Are you ever too old to enjoy Toronto’s Santa Claus Parade?

Series 975 - Primary photographs of Gilbert A. Milne & Co. Ltd.

The following quote is from the book, “The Store That Timothy Built,” written by William Stephenson, published by McClelland and Stewart Limited in 1969 for the 100th anniversary of the T. Eaton Company. The following passage is from chapter entitled, “The Happiest Day of the Year.”

Easily the happiest and most popular way Eaton’s has devised to meet its customers is the Santa Claus Parade, held on a Saturday morning in November. Costing close to $100,000 to mount, stretching for at least a mile and a half, entailing the talents of 500 musicians, 1100 school children and two Santas, a visible one and a spare, both of whose identities are closely guarded secrets – Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade, in the flesh and on nation-wide colour television, officially inaugurates the hectic, joyous melee known as Christmas shopping.

In Toronto, where the parade is designed and first shown – and again in Montreal, where it is re-enacted the following Saturday – crowds estimated by newspapers of 600,000 in each city line the streets to cheer the colourful, noisy procession. Eaton’s sponsored TV colourcast over both English and French networks also reaches about four million other Canadians by actual surveys.

The parade is also taped for television over the Colombia Broadcasting System in the United States where its audience is estimated at 25 million, and a 16-mm colour film of the event each year for showing across Canada and around the world.

What makes the Eaton Parade so unique is that, alone of major parades, it features mainly fairy-tale and make-believe characters – not current stars of movies and TV; Paul Castle, the voice of Mickey Mouse, was allowed in the 1968 parade only because it was the 40th anniversary of the pie-eared rodent’s debut on the silver screen. Nor does the Eaton’s parade ever use grotesque heads, like those made for Mardi Gras parades in Brazil or Italy and resold to some U.S. stores for their Christmas parades; all the heads in the Eaton’s Parade are comical, not frightening.

Eaton’s is the only parade that makes and owns its own costumes, more than 1000 of them. All the others rent them just for the day. Big stores like Macy’s in New York, Hudson’s in Detroit, Gimbel Brothers in Philadelphia, also stick to their own personnel for the marchers and riders. But Eaton’s gets thousand of applications each year from children wanting to be in the parade – so many that it has to ask some children to wait as long as three years – and is pleased to pay each a small fee for the day’s effort, plus hot chocolate and cookies at a convenient spot.

For seventy-seven years, Eaton’s sponsored it and paid all the expenses. Though Eaton’s kept the commercialization to a minimum, the parade generated unbelievable publicity and created thousands of loyal customers, who expressed their appreciation by shopping at the department store.

In 1982, Eaton’s relinquished their sponsorship of the parade, and a volunteer group assumed responsibility. The parade has changed since the group took it over, but the parade’s popularity has never waned. Today, it remains the signal for all of Toronto, especially the children, that the Christmas season has officially begun.

For a link to a novel about living in Toronto during earlier decades, including memories of Christmas’ past :

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