Excited youngsters could hardly contain themselves as they waited for the arrival of Santa Claus at the Old-Fashioned Christmas Walk in downtown North Bay Friday night.
The walk has been creating memories for generations of families for 33 years.
The evening kicked off at the parkette, where the VOX choir warmed up the crowd with some Christmas music.
Pete and Nicole Stadnyk brought 7-month-old Maxwell, marking the start of what they hope will be a family tradition for the holidays.
“We had just moved here, and we came last year, just the two of us. Now he’s here with us for the first time. We just went to the toy store to get him a toy and we’re going to do that every year too,” shared mom Nicole.
“We enjoy the feeling of community it brings. It is the start of the Christmas season. You can really feel the excitement.”
A large crowd gathered at the parkette at Main Street West and Fraser Street for the official countdown, led by the Town Crier, Mayor Peter Chirico, Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota, and Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli.
When the crowd counted down to zero, the local dignitaries flipped a giant light switch to light the tree, courtesy of North Bay Hydro, much to the delight of the crowd who let out cheers and applauded.
New this year, located beside the large tree, was a smaller Wish Tree, adorned with red lights and tags marked with personal wishes for the holidays.
Tags with a bell attached were handed out at last Sunday’s Santa Claus Parade for people to write their wish and have it hung on the Wish Tree.
“Those who did get a bell and tag from the Santa Claus Parade, were encouraged to put some good thoughts into it, put their wish on it,” explained Amber Livingstone, Executive Director of Downtown North Bay & Waterfront.
“We wanted to do something a little different. It’s actually not the DIA individually. It was something that Michelle Trudeau who owns the Opera Bakery Café and Michelle’s FrameMaker & Gallery wanted to do, so Michelle took this project on and we just helped hand out the bells.”
The larger tree was donated for the Christmas Walk.
“The little tree in the parkette that is there all year, is the tree that will eventually, in another 15 to 20 years become our permanent tree. But because it is still quite small in comparison, we do have people donate a tree every year,” explained Livingstone.
For many people it was their first opportunity to see the progress made to date, on the “Making Over Main Street” construction project, giving them a glimpse of what to expect when the project continues.
“You’ve got a bit of the old and a bit of the new mixed together. They got to see the new sidewalks, with the exposed aggregate boarding them, and the new light poles have come in,” shared Livingstone.
The cosmetic lift to the downtown wasn’t the only thing people noted.
“They got to see some of the new businesses that they might not have checked out yet on the block that just opened up from construction. That is the 100 Main East block between Ferguson and Wyld.”
As people strolled up and down Main Street, they were handed warm apple cider, hot chocolate and plenty of treats, including the opportunity to roast their own marshmallows with the Rotary Club of North Bay.
Cheapskates was back with its rail jam, despite the lack of snow.
“The City brought us some snow today,” shared Livingstone.
Youngsters were given the thrill of getting a bird’s eye view of the city from the hydro bucket, positioned to look down Main Street.
While they were up in the air, others were planted a little closer to the ground riding an electric train.
“Also this year we had what I’m calling an ‘Instragramable moment’ near Good Glaze. People could stop and take their picture. It says ‘Warm wishes from downtown North Bay’ and we had a fun cube photo booth in the Little Bitty Plant Shop that just reopened in the Old Nutty Chocolatier space. They reopened today at noon,” shared Livingstone, who added that the Christmas Walk is a way to say thank you to the community.
“It is not about doing business at the Downtown Walk, it really is about community. A lot of my businesses will say it is not a busy night for sales, for some it might be, but a lot of this is a way to thank our community for supporting us and it gives us an opportunity to come together and have some fun.”
People always look forward to the fireworks lighting up the sky behind the North Bay Museum, at the end of the evening.
“We have a sponsor that is helping us, Selebration Productions Inc., but we have hired Dream Catcher Fireworks they are an Indigenous business out of Capreol to help with the fireworks.”
Many people use the walk to get Christmas gift-giving ideas, returning another day to leisurely stroll down Main Street and get what they need, giving Santa a helping hand.