-purchasing during the holiday season.

Traci Bowen and K9 West at the Parade. Bowen says it’s important for people to understand the role of K9 West so they know they have access to him if they are anxious about going to a police station. [Photo © Anmiao Wu]

“This year is the year that we need help,” said Taylor. “I think with COVID, housing crunches, and the cost of everything going up, it just increases the gap between the people who have and the people who don’t. ”

“It’s in times like this that it’s very important for people who have to give back to the community so that we can all make a difference together,” said Taylor.

Parade volunteers collect donated toys and put them onto the official Help Santa Toy Parade float. The parade left City Hall at 11 a.m. and then travelled down Bank St. to Lansdowne Park. [Photo © Anmiao Wu]

To receive donated toys from Ottawa’s Toy Mountain, families in need can simply call 211 and provide their details to be added to the recipient list.

Corey Little, one of the firefighters at the parade, said there were approximately three to four hundred firefighters at the parade.

“The most exciting thing for us, for the fire department, and for me especially, it’s just gathering toys, seeing all the happy kids and knowing that we can make a few people’s Christmas a little bit better because they get new toys to open on Christmas,” said Little.

Little said that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about personal safety, cut into donations. As a result, empty boots with tap square readers on them were introduced to safely collect donations. People could tap their debit or credit card to donate, along with giving cash, and, Little said, donation totals went back up.

The Ottawa Police Service also had a float at the parade this year. Traci Bowen, a crisis counsellor from the Victim Support Unit of the Ottawa Police Services, walked at the parade with a canine assistance intervention dog K9 West to support the campaign and promote police and community engagement.

“I think it’s really important that people know about West and his role so if they ever find themselves in a situation where they’re anxious about coming into the police station, they know that we offer not only victim support but also offer canine assistant intervention,” said Bowen.

Taylor says the Help Santa Toy parade collected more than $60,000 last year in cash donations as well as a large number of unwrapped toys through their campaign. This year, however, Toy Mountain is facing challenges in meeting its fundraising goal of $200,000 because of a decrease in toy donations.

“The economic situation in Canada is such that people are less able to give and need more help,” said Taylor. “We’re just trying to make sure that people who can give know that it is hard for everybody else and to try to smooth that out a little bit.”

Individuals can still donate online to help Toy Mountain purchase toys or drop off unwrapped toys in an official Toy Mountain donation bin or at any fire station in Ottawa before Dec. 18.