A Mile of Make-Believe

A History of the Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade

Reviewed by Alison Nagy

November 17, 2017

On December 3, 1905, a jolly red-suited Santa Claus in a wagon made his way through the streets of Toronto from Union Station to Eaton’s department store. On the same day, Santa also arrived at the new Eaton’s store in Winnipeg in much the same manner. These were the first Eaton’s Santa Claus parades.

In his book A Mile of Make-Believe, Steve Penfold, an associate professor of history at the University of Toronto, explores the Toronto Eaton’s Santa Claus parade from its inception in 1905 to its cancellation in 1982, as well as parades in Winnipeg, Montreal, Edmonton, and Calgary.

Penfold examined the Eaton’s Collection, newspapers, and other sources to explore the reasons for increasingly public Christmas celebrations, Eaton’s creation of a single nationally broadcast parade beginning in 1969, and the shift from the “corporate fantastic” to “civic fantastic” in the diaspora of Santa Claus Parades across North America.

He also considers public and civic reaction to Eaton’s parades’ cancellation as well as Eaton’s failure to adapt to increased suburbanization and to expand into new markets, which led to the company’s demise in 1999. Annual Santa Claus parades, without Eaton’s sponsorship, remain as fixtures across Canada today.

One need not have witnessed an Eaton’s Santa Claus parade to appreciate Penfold’s approach to cultural and business history. Black-and-white photos offer a taste of the spectacle and nostalgic moments for those who remember the parades. His book shows how the Eaton’s Santa Claus parade redefined the holiday season in ways that remain tangible to this day.

 

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