From Chewbacca to a sweaty unicorn, meet the costumed crusaders spreading joy across Winnipeg during pandemic

By | May 1, 2020

Every day around 2 p.m., dozens of people in Winnipeg’s Windsor Park neighbourhood eagerly wait on their lawns — at a physical distance — to cheer on Noel Beckel as he runs through the neighbourhood in the costume of his choice. 

Cars honk as they drive past Beckel. Children eagerly jump up and down as he rounds the corner onto their street. Some people don their own costumes while holding signs and noisemakers of all kinds. Music even blasts from a DJ booth set up on someone’s lawn.

Others choose to wave and clap from behind the safety of their living room windows. 

Beckel’s one-man parade has become a highlight of the day for many, who are working, studying or otherwise staying home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The spectators, meanwhile, have become a highlight of Beckel’s day.

Already a runner, he decided earlier this month he’d try wearing costumes on his runs to cheer up people who are distancing at home during the pandemic.

“I started off as a cow,” on April 10, said Beckel, a professional musician by trade. “It was a joke.” 

But word of Beckel’s jovial jaunt got out on Facebook, and soon, he had fans. 

“I’d been noticing people smiling and coming out, and I just couldn’t stop.”

Since then, Beckel has pranced through Windsor Park as a pickle, Clark Kent, a French maid, Zoro, and of course, a Blue Bombers fan — just to name a few. 

On Monday, his 18th daily run in a row, he was a unicorn — and behind him was a truck collecting food donations for Winnipeg Harvest. The community donated more than 150 kilograms of items to the food bank on Monday.

“It’s such a great community,” he said between breaths, his white unicorn hat now transparent with sweat. “They look out for each other.” 

He’s noticed people don’t just wave at him now during his runs — they wave at each other too. 

“They’re reconnecting with their neighbours, which is amazing,” he said.

“So if I’m able to add that one extra piece of people looking out for each other, it can’t really get any better than that.” 

Clumsy T. rexes spread Jurassic joy in Wolseley

Laura Secord School teacher Erin Porter  got her Tyrannosaurus rex costume as a Christmas gift, but it’s already starting to get a bit tattered.

As often as she can, she makes her way around the Wolseley neighbourhood, showing up on her students’ front lawns to say hi as they study from home. And they love it.

Teacher Erin Porter cools down after dancing in her inflatable T. rex suit. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“I just thought, ‘You know what, I want to go see my kids, I miss them a lot, and this would make them laugh,'” Porter said, her deflated T. rex head draped over her shoulders.

As she clumsily tromps from place to place, cars honk and people stop for physically distant selfies. 

“It’s been very, very beneficial, not only for my mental health, but just to get out there, see my kids and bring a smile to peoples’ faces in the community.”

Two other T. rexes have also staked out territory in Wolseley. 

Three T. rexes and a Pikachu dance it up, at a physical distance, after meeting for the first time on the corner of Aubrey Street and Wolseley Avenue. (Cory Funk/CBC)

School-aged brothers Felix Dedenus and Gavin Strecker actually started galavanting around the neighbourhood as a T. rex and a Pikachu even before the pandemic hit — costumes the youngsters wore just for fun.

They’ve even been known to drop into the local Red Lobster to spread smiles around the restaurant. 

“They were pretty surprised and happy at the same time,” said Dedenus, who — in spite of the carnivorous costume — avoids the seafood buffet. 

“I’m a vegetarian.” 

Brothers Gavin Strecker and Felix Dedenus playfully duke it out on Wolseley Avenue. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Grady Baird, 11, started walking his dog dressed as a T. rex to help pass the time while he’s not attending classes in school, and he quickly noticed people seem to really get a kick out of it. 

“This is a pretty hard time,” he said. 

“So if I can make people laugh, it’s pretty good.”

Even Santa has made an appearance in Wolseley, courtesy of helper Donald Swanson. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

And if Wolseley wasn’t feeling festive enough, resident Donald Swanson strolled the streets last Friday dressed as Santa Claus. 

“I usually do it in the wintertime, but [it was] ‘Wear Red Day’ today for Nova Scotia, and it’s the only thing I have that’s red,” he said.   

Chewbacca cheers up North Kildonan

Depending on the day of the week, Oakview Avenue becomes the stomping ground for a number of interesting characters. 

On Monday it’s The Flash, on Tuesday it’s the Green Lantern, on Friday it’s Santa. 

But CBC News was there on Thursday, when a very convincing Chewbacca roamed the neighbourhood.

Taras Luchak takes a break from being Chewbacca the Wookiee to talk on Oakview Avenue. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

His human name is Taras Luchak. 

“We’re trying to keep it light” during the pandemic, he said, after showing off an impressive impression of the hairy Star Wars character.

“Hopefully we can stay locked up for however many weeks it takes. We’ve been doing a good job social distancing.

“It’s tough on this street not to hug your neighbour, but we persist. We survive.” 

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