Eaton's Santa Claus Parade

1930 Santa Claus Parade Toronto. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1266. Item 22537. 

1905-1982; 1985-Present

Union Station is not only a place of transportation, but also a witness to celebratory civic events. People from all over the GTA come to Toronto, via Union Station, to view and participate in multiple parades every year. One of these storied parades was the Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade.   

Torontonians walking into the original Eaton’s, encountered a modest dry goods store. The store expanded exponentially, and by the early 20th Century it was a multi-acre department store and national icon. Torontonians viewed a piece of Eaton’s early success during Christmas-time when shoppers stopped to view Eaton’s elaborate Christmas window displays. Soon after, the store brought the displays to life, with the first Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade in 1905. 

December 3rd, 1905: Families gather along the parade route excitedly anticipating the arrival of St. Nick. Parents and children stand together in the chill air outside of Union Station, waiting for the arrival of the jolly man. First arriving at Union Station, St. Nick exited the train and climbed atop a wagon. He travelled to the cheers of crowds of people. Parents and children alike gathered to greet him on his journey. Finally, St. Nick came into view at Eaton’s downtown store, signalling the end of the parade. 

Throughout the early years, Eaton’s experimented with different parade routes. And within the decade, the store had changed the route completely. No longer starting at Union Station, each year the parade would pick a nearby location to begin the parade, changing the starting point yearly. 

Unlike prior parade tradition, the Santa Claus parade did not focus on fraternal, national, or trade identity. Eaton’s omitted strong religious messages from the parade, other than St. Nick. Instead, the parade focused on people, including as many participants as possible. By the 1920s, over a thousand children participated in the parade each year. Eaton’s dedicated an entire department to employees constructing floats and costumes year-round. Children were measured, and their complete costumes were made-to-measure by the store.

Eaton's Santa Claus Parade Toronto Mother Goose Float 1930. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1266. Item 22531. 

Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade ended abruptly in 1982 when then-president Fred Eaton, cancelled the event due to the financial concerns of the company. After a brief three-year hiatus, a non-profit charity named ‘The Santa Claus Parade’ held their first iteration of the parade in 1985. This version of the Parade continues to use one of the original six-kilometer parade routes, running less than two blocks from Union Station! 

2018 Celebrity Clowns Santa Claus Parade Toronto

2018 Celebrity Clowns Santa Claus Parade Toronto. Courtesy of The Santa Claus Parade. 

1930 Santa Claus Parade Toronto Wooden Soldiers Float. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives. Fonds 1266. Item 9440. 

Union Station is no longer the starting point of the parade. However, each year it has continued to play an important role in connecting participants to the Parade.  Each year people from all around Toronto travel downtown, passing through Union Station to participate in this event.

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