Sunday, November 15, 2015

# 63 ~ Toronto's Santa Claus Parade

Toronto Santa Claus Parade, 1977.

The 2015 Toronto Santa Claus Parade takes place today, Sunday, November 15th.  It will be the 111th Santa Claus Parade in Toronto, since the yearly tradition began back on December 2, 1905.

That first parade was a simple affair, with only one single float participating in the parade.  The parade now has over 25 floats, 24 bands and about 1,700 people.  The parade route stretches for nearly six kilometres.  Toronto's Santa Claus Parade is one of the largest and oldest annual parades in North America.

Originally, the parade was sponsored by Eaton's department stores, and was a successful marketing strategy for the retail chain.  One can imagine early versions of Santa Claus hurling Eaton's catalogues out into the hordes, giving young attendees several weeks to pester their parents about what they hoped to get on Christmas morning.

Advertising for "Santa's Store" at the Eaton Centre in 1981.  The next year would be the last that Eaton's backed Toronto's Santa Claus Parade.

But, by 1982, the parade had grown too large for Eaton's to sponsor, and the store ended its association with the parade.  The Toronto Santa Claus Parade was nearly doomed, but a businessman named George Cohon stepped in and saved the festive municipal tradition.  Cohon was active with the organization of the parade right up until recently, but he retired in 2014.  Today, the parade finds corporate sponsorship through a variety of businesses, including Tim Horton's, McDonald's, Lowe's, Sears Canada and Canadian Tire.  They all have floats in the parade.

The parade starts at Christie Pits Park, at Bathurst and Bloor streets, and travels along Bloor Street West, to Avenue Road.  It then turns south, along Queen's Park Circle and Avenue Road, to Wellington Street, and then turns eastward before terminating at St. Lawrence Market, at Front and Jarvis streets.  The parade no longer passes by the Eaton Centre, which was the home of the parade's former sponsor for many years.

The route of the Toronto Santa Claus Parade.  Santa is expected to arrive at St. Lawrence Market at 12:30.

The Santa Claus Parade is a nostalgic childhood event for many of us who grew up in Toronto.  Here is a photographic look back at the ways in which the Santa Claus Parade has changed over the years in Toronto.

When Eaton's ran Toronto's Santa Claus Parade, the department store itself was Santa's ultimate destination.  He would climb a ladder to greet his adoring public, and no doubt work to boost sales for the store.

Santa greets his public from atop the entrance to Eaton's Department Store in this photograph from 1925.

The backdrop for this photograph was the University Avenue Armouries, which stood on University Avenue, just north of Queen Street West - just to the north of Osgoode Hall, where the University Avenue Courthouse stands today.  Built in 1891, the building saw the training of Toronto area soldiers, during the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War, and the Korean Conflict.  The building was demolished in 1963.

Cinderella rode through the Santa Claus Parade in her carriage in 1930.

This elaborate float from 1930 shows Santa gliding over the roofs of homes.

"The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe"

The costumed figures in the Santa Claus Parade from 1954 look a little alarming by the contemporary standards of today - or is it just me?


This plaque tells a brief history of Toronto's Santa Claus Parade.  It can be found out in front of Toronto's 1899 City Hall, and is located on the northwest corner of Queen Street West & James Street.

The text of the plaque reads as follows :

"In 1905, Timothy Eaton's department store began the tradition of the Santa Claus Parade.  Initially, the parade featured Santa Claus on a horse-drawn cart.  The parade has grown in size and splendour to include upside-down clowns, colourful marching bands, mascots, characters in elaborate costumes, ornately decorated floats, and - of course - Santa Claus himself.  Over the years, Santa has travelled from the North Pole by train, coach, ice floe, airplane and sleigh pulled by nine reindeer.  In 1982, a local volunteer group assumed responsibility for the parade.  One of Canada's longest-running traditions, the parade remains focussed on bringing joy to children and continues to enchant and entertain people of all ages."


Lastly, here are some other images that show how Toronto has prepared for the Yuletide season in years gone past.  You'll note that Santa Claus is adept at appearing all across the city.

This photograph from November 9, 1962 shows the Christmas light installation on Yonge Street, that stretched from College Street south to King Street.  About halfway down the picture, on the left, is the Imperial Theatre, which would go through a number of transformations before becoming the Ed Mirvish Theatre of today.

A similar scene from November 15, 1977 shows the Christmas lights on Yonge Street, looking north from King Street.

This photograph from December 11, 1982, shows Santa posing with a local dog for a snapshot.  This was part of a dog show held at Exhibition Place.  Money collected from those who wanted to get pictures of their dogs with Santa went to a fund to help provide seeing eye dogs.

The Scarborough Humane Society had a similar fundraising campaign as seen in this photograph from December 3, 1992.

This photograph from November 17, 1987 shows a local Oakville man named Bill Hughes, who had portrayed Santa Claus each year for 39 years in the Oakville Santa Claus Parade.

This picture from December 15, 1989 shows a local three year old meeting Santa at the Scarborough Town Centre.

A two year old meets Santa at Shoppers World on the Danforth, on December 16, 1992.

Forget the sleigh!  On December 17, 1984, Santa was cruising the streets of Toronto on a Harley, as temperatures reached a record high of 14 degrees.

On November 18, 1985, Santa and his aides travelled the recently opened Scarborough LRT out to the Scarborough Town Centre, but not before greeting riders along the way.

An eleven month old boy was brought down to Casa Loma from Markham to meet Santa in this photograph from December 4, 1987.  Casa Loma was filled with hundreds of presents that were then disseminated to disadvantaged children all over Toronto.