Did you know that Toronto's Santa Claus Parade predates the Macy’s parade by almost 20 years?!
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.
By this time, the Parade had seven floats starring nursery rhyme characters. The biggest float that year was a giant swan carrying a band of musicians and clowns, with Santa in the centre of it all. Mother Goose also became a Parade tradition, taking newer more elaborate forms each year.
This was the year Santa arrived by air. He touched down on the Aerodrome on Eglinton Avenue, seven years before Lindbergh arrived in Paris. He was to be pulled by horses with outriders dressed as lions. However, the horses balked at the costumes worn by the outriders and were subsequently banned from the Parade.
To escape from the realities of the Great Depression, families pressed their ears to the radio. Starting in the early 1930s, CFRB radio began broadcasting a month of dramatic programming that followed Santa's journey from the North Pole to Toronto. By the time the Parade took place, children and adults alike were beyond excitement. Santa brought with him a magic and mystery that gave everyone hope.
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.
During World War II when materials were scarce, most of the Parade costumes were made of paper. A big draw during this period was for children to watch the Parade from office buildings along the route. All the windows facing South were crowded with children, including the Park Plaza Hotel (today's Park Hyatt).
In 1948 Eaton's published a children's book called Punkinhead, the Sad Little Bear. It was about a teddy bear who wanted to be in the Santa Claus Parade. Eaton's published several books of Punkinhead's adventures, as well as colouring books, records and television commercials. He was so well-known that children cheered him when he marched in the Parade.
By 1950, the Eaton's Santa Claus Parade was the largest in North America and was first televised on CBC in 1952. For years after that, the Parade was filmed and packaged for schools with professional narration by such well-known broadcasters as Byng Whitteker and Don Harron.
There were 13 large floats in the 1957 Parade and nearly 20 smaller floats with two horse-drawn carriages. Two thousand people marched in the Parade that year, with the majority from Metropolitan Toronto Secondary Schools led by 30 teacher Parade marshals. The Parade was six miles long and began at 8:30AM - after two solid hours of makeup and dressing
Herman Solomatin and Tetyana Vedenyeva provided on-the-spot coverage of the Parade, which was broadcast to 250 million viewers in the Soviet Union via the Gosteleradio Network. Based on this interest, Russia was invited to participate in the Parade in 1991.
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.
This Sunday get out any enjoy to parade that has brought a city together for over 100 years!
Plan you day here!
Plan you day here!