SOURIS – While there aren't nearly as many elves and reindeer in Souris, the town has recently become home to two of the North Pole's most well-known individuals.
The Guardian had received reports of several Santa sightings across eastern P.E.I., such as during a holiday video livestream on Souris' Facebook page. One Kings County family even received a visit from the man in red the weekend before Christmas.
"We were playing hockey, and he just drived into our driveway," seven-year-old Ross Coghlin said. "(His car) had antlers and a red nose on the front."
The eyewitness's nine-year-old brother, Andrew, noted that when the jolly individual greeted them, he already knew all of their names.
"Definitely the real Santa," he said.
Following an investigation, The Guardian can confirm that Mr. and Mrs. Claus have indeed re-located to Souris. They even invited a reporter over for an exclusive interview, where he discovered an entire home decorated with Santa-themed toys, statues, snowglobes and more.
"Just a few things we threw together," Mrs. Claus said, with a little smile.
The story of how the couple wound up in Souris starts back in the 1980s. A note to parents and guardians: if you have young ones nearby, you may want to refrain from reading any further so to keep the magic of Santa Claus alive.
The first time that Mike Pytlik, who's originally from Ontario, put on a Santa suit was when his boss instructed him to it for a Christmas event – mainly because he had the most suitable build and the best beard for the job, Mike said.
What was a one-time event ended up being a life-defining moment. Whether it be at malls, company parties, Christmas conventions or just while he's mowing the lawn, Mike devoted the rest of his life to being Santa. He has been wearing red and spreading cheer ever since.
"Before that, I would be nervous about being in public," he said. "But when I'm Santa, I'm somebody else."
He's certified under the Regional Municipality of the North Pole's jurisdiction, and he even has an official naughty or nice list. The Guardian's reporter can verify this list's authenticity because his name was included in the nice section, for which he received a candy cane.
Mike's Mrs. Claus, Virginia Pytlik, has only been playing the role for the past 15 years, but she has played a large role in accumulating the couple's Christmas collectibles – many of which stay up year-round. They moved to Souris in Fall 2019 because they wanted to get out of the city, but it wasn't long until people started seeing the Santa in Mike.
"His nature has always been the same. Just always jolly," Virginia said.
Shortly after moving, a Souris resident asked Mike to visit her sister, a dementia patient, at the local hospital while in character. He went to her room and made an entrance by ringing his Christmas bells.
"(But) she started crying and she couldn't tell me why," Mike said.
He later learned that when the sisters were young their father would climb on top of their house and ring bells on Christmas Eve, every year.
It's getting to know people and be there for them that keeps Mike putting on the suit.
"I'm always ready to be what (people) need me to be,” he said.
However, this year has been tough for the Pytlik's due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as restrictions have kept them from partaking in most public events. That's partly what prompted an old friend from Ontario, June Gordon, to reach out with a proposition.
Gordon's niece and her family, the Coghlin's, had also moved to P.E.I. last year. It's been a tough transition as the pandemic has kept them from meeting people and they miss their family back home, who they can't visit this Christmas.
So, Gordon arranged for Santa Claus to pay her niece's three boys a visit.
"He's missing being Santa. It means a lot to him to do what he does best," she said.
When Mike arrived, he read the boys a Christmas story, showed them pictures of him with some actual reindeer – as opposed to his car – and then revealed a surprise Christmas bag.
"And then he got presents out of it," six-year-old Calvin said. "And then we each got a book and we each got to open it."
The boy's mother, Melissa, said it was a very special visit and Mike truly embodied the spirit of Santa Claus for them. While it's just one of the few things the Pytliks were able to do this year, if it's not too cold out on Christmas Eve they plan to walk around their Souris neighbourhood and wave to residents in their houses.
"(And) rest assured, Santa is going to be making deliveries this year," Claus said. "Don't forget the milk and cookies."
Daniel Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian