Santa Claus is Coming to Town 1953 – V

As mentioned in previous year’s the Eaton’s parade was a Christmas highlight in Toronto, Winnpeg and Montreal.  Winnipeg had their own stock of floats and costumes but the Monday after the Toronto parade (Sunday was a day of rest at Eaton’s)  flatbed and freight cars were loaded and the entire parade was taken by rail to Montreal.  After FLQ bomb threats in 1969 Eaton’s cancelled the Montreal parade citing security concerns.  It was another 27 years before Santa would be seen riding down rue Sainte Catherine but in 1995 local business people revived the tradition.  The parade is now in it’s twentieth consecutive year and as popular as ever.

Seven years before Lindbergh landed in Paris Eaton’s Santa Claus made the trip from the North Pole to Toronto’s Leaside Areodrome on Eglinton Avenue in the far north-west of the city.   The air field  had been used for fighter pilot training but by 1919 was serving more commercial purposes.  That was also the year of the never to be repeated lions versus horses debacle.  In future parades Santa would ride over rooftops but only in in a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer.

Sainte Catherine Street West
Sainte Catherine Street West

This year’s colouring book has brought out some tidbits from friends who recall those glorious parades of yore.  Judy – who you may remember appeared in many of the parades – remembers having a tête-à-tête with Santa behind the scenes before he mounted his throne in Toyland.  And Vicki tells me that her husband’s Great Uncle not only worked on the floats as a carpenter but one year was one of the two Santas in the parade.

Two Santas?  Yes there were always two Santas – the one we saw cheerily waving at us and wishing us a Merry Christmas and another hidden in a car that followed behind with blacked out windows.  I guess they had learned from Miracle on 34th Street to always have a jolly old man in reserve.  I wonder just how they would have made the switch?

The moment we all had waited for – oh sure seeing Punkinhead, Cinderella and Mother Goose had been a pretty big deal but Santa!  Now that was the real thing!  That’s why we had lined up in the early hours of the morning to get a good curb seat and endured the cold, sometimes snow and once the rain.   Christmas had now begun.

And it was off to Toyland – to the little railway that took you through a magic forest, the fish pond, a glimpse into Punkinhead’s den and finally snaking through the candy cane ropes to meet up with the big man himself.  A few whispered words, an assurance that all would be well and a reminder to tune in to CFRB and it was over for another year.  Time to head over to Diana Sweets for a hot chocolate and a sticky bun.

The Archives of Ontario have the 1953 Parade on video – just in case you want to see how you’re colouring scheme compared to the real one.  I always thought the icy floats looked better crayoned pink or blue – even at 7 I had the soul of an artiste.

November 27 – 1895: At the Swedish–Norwegian Club in Paris, Alfred Nobel signs his last will and testament, setting aside his estate to establish the Nobel Prize.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town 1953 – IV

Leafing through the pages of the parade and comparing them to  a few clips of this year’s parade I wonder if children would even know this nursery rhyme?  The theories (yes there are entire books of the meaning behind various childhood rhymes) about who the lady is are many – Good Queen Bess? Lady Godiva? a local Banburian beauty? – an in some versions she becomes an old lady or has even had gender-realignment and is Young Johnny or Tommy.  I remember this was the little song that accompanied many a leg-horsy ride when I was a tot.

My friend Judy tells me she was a participant in the parade for ten years starting in the 1952 parade. She says ” (I) gradually worked my way up from a little kid sitting on a float, to walking for miles (usually with something outlandish on my head) to the ‘crowning’ glory of bring one of the major characters with a huge skirt and tiara.”  So she was one of those lucky kids I was so envious of!!

Though she didn’t show up in the 1953 Colouring Book, Mother Goose has appeared in more parades than any other fairy tale character.  Her first appearance was in 1917; the huge goose float that she first road on in 1930 was used for the next thirty years.  Each year the goose would get a fresh colour of paint – some years white, others pink, blue or yellow.

Despite a depression and two world wars the parade was an annual event – perhaps more needed in those dark times than any other.  In 1930 CFRB began to broadcast daily progress updates tracing Santa’s progress from the North Pole to Toronto – culminating in a vivid description festive march on the big arrival day itself.  It was a bright break in a time when news was anything but.

With Cinderella riding in a sparkling slipper this year there was no point in letting a perfectly good pumpkin go to waste.  A fresh coat of paint, new livery for the horses and Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater and his wife had an almost new way of getting down the parade route.  Ingenious solutions and recycling was nothing new for the parade craftspeople – after the imposition of rationing during the Second World War they had resorted to making new costumes out of paper.

Just a few more pages left to colour until the main event of the day:  Santa arrives!

November 25 – 1120: The White Ship sinks in the English Channel, drowning William Adelin, son and heir of Henry I of England.

Santa Claus Comes to Town 1953 – III

Every year there were surprises – new floats, new clowns (though the handwalkers were always my favourtes – how did they do it all that way?) but there were certain givens. I mean you just knew that Cinderella would be in the parade; last year she was in her pumpkin coach so there was a bit of a surprise this year she arrived perched on her slipper – and this was long before Priscilla Queen of the Desert!

