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Santa and Punkinhead

Eaton's Santa Claus Parade

The first Eaton's Santa Claus parades were held in Toronto and Winnipeg in 1905. Montrealers enjoyed their first parade in 1925.

The largest parade in North America, it often stretched over a mile and a half in length.

The parade was designed and first shown in Toronto, then some of the floats and all of the costumes were freighted by train to Montreal for its parade the following Saturday.

Children applied for the honour of marching in the parade, sometimes waiting 3 years for their turn. Those who were chosen were outfitted in marvellous made-to-measure costumes and were paid a small fee plus hot chocolate and cookies along the parade route.

Unlike Macy's in New York, Eaton's made its own costumes each year. The Merchandise Display Department worked year-round at Eaton's Sheppard and Highway 400 service building to prepare the costumes, the incredible floats and the mechanized window tableaux.

The cost of the entire production was paid for by Eaton's. Even though they carefully limited commercialization of the Parade, it proved to be an effective promotional device.

As television became more common in the 1950s the entire parade was shown over both English and French networks, and was televised to millions of people in the United States by CBS. In addition, 16mm colour prints were shown in theatres across Canada and around the world.

From the 1920s to the 1950s radio station CFRB broadcast a month of radio dramas of Santa's adventurous trek from the North Pole. Children were fully prepared for the excitement when the trip culminated at the Parade.

At the first Toronto parade Santa arrived by train at Union Station. Over the years, he arrived by other modes of transportation including: a chariot; a real aeroplane; a large silver fish; and in 1913, a sleigh drawn by four live reindeer from the Grenfell Mission in Labrador.

There were actually two Santas (one followed in a car with blackened windows, as a back-up) and their identities were a closely guarded secret. Some believed that one year Santa was played by John Craig Eaton himself, who usually headed the procession in a fancy car.

In 1969, following the FLQ bombings, the Montreal parade was cancelled. It never ran again.

The Toronto tradition came to an end in 1982 when president Fred Eaton sadly cancelled Eaton's sponsorship of the parade due to financial reasons.

The Archives of Ontario holds file after file of letters of complaint and lament from the generation that had come to believe "the Eaton's parade is Christmas" (from F 229-207 F.S. Eaton's parade and personal files).

A non-profit organization took over arrangements for the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, which still runs the 6 kilometre route each November.

1953 Eaton's Santa Claus Parade - Title Card
1953 Eaton's Santa Claus Parade
T. Eaton Co. fonds
Reference Code: F 229-400-0-29
Archives of Ontario

If you wish to view video clips from the 1953 Eaton's Santa Claus parade select a file size depending on the speed of your internet connection and the player application installed on your computer. The image quality will depend on the file size. Also, please keep in mind that the original material from which these clips were taken is very old and the image quality has suffered somewhat over time.

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Image from Film Clip: Santa Claus Parade - float

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For Windows Media Player 128K 273K 838K
For Quicktime Player 471K 889K 1.52Mb

Image from Film Clip: Santa Clause Parade - Fload

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For Windows Media Player 164K 360K 1.16Mb
For Quicktime Player 654K 1.23Mb 2.11Mb

Image from Film Clip: Santa Claus Parade - Float

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For Windows Media Player 318K 691K 2.16Mb
For Quicktime Player 1.21Mb 2.29Mb 3.93Mb

Image from Film Clip: Sanata Clause Parade - Santa's Float

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For Windows Media Player 302K 644K 2.03Mb
For Quicktime Player 1.13Mb 2.14Mb 3.67Mb