The Oldest Children's Parade In The World by Adam Bunch

Christmas-crazed revelers (and sometimes their horses) have been pushing, pulling, dragging and driving weird shit on wheels through the streets of Toronto every year for nearly a century. And our earliest Santa Claus Parade actually goes back even further than that. In 1905, Santa arrived at Union Station by train and headed up to the Eaton's department store at Yonge and Queen with the Eaton's family. It would take a few years before they added floats and marching bands and got the idea for Santa to end the parade by climbing up a ladder from his float to hoist himself, stumbling and cursing, through an open window into Toyland, where, apparently, there was a stiff drink waiting. (That's what's about to happen in the photo from 1921 above; you can see the 1918 version of the same thing here.)

The whole thing, of course, became crazy popular—a marketing coup for the Eaton's brand. For years, Eaton's made all the floats, expected every employee to help out on the day of the parade, and enjoyed the boost in sales that having Santa lead swarms of Christmas shoppers directly to your store will give you. There was a time when every Canadian child who sent a letter to Santa had it answered by Eaton's. Promotional films of the parade were given out free to schools and churches. (Education!) It was shown live on TV not only here, but across Canada and the U.S. The Toronto parade was such a massive success that  it inspired Macy's to start their own New York version in 1924.

The Archives of Ontario have an online exhibition of old photos of the parade here. Including this penguin from the 1931 edition, photographers filming the 1969 parade here, and the 1917 Santa making his way through the crowd on horseback here. There's a neat-looking Santa Claus from I'm-not-sure-which-year here. And there are a few more photos included in this Historicist column on Torontoist.

There's also a lot of old footage from over the years. The Archives of Ontario exhibit has some, and there's a YouTube archive here. There's film of 1928's parade here. And 1960, in four parts, starting here.

Finally, here are seven minutes of footage from the 1929 parade, including "Wiggly Waggly Pollywog", "Our Friend, The Tumbling Clown" and token racist entry, "The Crocodile With Moving Jaws And Flipping Tail Carried By Ten Little Zulus". Oh and, of course, Santa Claus riding another giant fish:

Photo: Santa Claus outside Eaton's, 1921

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at

This post originally appeared on the Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog, which tells stories about the history of Toronto. You can read more highlights from it here, or visit it yourself here.


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