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This article was published 23/12/2009 (2744 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
RED SUCKER LAKE -- Before gearing up for his busiest night of the year, Santa Claus paid a visit to thousands of lucky First Nations children from remote northern Manitoba communities Wednesday.
Stocked with 3,000 bags of goodies, Santa boarded Santa's Express -- a six-seater Merlin aircraft -- with his helpers, Grand Chief David Harper and event co-ordinator Dave Spence from the northern Manitoba chiefs organization.
"We did this so that we could bring Santa to the kids," said Harper, who has three children of his own.
"Unlike kids who live in the city, or in drive-in communities, these kids are isolated," he said.
"They don't have access to just go to a mall and see Santa and we really wanted to show them that Santa goes everywhere."
With a jam-packed itinerary, including stops in places like St. Theresa Point, Red Sucker Lake, Gods Lake Narrows and Norway House, Harper said he expected the trip to continue well into the evening.
If all went well, he said, Santa and his crew would arrive back in Winnipeg by 11 p.m. after 15 stops.
Red Sucker Lake, about 700 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, was the first stop on the route.
Paul Monias, 5, and his brother Burnell, 3, arrived first.
With rosy cheeks and runny noses, the boys eagerly climbed onto Santa's knee and told the big man of their Christmas wishes for dinosaur toys and a guitar.
"They were just so excited this morning cause they heard Santa was coming," said their father, Bruce Monias.
For a little more than 30 minutes, a steady stream of kids came into the airport and waited patiently in line for their turn to meet Santa.
Quinley Harper, 6, said he got out of bed "real fast" when his grandma came into his room and told him Santa was at the airport.
At Gods Lake Narrows, a swarm of about 300 children and their parents gathered outside of the airport waiting for Santa's Express to arrive.
"They announced that he was coming about 10 minutes before the plane arrived, and it was like the whole town was just out here within minutes," said Perimeter Air captain Cory Bertam.
As Santa peered out from the open door of the plane, and the kids were given the go-ahead, a sea of happy faces flooded the airstrip.
Spence said Harper's idea to bring Santa to the kids up north was an important one.
"The kids are our future and here is a perfect example of a leader who is taking the initiative to acknowledge that," Spence said, noting this is the first time anybody has ever tried to reach 15 fly-in communities in one day.
Harper credits his sponsors for making the Santa flight possible.
"Without the help of our sponsors -- Manitoba Hydro, Royal Bank, Northern Authority Child and Family, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Swampy Cree Tribal Council, Southern Chiefs Organization, Keewatin Tribal Council, York Factory Future Development and Perimeter Air -- we would have never gotten off the ground," he said.
Pilot Trevor Ryder, who is also vice-president of operations for Perimeter Air, said he jumped at the chance to shuttle Santa around the north. Ryder said he felt privileged to be able to fly Santa into communities that don't often get a chance to see him. As for Santa, he said although he has no intention of trading in his reindeer for an airplane, he was glad he was able to get out for a "test run" and meet some of the kids he plans to visit again before the big night.