CBC Digital Archives

Halloween at a rural school in 1954

Masked, bewigged and in disguise, the voices demand: "Trick or treat!" "Halloween apples!" "Shell out, shell out, the witches are out!" It's Oct. 31, a night when Canadian kids don costumes, hold parties and knock on doors in search of candy. From apple-bobbing in the country to drag queens in the city, CBC Digital Archives takes a look at changing ways of celebrating Halloween.

media clip
When the air is crisp and the leaves are gone,
The Halloween spirit advances anon.
Carve a great pumpkin, fashion a mask,
Polish an apple and ponder your task
Of dancing a jig, or singing a tune:
Your trick for a treat by the light of the moon.
Sailors and gypsies and witches in black
Will all get some fruit in their brown paper sacks.
From the CBC TV show Newsmagazine,
See how kids in the '50s observed Halloween. 
• In this clip, children in 1954 practice what to say on doorsteps when they go trick-or-treating: "Shell out! Shell out! The witches are out!" This was a common demand that has since fallen out of favour for the more standard call of "Trick or treat!" In Western Canada, children also call "Halloween apples!" in a singsong voice.

• "Trick or treat!" harks back to the era when Halloween revellers gave their hosts a choice: to give out a treat or be subject to a mischievous trick. In this clip, the children are asked to perform a trick (dancing) before they get their treat.

• "Halloween is gradually becoming a restrained celebration in Canada," said the Globe and Mail on Oct. 31, 1957. "The activities of pranksters yearly become less serious. Police and school officials attribute the decrease in the destructive urge to entertainment sponsored by service clubs and Home and School Associations for children."

• In some regions of North America, the night before Halloween (Oct. 30) is associated with pranks such as throwing eggs at windows, festooning trees with toilet paper and soaping car windows. It is known variously as Gate Night (in Western Canada), Mat Night (in parts of Quebec) and, most commonly, Devil's Night. 

Medium: Television
Program: Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: Oct. 31, 1954
Duration: 5:54

Last updated: November 3, 2014

Page consulted on November 3, 2014

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