The Santa Claus Parade
It seems the Christmas season has begun. Today is the Santa Claus Parade in Toronto. This is the best such parade in the World and the oldest children's parade.
For those lucky enough to live near Toronto, it is time to gather up the children, if not yours, your neighbours, (for the parade is best viewed with children) and take in the parade. Be sure to get there two hours in advance so as to get a good viewing spot. For millions more around the World there will be an opportunity to see the parade on television
The Santa Claus parade is a Toronto institution, nay, a Canadian institution, begun by the T. Eaton Company which sponsored it for decades as a playful obsession of the Eaton family and as a commercial promotion of their department store, Eaton's of Canada, which was a wonderful Canadian institution in itself, as a major retailer in downtown Toronto and as that wonderful mail order department store know to rural and small town Canada,( where most Canadians lived until the 1950's) through the Eaton's catalogue, particularly the Christmas catalogue. It was a sad day when Eaton's went out of business. It had been an institution that helped give our country a national identity. It lives on in the shopping mall, the Eaton Centre, in downtown Toronto and in the Santa Claus Parade.
Here is the first of a series of videos on the history of the parade.
As a child, I remember those magical few years when we were taken to see the Santa Claus parade, at true believers, so we could be reassured that Santa was in town and could be visited at Eaton, "Toyland"department. The weather usually was chilly, and often with some snow on the ground. This year it will be warm with the temperature at 13C. with some rain. I expect there will be large crowds lining the parade route.
I have written before how fierce my mother was making sure we had a front row seat if the crowd was was many rows deep. She would push up through the throng so that we could sit on the curb. "Let the little children through! The parade is for the children." She would hover at the back, probably only being able to catch a glimpse of us from time to time. No doubt she admonished my older sister to keep, "Keep an eye on your brothers and hold their hands when the parade is over." We were always treated nicely by strangers who readily followed my mother's admonishments to have us reach the front row. It was a more innocent time. There was no fear of strangers and possible child abduction, in my childhood.
When I returned to Canada from living in the United States, I had a son of my own and for a couple of years I remember meeting up with my sister and her family to watch the Parade near its beginning, at Christie Pits, a park my father often talked about as a place he played as a child.
One year we even got on the subway and traveled to the head of the parade down on University Avenue and watched it a second time.
The Santa Claus parade is one of those community events around which family memories are fashioned.
I also remember in my youth going shopping at the downtown Eaton's store. It was a large and magical place at Christmas time. We would walk to the village of Port Credit, which we lived near, catch the bus in front of Hooper's Drug Store, to take us to Long Branch, where we could get the street car into Toronto. It must have been an adventure for my mother with three children in tow. We were there, of course, to see Santa Claus and visit "Toyland", where we could see the great displays of toys, riding up to the appropriate floor on a classic elevator, which seemed to be made of brass with a caged door that was closed by an operator, wearing white gloves. He would call out the floors, "Third floor, Toyland!" It was the first department store to have elevators installed. It was also the first store to have electric lights installed. I was always fascinated with one other thing. The vacuum tube system in which messages could be put in a container as swished off the some management office. We could have lunch at the Eaton's stores restaurant. (before fast food places, it was one of the few times we ever ate out. Being on our best behaviour was expected). This building was eventually torn down and replaced with the Eaton's Centre. Now that I think of it I think it should have been declared a National Historic site and preserved. It seems progress overtakes many of the sights and sounds of our historic memories.
Eaton's Department Store and its retailing rival Simpson's across the road, had the most spectacular store windows, at street level. It seems they tried to outdo each other with animated scenes displaying toys and other goods, although I only remember toys. These were part of the Christmas magic we had to view though the largest glass windows in any store.
This is a painting by Kathryn Smith, a Hamilton, Ontario artist, of a scene "Eaton's Windows"
Here are a few photo's of Eaton's Windows in The Archives of Ontario
So much for my Christmas reminiscences. If you want to read memories of others you can find them in The Archives of Ontario.
If you have not gotten your letter off to Santa you could take it to the Parade and some elf will gather it in. Be sure to address it if you want a reply," Santa Claus, North Pole, Canada, HOH OHO". As a child, we always knew Santa was a Canadian for the North Pole is in Canada. We were happy to share him with the World.
We are still assured that every letter will get a personal response. For decades, staff of the T. Eaton Company took on this task, on Santa's behalf, and today, Canada Post staff does it. You can also send your letters with your excuses for being naughty and your assurance that you have been nice (I have tried my best.) before you lay out your wish list for gifts at Christmas. (Be sure to be modest in what you wish for and always wish that less fortunate children get gifts also.) I suspect viewing the Santa Claus Parade on TV will inspire a flurry of letter writing. I trust a real letter sent by snail mail is still the best and only way to communicate with the jolly old elf.