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Southern Ontario Santa Race engaged in battle over scheduling

Burlington, Ont.'s Santa Race, traditionally held in December, is being pressured to move to a November time slot, and the race directors are fighting back

Santa Burlington 5K
Photo: Stephen Tytus

It may be true that you can’t fight City Hall, but Burlington, Ont.’s Kelly and Mark Arnott, race directors of the city’s annual Santa Race 5K, are trying. The Arnotts are engaged in a battle with a local councillor over when the race should take place.

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The Santa race, which started in 2010 and bills itself as “Canada’s Original and Largest All-Santa Race,” has traditionally been held on the second Saturday in December. But Marianne Meed Ward, councillor for Ward 2 who is running for mayor in the October municipal elections, along with the local business association, is pushing to have the race take place in November instead, to lessen the impact of road closures on local businesses at the height of the holiday shopping season.

Photo: Edison Yeo

Kelly Arnott told us the race was held in November once, in 2016, to accommodate a sponsor who was not able to be present in December. As a result, the race saw an 18 per cent drop in participation. Last year it went back to December, and registration was up 13 per cent. Moreover, both date changes had to be voted on at city council, and a motion to keep the November date for 2017 failed to pass by two votes to five, a fact confirmed by Meed Ward.

But Meed Ward and Dean claim local merchants far preferred the November time slot, even though Arnott wants it to remain in December, since it attracts more runners at that time, but also because she is occupied with other races on other weekends. “The race is over and cleaned up before 11 a.m.,” says Arnott, who claims that Meed Ward’s push to hold the race in November is politically motivated and not supported by the other councillors or most local business operators. But Brian Dean, executive director of the Burlington Downtown Business Association, disagrees, claiming many of the 72 merchants on Brant Street between Caroline and Lakeshore reported a significant drop in sales during the race, and that the request to have council mandate a November date came from his organization.

Photo: Edison Yeo

“We support the race and would like to see it continue,” says Dean. “We’d just prefer to have it take place at a time that doesn’t impact local merchants so much.”

Meed Ward says, referring to the shift to November in 2016, “The accommodation was made for a sponsor. Why can’t it be made for the 400-plus merchants downtown, who are experiencing real losses?”

City staff have decided to poll the public about when the race should be held, and the results, expected in September, will influence the date of the race going forward, though Meed Ward noted that council does not meet again until after the October election. For this year, the race will go ahead at the usual time, on Saturday, December 8 at 9:30 a.m. To cast your vote, click here