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A century of memories: The history of Toronto’s Santa parade

Jolly old Saint Nick will be visiting us Sunday to celebrate the 107th edition of the Toronto Santa Claus Parade.

He has been attending the parade since 1905, and hasn’t missed a single holiday season.

Here are some interesting facts that you may not know about Toronto’s annual parade:

In the inaugural parade, Santa rode the lone float, travelling with the Eaton family from Union Station to their downtown main store. He rode on a checkered, red-and-black packing case on top of a wagon pulled by horses.

On his second visit Santa was escorted by two footmen and two trumpeters. Four white horses carried him through the streets.

The parade was the longest in both distance and duration. Santa started his long journey in Newmarket on Friday afternoon, stopped over night at York Mills and continued down Yonge Street on Saturday afternoon.

Santa rode down Yonge Street from North Toronto Station in a sled pulled by a team of eight reindeer. They were specially brought in from Labrador for the parade. 

At the end of each parade Santa would hold court at Massey Hall. The tradition ended in 1915.

Seven floats starring nursery rhyme characters were featured in the parade. The biggest float that year was a giant swan carrying Santa along with a band of musicians and clowns. Mother Goose made her first appearance.

A first and last — Santa flies into town, arriving by plane at the old Aerodrome on Eglinton Avenue. The stunt is never repeated.

When the Second World War brought on shortages, organizers were forced to make the elaborate costumes out of paper.

Parade televised for the first time, appearing on CBC.

More than 30 million viewers across North America watched the parade on television. The parade’s route was extended to 12 kilometres to make room for large crowds. Two hundred children were divided onto 33 floats along with 500 marchers.

After being a sponsor for 77 years, Eaton’s withdrew from the event. Within three days, 20 companies had signed on to sponsor floats.

The Celebrity Clowns tradition begins after 60 executives donated $1,000 each to hand out balloons, participate in the march and entertain children.

For the first time lights around Queen’s Park Circle were lit. Now there is an annual tree lighting ceremony during the days leading up to the parade.

To mark the 100th year of the parade, more than 25 floats incorporating themes from Harry Potter to Hockey Night in Canada wind their way through downtown. Over 200 Celebrity Clowns led the parade raising $200,000.

Mrs. Claus to make her first appearance in the parade. The Santa Cam will also debut, with cameras attached to Santa’s float to capture photos of the crowd.

To view photos of the parade over the years, visit its Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/santaclausparade/

Sources: Archives of Ontario; Santa Claus Parade website