Albertans seek comfort more than ever as the province faces 20,562 active cases of infection and 719 deaths. (Federico Gambarini / dpa via AP)
By Hélène Lequitte, Initiative de journalisme local/ Le Devoir
Alberta is suffering from acute gloom.
Active cases of COVID-19 are on the rise and Albertans need to see Santa Claus, and have fun. Despite COVID-19, some French-speaking animation artists do not give up and use ingenuity to bring, in their own way, joy and laughter during a Christmas tarnished by the shadow of COVID-19.
“HoHoHo”, the famous laugh of Saint Nicolas will be less resounding this year in the Albertan region. The province’s health restrictions are forcing Albertans to avoid gatherings like across the country. A real paradox when we know that this time of year embodies a religious holiday certainly, but above all a family one.
Albertans are seeking solace more than ever as the province grapples with 20,562 active cases of infection and 719 deaths. Bringing cheerfulness and creating special moments to remember is also a profession.
Since 2015, each year, Alexandre Bossé, self-employed, puts on his boots, his coat and his red tuque to become Santa Claus for the holidays. Initially, this self-employed worker saw over the winter a way to diversify his income. Then very quickly, he got caught up in the game.
Since then, this native Quebecer has taken his role very seriously.
“It’s my time to be the children’s rock star,” he admits. His usual clients are families as well as retirement homes, or even companies that ask Santa Claus for their Christmas party. Its revenues hover around $5,000 during the holiday season.
Tobogganing with the children, interacting with them as much as possible, this is his way of playing an active, sparkling and above all happy Santa Claus like Santa Claus from Coca-Cola. However, this year, with COVID-19, “I won’t make any money,” he admits.
Alexandre Bossé has had to adapt his formula and is trying to get by by offering different services, by delivering gifts to the door to some of his customers. But the fear of being fined deters many people.
Mr. Bossé therefore decided to do free activities, with the idea of making himself known, a kind of investment for next year.
“I hope that next Christmas I will be the official Santa Claus for the people who meet me this year,” he plans. He and a photographer go to Rotary Park in Stony Plain to take pictures from a distance, with parents and children. A practice that is not always to the liking of the authorities.
“The police were there for me to go,” he said.
The next day, he goes back there.
“Since I hadn’t made an announcement, the police didn’t want me here, but they couldn’t stop me either,” he said. In the meantime, he is working on a free project with all the regional French-speaking Canadian associations (Acfas). “All the children for an hour or two will be able to connect to Zoom to come and talk to me on the phone for free,” he explains. Schools will also have the chance, class by class and respecting the distance, to say hello to Santa Claus.
Reinventing yourself in times of COVID-19
In the south of the province, artist entrepreneur Isabelle Cliche, a native of Quebec City, resident for 16 years in Alberta, in the city of Cochrane, has adapted. An accountant by training, she started her own animation business, Amazing Smile Makers. COVID-19, she saw it coming. In addition to this, you need to know more about it. In March, during the first wave, when COVID-19 brought the economy to a halt, she decided to contact her customers.
“I offered them virtual sessions by zoom,” she explains. She then launched laughter yoga workshops and magic workshops from her home, which she called Improviser avec la rire.
“I explain to them how to create a character, using laughter with laughter techniques,” she sums up. She says she discovered this technique several years ago. A technique that she will want to use and relate to in her shows.
Without realizing it, “the kids did a laughter yoga session, but think they did improv,” she explains.
Isabelle works on several projects at the same time, notably with Canadian Parents for French, and French immersion. She therefore pre-records shows that can be viewed through a YouTube link that must be purchased, such as Isabelle the wonderful, already presented in more than 81 schools in Alberta. A service offered by the regional Acfas during Halloween. A formula that will be used for Christmas on December 14, for preschools and francophone daycares. A sort of Christmas present, this time ordered by the Calgary-based Family Support Center. “Everything was filmed in the City of the Rockies; the Calgary community center is a partner in this