Santa Claus Parades offer International Students fun in Waterloo and Cambridge

Santa Claus on parade float with child
Santa Claus and a young helper ride the final float in the Hespeler Santa Claus parade in 2017.

I encourage my international students at Conestoga College to enjoy Santa Claus parades as the weather turns colder.

Every Canadian city, town, and village seems to have a Santa Claus parade in late November or early December. They’re community gatherings where parents and children gather to watch marching bands, floats, and usually fire trucks.

December 18, 2023, two big parades in Waterloo Region offer different experiences. In all, eight Santa Claus parades are planned for autumn 2023 in Waterloo Region.

For my international students from past semesters in Brantford, that city’s Santa Claus Parade starts at 6 p.m. on November 25, 2023, along Dalhousie Street. 

Kitchener and Waterloo parade

The first Santa Claus parade on November 18 is the Kitchener-Waterloo event, along Weber Street. It starts at 10 a.m. at Frederick Street near the Downtown Kitchener Campus of Conestoga College. The parade passes near the Waterloo campus of Conestoga. It ends at Erb Street in downtown Waterloo.

It will probably take about an hour or so for all of the floats and displays to pass any location on the route. By tradition, Santa Claus rides a float at the end of the parade, waving to children and wishing a Merry Christmas to all.

Cambridge parades

At 6 p.m., November 18, the Cambridge Santa Claus parade follows Hespeler Road, I startes at Dunbar Road, travels north, and ends at Lang’s Drive. It features illuminated decorations on floats.

Cambridge also hosts a smaller parade on December 2 at 12 p.m. It is in the former Hespeler Village downtown, north of Highway 401. That parade follows Queen Street, starting near Groh Avenue and finishing in Forbes Park on Tannery Street.

Cambridge was formed from three different communities 50 years ago, including Hespeler. The community there celebrates its independence from Cambridge whenever it can, often with its own Hespeler-named celebrations.

Personal Parade planning

Plan to arrive earlier than the start time at the parade route, perhaps an hour or two in the case of larger parades that draw large crowds along the sidewalks. 

People often arrive early with bring lawn chairs, hot drinks in thermal cups and bags of snacks. They position themselves along the curb edge of the sidewalk, and wait. People may then stand behind them in second and third rows.

If you’ve never watched a parade in cool or cold weather, I advise dressing more warmly than you first think you need to – even if the weather seems pleasant. If there’s wind, I always feel much colder while standing still. Rain or snow always tests the best of my warm-weather clothing.

I’ve never found running shoes practical footwear when standing on a cold concrete sidewalk. My feet always get cold. I feel miserable, shuffling and stomping my feet to warm up.

Donation requests at parades

Don’t be surprised to see donation requests from some groups passing along on the parade.

Volunteers from local food banks walk the parade routes, collecting cash and food donations people brought with them.

There’s also a good chance you’ll see people carrying buckets and asking for cash donations to help pay for organizing the parade. Marching bands, for example, usually charge a performance fee to cover their travel and operating costs, even if the musicals are volunteers or students.

Christmas holiday parades are a part of local traditions that I genuinely hope my international students can participate in and enjoy.

Buses to parades

The Kitchener-Waterloo parade is easy for students in Kitchener and Waterloo to access using Grand River Transit buses or ION Light Rail Transit. There are several tram stops near the parade route.

The Cambridge parades are also accessible by GRT buses for my students living in Kitchener-Waterloo. 

For the November 18 parade, it’s likely most efficient to depart Kitchener from the Fairview Park Mall station using the Route 302 Express bus.

That route stops along Hespeler Road in the middle of the parade route, at Cambridge Centre Shopping Centre transit station. City crews usually start closing Hespeler Road to traffic at about 5:45 p.m. That detours the 302 Route buses to the east along Conestoga Boulevard.

Leaving Kitchener on December 2 to reach the Hespeler village parade, the most direct transit option also starts from Fairview Park Mall station.

Take the Route 302 or Route 206 buses to Sportsworld Station, then transfer to Route 203 buses. The 203 Route has several stops in the Hespeler village area, which shuts to traffic for the parade.