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 Comes to Town

…. for the 110th year.

I wasn’t surprised to see that figure in the banner at the top of this year’s Toronto Santa Claus Parade website.  For several years I wrote about the Parade and traced some of its history from when, in 1905,  Santa Claus arrived at Union Station and rode with the Eaton family to father Timothy’s emporium.  For the next 77 years the Eaton Company proudly sponsored Santa’s arrival in Toronto until in 1982 the financially troubled company could no longer afford to justify or manage the expense.   At that point it looked like Santa’s only appearance in the city would be rather pathetic photo ops at local malls.

In 1913 eight reindeer were brought in from Labrador by boat and train  to “pull” Santa’s sleigh.  
They were so badly spooked by the crowds and the noise that they weren’t used in subsequent years.

However several people decided that something that was so much a tradition of Toronto life was not to be let go so easily.  Within days of the announcement from Eaton’s Ron Barbaro and George Cohon formed an not-for-profit organization to find sponsorship and financing for the parade.  They rounded up 20 companies willing to sponsor floats and film director Norman Jewison came on board and arranged for television rights to assist in covering parade costs.  The following year a troupe of sixty celebrity clowns joined the parade as anonymous donors to assist with financing and help warm up the crowds along the parade route.  This year that number had grown to 200 and the parade will be broadcast around the world.

For some reason, known only to the parade planners, in 1919 Santa arrived at Eaton’s
on a gigantic Silver Fish??? This shot is on Albert St behind the Old City Hall.

urbantoronto.ca archives
The Fish was to appear also in 1923 if the date on this photo is correct;  Santa had to clamber up two ladders
– no doubt cursing all the way – to reach the window into Toyland.  Being that Timothy Eaton was
tea-total it’s doubtful that there was a stiff drink waiting for him at the end of the climb.

There are several silent movies of those early parades on YouTube including a repeat of Santa on a Fish in 1929.  The title card tell us that it’s a sil’vry Arctic fish – which I guess explains it.  However by 1931 he was arriving in a more traditional manner and to the best of my knowledge in subsequent years he always arrived in a sleigh pulled by eight (papier-maché) prancing reindeer.

Happily the parade has continued  one of the great traditions of the old parade has disappeared:  the Santa Claus Parade Colouring Book*.   In previous years I have posted the first two from 1951 and 1952  and in looking over past entries realized I had started a series on the 1953 edition in 2012.  Somehow or other it got waylaid – life, work, laziness – and was never completed.  Well we should never “leave undone those things which we ought to have done” so I’ve decide to begin by reposting those first entries from 2012 and continue on thumbing through the memory pages in the next few days.

….   continued here.

*  The Santa Clause Parade website did provide a link to the replica of the 1952 colour book though the parade has changed mightily since there.

 November 20 – 1917: Ukraine is declared a republic.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town 1953 – II

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.

Santa Claus Comes to Town – V

Eaton’s mounted their first parade for their Montreal customers in 1925 and the tradition continued every year until the FLQ bomb threats in 1969. It was canceled that year and never ran again under Eaton’s sponsorship.
The Monday after the parade in Toronto – no one at Eaton’s worked on a Sunday, in fact the curtains were closed on their store windows on the “Lord’s Day” – many of the floats and all of the costumes would be loaded on freight trains and shipped the 550 kms distance between Toronto and Montreal.

Children who appeared in the parade were often on a waiting list for three years before they were chosen. They were paid a small amount and rewarded with cookies and hot chocolate at the beginning and end of the parade.


The parades were taken over by civic groups after Eatons’ discontinued sponsorship and the Toronto and Winnipeg parades continued uninterrupted. There was a decade or more lapse before it was to recommence in Montreal.

It was a long wait before the Parade began and we were always bundled up warm for the parade parkas, scarfs, gloves and toques. But just to remind us that it was even colder where Santa Claus came from he was always preceded by a display of ice and snow.

18 decembre – San Malachia O’Morgair

Santa Claus Comes to Town – IV

Eaton’s Department Store held its first Santa Claus Parade in 1905 in Toronto. The Parade was so successful that in 1909 the company decided to stage a similar parade in Winnipeg.

I was one of those kids who thought that giant caterpillar was a monster – I hated creepy, crawly things. I was quite content on year’s when it didn’t make an appearance.


The small hand-pulled tableau wagons were a good way to recycle paper-mâché figures from previous large floats. Some of them were animated by gear works attached to the wheels.

In 1965 when Eaton’s abandoned the Winnipeg Parade because of rising cost and declining profits it was taken over first by the Winnipeg Firefighters and then as a combined effort by various civic groups. This year’s parade celebrated 101 continuous years of welcoming Santa to Winnipeg.

16 decembre – Sant’Albina