Santa Claus pa­rades had small be­gin­nings

Waterloo Region Record - - Local - RYCH MILLS

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.

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