Bylaw officers shut down B.C. man’s homemade ‘Santa’s Village’ held for autism school

Don Taylor waves outside his Maple Ridge, B.C., home where he set up a "Santa's Village" on Dec. 19, 2019. The City of Maple Ridge has ordered him to shut the village down, saying it's in violation of city bylaws. Global News

A Maple Ridge, B.C., man’s effort to hold a “Santa’s Village” at his home to raise money for his son’s autism learning centre has been shut down by bylaw officers.

Don Taylor set up an interactive Christmas village on his lawn in the 22300-block of 124 Street earlier this month, along with an elaborate light display. Inside the home, visitors could find decorations, toys, snacks and refreshments.

Taylor and his wife, who also pose for pictures as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, were aiming to raise money for the local Chrysta Learning Centre, a local school committed to teaching students with autism and special needs.

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But on Wednesday, bylaw officers visited the home and served Taylor with a letter telling him he needs a business licence, and that his home is not permitted for “assembly use” including charity and other public events.

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“I don’t understand,” he said. “We let people come up to our homes for Halloween candy or check out Halloween displays in the garage, and no one says anything. We’re not causing an obstruction to anybody.”

Taylor says his village is only open 11 days out of the year for four hours each day, and that he’s already announced his future operating dates leading up to the new year.

He intends to honour those dates, he says.

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“This all just started off as something just to make sure that people who didn’t want to go to the mall and wanted a more personal experience could come here and have some fun, and it grew into something more,” he said.

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“This isn’t a business at all. It’s by donation, we don’t keep the money … I’m just trying to raise money for a good cause.”

However, Taylor said he also provides services as a Santa-for-hire for private visits and home parties.

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In a statement, the City of Maple Ridge said it plans to follow up with Taylor to ensure he obtains the necessary approvals and other required steps, including a criminal record check, to ensure the village is safe for minors.

“We are keenly aware of the optics of this enforcement and while we understand the spirit and noble intentions of the charity effort, we have an obligation to act when a person is violating City Bylaws,” the city said.

“The safety and security of citizens is the highest priority.”

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Taylor says he told the bylaw officers he will reopen on the already-announced dates, but won’t accept any money.

He’s hoping the city will leave him be, but says the enforcement has made his effort to spread Christmas cheer more difficult than it needs to be.

“I would say Maple Ridge gets a huge ‘bah, humbug’ for this,” Taylor said.

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