2017 marks the 113th year for the annual holiday parade that winds down the heart of Toronto, ending in Santa himself waving and saying a cheery “Ho! Ho! Ho!” to all the families lining the parade route. There’s been a lot of changes to the parade since it’s start in 1904 — and we’ve pulled together some interesting tidbits that you may not have known…
Photo of Old Union Station, CC0 Public Domain
You couldn’t really call it a parade since it really only had one person in it. But what an important person — Santa arrived at Union Station on December 2, 1904 and walked with the Eaton family to their huge department store downtown. The people of Toronto loved it and with the addition of a horse-drawn carriage, footmen and trumpeters, a parade was born.
In 1913, the Eaton’s company, which arranged the original Santa Claus parade, imported live reindeer from Labrador to pull Santa’s sleigh. They had their own veterinarian to make sure that they would be in tip top shape and they were fed their favourite food — reindeer moss. Children along the parade route didn’t just watch the parade go by, they marched right along with Santa through the city. There were special baskets on poles carried around where children could drop their letters to Santa — and each one received a personal letter back from him!
Mother goose float (City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 41886/image has been cropped)
In the early days of the parade, there were just seven floats. Unlike today where we have floats by toy companies and department stores, the original floats were nursery rhyme characters. In 1917, Santa even took a break from his sleigh and rode on the back of a huge swan, surrounded by musicians and clowns. Mother Goose appeared for the first time and was a permanent part of the parade right up until 1960.
Paper costumes (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 154/image has been cropped)
The Santa Claus parade grew and grew each year, becoming bigger and with more elaborate floats and costumes. When WWII started, there were shortages of many materials such as metal and cotton. The organizers improvised and made the costumes out of paper instead.
Sherwood Forest float (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1653, Series 975, File 2306, Item 33463-2/image has been cropped)
With televisions becoming a big part of people’s home, in 1952 the Santa Claus parade was broadcast on CBC for the first time (in black and white — colour didn't come until later). It went from being just a local holiday parade to being seen all across Canada and in dozens of countries throughout the world and Santa became a television star!
In 2004, the parade had its 100th birthday (happy birthday to you!). Despite bad weather, two world wars, and even the Eaton’s company pulling its sponsorship, there has not been a single year since 1904 that Santa hasn’t made his way down the streets of Toronto in the parade and delighted children young and old.