The Santa Claus Parade in Montreal - 1925 to 2014: a brief history
The first Santa Claus parades organized by Eaton’s were presented in Toronto and Winnipeg in 1905. Originally, the only star in the Toronto parade was Santa himself. Over the years, floats were introduced and participants were added.
In the winter of 1925, Eaton presented the first big Christmas parade in Montreal. The parade, designed and produced entirely by Eaton’s craftsmen, showcased the T. Eaton Co., known at the time primarily for its catalogue sales. The parade was designed and presented first in Toronto. Then, the costumes and some of the floats were sent by train to Montreal, where the parade was presented the following Saturday. Even if it was just a replica of the Toronto parade, Montreal’s version, which wended its way along the city streets on the third Saturday of November, never failed to attract young and old alike.
With its myriad attractions for children, the Christmas parade became a firmly rooted tradition over the years. Children applied for the honour of participating in the parade, which was so popular that they often had to wait up to three years to get their turn. Up at dawn and delivered by taxis hired especially for the occasion by Eaton’s, the youngsters trekked along Saint Joseph Boulevard, Park Avenue and Pine Avenue. The selected children were dressed in magnificent custom-made costumes. They were paid a small salary and given hot chocolate and cookies throughout the parade.
Although the world was in the throes of the Second World War for the first half of the 1940s, the parade was still presented every year without exception.
The 1950s were the parade’s heyday: an Eaton’s employee worked year-round on developing and coordinating the parade, and the company allocated a separate budget for the event. In 1955, this budget amounted to $70,000 (more than half a million in today’s dollars). With the advent of television, the English and French networks began to broadcast the parade.
The Toronto organizers were pleased to see that spectators in Quebec seemed to be even more receptive and enthusiastic than those in Toronto: “The French Canadians view the event as sort of a carnival, whereas in Toronto, it’s just a parade.”
In 1969, citing the FLQ bomb threats, Eaton’s management decided to permanently cancel the Montreal parade, a regrettable move given its great success.
In 1995, more than 27 years after the parade’s cancellation, business people in downtown Montreal were keen to revive this popular tradition. Downtown Montreal was experiencing hard times following the economic recession and was in need of revitalization. These new organizers wanted Montrealers to reappropriate the event and, along with it, downtown Montreal. Destination centre-ville, which at the time was a voluntary association of business people in downtown Montreal, took up the torch to bring the parade back to Sainte Catherine Street West. The public was there to welcome it back.
Destination centre-ville, which represents more than 8,000 downtown businesses, is still the mastermind behind the 2014 Santa Claus Parade and is presenting it for the 20th consecutive year. As popular as ever, the 2014 Santa Claus parade will be the 64st edition of the event in downtown Montreal.
Destination centre-ville is proud to have partnered with the TVA network since 2005 for the broadcast of the parade.
With the public’s support and affection for the event in Montreal and across Quebec, it has been possible to maintain the tradition of Montreal’s Santa Claus Parade. Today, the parade is the most eagerly anticipated Christmas event among Quebec families.
Archives of Ontario
Ontario Heritage Foundation
Société Radio-Canada Archives
Destination centre-ville Archives
Text: Pierre Boudreault
Updated: November 2014
New : Share your memories
« I remember as children, my sister and I would watch the parade on TV every year. It was a time where both believed in magic and beauty. »
« We lived in Quebec City and each year that we were able, the whole family travelled to Montreal to watch the Santa Claus parade and then to see Santa himself. »
« I remember my first time at the parade in Montreal. My daddy lifting me up on his shoulder so I could see Santa! »
« Now many many years later I take my grandchildren to see the parade in Montreal. I enjoy every minute of it and I smile from within remembering the parades of my childhood. »
David, Greenfield Park
'' I took my 5 children to the Santa Claus Parade as they grew up. It was a wonderful time and a great family event. I had the honor of taking my 2 grandsons to the parade as they grew up and bless them they knew nannie loved the parade so they kept coming with me until they were 15...lol... It was a great time together. We would watch the parade sipping on hot chocolate and then out for lunch. It will be a memory we will keep forever. Now I am expecting a new grandson in January (too late for this years parade), but I will get to start the tradition all over again next year with him...:):) ''
''My memory is my parents taking me every year and I am doing the same with my little girl. It's a yearly tradition we take the bus and metro downtown and we take the train back to the west island. It brings back so many memories and just knowing I am making new ones with my daughter. Thank you for letting us have and make more memories.''