It’s going to be a less than merry Christmas in Whitehorse this year.
Garbage Santa isn’t coming to town.
For the last 20 years, Wayne Henderson has donned a Santa suit, decked out a garbage truck with strings of coloured lights and travelled around Whitehorse spreading Christmas cheer.
But this holiday season, the two-decades-old tradition has been put on hold.
The city sold Santa’s garbage truck.
Last year, Whitehorse bought new garbage trucks and auctioned off the old ones.
The new trucks don’t have space for the 500-watt generator Henderson uses to power the more than 1,000 lights he wrapped around the truck.
“It’s sad that we’re not doing it this year,” said Henderson. However, the city has assured him the tradition will continue next year.
The truck needs to be rigged up, and with Henderson out of the territory for the next few weeks it’s impossible to get everything ready in time.
“It’s Wayne’s baby and we don’t want to do it without him,” said Deputy Mayor Florence Roberts.
But it will be coming back next year, she said. “It’s really a wonderful program.”
It all started 20 years ago.
At the time Henderson had only been working for the city for a few years.
Kids were fascinated with the garbage truck and would come out to watch the packer crush the garbage, said Henderson.
“One kid would always wait for me,” he said. “Sometimes I’d let him work the controls.”
At Christmas, Henderson thought it would be fun to dress up like Santa while he did his route.
His manager signed off, so Henderson bought a cheap Santa suit and some candy canes.
It was a big hit with the kids, he said.
So big that it wasn’t long before he had to stop picking up garbage and start giving out candy canes full time.
“There would be so many kids running at the truck that it was getting dangerous,” said Henderson.
Over time it just got bigger.
The city had a Santa suit custom-made for Henderson and maintenance staff installed several cigarette lighters in the truck so he could add more lights.
Eventually the truck was wrapped in so many lights that Henderson had to use a diesel generator to power them all.
Local business pitched in.
Canadian Tire supplied the lights, Superstore donated candy canes and Ajax gave him a fresh pair of gloves every year.
Instead of picking up garbage, Henderson was tasked with spreading Christmas cheer throughout the city.
He’d stop by daycares, schools and long-term care facilities.
“I got right into it,” said Henderson. “It gives me a lot of joy and happiness for those four days.”
Over the years, Henderson brought a lot of smiles to people, both young and old, but there are a few that stick out.
One was a child he visited at Copper Ridge Place.
“He was in a vegetative state laying in his mother’s lap when I came,” said Henderson. “I did my whole ‘Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas’ thing, but when I went to put the candy cane in his hand he couldn’t hold on to it.”
His mother took it for him, and, as she did, she told Henderson her son was smiling.
“I couldn’t see it, but she could,” he said.
Experiences like that keep him doing it.
“Making people smile makes me happy,” he said.
While Henderson said he’s not in it for the publicity, he’s certainly had his fair share of attention.
He’s been featured on both local and national news program and, every once in a while, people will chase down his truck to get a picture with Santa.
Despite the popularity, it almost came to an end 10 years ago.
Under Yukon law, stringing up all those lights is illegal.
The RCMP told him he’d have to stop, but the territorial motor vehicles branch worked a little Christmas magic and gave him an exemption for those four days.
“The lady at motor vehicles, the big cheese, she said to me, ‘You know what, you went to my kid’s school, they talked about you for days. Here’s your permit.’”
It’s now a Whitehorse holiday tradition.
“I’ve had people tell me it’s not Christmas until they see the truck,” said Henderson.
This will be the first time in the last 20 years he won’t be riding around as Santa, but he’s confidant he’ll be back.
“I hope it keeps going,” he said. “Even if I retire, I’d like to come back and be Santa for a few days a year.”
Contact Josh Kerr at