Since 1991, Wayne Henderson, aka Garbage Truck Santa, has delighted Yukoners with his colourful light displays, dancing antlers, music and gifts of candy canes. Now, due to the support of the community, Henderson can feel confident that his garbage truck will keep bringing joy throughout the holiday season for years to come. Henderson first donned his Santa suit for the benefit of the kids along his garbage route.
“Every Thursday, when I drove through Riverdale there would be this little boy waiting for me,” he said. “Seeing how excited he was to see the garbage truck gave me an idea; I walked into my manager’s office at the City of Whitehorse and asked what he thought about me doing my route in a Santa suit, with candy canes for the kids.”
His manager told him to go for it. Pretty soon, Garbage Truck Santa’s popularity grew well beyond initial expectations. “It wasn’t that long before we found ourselves with a bit of a problem–everywhere I went we would have kids running around the truck and getting too close, and delays to the schedule due to photographs and people wanting to visit with me,” Henderson said. “Ultimately Ron, my supervisor, just told me to start driving around during the period just before Christmas and not to worry about picking up the garbage.”
“It was during this time that I started to add lights to the truck,” he said.
The truck’s light display has grown exponentially since then. Every year, Henderson adds more lights to the display, helped along by donations from Canadian Tire. “When I started I could power everything by wiring the lights into the cigarette lighter, but it wasn’t too long before I needed a generator in the back to keep everything powered.”
Garbage Truck Santa rode under the city’s banner for about 20 years, until the city updated its fleet of garbage trucks. The city wasn’t able to accommodate the light display with the new model of trucks and Henderson had to miss a year as his alter ego of the jolly old elf. Tina Woodland, from Whitehorse Motors, came up with a solution. “She called me up and said ‘if we find you a new garbage truck will you start bring Garbage Truck Santa back?’” said Henderson. “Of course I said yes.”
The Takhini Trailer Court had a truck it was willing to lend for a week a year. For the last while, that arrangement has ensured that Garbage Truck Santa makes it through his holiday rounds. But last year the transmission on the truck went. The trailer court sold it to Henderson for a dollar and Henderson was left trying to figure out how to get the vehicle repaired so that the community wouldn’t be disappointed by the absence of his brightly-lit vehicle on Whitehorse’s streets during December. It was at this point that the community banded together to create a Christmas miracle.
A GoFundMe campaign kicked off to help with the expenses. Phil from Inland Kenworth, Keith from Pelly Construction, Ross from Mercer Construction, the teams at Whitehorse Motors and KalTire, and Doug McRae and his students at Yukon College banded together. Between them, they arranged to tow the garbage truck to where it could be worked on; sourced and installed a new transmission; put new tires on the truck, undertook a complete inspection; installed an inverter to power the light display; licensed and insured the vehicle; and provided a place to store it year-round.
“I’ve been so overwhelmed by people trying to help,” said Henderson. “The businesses in this town are so community minded–everywhere I turned there was someone offering to help.”
McRae, who volunteered his heavy equipment technician program students to take care of the basic safety maintenance that is required of all commercial vehicles, explained his drive to help. “I have always believed that events similar to what Wayne does are a part of what defines a community and need to be encouraged and supported whenever we can.”
The garbage truck is now ready to roll out for the upcoming holiday season. A team of elves will take over Whitehorse Motors in mid-December to install the light display in time for Garbage Truck Santa’s first scheduled appearance of the season on Dec. 16. Over that week, Henderson will visit three schools a day between Monday and Thursday. In between, he will visit as many daycares and seniors’ residences as possible. “Not many people volunteer to wear a Santa suit for 10 hours a day,” he laughed. “I hope the temperature drops a bit–it’s a pretty hot suit.”
When he’s not paying visits to excited youngsters and the young-at-heart, he can be found driving the streets of Whitehorse, or at Whitehorse Motors, where the truck will live during that week.
Looking to the future, Yukoners can expect to have garbage truck Santa bringing a smile to faces for years to come. “I want to make it to 30 years,” said Henderson. “And then when I’m ready to retire, I’ll pass the torch to my son Ryan. It takes a person with a good heart to do this and he has that.”