A service to honor the life of local legend Len Vaness was held on Friday, December 29,2023 at the Hosmer Hall. Len was a Hosmer resident and Hosmer Fire Department volunteer.

The event was modest in nature, much like the man himself whose manner was always kind and a bit shy, truly contradicting his appearance. With his rough beard and longish hair Len could have passed for someone rough and tough, instead he was perfect to play his favorite character of Santa Claus. Although known for a lot of things being the “real” Santa was a favorite of old and young alike. Len took his Santa job seriously, in preparation he would grow his beard and hair long and then Julie, his friend and hair stylist would dye the hair and beard white making him truly look the role. I don’t think he was playing it, he had a heart of gold for children and adults and he genuinely became Santa.

I first met Len years ago when he was involved as a leader of the Cadets that still operate out of the Legion Hall. Len loved to volunteer, as a retired teacher that was one of the volunteer jobs in his repertoire. He was impressive in uniform even a bit too serious as he carried his briefcase up the long stairs to the second story above the Legion hall where the Cadets hold meetings. Another volunteer position Len had was having a cooking show on the local Monarch television station. I got invited to it a couple of times and was very nervous. This was in the late nineties before everyone had cell phones that could produce video for the entire world to view and before I was recruited to have my own show on the local channel.

The studio in the Monarch building was situated in a mostly bare cavernous hall and the area where Len was set up had a rather dreary scene of gray carpet on the floor with the same carpet running up the wall. This space was large enough to simulate a carpeted room when viewed on television. Len set a lovely table with linen, dishes, and cutlery to present his delicious food. On the first invitation I thought I would be a good guest and bring a hostess gift of Italian pastries only to discover Len didn’t eat sugar treats, although the station manager did, and he was always an invited guest at Len’s table.

Len Vaness

Mary’s daughter Pina with Santa

But I really got to know Len’s heart and personality during a stressful period when one of my daughters had developed a serious kidney health problem that required a kidney transplant. Len offered to get tested, that is the type of person he was. He was willing to sacrifice for someone who wasn’t his family. We truly appreciated this gesture and never forgot it. Fortunately, my husband was a good match and donated one to our daughter.

For years each Christmas eve Len was at our door as the “real” Santa, many times our grandkids would tug at his beard to see if he really was Santa. And our house wasn’t the only one he visited that night, he had many visits to make but always made time to talk to each one as they sat on his knee. He made Christmas for us with his jovial and warm performance.

At the service his wife Shelley said, “Len moved back to the Valley in 1991 with her and two Irish Wolfhounds in tow”. She added that “they had a happy and comfortable time there with Len renewing old friendships and starting many new ones. His forthright and witty personality made it easy to fit in no matter where he went.” Soon after moving to Hosmer, Len and Shelley took over the Elk River Inn or the “The Hoz” as it was called. She said that when the hotel “joined the local pool league Len embraced it and had a great time coaching, teaching, playing and he took exceptional glee in messing up his opponents as often as he could.”

Len made an impact on this area from Elkford to the South Country, his many personas touched people, he made everyone feel comfortable with his manner and words. That was evident during the service when several individuals got up to speak and mentioned that Len was remembered for his gift giving, for his smiles, jokes and ready conversation. Shelley also divulged that every single day Len would bring her a small gift usually a flower or candy.

She also spoke of Len’s love for the Hosmer Volunteer Fire Department which she said was endless. I am aware that all Len wanted for his Santa volunteer work was a donation to the Hosmer Fire Department. He loved the firefighters from all areas and made visits to them many times. He supported Ambulance services, RCMP and Conservation services. He supported the Fernie and Sparwood Legions and the Salvation Army visiting almost daily to chat with the Thrift store staff and donate.

At the Service pallbearers were from the Hosmer Volunteer Fire department past and present, Fernie Fire Rescue, past and present, and South Country Fire Services. Ambulance members from Elkford were present as well.

len Vaness

Shelley Vaness with the red bucket

A touching moment was when Shelley said Len had a bucket list and on it was a “bucket brigade”. This was one that was organized with service personnel passing a bucket holding a box wrapped in green paper. It started outside the door and passed on to the men and women lined up along the wall and down the aisle to the podium table where the bucket was presented to Shelley. Afterwards I asked Shelley if Len had been cremated and she responded pointing at the wrapped box in the bucket, saying, “there he is.”

Shelley explained that she picked a Friday for the service because Len had been born on a Friday, as had she, and they were married on a Friday. Other important events where also on a Friday so she wanted Len to have one more Christmas and to have his service of remembrance and celebration on a Friday.

A thought befitting a local legend and the “real” Santa. Thank you, Len, you won’t be forgotten.

By Mary Giuliano

Mary arrived in Fernie in May of 1953 and has lived here ever since, by choice, because she loves the Elk Valley and everything it stands for. Read more from Mary here.

Leave a comment

Related Stories

#FernieReport on Instagram