Cadillac Fairview, Oxford cancel mall Santa visits, offer virtual experiences instead

TORONTO — Canadian kids anxiously awaiting a visit with Santa Claus at their local mall will have to settle for a very different experience this year.

Two of Canada's largest mall operators are opting for virtual Santa visits and cancelling in-person experiences with him amid increasing COVID-19 cases in provinces including Ontario.

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Cadillac Fairview Corporation Ltd. said Friday that it is suspending physical experiences with Santa in all 19 of its shopping centers, including the Eaton Centre and Fairview Mall in Toronto.

"While we know this may be disappointing for families who look forward to this annual tradition, we firmly believe this is the best decision," said Craig Flannagan, Cadillac Fairview's vice-president of marketing, in a statement.

Cadillac Fairview had been offering in-person Santa visit reservations as recently as Thursday. It had planned to limit visits with Santa to nine people at a time for a maximum of five minutes and roll out a mandatory mask policy and sanitizations between guests.

Cadillac Fairview will instead offer Santa storytime sessions in French and English on Facebook for families and will allow people to book one-on-one video chats with the jolly man from the North Pole.

The switch, which will not result in any job losses, came after extensive conversations with government officials and consumers, said Flannagan.

"Similar to what we’ve seen with other important events like weddings and birthday parties, we believe this temporary shift to online is the responsible thing to do in a very different year," he said.

Over at Oxford Properties Group, which is behind Yorkdale, Scarborough Town Centre and Square One in the General Toronto Area, Santa is going to be using a magic mirror to connect with wee ones.

The mirror is a contact-free photo experience that lets people step in front of it in a mall and then smile — behind their masks — to have their photo taken with Santa. A pet night is scheduled for those wanting to bring their furry loved ones to meet him too.

The experience will be set up to include physically-distanced waiting areas, hand sanitizing stations, one-way traffic flow through entrances and exit points and masked Santa's helpers.

The new approaches to Santa visits came as Ontario reported 1,396 new cases of COVID-19 and linked 17 new deaths in the province to the virus.

The total was a decrease from Thursday's record daily high of 1,575, but cases still continue to linger above the 1,000-mark.

That's been concerning to public health officials like Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health.

"What every one of you can do is this: don't become a case. The best way to do that is to follow the steps for self-protection, especially now," she said in a warning on Thursday.

"Wherever possible, avoid in-person contact with people you don't live with. It won't be forever, but it should be for the foreseeable future."

Toronto is set to move to Ontario's red zone of tiered restrictions that will limit the number of people some businesses can allow on their premise.

In recent days, public health officials have asked people to refrain from venturing out of their home for anything but essential services and have instructed malls to limit capacity, screen visitors for symptoms, implement mandatory mask policies and physically distance lineups.

Cadillac Fairview has already implemented physical distancing and traffic flow measures, requested that staff wear personal protective equipment and has increased cleaning of surfaces that are touched frequently.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2020.

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