People and Places

Exclusive: What happens when Santa Claus comes to Ottawa?

Ottawa reminds Santa of his North Pole home, and he uses the Ottawa River as a marker to guide his sleigh. Those were among the sugar-plum insights gifted by Santa’s “big” helpers — North American Aerospace Defense Command — in a recent interview with Ottawa Magazine. Having tracked Santa for 60 years, NORAD knows Jolly Old Saint Nick better than anyone.  We interviewed NORAD’s Lt. Marco Chouinard, of New Brunswick, who is an expert on Santa’s delivery routine in the capital. For starters, he knows Santa moves from “east to west,” which means the wee ones in areas like Gloucester, Orleans, and Vanier are likely to be visited first. He reveals more Santa Claus secrets in this Q&A, an edited transcript of which appears below.

How much time does it take Santa to deliver presents in Ottawa?
Santa’s sleigh moves at a speed faster than starlight, so it doesn’t take him very long. Going to a city like Ottawa is almost like a blink of the eye for him. It goes very fast.

What is Santa’s favourite view from the sky above Ottawa?
When he delivers his presents he goes really fast, but one of the main things he really likes is the Rideau River. It gives him a good lead mark when he’s delivering presents and going between neighbourhoods … The Parliament Buildings are also a nice landmark for him with all the decorations and lights.

What are Santa’s personal feelings about Ottawa?
Santa delivers throughout the world and he adjusts to all climates and all weather, but Ottawa’s [cold] does remind him of the North Pole … He and his reindeers adjust to all climates, but it does feel a lot like [home].

What’s Santa’s favourite local treat to find under the chimney?
From what we know over the years, Santa’s favourite treat is still cookies and milk. But if somebody in Ottawa leaves him a BeaverTail I am sure he’s going to love it. And for all the kids, don’t forget to leave some carrots for the reindeers.

Do you know if Santa has anything special planned when delivering presents to Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and his young children?
The only thing I can say is Santa keeps his list secret. I can’t really speculate on Santa and what he has planned for [individual kids].

Given Santa is so quick, does he ever take time for leisure on Christmas Eve? For example, has he ever stopped for a quick skate on the Rideau Canal?
He’s pretty busy. Although that sounds really nice, he probably hasn’t had the time. Maybe during his vacation [after Christmas].

What time to do you expect Santa to come through Ottawa on Christmas Eve?
NORAD tracks Santa, but only Santa knows his route, which means we cannot predict where and when he will arrive in Ottawa or a specific house. We do, however, know from history that he arrives only when children are asleep. In most countries, it seems Santa arrives between 9 p.m. and midnight on Dec. 24. If children are still awake when Santa arrives, he moves on to other houses. He returns later … but only when the children are asleep!

How does Santa get into homes without a chimney?
Santa visits all homes where there are children who believe in him. Although NORAD has different hypotheses and theories as to how Santa actually gets down the chimneys or inside houses without one, we don’t have definitive information to explain the magical phenomenon.

What can you tell us about Santa’s route?
His route can be affected by weather so it’s very unpredictable. NORAD coordinates with Santa’s Elf Launch staff to confirm his launch time, but from that point on, Santa calls the shots. NORAD just tracks him. [But] generally he moves from east to west. In Canada, he arrives in Newfoundland first where he is met by some of our CF-18 pilots to escort him. [Internationally], Santa usually starts at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and travels west. So, historically, Santa visits the South Pacific first, then moves up and down across the Eastern, then the Western hemispheres.

How does NORAD help Santa? And with new technology available, does Santa ever use tools like GPS or Google Maps to help him deliver toys?
Santa does not need GPS. He has been flying and delivering presents for centuries, before GPS was invented, and he’s a great pilot … NORAD is honoured to be Santa’s official tracker … Making sure the skies are safe is part of our mission … NORAD tracks airplanes, missiles, space launches, and anything else that flies in or around the North American continent.

Has Santa said anything about Ottawa’s kids this year? Overall, have they been naughty or nice?
Santa keeps that list pretty close to his chest. He doesn’t share that list with us.

Ottawans can track Santa’s Christmas Eve route at The 2015 site went live on Dec. 1 with advance games and activities. NORAD and Canada’s Department of National Defence will soon release the names of the CF-18 pilots that will escort his sleigh through Canadian airspace. Starting at 2:01 a.m. EST on Dec. 24,’s “Santa Cams” will show the “right, jolly old elf” making real-time preparations for his flight, and stream Santa at various stops around the world.  As of 6 a.m. EST, trackers worldwide can speak with a live phone operator to ask about Santa’s whereabouts — the toll-free number is 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) — or by sending an email to Official NORAD Tracks Santa apps are also available in the Windows, Apple and Google Play stores, and families can also track Santa on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+.