Santa Claus parades had small beginnings
In 1923, Kitchener boasted some 24,000 residents — almost 7,500 were children under 12. Each and every one received a Christmas stocking from Santa Claus. A few of those early 1920s kiddies, still hale and hearty, can perhaps recall those Christmas giveaways at the old market building.
The postwar decade was good to Kitchener: from 1919 to 1930, the population increased by 50 per cent to 31,000. Factories were booming; downtown businesses were thriving; more and more homes were being built to house growing families.
Dec. 22, 1923 was a snowless Saturday but that couldn’t stop Santa! There was no lengthy parade such as we know but Santa did ride down King Street. He turned left on Frederick, stopping in front of a huge spruce decorated with trimmings, lights and bells. It had been set up near the market’s Frederick Street entrance and represented a fundraising drive titled The Community Christmas Tree. Underwritten by public donations, the program ensured that the city’s needy families received a hamper containing food, clothing and gifts for children. The fund also shipped clothing to Northern Ontario where a number of Kitchener’s ex-serving-soldiers had taken up the government’s offer of cheap land.
All pupils under 12 had been given a ticket at school entitling them to a gift-stuffed stocking. Those with preschool sisters and brothers received extra tickets while youngsters quarantined for measles had their stocking personally delivered by a Young Men’s Club volunteer. Santa parked his actual North Pole sleigh and reindeer at a hidden spot near Bridgeport. From there he was whisked to downtown’s paved roads in an old-fashioned victoria carriage drawn by a span of P.K. Weber’s dapple grey Percherons. At two o’clock, escorted by trumpet-blaring, uniformed heralds on gaily decorated horses and by the Kitchener Regimental Band led by Professor Stockton, Santa travelled the six blocks of King Street tossing handfuls of candies and small toys to children lining the route.
On Frederick, a throng of children waited with the best-behaved being the 600 pupils in the Kitchener public and separate school choir conducted by J.L. Yule. They performed numerous carols before and after Santa’s four-wheeled rig drove up. The other children were anxious for the program to finish — they knew what came next. At three o’clock, doors at the Scott Street end of the market were thrown open and a human surge resulted as 7,500 kids broke all speed record for the 100-yard dash. Luckily, volunteer firemen and traffic police, all issued with toy pistols, created order out of chaos. After entering the market’s lower level, children were given stockings filled with nuts, oranges and toys, while Santa watched and blessed the children, every one. As busy as he was that Saturday, it was just one part of his hectic long weekend.
At the Freeport Sanatorium on Friday, he brought cheer to patients recovering from tuberculosis. In co-operation with Freeport’s Ladies’ Auxiliary and the Kitchener Young Men’s Club, Santa ensured all the patients and nurses received gifts and enjoyed a musical program.
On Monday, Christmas Eve, Santa had yet another local com-
mitment. Waterloo’s Christmas Tree Committee arranged for a three o’clock appearance — and what luck! — a generous snowfall lent an appropriate backdrop as the same mounted heralds plus 12 wooden soldiers and the Waterloo Boys Band accompanied Santa. The miniparade left the Alexander House at the corner of William Street, ending up at the town bandstand where stood Waterloo’s decorated Christmas tree. Here Santa gave a brief speech before the Waterloo schools choir performed. As in Kitchener, children had received tickets in class and now was the time to trade them in for stuffed stockings full of fruit, candies, nuts and toys. Another 100-plus Waterloo children, quarantined in their homes, had their stockings delivered. Needy families received hampers full of food, toiletries, clothes and toys.
Santa Claus parades may have become fancied up and expanded manyfold over the past century but it’s doubtful if today’s kids get any more of a thrill than did our Roaring Twenties’ ancestors.
When Santa arrived on Frederick Street in 1921, his sleigh was drawn by four matched dapple grey horses. A.R. Goudie’s original store is at right while the three-storey Bank of Commerce building at King and Frederick is behind Santa. All three photos of Santa’s early 1920s visits were taken by Ernest Denton.
When Ernest Denton took this Dec. 22, 1923 photo behind the Kitchener market, Santa was inside overseeing gifts to 7,500 Kitchener kids. These boys and girls already have their stockings and are waiting for Santa to dash away to his parked sleigh.
Santa’s 1922 Kitchener appearance had better Christmas weather than in 1923. Preceded by uniformed heralds, two of them on Percherons provided by liveryman Philip K. Weber, Santa is about to begin his King Street trek.