Santa Boat founder Graham Burgess rejoins Toronto Rotary Sunrise Club to continue Christmas Eve tradition | photos

GRAHAM Burgess, the man who started the Santa Boat tradition on Lake Macquarie in 1974, was back again to see the event’s evolution on Christmas Eve.

Mr Burgess’s Wangi Queen was the original Santa Boat. It would cruise from jetty to jetty around the western shores of Lake Macquarie on Christmas Eve, playing Christmas carols, handing out lollies, and spreading festive spirit among crowds estimated at up to 25,000.

That tradition was revived four years ago by the members of Toronto Rotary Sunrise Club.

Now Santa chooses to ride aboard the 48-foot Bayliner cruiser, Sea Flight, owned by Trevor Mears.  

“The run is increasing amazingly well each year,” Mr Mears said.

Good crowds greeted the Santa Boat at Toronto and Wangi Wangi, with “huge crowds” at Kilaben Bay and Rathmines, he said.

As always, Santa appreciated the assistance of his Rotary helpers, some in tinnies who travelled behind the big boat distributing lollies to children along the way.

“At one point of Santa’s travels we had a flotilla of 25 vessels following along which was a wonderfull site,” Mr Mears said.

“Wherever there was a crowd I slowed down for a short time for them to enjoy Santa’s music.

“To me, the most rewarding and enjoyable part was seeing the increase in jetty parties, particularly between Toronto and Kilaben Bay. There were families singing and dancing along with Santa on their waterfronts as we cruised by,” he said.

Rotary members packed 8,000 varied lollies into 1,600 zip-lock bags for distribution, and it proved just enough. Santa’s helpers reckon 2,000 bags will be needed next year.​

Mr Mears said Santa carried out his role with energy and aplomb, dancing on the deck of the boat and spreading cheer, “just as he has done so well over the past 35 years”.

Santa’s Christmas Eve mission spanned four hours, Mr Mears said.

“This was our fourth year and we were happy again to have aboard Graham Burgess, the man who started this tradition. He now makes a great deckhand.

“I also had aboard a retired ship’s captain and master mariner who was put in charge of the lollies.

“It is a real privilege for us, and Toronto Rotary Sunrise, to carry on the Santa Boat tradition as a community event.”