Parade along 8th Avenue (handwriting indicating "Papa's store" with arrow pointing to Linton Bros.), 1908
Postcards from the Past, PC 868
I no longer have little ones to buy presents for at Christmas, which is a shame because I love toys. I reminisce about my Mrs. Beasley doll and my Easy-Bake oven, or the little French telephone set and my Kenner Knit-O-Matic, all of which I see now advertised as vintage antiques. Sigh.
I know that this year kids will be asking for all kinds of electronics (although I’m heartened to see that one of the hottest toys this year is the Kendama, which doesn’t require batteries, a plug-in or any high-tech savvy.) And, as is my wont, I get to wondering about the history of it all. What kinds of things did kids in Calgary a hundred years ago get from Santa? I went rooting through my resources in the Local History room and found a wonderful resource at the Calgary Public Library for just this kind of browsing: the Eaton’s Catalogues on microfilm (which I am told is kind of an antique in itself). When I was a kid I got all of the items on my Santa list from the Eaton’s wish book. And it appears it was always thus.
Long before there was the internet, there was mail-order. The catalogues would arrive by mail, you would send your orders by mail (or later, you could order by telephone) and your stuff would be sent by mail. That could take some time, but you could also get things that weren’t easily available in your local community. That was especially important in remote areas, which was most of Western Canada back in the late 19th century. In fact, according to Collections Canada, the Eaton’s catalogue was sometimes called the Prairie Bible. You can access a great digitized collection of mail order catalogues at the Collections Canada site.
A page from the toy section of the 1913 Fall/Winter Eaton's Catalogue
So what did kids get for Christmas? There were some really cool things on offer. In the 1915 winter catalogue there were toy grocery store items, a submarine game, a big-game hunter set with a target bear, dollies, tea sets, cowboy outfits, a clothes washing set, complete with washboard and wringer and even a Ouija board!
What about earlier, though. Kids in 1897 might wish for a tricycle or a toy wheelbarrow. In 1886 the list of toys in the Eaton’s catalogue include dolls and accessories for them, dominoes and other games, a whistling steam engine, magic lanterns, musical instruments and riding, driving and dog whips (really!). Skates seem to have been a very popular item. There were sleighs and wagons and rocking horses to be had closer to home, however, as Linton’s had a Toyland on the second floor. Treats such as oranges, candy, figs, nuts and raisins, were also brought in by retailers for the season.
Whatever the gifts, Christmas has always been a time for family. Have a wonderful time with yours.