90-year-old 'Santa's Helper' reflects on the thousands of toys made and donated

·2 min read
90-year-old 'Santa's Helper' reflects on the thousands of toys made and donated
90-year-old 'Santa's Helper' reflects on the thousands of toys made and donated

Everyone knows Santa's main workshop is at the North Pole, but some might be surprised to learn that a satellite operation has been running out of a home on a West Vancouver hillside for 26 years.

That's where Bill Chalmers, 90, has handcrafted 200 delightful wooden toys with wheels every year — trucks, race cars and Scotty dogs in honour of his own heritage — that are donated to the North Shore Family Services Christmas Bureau before finding their way to a child who might otherwise not get a present under the tree.

"It makes me feel good," said Bill, "particularly at Christmastime, because I know there's a lot of kids out there that don't get very much."

The generosity has earned him the nickname Santa's Helper. Margaret Chalmers, his partner and wife of 59 years, is known as Mrs. Claus.

Over the years, they estimate they've made and given away upwards of 5,000 toys.

Kevin Li/CBC
Kevin Li/CBC

Margaret says the whole thing started out innocently enough when Bill retired from his successful woodworking business making handmade whirligigs for Vancouver tourist shops.

"He started making the odd toy for the children of friends of ours, and it grew from there," said Margaret. "He feels satisfied that some children are going to be able to enjoy them. Just as simple as that."

Born in Scotland in the 1930s, Bill grew up the sixth of nine children in a two room home and outdoor water closet (toilet) shared with six other other families.

As a child, Christmas at the Chalmers alway meant the same thing.

"You got an apple, an orange and a shiny new penny," he said. "I look back on my childhood as a good one... I have no complaints."

Chalmers discovered a love and talent for woodworking early in life, but because most wood was burned to heat homes, finding material to work with was a challenge.

After serving in the military and immigrating to Canada, he found employment as a butcher at Woodwards and then Safeway, where he met Margaret, who was working as a meat wrapper to put herself through university.

Since retiring, thousands of his toy creations have found their way to North Shore children, but because they are distributed by agencies, the Chalmers never hear directly from those who receive them.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Margaret says although that would be nice, the lack of feedback has never diminished the good feeling that comes from doing a good deed.

The Chalmers' toy sack has already been filled for this year, but it's uncertain what will happen next.

Because of COVID-19, the North Shore Christmas Bureau has had to change the way it operates and isn't accepting direct contributions.

But there's alway next Christmas.

"Bill had the toys all made and we put them in a box and stored them," said Margaret. "If we don't get them to anyone this year, they'll be ready for next year."