I’ve been a little late in getting to work on my Santa Claus colouring book but I’ve had a bit of a time finding a good old fashioned box of crayons. These days they have colours like Fairy Princess Blue and Little Girl Pink – I mean come on guys I want a box of crayons not clothes from the GAP!!!!
But here I am, crayons at the ready – let the parade begin!
I seem to recall that the parade always began with the Toronto Police Band – not a Metro entity in those days – playing “Jingle Bells”. On can only think that after 2 hours of that cheerful little ditty that a dash to the Pilot Tavern was more favoured than dashing through any snow.
First appearing in the Toronto Parade in 1947 Punkinhead became a fixture for the next two decades. He was the creation of Charles Thorson, one of the early Disney animators, who hailed from Winnipeg. Thorson created Bugs Bunny amongst other famous cartoon characters, Patricia Atchison tells us the origins of the wool-haired bear and his colourful creator. Note that even back then the marketing people were busy and any true bloody Canadian kid has hounded their parents into buying them a Punkinhead doll, watch, puppet, bedside lamp or, for the real die-hard Punkinhead aficionado, PJs. As I recall the books were often free as gifts at the Punkinhead Fish Pond or as you disembarked from the Punkinhead Express that took you on a tour of Toyland.
One can only hope that the mermaids, mermen and good King Nepture himself were all well insulated under their scales and tails. Taking into consideration the cold that could hit the Queen’s City in the middle of November the costumes were made one size larger so that they could be worn over warm winter woolies.
The children of Eaton’s employees and students selected from various schools appeared on the floats as flowers, fairies, elves and Snow White’s seven. If you appeared in the parade you had to endure fittings, some rehearsing and showing up at the Christie Pits marshalling area at 0630 on parade morning. Over the years thousands of children were more than happy to do exactly that for the honour of welcoming Santa to town.
30 November – 1886: The Folies Bergère stages its first revue.
Back when I was a wee Willym – or actually Billy or if my mother was really ticked “Billyjohn” – the end of November marked a momentous occasion: Santa Claus came to town. The Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade was the big event that launched the Christmas season. After that Toyland was open, Santa was there, the Christmas windows were in full display and Santa had a radio programme on CFRB. At 5:55 every week night – he had weekends off to make the toys I guess – he and Punkinhead would tell us a story and if you were lucky read your letter on the air. As a small tyke I was infamous for going hysterical on the evening of December 24 when Santa said goodbye for another year. Even at 5 I hated adieus.
The Eaton’s Parade had started in 1905 and according to an absolutely fascinating – for me at least – section on the Ontario Archive website several of the early parades took two days to wend their way the 32 mile route from Newmarket to Union Station in Toronto – the route was later restricted to downtown Toronto. In those days the parades consisted of one horse-drawn float, a band and a few marchers. People came out from the farms that lined the mud road to greet Santa and no doubt would be running to their Eaton’s Christmas catalogue the minute they got back into the house.
And many years later we would do exactly the same thing – come home from the parade and open the Eaton’s Christmas Catalogue. But one item had already been ordered and received that had us all prepared for the Big Parade – the Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade Colouring Book. As I understand it the first one was published in 1951 and chances are I had it as a 4 year old, no doubt biting my tongue in earnest concentration as I tried to stay between the lines for the purple cows that were on in the Farmer’s dell.
Over the next few days I thought I’d flip through those pages and see how Santa was welcomed to Toronto* back in 1951.
In those days Santa had his little sidekick with the shock of woolly ginger hair – Punkinhead.
Punkinhead was launched by Eaton’s in 1948 and was to be their Christmas mascot for the next twelve years. I recall having a Punkinhead doll, a Punkinhead puppet and probably Punkinhead flannel sheets for the winter.
*Eaton’s also had similar parades in Montreal and Winnipeg.
15 decembre – Santa Maria Crocifissa di Rosa
Yes I’m still with the Christmas postings – there are, after all, 12 days of Christmas and I’ve got a few more things I’d like to share.
There was great rivalry between the two big department stores in Toronto when I was a child. Eaton’s and Simpson’s stood across from each other, Eaton’s on the North East side of Queen and Yonge, Simpson’s on the South East. My first credit card was from Simpson’s (account number 8T362606 – now how come I can remember that but not the combination to the lock at work?)At no time of the year was that rivalry keener than Christmas.
Eaton’s had the yearly Santa Claus Parade and Santa’s radio broadcast on CFRB every night at six o’clock. So everyone knew that the real Santa was at Eaton’s – my mother explained that the one at Simpson’s was his cousin who was giving him a hand because there were so many children to see, you had to hand it to Isabella for quick thinking. I recall I always covered both stores just in case.
They both had their Toyland but for me Eaton’s won on that one hands down. Oh yeah Simpson’s had a talking Rudolph and a fish pond but Eaton’s had Punkinhead the carrot topped bear and a miniature train ride through the North Pole. Fishing I wasn’t big on but trains.. well where’s the choice? And Punkinhead – I even had a Punkinhead stuffed bear. Wish I knew where that bear was today, they tell me it would be worth something – sic transit orso.
But where Simpson’s always came out on top where their Christmas windows, particularly the one at the Queen-Yonge corner. They were wonders of mechanical whirligigs, flying creatures, hard-working elves and sparkling new fallen snow – so different from the gray slush we stood in with nose pressed against glass to see Santa’s workshop or a Victorian Christmas in old Toronto. Eaton’s were further up on Yonge St and just didn’t seem to have the same magic. Maybe it was that extra trudge in the slush or just that first seen was first wonder.
In our previous home in Ottawa that tradition had disappeared with the demise of downtown department stores and the advent of malls but fortunately in most big cities it still survives. I recall Marshall Fields windows when we lived in Chicago and Ogilivy’s in Montreal when I lived there. Last year I got to London in time to see them at Fortnum and Mason and this year it was Galeria Kaufhof on the Marienplatz in Munich.
28 dicembre – Strage degli innocenti