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Holiday Windows At The Bay

One of my fondest Christmas memories is my family’s annual trip downtown to see the seasonal window displays at Toronto’s dueling department stores, Eaton’s and Simpsons. The window unveiling was a newsworthy event in 1960s Toronto and crowds gathered on the snowy streets to see the curtains pulled back to reveal merry, mechanized scenes of the North Pole come magically to life. I don’t know exactly when the custom fell out of favour but during the 1980s or ’90s, as the retail landscape changed, those expensive moving displays were put out to pasture in favour of cheaper, static vignettes pitching the season’s must-have toys and gifts.

This year, I was happily surprised to see a lively moving display in the windows of The Bay’s flagship store at Yonge and Queen Streets (former home to Simpsons). The tableaux portray the usual scenes of reindeer, elves and cheery carolers. My favorite scene is the one above and below depicting a family readying the house for the holiday, while under the floorboards a family of mice makes preparations of its own. The little mice are tucked into matchbox beds while mother places a tray on a side table made from a spool of thread, a pencil has been repurposed as a coatrack (lower right).

There’s just a hint of product placement as with the Hudson Bay blanket coats, below. The windows are designed simply to delight and entertain passing shoppers and hopefully beckon them into the store to spend. The displays are drawing sizable crowds with beaming children and laughing grown-ups, definitely a reminder of an earlier, more innocent age.

1stdibs.com has assembled a pretty terrific slide show of New York City’s 2009 holiday windows and the Ontario archives has a page featuring Eatons’ holiday windows from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

Best wishes to one and all!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009 by Chris
This post was written by - who has written 849 posts on styleNorth.

8 Comments For This Post

  1. Neville Says:

    I always loved these windows when I was a kid. Thanks for posting this.

    Hmmm. I thought you were retiring the blog but it turns out you can’t stay away. And we’re all happy for that!

    Best wishes for the holidays — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!

  2. Donna @ dh designs Says:

    Thanks for the great memories. Merriest of Christmases to you and yours!

  3. Connie @ Sogni e Sorrisi Says:

    When I was a kid (late 80s) I still remember going downtown to look at the store windows. It was something I loved to do. Thanks for sharing!

  4. magda Says:

    Thanks for posting, I have very fond memories as well as a kid and to this day buy toys that sing and move.

  5. Deb Says:

    Chris, thank you SO much for bringing this to us! I didn’t get a chance to go see the windows this year and they look spectacular! Like many of us, I too have fond memories of the Eatons & Simpsons Christmas windows of early years & it’s nice to see the return to moving displays.

    Hope you & yours have a very Merry Christmas & all the best for 2010! Cheers!

  6. Lin Says:

    We used to take the streetcar downtown to see the windows and, as we were coming from the west, got off the car right in front of the Simpson’s window. I still remember the thrill of seeing all that magic glowing in the dark right before my eyes.

    Thanks for the memories Chris. All the best to you and Mike in the New Year.

    Lin

  7. jo Says:

    Many merry mishes for the season, Chris…love that you’re still here now and again. Thanks for all your hard work during the past year.

  8. Nicole RJ Says:

    I used to love walking by those windows as a kid – and still do! Hubs and I walked by them most recently in 2007… and I guess they recycle the displays for a few years, as they’re the same exact scenes as above. Practical, but slightly disapointing!

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