Editor’s note: If you still believe in Santa Claus, proceed with caution. This story could impact your Christmas spirit.
You may have only seen him once a year, maybe even once in your life, but many Chilliwack and Mission residents will recognize a face in The Progress obituaries on Feb. 17, 2023.
Is that, wait… is that… Santa?
No, no, that’s not Santa. That’s Bryan James Stokes, rest in peace, 1941 to 2023.
“Beloved father, grandfather and husband, Bryan was a man of love and caring. He is remembered by his children Warren (Sandy), Kara, Laureen (Bert) and grandchildren, Ethan (Kendra), Riley, and PJ,” so beings his obituary.
But actually, he was Santa. Bryan was Santa to hundreds, probably thousands of children in Mission and Chilliwack for nearly 40 years.
“He donned the red suit for the first time in December 1985 as Santa in the Mission Christmas Parade,” his obituary reads. “It became an annual tradition: the parade in Mission and then in Chilliwack, and numerous non-profit events ranging from fundraisers for the SPCA, to visiting elementary schools, long-term care facilities, and non-profit housing societies. He loved the magic of Christmas, and he especially loved letting teenagers and adults rediscover that magic.”
Stokes wasn’t the only Santa in Chilliwack (please see editor’s note above if this is triggering), but for many parents, he’s the one we remember most.
That’s not to say that he was the best Santa.
But he was the best Santa.
“I have lots of photos and memories of Santa Bryan,” Laura Bishop said. “He was my mom’s neighbour and would be Santa at my workplace Christmas parties. He was the kindest man with the most interesting tales to tell every time we saw him. My heart is broken. He was one of a kind.”
“Oh I remember him from Mission, he and his wife were so kind and caring,” Jill Sonia said. “Such a great man.”
Stokes and his wife Kathleen were active members of Carman United Church for more than 30 years. They were very involved in the Downtown Business Improvement Association of Mission where they owned the Town Stationer for 25 years. After retirement, they Bryan volunteered at both Central Elementary and Bernard Elementary Schools, Chilliwack Community Policing, Restorative Justice, and the Chilliwack Museum and Archives.
“He sure was a great story teller and I could talk to him for hours,” said former museum employee Laureen Cuvilier Benton. “He was someone I truly missed when I left the museum…. He sure was a great story teller and I could talk to him for hours.”
Bryan’s obituary says the family invites the community to his memorial, May 13 at 1:30 p.m., Carman United Church, Chilliwack.
“In lieu of flowers, we ask that you bring a new toy to the memorial which we will donate to the Christmas Toy Drive in his name. If you are unable to attend, a toy donation in his name to your local Christmas Bureau is appreciated.”
Santa to the end and beyond.
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