Thirty-two years ago John Fulton took the waters of the Niagara River – between Fort Erie, ON, and Buffalo, NY – dressed as Santa Claus to promote his windsurfing school.
But after attracting international attention, the owner of Fulton’s Fitness in St. Catharines, turned the pre-Christmas event into a way to draw attention to the most marginalized in society.
“Today’s event is about helping the homeless,” said Fulton, two days before Christmas as he prepared to head out on the Canadian side of the river.
This year, he wanted to raise awareness of homeless teens in partnership with The RAFT (Resource Action for Teenagers) Youth Hostel and Drop In Resource Centre which helps homeless teens throughout Niagara Region.
Before he donned his Santa suit, with a drysuit underneath it, Fulton set up a bin near Mather Arch for people to drop off items like socks, and men and women’s underwear.
He said a big donation to start his campaign came from McGregor Socks in Toronto, which donated 500 pairs of socks.
“The shelters in Niagara need warm socks and underwear for men and women, and they need shoes and boots, too,” he said, encouraging people to make any donation they could to help out those in need.
“We have all way too much stuff … if you find a homeless person or family in need, put your stuff to good use and make a donation.”
After friends and family wished him well, Fulton took to a standup paddleboard (SUP) and made his way from a boat launch near Nicholls Marine, on Niagara Blvd. in Fort Erie, to a waiting Niagara Regional Police boat.
Fulton switched to using a SUP in the past several years so he could carry on the event even if there was no wind for a windsurf board.
“The (police) marine unit will carry me up to Mather Arch, just south of the Peace Bridge, and I’ll jump in the water there.”
He said C-Tow Niagara, operated by Scott Crain, was acting as his media and chase boat for the day. And he thanked the police, Town of Fort Erie, Niagara Parks Commission, and various American agencies for making the event possible.
While his original plan had he leaving the river at Bowen Rd. Beach, Fulton ended up going farther down the river. Once past the beach, he decided to head to Miller’s Creek Marina.
But facing a fairly steady north-west wind, he ended up stopping near McKenzie’s Crossing, his favourite spot on the river, and took a seat in a chair that was behind a large log washed up on the riverbank.
From there, the police boat picked him up and took him the rest of the way to the marina.
“It was beautiful out there,” said Fulton, as he thanked the police and Crain for their assistance with the event.