"The Eaton's Parade is Christmas." (Bruce West)
It all started in 1905 when a man in a red suit and white beard arrived at Union Station in Toronto. Accompanied by the Eaton family, he walked to the Eaton's store on Queen Street as a crowd looked on. Not to be outdone, two years later, he arrived on horseback to be greeted by excited children and their parents. From 1910 to 1912, the parade was a two day event, starting in Newmarket and finishing in Toronto at Massey Hall, where Santa Claus was welcomed by 9000 children. In 1913, Santa arrived by a sleigh pulled by eight live reindeer from Labrador.
Santa arrives via sleigh pulled by live reindeer courtesy http://blogs.canoe.com/parker/2009/11/11/.
In 1917, floats were added to the parade for the first time, all built by Eaton's employees. Volunteers rode on the float, outfitted in costumes sewn by Eaton's seamstresses. In 1919, Santa Claus made a grand entrance, arriving by airplane. In 1930, the Mother Goose float premiered at the parade, becoming a thirty year tradition. The Great Depression did not deter Santa Claus or the parade planners: the parade continued as planned, although some of the floats would have been made of cheaper materials. The Second World War did not interfere with the parade either, although the floats were pulled by horses rather than gas guzzling tractors. In 1941, half a million spectators attended the parade.
A crowd awaits Santa in 1918 courtesy http://blogs.canoe.com/parker/2009/11/11/.
The 1950's ushered in a new era as the parade was telecast on TV for the first time. While in 1949, only 3600 Canadian households had a television set, by 1960, three quarters of Canadians owned one. Many tuned in to the parade which included 2000 participants by 1952. Children who volunteered for the parade were paid a small fee. Colouring books were handed out to children in the crowd. Eaton's took out full page ads in the newspaper to promote the event. The parade, the largest of its kind in North America at the time, never grew old. As one Torontonian explained: The parade promoted "a rare and special thing called wonder".
Once Santa Claus arrived at the Eaton's Store on Queen Street, children would line up in front of the magical Christmas window and push their noses up to the glass to catch a glimpse of the latest toys. The line wound its way around to Toyland, where the tots each took a turn on Santa's knee, sharing with the jolly man their Christmas wishes.
Eaton's Toyland Display courtesy http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/explore/online/eatons/memories1.aspx.
While Eaton's withdrew their sponsorship in 1982 due to financial difficulties, the parade continues. As Torontonian Bruce West explained: "The Eaton's parade is Christmas". The two cannot be separated.
Parade circa 1952 courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/torontohistory/10967017703.