In 1979 Chris Redmond, editor of the weekly University of Waterloo internal newspaper the UW Gazette, wrote the first fictional campus profile of an elf who worked in "UW's toy services department". He got Chris Dobbin to photograph me wearing an elf costume in front of the big Tool Box in the shop of the UW Theatre of the Arts. He named his elf Saltire J. Dragushan, after my Erb street apartment-mate Ron Dragushan. A related photo by Chris Dobbin that did not make the paper is this photo of me. -IAN!
December 19 1979: By Chris Redmond, University of Waterloo staff. You can see an image of the full article.
Campus elf to reward good girls and boys
It's the busiest season of the year for Saltire J. Dragushan, who works as an elf in UW's toy services department.
“I'm not as busy as the elves on the assembly line, of course, but there's still lots of overtime in December,” says Dragushan, who spends his days developing custom-made Christmas gifts for campus personalities.
“Santa Claus works us pretty near to exhaustion during the fall term,” he added. “We'll get our vacations right after the Boxing Day exchanges, of course.”
Claus is the head of the toy services department, and Dragushan is hoping for a promotion to subordinate Claus before next year's holiday season. For now, however, he's sticking close to his workbench, putting the finishing touches on parcels which will be placed on UW desks on Christmas morning.
“If people don't come to work on the 25th, they don't get their presents,” Dragushan explained. “Anything that's left on the 26th comes back to the shop.”
If that policy is enforced, the only people to get anything from toy services this year will be the shift staff at security, the central plant and the campus centre, plus whoever comes in to feed Christmas lab chow to the psychology department animals.
Dragushan gave the Gazette a confidential list of some of the gifts he's getting ready:
Thirteen years after the first elf Profile in 1979, Redmond reprised his idea in the December 1992 Gazette, using the exact same picture, but with a different name "Egfrth Spleng".
December 16 1992: By Chris Redmond, University of Waterloo staff.
December may be the busy season at the North Pole, but it's Christmas all year round for Egfrth Spleng, vice-elf for research at one of UW's least-known spinoff companies. "Here at WatClaus we develop some of Santa's most popular new toys." says Spleng, who took a degree in recreation and leisure studies at UW before going to work for WatClaus four years ago.
At that time the little firm occupied a single igloo on UW's north campus. Now there are more than a dozen snow-houses occupying part of an industrial mall on Phillip Street, and the WatClaus staff has grown from four to twenty. It employs only elves and co-op students -- two of the world's most misunderstood life forms.
"Some people think we're little and merry," Spleng comments. "If we were so merry, do you think we'd have managed to carve out such a high-tech niche for ourselves this fast?"
The firm's specialty is toys with a Waterloo flavour. He demonstrates one of the playthings that WatClaus created last year and that thousands of boys and girls will find in their stockings this December 25: a Douglas Wright doll that scurries around the house transferring technology from one room to another as long as its AA batteries last.
"That's a terrific example of how our products are based on ideas developed at the university," Spleng beams. "That kind of cross-fertilization makes Waterloo the best place in the world for small-scale high-tech companies to develop. We just thrive in the university environment."
As soon as the presidential search committee introduced James Downey to the campus a few weeks ago, the WatClaus team got back to work, Spleng added. The Downey doll, with unique mediation features and a vocabulary of more than 250,000 phrases, will be in production at the North Pole early in 1993, he promised.
WatClaus products aren't limited to dolls, the energetic elf noted. Last year's flagship product was a scale model of the Davis Centre that glows with the energy of more than 1,500 tiny computer terminals. "Santa loved it, but it never took off with the kids," Spleng said sadly. "The terminals only lit up between midnight and 4a.m., and most kids are in bed then."
The firm cancelled plans for a companion product, a model Bombshelter, when it became clear that Bacchus and other programs to cut alcohol abuse meant you couldn't get lit up there at any hour.
Coming soon, Spleng promises: a virtual reality system involving a glove, goggles, a joystick and a computer chip that lets you turn your microcomputer or television set into a convincing replica of a faculty of engineering. You can move walls, robotic equipment and teaching assistants with equal ease, and can simulate staff reductions in times of "financial cutbacks".
"Our design kit for a new student life centre isn't really for children," Spleng explains. "We're hoping to make it a popular adult gift instead -- students can buy it for associate provosts, and associate provosts can buy it for students."
Besides those high-profile toys, WatClaus brings in a steady
flow of royalties from its old standards, including autographed
Warrior pucks with electronic homing devices, a remote-controlled
solar car with its own roadway and ditch, and colourful Alan
Other elf appearances and mentions include:
December 1996: Notes on a subordinate Claus,
December 1998: Notes on a subordinate Claus,
September 1999: Auntie gives her first advice,
December 1999: Toy tinkerers offer smart choice,
December 2000: Elves promise a high-tech Christmas,
and one small paragraph in December 2001: One more working day in 2001.
You can find some of the old Gazette issues online on the UW Daily Bulletin (Gazette) Archive Page.