Gerry Ouellette knew of other Santa Clauses before the pandemic. He just didn't know any personally.
When Ouellette, better known as Santa Gee, was forced to host his Santa visits online last year, he went looking for technical help on a Facebook group filled with hundreds of Santas. Santa Glen Ford responded.
"We hit it off with each other," says Ouellette, a retired police officer who lives in Sarnia, Ont.
He said 2020 was "the bubble year that we all recognized that in order to make this work, we all got to work together."
Ouellette, 66, has been playing Santa professionally for over a decade, at house parties, corporate events, photo shoots and online.
Ford, 69, worked in tech and was teaching online pre-pandemic. He started Santa as a side gig in 2019. Now it's a full-time venture.
"[Gerry] knew more about Santa-ing and I knew more about the virtual side," said Ford, who lives in Mississauga, Ont.
"We're constantly in contact ... he forgets how many times he calls me and how many times I call him going, 'Help!'"
Often asked, 'Are you Santa?'
Bearing bushy white beards and red wardrobes — for this interview, both sported festive vests — means they often get recognized, especially when they go for lunch together when Ouellette makes it to the Toronto area.
"We're both used to being stopped in the street and questioned, 'You know, are you Santa? You look just like Santa,'" said Ouellette.
Ford has had a beard since he was 15. He's been stopped by truck drivers and in coffee shops.
"What can I say? This is the way I look."
The two commiserate over the unique challenges that come with being Santa, from how to answer challenging questions from kids, to falling asleep in the oversized Santa throne at the mall. Ouellette dozed off twice this season.
"I can only stay awake so long," said Ford. "I find I just go clunk. And falling asleep at 11:30 when you got in at 11 is not the best."
2 different Santas
Both Santas have their differences too.
Ouellette can carry a Christmas carol. Ford can't (unless you want your "computer to shatter.")
At six feet tall, Ouellette towers over Ford, who's five-foot-five.
And Ford relies more on physical comedy, playing a bumbling old man who forgets kids' names, while Ouellette plays it straight.
Then there's politics, where Santas Gee and Glen have differing opinions and are polar opposites.
"I take Glen's deficiencies as a positive," joked Ouellette.
They don't let it upend their friendship, which both value.
"We can still disagree and get along," said Ford.
When Ouellette is feeling down and in need of a pick-me-up, he gives Ford a call.
"Somehow he has the magical touch of lifting my spirits. I hope I do the same to him."