A Short History of Canada’s Iconic Santa Claus Parade

In 1913, Eaton’s arranged for a Santa to be pulled by a live reindeer through the streets of Toronto. It was no small feat, considering the reindeer had to be imported from Labrador and accompanied by a specialized veterinarian. And as children along the route began to march behind the sleigh, singing songs and dancing as they went, a tradition was born. What began as a corporate-sponsored seasonal marketing strategy slowly grew into a national, historic event, which more than half a million people attend every year. 

Notable Santa Claus Parade Dates
1919 – The first year Santa arrived by air. He landed on Eglinton Ave. and was supposed to be pulled by horses, surrounded by outriders dressed up as lions. The horses, however, were startled by the lion costumes and caused a scene. They have since been banned from the parade.

1929 – During the Great Depression, CFRB radio began broadcasting Christmas-related programs a month before the parade, drawing their biggest and most anxious crowd to date.

1952 – The Santa Claus Parade became the largest in North America and was televised for the first time on CBC in black and white. 

1976 – More than 30 million people watched as the parade aired on television, featuring a record 33 floats, 200 children, and 500 marchers. The route was lengthened to 7.5 miles to accommodate their growing crowd. 

1982 – Eaton’s announced it was withdrawing from sponsorship after 77 years. Following the decision, 20 companies signed up to sponsor floats and began the tradition of ‘Celebrity Clowns’, where more than 60 executives donated $1,000 to dress up and hand out balloons, march, and entertain kids along the route.

2005 – The parade celebrates its 100th anniversary.

The annual parade, over a century later, features over 50 floats, bands and thousands of participants, running from beyond Bloor and Bathurst and ending at the St. Lawrence Market. The floats and themes have changed a bit, but the heart of the celebration and anticipation of the big man in red remain the same. With recent floats ranging from Harry Potter to Hockey Night in Canada, it is the longest running children’s parade in the world and is broadcast in countries as far as New Zealand, Norway and Ireland. 

Although the fundamentals of the parade remain, like floats, marching bands, snowflakes and Santa himself, technology has offered a modern spin on things.

Now, in this tech-savvy 21st century, parade-goers can stream the ‘Santa Cam’ from the parade website. So, when Santa’s sleigh floats on by, be sure to smile because it’s equipped with digital cameras all along the sides to capture all of the crowd’s apple-cheeked faces. 

And finally, you can download the ‘SantaParade’ iPhone app, with features like ‘Ring Out’, which allows you to shake your phone and jingle some electric bells so Santa hears you as he passes by; ‘Track Santa’, which displays the Big Guy’s location and his route, lets you know when he’s approaching so you’re ready for his big debut. 

Celebrating its 106th anniversary this year, the Santa Claus Parade is an event that has transcended the ages and become a staple of Canadian childhood for decades. Whether you’re sitting on the curb with hot chocolate and watching Santa ride by or tuning in on the TV while you’re hanging decorations, the parade is definitely a holiday tradition everyone can enjoy and can’t be missed.

Click here to view the parade map