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Of Toronto’s many legendary street characters, Zanta reigns supreme when it comes to shock value and controversy. Unlike other iconic individuals like the Yonge and Dundas “Believe Guy” and The Portuguese Mad Rapper who are generally harmless, Zanta has been involved in a series of incidents that quickly took him from crowd favourite to public abomination.

Zanta may be one of the only local entertainers in the city to have a dedicated Wikipedia page. It offers an interesting look into his crazy life, from the day he first put on that emblematic Santa hat to the day he was forced to retire it forever. 

This is the story of Zanta, as explained by Wikipedia. 

Who is Zanta

Zanta’s Origins

Why he disappeared

Click Next to find out what happened to Zanta.

Who is Zanta

Zanta is a character played by street performer David Zancai. He is essentially a modified version of Santa Claus who wanders the streets of downtown Toronto doing knuckle push-ups in front of people while shouting iconic phrases such as “yes yes yes” and “Merry Christmess”.

The most memorable thing about Zanta is his outfit - he wears nothing but shorts, boots and a red-and-white Santa hat, even in the deep of winter.

via @torontozanta

On any given day, Zanta did as many as 3,000 push-ups. He used to perform every single day (with the exception of Christmas) until he was banned from the subway and downtown core in 2006 due to a variety of mischief charges and arrests.

Some say his naughty behaviour was a byproduct of his schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He was diagnosed with such mental illnesses in 2003, after he had experienced a terrible fall from a 25-foot-tall staircase that put him in a coma in 2000.

To read about Zanta’s origin story, click Next.

Zanta’s Origins

Zanta made his first public appearance on CityTV Toronto. He used to show up at the window of the CHUM-City Building during live tapings and was often in the background during live shows (such as Breakfast Television and Speaker’s Corner) and news programming.

via @virtualshalon

CHUM filed formal complaints against Zanta, resulting in him being banned from the building. However, he disobeyed the ban and was eventually forbidden by police from entering the area south of College St to King St, and the stretch between Yonge St to Spadina Ave.

Other relatively high-profile appearances include:

  • A cameo on Kenny vs. Spenny in an episode entitled “Who Can Life More Weight With Their Genitals”)
  • Features in comic books entitled “The Rabble of Downtown Toronto” and “Zanta: The Living Legend”, as well as a short story in Taddle Creek Magazine, all of which were authored by Jason Kieffer
  • Several Christmas parades (he used to say the iconic line “Santa’s at the back, while Zanta’s at the front”

To find out why Zanta disappeared click Next.

Why he disappeared

Zanta’s attention-seeking nature often landed him in trouble with the authorities. He was even arrested on mischief charges on some occassions, and was banned from several places in the city including: the Exhibition Place, the TTC’s buses, subways and stations, the Toronto Street Festival, The Taste of the Danforth, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Santa Claus Day Parade, Yorkville, College Park, and Dundas Square. There were even some accusations of sexual assault and misconduct that surfaced throughout his career.

The move to ban Zanta from all TTC facilities arose after Zanta invaded the personal spaces of commuters by doing push-ups on the train. Former TTC Chairman Adam Giambrone mentioned that despite the absence of a company bylaw preventing such activities on TTC property, Zanta’s behaviour still posed a “serious safety hazard”.

via @calvinj70

Adam Vaughan, a former CityTV reporter, also said that Zanta is a public nuisance that several people took issue with:

“Just because you have a right to freedom of speech doesn’t mean you have a right to an audience. And when you impose yourself in a public space consistently without much regard for whether other people can enjoy that space, boundaries are broached.”

Zanta’s lawyer, who worked on his case pro bono, defended his client by saying he was “entitled to be as strange as he wants to be.”

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