From that one wagon with Santa and all the little Eatons in 1905 the parade has expanded to over 25 animated floats.  That handful of Eaton’s employees (proudly declaring themselves Eatonians) in those first years has grown to a total of 2000 marchers – all volunteers.  Many are children from Toronto schools who don’t seem to mind the early morning start or, in some years, the cold Canadian weather.  And the parade route has gradually expanded and now is over 6 kilometers long they have a bit of a way to go before they match that 48 kilometer, two day march from Newmarket to Union Station in the early 1900s.

Horse or man power were the main methods of propelling the floats through the city streets in those early years – it must have appeared a trifle strange to have the eight reindeer pulled along by a team of horses but then suspension of disbelief is always important at Christmas.  In 1919 the handlers for the team pulling Santa’s float were dressed as lions – unfortunately this spooked the horses and they had to jettison the elaborate costumes.

When I was a young ‘un the floats were pulled by bright red tractors proudly bearing the name of Massey Ferguson – the premiere maker of farm equipment in Canada.  Today the website proclaims that KIA is the official vehicle of the parade and some very sleek mini-SUVs pull the floats. 

Though traditionally the floats featured nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters any theme from childhood was fair game for the creative design teams that worked on the parade.  Many of today’s floats have a more commercial aspect and may feature Barbie, Ronald McDonald and even Swarovski crystal.

And turning the pages leads us to the next colourful floats ….

November 22 – 1935:  The China Clipper, the first plane to offer commercial transpacific air service, takes off from Alameda, California, for its first commercial flight. It reaches its destination, Manila, a week later.

Santa Claus Comes to Town – 1953 – Part II

In November 2012 I did get as far as this in the colouring book – hey I’m not a very fast reader okay! 

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 marshaling 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.

So let’s flip the pages and see who shows up next.

November 21 – 1386: Timur of Samarkand captures and sacks the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, taking King Bagrat V of Georgia captive.

Santa Claus Comes to Town 1953 – Part 1

This was originally posted on November 24, 2012 and was the first in a series of five or six uncompleted posts that were intended to thumb through the Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade Colouring Book from 1953. I’m reposting it as an introduction to the series – which I am finally getting to finish off. Trying to win some points from Santa?

 I’m not sure why I thought they were holding the annual Santa Claus Parade in Toronto early these days but the date in mid-November struck me as strange until I read a posting on JB’s Warehouse & Curio Emporium. A right click on the advertisement for the 1918 edition of the parade will take you to his Notes on a parade that came right on the heels of the Armistice celebrations the week before. Santa was particularly welcome that year – but not as welcome as the boys who returned home in the weeks that followed.

So once again last weekend (November 15) as he has for the past 109 years, Santa made his way through the streets of Toronto.  His route took him along a familiar path – though he no longer stops at his old home at Eaton’s – lined with cheering children and a good many nostalgic adults.   And many of the old favourites that most of us remember from our childhood were there but this year was not time-warp parade – there was an APP to follow Santa’s progress, a Santa Cam that took pictures of the kids following the Big Guy’s float and posted them on a website for download and Celebrity Clowns carried giant frames and invited kids to get behind the frame with them to snap photos with their smart phones or cameras.

Mind you we had technology in 1953 that was nothing to sneer at:  CFRB had daily dinner time radio broadcasts leading up to the parade, CBC televised it locally (okay so these days it’s broadcast worldwide) and we had the annual colouring book that any true aficionado had ordered, along with a new box of crayolas, weeks before from Eaton’s.

So in the spirit of 1953 here’s two links (Part I  –  Part II) to a film made of that transmission (it was distributed to schools in the more remote areas of the country so children everywhere could welcome Santa to town.)  A bonus – for me at least – is one of those voices that I grew up with – Byng Whittaker reading ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.

Whittaker was the host of The Small Types Club,  a lunch hour children’s program ( we all went home for lunch in those days) – introduced by The Teddy Bears’ Picnic he’d read us stories as we munched our egg-salad sandwiches and slurped our tomato soup.  And when Byng said, “Out to play, back into bed for a nap, off to school or whatever mother tells you.  Now sssssscoot!” we knew it’s time to go.

And of course there was that colouring book.  I’m pretty certain I had mine and no doubt used a fine design sense to stay between the lines and give vibrant colour to the floats, clowns and bands.   |’m not sure if I would have mutilated the book by cutting out the Punkinhead puppet – after all I had a Punkinhead doll and a Punkinhead puppet – yes even then parents gave into to advertising pressure.

Over the next few days I’ll be flipping through the pages of that 1953 colouring book – secretly wishing I had my box of crayolas to fill in the white with all the colours that I imagine delighted me when I finally had the chance to see them on the big parade day.

In previous years I’ve thumbed through the pages of the 1951 and 1952 colouring books – all of which were at one time available on the Archives of Ontario website for downloading and colouring.  I say “at one time” because it appears they have been removed along with much of the Eaton’s Christmas memorabilia.

So let’s flip to the first pages right now.

19 November – 1695: Zumbi, the last of the leaders of Quilombo dos Palmares in early Brazil, is executed by the forces of Portuguese bandeirante Domingos Jorge Velho.