Santa arrives in Clover Square. (Photo courtesy of David Tung)

Santa arrives in Clover Square. (Photo courtesy of David Tung)

Santa’s House in Clover Square welcomes holiday spirit

Cloverdale Santa’s House opens Dec. 8

On Dec. 8, Santa Claus will come into Cloverdale on top of a fire truck bearing his reindeer and sleigh.

It’s pretty neat for Santa, a 59-year-old Surrey resident named Keith Wutke.

“It’s cool,” Wutke said. “All the kids get excited to see Santa coming in.”

Wutke has been Santa for the last seven years, welcoming children of all ages into Santa’s House in Clover Square for two weeks each December.

Many people may recognize the red and white house, often known as the “Santa Hut,” as the small, square building in the middle of the Clover Square parking lot. It’s empty most of the year — during rodeo season it has been used to count votes for the chili cook off — but at Christmas comes alive with holiday magic.

“They still remember, even in the summer,” David Tung, building operator for Colliers International, said about the kids who walk past the building. “They say this was where Santa came.”

Tung has been the caretaker of Santa’s House since 2006, when Colliers took over management of Clover Square. Each year, Tung acts as Santa’s elf and takes photos of the families who come to spend time with Santa. Since Wutke came on board, the pictures have been easy to take, Tung said.

“He’s a really good Santa,” Tung said. “When you take a picture of [Wutke] his eyes really smile, [and are] really kind.”

Wutke didn’t comment on his smiling eyes, but did say you had to have patience to be a Santa.

Keith Wutke getting ready to welcome kids into the Clover Square Santa Hut in 2015.
Keith Wutke getting ready to welcome kids into the Clover Square Santa Hut in 2015.

Photo courtesy of David Tung

“You don’t want to rush the kids because then you’ll never win that one for a picture,” he said. “If they’re a little on edge and not sure, they shy away pretty fast.”

“I kind of take my time and get out of the chair and show them the toys,” he said, “try to make them feel a little more comfortable.”

Picture-taking is an important part of any elf’s job. But Tung’s work in Santa’s House begins long before Santa actually arrives.

In early December, Tung and his wife spend three afternoons decorating the inside and outside of the house. They put up the Christmas tree, decorated with stuffed bears, and festoon the windows with tinsel garlands and sparkling ornaments. Beside the red armchair, Tung fills buckets with toys and candy canes. He estimates he buys about 1,000 toys throughout the season.

“I don’t want to spend too much money, so we just go to the dollar store to gather small toys,” he said. “But it’s really different because it comes from Santa.”

It comes from Santa. Those words embody the magic that Wutke and all the Santas who came before him try to bring to the Santa Hut. For Wutke isn’t the first Claus to spend his holiday season in the red suit.

In the late 1990s, Richard MacLachlan started as the first Santa Claus in Clover Square’s hut. He was 28 at the time.

“I was young to be a Santa,” he said. But, he added, “kids don’t realize.”

MacLachlan’s intent was to give back to the community, inspired by Cloverdale icon Bill Reid, and Santa’s House was the ideal place to do that.

“It’s not a big mall Santa; it’s maybe not as fancy. But it’s community minded,” MacLachlan said. “It’s a nice little spirit.”

That spirit not only exists in the men who’ve played Santa Claus over the years — including MacLachlan’s father Doug and Wutke’s nutritionist Murray — but also the people who visit the hut throughout the season.

Last year, people who visited the Santa Hut donated $1,500 to the Surrey Food Bank — $200 less than the year before, but three times as much as when Tung first started in 2006. Wutke sometimes receives mugs of hot chocolate from appreciative parents, and last year even received a donated suit from two elderly ladies who came in for a photo. (He plans to wear the suit this year.)

Four years ago, Santa’s House received a donation of toys from a man who had some leftover presents from a work party. Among them was a jewellery box with a ballerina figurine, which Wutke kept under his chair with some excess toys.

Not too long later, Wutke had a little girl on his lap who didn’t want anything for Christmas.

“I kept trying to encourage her to pick something, if there was something,” he said. “Eventually she said, ‘I would like, I guess, a jewellery box with a ballerina girl.’

“I reached under my chair and put it in from of her face,” he continued. “You could feel the magic.”

“I bet you she’ll never forget that,” he added, then laughed. “I won’t.”

This year, Santa will be available for photos each day between noon and 4 p.m. from Saturday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 23. Children, adults, teens and pets are welcome.



editor@cloverdalereporter.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

ChristmasCloverdale

Just Posted

Surrey RCMP detachment. (Contributed file photo)
RCMP investigating report of shots fired in South Surrey

Police say they have not yet found evidence to confirm incident

Bucketheads – A Star Wars Story is being filmed near the 19000-block of 16 Avenue in South Surrey. (Mychaylo Prystupa photos)
Star Wars fan film ‘Bucketheads,’ shot in South Surrey, makes its debut

Volunteer initiative features new LED screen technology

Darlene Bennett, right, speaking about her murdered husband Paul at a press conference in 2018. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Widow of Surrey murder victim seeking referendum vote on policing transition

Darlene Bennett files application with Elections BC seeking binding referendum vote

Canada’s Janet Leung steals second base during playoff action at the Softball Americas Olympic Qualifier tournament in South Surrey on August 31, 2019. Leung and her teammates have not been back to Softball City since, as the 2020 and now ‘21 Canada Cup tournaments have been cancelled. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck photo)
Canada Cup softball event cancelled for second straight year

Travel restrictions, health and safety concerns cited as reasons for cancellation

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

In this Monday, March 15, 2021 file photo a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in a pharmacy in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris. Questions remained Wednesday about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Canada, as Manitoba limited use of the shot and Ontario announced it planned to save an incoming shipment to use as second doses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Christophe Ena, File
Questions remain about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot in Canada

More than two million Canadians have received AstraZeneca and 17 have been confirmed to have VITT

A Mountie issued B.C. RCMP’s first ticket for non-essential travel May 1. (Black Press Media files)
Driver ticketed, told to ‘return to Lower Mainland immediately’ by Vancouver Island police

The motorist was originally pulled over for driving-related offences May 1

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Adam Hamdan has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorist charges given temporary residence in Canada

Adam Hamdan had been facing deportation to Jordan, where he holds citizenship through his Palestinian parents

Transit Police Const. Peter Kwok was filmed in December during an encounter on the Canada Line when a woman refused to wear a mask. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Woman who went viral by refusing to wear a mask on SkyTrain to pay $460 in fines

Footage of the December incident was recorded by the passenger, herself, and posted to social media

Lumber is shown in the back of a van in this recent image provided by the Saskatoon Police Service. The skyrocketing prices for lumber is fuelling a trend that has authorities across the country warning builders to keep their guard up. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Saskatoon Police Service-Const. Derek Chesney *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘It is a gold mine:’ Builders warned of rising lumber thefts across Canada

Many North American mills curtailed production temporarily earlier in 2020 because of COVID lockdowns

David and Julie Kaplan with their children Estelle and Justin. (Special to The News)
BC family whose move was stopped by COVID border closure back on the road

Maple Ridge’s Kaplan family will arrive at their new home in Nova Scotia on Wednesday

Most Read