Why Eaton's ended its Santa Claus parade

Citing the crushing recession facing Canadians at the time, the department store brought an end to a 77-year tradition in 1982.

Three months before its scheduled date, the holiday tradition got the boot from its sponsor

Citing the crushing recession facing Canadians at the time, the department store brought an end to a 77-year tradition in 1982. 2:02

You might say it was a case of the Grinch coming early.

But Eaton's — the sponsor of the Santa Claus parade for 77 years — took no pleasure in pulling the plug on a Christmas tradition, unlike the Grinch.

On Aug. 9, 1982, the venerable Canadian department store announced there would be no marching bands, no upside-down clowns, no floats and no jolly old elf parading down the streets of Toronto to herald the start of the Christmas season.

Layoffs come, Santa goes

Onlookers assemble to wait for the arrival of the jolly old elf at the Eaton's Santa Claus Parade in 1981. (CBC Archives/The National)

"The Eaton company is not going to be involved in the Santa Claus parade," said Fredrik Eaton, the company's president.

"At a time when all retailers, and Eaton's included, have been letting regular staff go from their employment, we don't think this is a time when we should be spending a lot of money ... carrying on a parade," he added.

The parade cost an estimated $500,000 or less at the time. 

Since 1952 it had been broadcast on CBC Television. In 1981, when broadcast on a handful of U.S. and Canadian networks, it reached an estimated audience of 35 million people, according to a Toronto Star report.

But there was hope in Whoville. Paul Godfrey, then chair of the municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, said he would do his utmost to ensure the parade would continue.

His efforts paid off: eight days after the TV report above, the Toronto Star reported that Godfrey and Toronto mayor Art Eggleton had enlisted a trio of businessmen to hustle corporate donations to keep the parade going. It has continued using that model ever since. 

The parade has outlasted its original sponsor: Eaton's called it quits in 1999.