Christmas Memories

Eaton's 1948 Xmas Catalogue
NHL bound in my dreams © Sears Canada Inc. Reproduced with the permission of Sears Canada Inc. 029006-nlc003958

What are some of your fondest memories of being a child at Christmas?

For me, Christmas started with the arrival of Eaton’s Mail Order Christmas Book. What a delight and dilemma to crawl through the catalogue, narrowing my choice to just one or two treasures. And then getting to share that choice with Santa—in person!

I don’t remember my first Christmas but I’ve been told it was not a white one. Dad was a fireman with the CNR and on a run that was delayed by snow. Knowing he’d be back late Christmas Eve, Dad bought a tree in Wainwright and put it in the coal tender. Neither shaking nor spraying that tree with water would get the soot out. But I’m sure I loved it anyway.

In pre-school years I wanted presents like a toy hammer and a saw (dad and all my six uncles were skilled carpenters), a train set with a transformer to emulate my Dad, who was now an engineer, tinker toys and a MECCANO Set. Mrs. Claus snuck in a pair of pyjamas (to be opened Christmas Eve, rather than the present that looked suspiciously like a hockey stick.) When I was five, Mrs. Claus upped her game to get me a navy wool blazer and pants that looked spectacular in pictures but were very itchy.

After moving from Biggar to Saskatoon, I spent more time in the sports section of the catalogue. I yearned for shin pads to replace the magazines bound to my legs with sealer rings,  I lusted for a Red Wings jersey and I wasn’t thrilled with the leather helmet Santa thought would protect my glasses’ frames that kept getting broken.

What might have caught mom’s eye in the catalogue?

Mom would have wanted to look swishy at the New Year’s Eve party so she might have circled “A” on the page below as a hint to dad. “DREAM of a dress…perky self ties at back….Crisp Rayon Crystalette with gold-colour splashed print.” Would mom have wanted Grey (shown) or Deep Teal Blue? $10.98.

I remember family holidays in the summer, stopping on a side street in Wenatchee so mom could get into her girdle before some “big city” shopping. Spice thinks “E” might have been what mom would order for herself. “NUBACK  CORSET…firm boning and sliding back panel for comfort and support. Order 2 sizes less than waist to allow for lacing. $4.95.”

What does every woman often get her man for Christmas? A sweater. “E” looks like something mom would choose for dad, but $7.95 would have been a lot of money in 1948.

On Christmas morning,  Mom was even more excited than me. She paced the hallway, knowing exactly where to step on the one board that squeaked. If flushing the toilet wouldn’t wake those sleepy kids, why not flush it two or three times more? Our lights were always the first ones on in the neighbourhood.

Christmas was different then. Kids received just one or two presents each and rarely gave gifts to their parents unless they were homemade. That being said, every year from the time I was eight years old until last Christmas I bought my mom a spatula for her Christmas stocking.

After breakfast, the whole family went skating on the forty-by forty foot rink that Dad built in the backyard every year, along with a six-foot-high toboggan hill. In the afternoon, even if it was forty below (same in both Fahrenheit and Celsius), he lit the Weber bbq to roast the turkey. What a challenge it was to keep the charcoal fired and try to coordinate the turkey’s timing with the vegetable dishes. After dinner I curled up with a new book or magazine, wearing my new jersey while dreaming of my best move around Red Kelly of the Toronto Maple Leafs to score the winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final. Having been up since 4 am, it was time to crawl into bed, happy.


Timothy Eaton’s first catalogue, published in 1884, was a 32-page booklet distributed to out-of-town visitors at the exhibition in Toronto. Eaton expressed his vision for the catalogue in 1887: “This catalogue is destined to go wherever the maple leaf grows, throughout the vast Dominion. We have the facilities for filling mail orders satisfactorily, no matter how far the letter has to come and the goods have to go.” It became the first nationally distributed catalogue in Canada, and by 1894, Eaton’s was filling more than 200,000 orders per year. Colour was added in 1915, and photographs were added in 1919. The most anticipated catalogue of the year was Eaton’s Christmas catalogue, which, by the 1950s, grew to be a hefty wish book, slick and glossy with more than 200 pages and a kaleidoscope of colours.

Pictures Source Library and Archives Canada

Catalogue Pictures Copyright:

  • Eaton’s Fall and Winter 1948-49 Source: T. Eaton Co. Catalogue [English edition]Fall & Winter — Toronto : T. Eaton Co., [188–197-] — v. — P. 1-574© Sears Canada Inc. Reproduced with the permission of Sears Canada Inc. 029006-nlc003958

  • Eaton’s Christmas Book 1956 Source: T. Eaton Co. Catalogue [English edition] Eaton’s Mail Order Christmas Book — Toronto : T. Eaton Co., [188–197-] — v. — P. 1-187 © Sears Canada Inc. Reproduced with the permission of Sears Canada Inc. 029006-nlc003955

29 Responses

  1. Having been “off-grid” for a while, it was a real delight to find this blog at the top of my emails! What great memories! In the past few months, many people have mentioned skating on our rink when they were kids – it is so fun to watch the video. Thanks for spending the time converting the old movies – I hope there will be more to see in the future.
    Diane and I both took all of our students to see the Eaton’s display at the WDM last week. Of course, the kid’s ultimate favorite at the museum is always the trains!

