Father Shane Doty, two-year-old Ariah, and mom Melissa Doty, were among those who got their picture taken with Santa Sunday at Tillicum Centre. It is offering families of children with disabilities, autism, or chronic illnesses the chance to meet Santa during specially reserved times. Sessions are available on Dec. 10 and Dec. 17. Wolf Depner/News

Saanich shopping centre reserves time with Santa

Ariah was in no mood to meet Santa this Sunday morning.

The two-year-old girl was lying face first on the carpet of Tillicum Centre. Her body language, not to mention her crying, made it clear, that she had no interest in getting a picture with Santa, who was sitting patiently in his chair, surrounded by Christmas decorations and ornaments, as shoppers strolled past.

A photographer was patiently waiting, in the wings, ready to snap the camera that he had set up for Sensitive Santa.

This service of Tillicum Centre allows parents of children with disabilities, autism, or chronic illnesses, to meet Santa during specially reserved times, without having to wait in long lines.

Her parents, Melissa and Shane Doty, tried their best to simultaneously comfort and convince Ariah that Santa wanted nothing more than to listen to her Christmas wishes — to no avail.

After a while, they decided — at least for the moment — to wait until Ariah had settled down, and more importantly observed other children with Santa.

Today was not the first time that Ariah met Santa. But the last meeting did not go so well, and once Ariah’s parents had heard of Sensitive Santa, they decided to come down from Shawnigan Lake.

Ariah, says her mother, has a number of health issues, including neurological issues, and programs like Sensitive Santa offer a chance to meet Santa under less hectic, more calming circumstances.

“You don’t feel rushed,” she said.

Kira Harris, marketing coordinator at Tillicum Centre, said the centre wanted to give children like Ariah and their parents the opportunity to meet Santa, without having to face big crowds, which can be stressful.

To help everybody, Tillicum Centre has also partnered with Community Living Victoria, which supplies trained and experienced helpers to assist the children and their families.

Families can book by emailing kharris@riocan.com with the subject line Sensitive Santa Booking. To be clear: this opportunity exists only for children with disabilities, autism, or chronic illnesses.

Stephanie and Tyler Paquette had brought their six-month-old twins and two-year-old Elizabeth to meet Santa earlier that morning.

Everything takes a little bit with Elizabeth, whom doctors are currently diagnosing for autism. “It was only this past January, where we realized that something was wrong,” said Tyler.

Waiting for a long time in line, as it is customary for pictures with Santa across North American shopping centres, can be especially tricky.

Sensitive Santa — which runs again on Dec. 10 and Dec. 17 for an hour each from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. — offers an alternative.

“For us, it [taking pictures with Santa] is a really important thing,” said Tyler.

Others thought so too, and over the course of an hour or so, the photographer from Prestige Event Imaging, shoots about three more sets of pictures, including one with five children.

Towards the end of the session, Ariah’s parents make another attempt to get their daughter into a picture with Santa. It takes no small effort, and Ariah’s session with Santa quickly turns into an impromptu family portrait as Melissa and Shane join.

Ariah cries during most of the brief session, but the picture is definitely a keeper.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Emily Harris (centre) started the in-person Monarch Moms meet-up groups in July, when it was much easier to physical distance in outdoor spaces. Harris started the group as a source of connection for women navigating the ups and downs of having a baby during a pandemic. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Victoria new mom group navigates challenges of motherhood in a pandemic

Monarch Moms meet once a week for physically-distanced connection

The Takaya inspired sculpture currently in Kent Laforme’s outdoor studio. The 25,000-pound piece of Vancouver Island marble could be installed on Cattle Point. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Stone Takaya sculpture could soon ‘howl’ at Cattle Point

Oak Bay inviting public suggestions for 25,000-pound marble sculpture

Joanne Smith has been visiting Goldstream Provincial Park since she moved to Langford two years ago. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Visitors flock to Goldstream Provincial Park for 2020 salmon run

‘I wanted to come here before I move back to Australia,’ says visitor

A bear similar to this black bear was spotted on Elk Lake Drive again on Oct. 21 and is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Search continues for bear wandering through Saanich

Bear spotted eating garbage near Elk Lake Wednesday, B.C. Conservation says

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. (Facebook photo)
Search efforts to resume for missing Manning Park hiker; Trudeau speaks on case

PM says he’ll do what he can to ‘nudge’ efforts to find Jordan Naterer, yet has little leverage locally

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

École de L’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
B.C. records first COVID-19 outbreak at school, six weeks after students return to class

Three cases of the virus have been identified at École de L’Anse-au-sable

Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau is seen as she leaves media event during a campaign stop in West Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green leader hopes voters see value in minority government

The Greens received nearly 17 per cent of the popular vote in 2017 yet received just three seats

Local candidates Pam Alexis, Abbotsford-Mission, and Preet Rai, Abbotsford-West, look on as NDP Leader John Horgan main streets in Abbotsford, B.C., Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. NDP takes snap election risk during pandemic in quest for majority government

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the election was unnecessary and irresponsible during the pandemic

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, B.C., on October 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. Liberal Leader maintains confidence as campaign tests party identity

Liberal campaign has been disrupted by controversy

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Most Read