Hogtown’s annual pageant predates the famous Macy’s parade in New York City by almost 20 years. Santa Claus arrived at Union Station by train in 1905 to make his first pre-Christmas Eve tour through Toronto.
While the parade’s original sponsor Eaton’s Department Store didn’t survive, the parade endured through The Great Depression and two World Wars. Eaton’s staged the parade until 1982.
The very first parade was literally a one-man show, but it was enough to thrill the thousands of children who filled the streets to catch a glimpse of St. Nick. The following year, trumpeters and footmen were added into the mix.
The parade was the longest in both distance and duration from 1910 to 1912 when the jolly old elf started his journey downtown from Newmarket on a Friday afternoon, stopping overnight in York Mills and then heading down Yonge Street on Saturday afternoon.
Toronto kids really got a thrill in 1913 when Santa was pulled down Yonge street by a team of eight live reindeer brought in from Labrador. Special veterinarians to care for them also made the trip to T.O.
Men dressed in animal costumes also appeared in that year’s pageant, walking alongside the real animals.
In the early years, Santa would hold court at Massey Hall after the parade. An amazing 9,000 kids and their parents would squeeze their way into the building for the three daily receptions. That neat tradition ended in 1915.
By 1917 the parade featured a number of floats and in 1919 Santa arrived in the city by plane.
Parade designers managed to create incredible costumes despite shortages caused by the Second World War.
The procession was broadcast on television for the first time in 1952 and the city came together when the parade’s future was in peril in 1982 when Eaton’s withdrew its sponsorship.
“I think it’s very successful because it’s for everyone. It’s for kids of all ages. I go down the street every year with the parade, and I see the crowds, and it’s just– it’s Toronto,” the parade’s current G.M. and Creative Director Alfred Iannerelli said.
“What’s on the street watching us is every part of Toronto, and it’s fabulous in that sense. And it’s a great show … Families love it. Kids love it. They believe in these things, and then of course there’s Santa, and that is the showstopper every year.”
For more on the early days of the Toronto Santa Claus Parade visit the Ontario Archives’ website.
And to look at some old Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade colouring books from the 1950s and 60s, click here.
Here’s an overview of the parade’s history”
The first parade wasn’t really a parade at all. It consisted only of Santa arriving at Union Station on December 2nd, and walking with the Eaton family to their main store. It was such a hit that it gradually became more and more elaborate, adding a horse drawn carriage, footmen and trumpeters. The seed for the eventual parade had been planted.
Santa was being pulled by reindeer specially brought in from Labrador.
There are now seven floats, including what have become de rigueur nursery rhyme characters. Mother Goose appears for the first time.
A first and last – Santa flies into town, arriving by plane at the old Aerodrome on Eglinton Ave. The stunt is never repeated. Perhaps it’s just as well – those reindeer use a lot less fuel, and landing on Eglinton these days would definitely cause a lot of problems.
Mother Goose returns to the parade and becomes the longest continual float in service. It appears every year until 1960, each time painted a different colour.
Time flies and the Santa Parade grows to become a bigger phenomenon each year. When the Second World War brings shortages, organizers were forced to make the elaborate costumes out of paper.
The procession is up to 13 large floats and 20 smaller ones, along with at least 2,000 participants.
Santa comes to TV screens, with the parade being broadcast in Toronto for the first time. It’s now seen in dozens of countries throughout the world.
There have been a lot of Santa Claus Parades in the warmth or the snow, but this is the only time in history that it rained during the event. That ruined 55 straight years of near perfect parade weather.
Would this be the year without Santa Claus? Many in the city feared the worst, after creator and sponsor Eaton’s withdrew sponsorship, ending a remarkable 77-year run. Knowing the parade was special and refusing to let it die, some 20 firms joined together to provide funding and saved the event.
The parade reaches an amazing milestone – 100 years. And despite snow, wind, the Depression, two World Wars and the eventual bankruptcy of Eaton’s, there has never been a single year since it started that the Santa Claus parade hasn’t been staged in downtown Toronto. Not even the C.N.E. can make that boast.
Courtesy of thesanataclausparade.org