In mid-November of each year, an over century old parade rolls into town in Toronto, and into people’s living rooms worldwide. Don’t worry if you missed this year’s edition, full television coverage will ensure it was recorded, and in fact, you can probably watch it on YouTube, which has a channel dedicated to this magical, annual event. You know that holiday time has arrived when Santa pulls into Toronto every year to delight children of all ages. Here’s a little history to get you in the ‘spirit’…
For over 106 years – and imagine how much life has changed in over a century – the Toronto Santa Claus Parade has been making history. Started in a small way, with a single float, at Toronto’s Union Station in 1905, the parade, held in the middle of November each year, currently has 24 floats, 24 bands, and over 1,700 participants. There are other statistics, perhaps more impressive than the parade’s glorious history: for example, the Toronto parade is broadcast to an international audience. In fact, it was the early 1950’s that, after the parade was first broadcast on Canadian television, CBS picked bought the rights to a 15-minute synopsis of the coverage. It wasn’t long before American audiences were demanding to see the whole thing: and they did. The parade’s TV audience numbers in the tens, if not hundreds, of millions. When a special alliance was forged between parade officials and Russia, in 1989, two Soviet broadcasters provided live coverage of the parade to an estimated viewing audience of 250 million viewers. Russia was later invited to join the parade officially. In terms of live audience attendance, the figures each year typically come in at around half a million people.
The Toronto Santa Claus Parade is the longest running children’s parade in the world. It, its history, and legacy have marched on through two world wars, the Great Depression, the collapse of dot-com companies, recent worldwide financial and societal problems, and through countless other world-changing events. Its current route, in fact, marches over 5.6 K (approximately 4 miles) of Toronto’s downtown streets.
While this parade has always had its commercial side to it – yes, major stakeholders and retailers want us to start buying our Christmas gifts earlier each year — it’s not all about commercialism, and it’s not all about statistics. There always has been and will be magic in the air when Santa’s around. And there’s been lots of innovation, passion, and just plain fun put into it over its century-plus history.
In 1913, Santa came into town on a sleigh pulled by reindeer brought in from Labrador. Amazingly, but fittingly, they had their own dedicated veterinarian come with them! After the parade, they found a new home at one of Eaton’s Executives who lived outside of Toronto. In 1919, Santa arrived by air, touching down at the Aerodrome (later replaced by Toronto International Airport). The site of the original Aerodrome, by the way, is now a busy Toronto intersection, with Yorkdale Shopping Centre less than a mile away.
Nursery rhyme characters began to make their appearance in 1917 (Mother Goose joined in 1930, and for thirty years straight was an integral parade character). During the Second World War, due to shortages, organizers resorted to making some of their elaborate costumes out of paper. In 1951, the annual event hit 2,000 participants; that figure has changed little since then. In the mid-1950’s it rained on the parade (yes, literally) for the first time in over five decades!
The mid-1970’s brought estimated North American television audiences into the tens of millions, and in 1980, on the Parade’s auspicious 75 year anniversary, things went ‘global’ by way of a float carrying children from 24 different countries.
The folks that started the Parade, the Eaton’s, facing very hard times themselves, pulled out in 1982. Many thought that would end its almost 80 year history, there and then. But it wasn’t to happen: within three short days, 20 corporate firms chipped in to continue to fund the Parade, and as we know, it has run almost three decades since those potentially dark days.
Today’s Parades include floats based on everything from Harry Potter to Hockey Night in Canada. Don’t fret one bit about missing the live parade. The most comfortable spot in the world to watch the Parade from is your own living room or den, sitting warmly in front of a fire. YouTube has a dedicated Toronto Santa Claus Parade channel, which has tons and tons of archived footage. Point your browser to their YouTube Channel to watch to your heart’s content. One of the best things about the YouTube channel is that there’s a several part filmography of the Parade’s history, with silent footage reaching back as far as 1929. It’s totally breathtaking. The Parade has more than one website itself, but the best one to visit is the official one. It’s beautifully done, with various wonderful, magical features that let you do everything from letting the kids play with an online colouring book, or tracking Santa’s progress (yes, even on Smartphones).
There hasn’t been a single year, for 106 years running, that this parade hasn’t appeared in the sometimes snowy, sometimes sunny and warm, and once-in-a-while raining streets of Toronto. We encourage you to pop over to YouTube, or the official Parade site, to enjoy some of the wonders of this annual, heart-warming phenomenon.