  2. Yes the store windows, downtown Edm,onion, the homemade Tom and Jerry(eggnog), homemade snow to put on the tree, Buying the tree, frozen, try and pull the branches down to see if there were any bare spots, bringing it home to sit in the basement till decorating time…The snow on the windows with black electron tape to make squares to look like panes! Oh my how things were so much easier….Merry Christmas to you and yours. Love Heather

  3. I remember one Christmas shopping at the Adilman Department Store on 20th St. with mom and dad. I bought you a Magic Kit. I was probably 7 so you would have been 12. I remember being fascinated by the ‘bloody finger’ trick. Can’t remember how it worked but I was quite intrigued.

  4. Just realized….
    Correction: “Thanks for the Memories” was Bob Hope.. Carole Burnett was “I’m so glad we’ve had this time together.”.

  5. Like Carole Burnett used to say “Thanks for the memories…

    My most memorable Christmas present was a toy steam engine which I ran dry and blew up within an hour of opening it..

    Dad and I promptly went to the basement with it; he bent the boiler back into a “roughly cylindrical” shape; he soldered it back together and we had it running again two hours later!

    I still drag it out at Christmas and run it for the grandchildren..

    Have a very Merry Christmas you two…

    Wade & Sheryl

    1. A steam engine – I’m forever jealous. But I had a great time with my electric locomotive trying to see how fast I could go without careening off my small oval track.

  6. Love the pictures / old videos . Amazing you had these Eaton’s Catalogues to scan the pictures from – I recall the old ones used to end up in an outhouse. My mother transferred her old 8 mm movies to VHS then the VHS to CD and now CD to memory chips…… A lot of work but looking at yours, we are so glad she had gone to this trouble. I updated my 35 year old shovel from Winnipeg last year at Canadian tire – so should be good for a few more years now. Merry Christmas and all the best in 2020 – maybe 2020 will give us a “perfect vision” as to what Justin / Donald / Greta / Boris will throw at all of us next year 🙂 . Pat & Dallas

    1. Mom and dad had 2700 feet of old 8mm film and a broken projector. My digitizer takes 0.6 minutes to capture 1 foot of 8 mm film, and jams about every 5 feet. Thank goodness I’m retired!
      I have very little idea of what is recorded on it. But the possibility of a few precious memories was too high to not try save it and that proved to be the case with these first clips. Now I need to decide how important Kiwanis Golf and a Nurses’ Reunion may be?

  7. Thanks for sharing your memories. Our era certainly remember the catalogs.
    Merry Christmas and look forward to your adventures in 2020!

  8. I worked putting together Eaton’s catalogue one summer. A neighbour reported that I was only 13 so they let me go. I loved the store window displays in Winnipeg and went on to work for Eatons during summer holidays for many years. My Mom worked there for many years
    and played the Christmas Carols on the piano when the staff arrived in the morning. Arlene Horn

  9. This is absolutely heartwarming for all of us of an age. Your pictures and videos are special. Thank you for sharing and I wish you a very Happy Christmas and great adventures in 2020. Hugs!!

    1. Between the time dad was 7 and 13 he lived with an Aunt in Hardisty during the school year so would have known many of the families in your community. But there wasn’t the same warmth in the “orphanage” as what we experienced when we were young.

  10. Kerry, Mike says his early Christmas memories in Nova Scotia were quite similar. The Meccano toys and skating on the backyard rink especially. We both remember the Eaton’s catalogue and our mothers dressed in those 50’s outfits and fathers wearing those sweaters.

    1. And the warm-up act for the Meccano set was a cylinder of Tinker Toys the prior year. If I recall correctly, one of the round connectors had six cross-slits in which you could insert stiff paper blades to make a windmill.

  11. Your travel blog is always a pleasure to read. Reid and I wish you both a wonderful Christmas and many more adventures in 2020. Hope we get together over the summer. Hugs

    1. While you two are off to Pete Carlson’s for new golf balls, it’s time for me to head to Canadian Tire to replace my 20 year-old snow shovel. Have fun in the sun!

    1. I used to be one of the few relatives with hair. But after digitizing 4-50 foot rolls of 8mm film, I’m nearly bald! But there are some good memories in that 1.5 min clip.

  12. Very, very awesome pictures and the backyard movie was excellent to be sure.

    Original six hockey was always the rage, high caliber and stars galore, what was not too like.

    Love the trains, again I think every boy wanted one, hard to believe the prices, but then as you mentioned any money was a lot of money back then.

    I think one of our Christmas highlights in Edmonton was to go downtown and see all the action displays in Eaton’s, Woodward’s, and Hudson Bay’s front windows, easy in Edmonton as all thre stores were in a 3 block radius.
    Western Development Museum, in Saskatoon still runs one of these displays ever year for those close enough to visit.

    “Truly a Winter Wonderland”

    Many “Thanks For the Memories”

    Cheers to you all and “Merry Christmas”

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