WHAT THE DICKENS?
copyright 1999, 2009 Mark Bellis
SIMCOE, SEPT 26, 1997 - Welfare recipients could be saying "God bless us everyone!" for their Christmas dinner if an idea presented to Simcoe town council goes ahead.
"It was just an idea" to have people on social assistance play Dickens characters like Tiny Tim, Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past said Mary Alice Reid, co-ordinator of Ontario Works for the Haldimand-Norfolk region, which includes Simcoe, a town of 14,000 south of Brantford. Ontario Works, better known as "workfare" is a provincial project to provide employment for people on social assistance.
Reid is at pain to say that the idea, which she presented to town council earlier this month after a brainstorming session with Yvonne DiPietro, manager of the local chamber of commerce, was not to single out welfare recipients, but to have them participate along with other volunteers as characters in period costume from the Victorian novels, which ironically dealt with themes of social inequality and the wretched lives of the poor in 19th century England.
"Hey, why not?" said Randy Pond, co-ordinator of the committee that puts on Simcoe's annual Panorama Christmas festival. "We would kind of like to liven up the town."
Pond said the town puts up 60 displays and 100,000 lights in Wellington Park near downtown, but thinks the Dickens characters could help direct the 60 to 100,000 tourists Panorama attracts to the town, into the park, with features larger than life nursery story characters, like Humpty Dumpty, some of which are animated, as they strolled around downtown. Pond says that his understanding is that the workfare recipients could not fill existing positions with the festival, such as Santa Claus, who Pond says will throw the switch which turns on the displays in the park at the start of Panorama, after fireworks and a children's party, or the position of Pandy Rama, the festival's mascot, which Pond describes as an "overgrown, loveable, squishy - maybe that should be 'huggy' - Panda" since it was Pond's understanding that the workfare project could only create new jobs and not fill those that are already in place. Another drawback Pond noted was that "somebody has to pay 2,000 dollars" for costumes for the characters.
Charles Dickens' best-known story is "A Christmas Carol", which features Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser who despises charity, and Tiny Tim, a handicapped boy, whose father works for Scrooge. Scooge pays Tim's father too little to take the boy to a doctor, but nevertheless, Tim's catchphrase is "God bless us, everyone!".
The festival runs from November 29 to January 1.