The City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Collection, Fonds 1488, Item 6614
The Toyland Circus Float in the 1944 Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade
The City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Collection, Fonds 1488, Item 6506
The Fairy Queen and her royal court in the 1944 Santa Claus Parade. The elaborate floats were pulled by horses during the war years to conserve gasoline.
The following passage from the book “Arse Over Teakettle” is based upon my childhood memories of the 1944 Santa Claus Parade. I was six years old at the time, and it was the first parade that I had ever attended. My memories were augmented by research into the parades that for 77 years were sponsored by Eaton’s.
Despite our late arrival at the parade site, Ken and I secured a viewing spot at the front of the crowd. Being short of stature, no one objected to us worming our way in. Our mother stood nearby, clearly in view. It seemed eons before the parade appeared, but our enthusiasm protected us against the cold. Finally, we heard marching music in the distance and, up ahead, cheers erupting from excited youngsters. The parade was approaching.
What a sight, with seven bands totalling 180 musicians. In addition, there were five hundred performers. Marching in the parade were precision majorettes, floppy-foot clowns, Pierrot’s hobbyhorses, and a Christmas circus with a live leopard, a giraffe, an ostrich, a camel, and a kangaroo. Nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters strutted along: Cinderella, Bo Peep, the Queen of Hearts, Jack Horner, Little Tommy Tucker, Jack Spratt, Jack and Jill, Mother Goose, and Mother Hubbard. Though Eaton’s sponsored the parade, no corporate logos appeared on the floats.
The parade’s magical creations were constructed with imagination and creativity. A crew of workers had laboured in a large Toronto warehouse for an entire year to build the floats and sew the costumes. As it was a wartime parade and gasoline was rationed, all the floats were pulled by horses. This added to the enchantment of the scene, the magnificent animals prancing regally along the wide avenue. King Arthur’s knights could not have mounted a greater spectacle. It was a Camelot on wheels.
The float depicting Northern Canada contained the Snow Queen, with skaters on a glass-like pond and ski girls in red and blue costumes sliding down a snowy hill, creating a colourful scene with constant motion. The float with a fat and jolly Chef displayed six-foot Christmas crackers, with prizes and hats bulging from their tops. Another scene depicted Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter. A Toyland Circus had oversized toys and make-believe animals. The Fairy Queen was astride a cock horse, as if riding to Banbury Cross with her royal court. Next appeared a float with an enormous silver fish leaping out of a sea containing a giant wave on which were riding three men in a tub. Rub-a-dub-dub.
A corpulent King Cole waved energetically from a majestic, ornate coach, his fiddlers three dancing alongside. Behind the coach were his attendants, dressed in court attire, fetching his pipe and bowl. Donald Duck, his sailor hat tilted at a humorous angle, quacked noisily as he waddled along. Miss Muffet, in a full-length, frilly dress, wandered from one side of the street to the other, seeking her tuffet.
Santa finally arrived at the end of the parade, the most anticipated of all the characters. Perched high atop rooftops and chimneys, his sleigh rocked rhythmically as if sailing through the darkened sky on the night of nights. His deep-throated laughter floated above the excited voices below as he clapped his white-gloved hands, stroked his long, fluffy beard, and waved to the children. Adults shared the magic, recalling their own days of looking forward to the visit of the gift-laden, yuletide gentleman.
A newspaper reporter for the Star wrote, “Santa races down on the back of the north wind, to visit a while before going out on his exciting rounds on Christmas Eve.”
My brother and I harboured the same thoughts. However, I now wonder if my brother knew the truth about Santa, and if I was the only family member who remained wrapped in the mystery of the wondrous legend.
As a six-year-old, I loved the blazing colours of the costumes, the animated characters, and the fairy tale personalities. Though I was too young to understand the pageantry, I knew that I was witness to a phenomenal event. As I grew older, Santa became a mere fantasy of childhood, and the parade’s lustre became tarnished. However, as an adult, my attitude evolved into a new appreciation. I understood the skill and artistry required to fashion such an enormous parade. I came to understand the abilities of the creators and their expertise. Fortunate are those who never lose their love of the Santa Claus Parade.
I do not recall returning home from the parade in November of 1944; I was encased within a bubble of euphoria.