Santa and Punkinhead


The Archives of Ontario Remembers an Eaton's Christmas

For those who celebrate Christmas, this is a magical time of glittering decorations, brightly wrapped parcels and the eagerly anticipated arrival of Santa Claus.

It's also a time to get close to our families and enjoy long-standing traditions. And, for people who grew up in Ontario or in other parts of Canada, many of our Christmas memories have been touched, in one way or another, by Eaton's department store. For this festive season, we have created an online exhibit from the records of the T. Eaton Company Ltd., held by the Archives of Ontario.

Christmas Christmas Catalogue, 1959 (Toronto)

Click to see a larger image (81K)

Christmas Catalogue, 1959 (Toronto)
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-231-0-21
Archives of Ontario

Included in the exhibit are images from Christmas displays; excerpts from Christmas catalogues; video clips of television commercials and Eaton's Santa Claus parade; even an old Christmas colouring book that children can print out and colour.

The items used in this exhibit offer a tiny sample of the Eaton's records held at the Archives of Ontario. Visit the Archives to view any of these items, or search for others.

The Archives of Ontario wishes you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season and invites you to step back in time and remember an Eaton's Christmas from half a century ago.

As you go through the exhibit you'll encounter this little guy from time to time. Punkinhead His name is Punkinhead and if you click on him, you'll learn some interesting trivia about Eaton's.
Try It!

We would like to hear how you remember an Eaton's Christmas. Send us your memories below. We've included a selection of those sent in on our special Eaton's Christmas Memories page.

Update: Due to the number of stories we have received since going live in 2001, we have added a second page of memories which can be found here.

Eaton Christmas Catalogue, 1897
Click to see a larger image (74K)

Eaton Christmas Catalogue, 1897
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-231-0-1
Archives of Ontario

The T. Eaton Company Ltd. was formed in 1869 by Timothy Eaton and grew into one of the largest department stores in North America.

Building on the success of their mail-order catalogues, Eaton's came out with its first Christmas catalogue in 1897.

For many young Canadians the build up to Christmas began with the arrival of Eaton's Christmas catalogue; thumbing through it until it was dog-eared and then leaving it lying open at just the right page, so that Santa would know exactly what to bring.

Would it be the Eaton's Beauty Doll this year or maybe a train set? There could be no mistake.

Children looking at window display, 1958
Click to see a larger image (K)

Children looking at window display, 1958
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Cocde: F 229-308-725-1
Archives of Ontario

As Christmas approached, a trip was often arranged to the city to press noses against brilliantly decorated store windows, stare at lavish interiors and visit Eaton's Toyland which was brimming over with every toy imaginable.

Click here, or on either of the pictures to see larger images of some of "the mechanized tableaux" of Eaton's window displays.

Photo: People looking at window display, 1958
Click to see a larger image (K)

People looking at window display, 1958
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-308-725-2
Archives of Ontario

Then, one long-awaited Saturday in November, Santa would parade into town, to his real home - at Eaton's Toyland. Many of us remember watching the Eaton's Santa Claus parade as it snaked it's way through the streets of Toronto.

Eaton's created the parade in 1905 and continued to be the sole sponsor until 1982.

The parade thrilled generations of children who would watch wide-eyed, eagerly waiting for Santa Claus to appear.

The Archives of Ontario has films of most of the parades from 1927 to 1938 and 1947 to 1979.

Photo: 1953 Eaton's Santa Claus Parade
Click to see a larger image (K)
1953 Eaton's Santa Claus Parade
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-400-0-29
Archives of Ontario
Title Card from 1953 Eaton's Santa Claus Parade
Click to see a larger image (K)

1953 Eaton's Santa Claus Parade
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-400-0-29
Archives of Ontario
Book Cover: Santa Claus Parade Colouring Books, 1960
Click to see a larger image (146K)

Santa Claus Parade Colouring Books, 1960
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-162-0-583
Archives of Ontario

Children could relive the magic of the parade by colouring in the Santa Claus Parade Christmas Colouring Book that was specially created for the day.

The picture to the left is an image of the cover of the book for the 1960 Santa Claus parade.

The Archives has, in its collection, a number of these wonderful books. Each follows the theme of that year's parade.

Click here, or on the picture of the cover to the left, to see a larger image. If you follow the links, you can print out a copy of all the pages to colour yourself.

Punkinhead
Go Directly to the
Christmas Colouring Book
Still image from television commercial, [1955]
Click to see a larger image (K)
Compilation Reels, [1955]
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-407-0-3
Archives of Ontario

Even if you couldn't be curbside for the parade in Toronto or Montreal, Eaton's brought you the magic through film or television.

Perhaps your family had the new "black box" in the corner of the living room and remembers the excitement of staring at the Eaton's commercials featuring Santa and Punkinhead during the early days of television.

Click here or on the image to see some examples of early Eaton's television commercials.

Letters to Santa Claus, [195?]
Click to see a larger image of this
and other letters to Santa

Letters to Santa Claus, [195-]
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-162-0-571
Archives of Ontario

And what happened to all those letters to Santa that were posted at the Eaton's mailboxes or handed to the elves during the Eaton's Santa Claus Parade? - Santa kept a few for the Archives.

Did you send one?

Did you get a reply from Santa like the one below from ca. 1958?

Click here to listen to this letter in wma format (146k). It is also available in mov format (156k).

Letter from Santa
Click to see a larger image (K)
Letters from Santa Claus, [195-]
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-162-0-573
Archives of Ontario
Photo: Children talking to Santa, [1957]

Children talking to Santa, [1957]
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-308-0-703
Archives of Ontario

But best of all was the time set-aside for a special chat with Santa, just in case he had missed seeing the catalogue left open or to remind him what you'd written in your letter to Santa.

Published Sources:

  • Rod McQueen. The Eatons. Toronto: Stoddart, 1998.
  • Joy C. Santink. Timothy Eaton and the Rise of His Department Store. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.
  • William Stephenson. The Store that Timothy Built. Toronto: McLelland and Stewart. 1969.

Acknowledgements:

The Archives of Ontario thanks Sears Canada for giving permission to use images from the T. Eaton Company fonds held at the Archives of Ontario. We would also like to thank Emily Barrie for allowing us to record her reading the letter to Santa.