Category Archives: great Toronto snow storm 1944

List of 25 favourite things from Christmas’ past

The Christmas season revives memories of childhood for many people. We recall favourite toys and games that we unwrapped under the lights of the tree. Few of us ever forget receiving our first pair of skates, a sled or toboggan. There are scents, sounds and images of Christmas’ past that remain with us forever, the present-day festivities often causing them to rise to the surface from deep within us.

On November 11th this year (2015), I was struck by the fact that the number of soldiers who fought in the Second World War is dwindling. It caused me to realize that those of us who were children during the war are also declining in numbers. We remember the rationing, casualty reports, and the newsreels at the Saturday afternoon matiness that depicted scenes from the battlefront. As I viewed the yuletide lights this year, my thoughts wandered back to Christmas of 1944. It was the last festive celebration of the war, as the by the end of the year the conflict had ended in both Europe and the Pacific. That last war-time Christmas remains embedded forever within my memory.

The year 1944 was also when the greatest snow storm to ever hit Toronto descended on the city. The snow began on a Monday evening, December 11th, when light flurries silently swirled across the streets and laneways. Their intensity increased as midnight approached and in the early hours of the morning of December 12, I awoke to a wintry world beyond my imagination. By 8:00 a.m. 19 inches (nearly 50 centimetres) had fallen. The storm continued and by 10:00 a.m. there were 20 inches and 21 by noontime. Before the storm abated in the afternoon, 22.5 inches of snow had accumulated. As a child, I thought this was the greatest Christmas present that anyone could ever receive.

Series 372, S072, SS0100, It. 0450

Clearing Bay Street of snow after the December 1944 storm. View looks north on Bay Street from near Adelaide Street, the tower of the Old City Hall in the distance. Toronto Archives, Series 372, SS100, Item 450. 

Series 372, S072, SS1100 Item 449

Gazing north on Yonge Street south of Richmond Street, the Bay Store in the distance. In 1944 it was Simpson’s Department Store. Toronto Archives, Series 372, SS 100, Item 449.

When Christmas arrived in 1944, the enormous drifts of snow remained on the streets of Toronto. They appeared clean and white as they had been refreshed several times by Mother Nature during the preceding weeks. Unlike previous years, there was a different mood in the air. The war was in its final stages as the Normandy landing had been successful and Allied troops were invading Nazi Germany. There was expectation that 1944 would be the last Christmas that loved ones would be overseas.

For those who remember the war, especially the Christmas of the final year, the 25 things listed below may produce a few fond memories.

1. The Simpson’s windows on Queen Street (The Hudson’s Bay store still honours the tradition today)

2. The Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade, Eaton’s Toyland on the fifth floor, and having our picture taken with Santa. The Eaton’s Parade ended in 1982, and a charitable organization assumed responsibility for it.

3. The Xmas carol sheets that came with the Toronto Star newspaper, with the address for send for extra copies for a family sing-along or a church Xmas concert.

4. The Xmas displays in Kresge’s and Woolworth’s.

5. The dark Xmas cakes and mincemeat pies sold by Eaton’s.

6. Building snow forts, snowball fights, and running along the tops of the snow banks shouting, “I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal.”

7. Singing loudly while snow-ball fighting:  

                There’ll always be and England, There’ll always be a France.                

                There’ll always be a great big hole in Hitler’s Sunday Pants.

        or another song spoof,

     Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk.

     Mussolini is a sheenie, whistle while you work.

These revised words were based on the songs “There’ll always be an England” and the hit from Walt Disney’s film, “Snow White” (1937).

We also changed the words to a few Xmas carols.

     While shepherds washed their socks by night

     All seated round the tub.

     The angel of the Lord came down,

     And taught them how to scrub. 

8. Candy canes in all sizes, some in red and white and others in green and white.

9. Packages of Life Saver candies that came in a carton that opened like a book, sold as stocking stuffers, and only available at Xmas time.

10. The strings of lights hanging over Yonge Street.

11. Packages of Xmas candies sold in Dominion Stores, Loblaws, A&P, Red and White Stores, and Power Stores.

12. The oranges and apples that appeared in our Xmas stockings that were considered a great treat as they were difficult to obtain during the war years.

13. The 15-minute Eaton’s Santa Claus radio broadcast with its theme song from the musical “Babes in Toyland.”

14. The light on the family Xmas trees that were on a single circuit. When one bulb burnt out, the entire string of lights went dark.

15. The corner lot where Xmas trees were sold, the vendor keeping warm by sitting around a fire in a huge oil drum. Artificial trees had not yet appeared. The first day after New Year’s when there was garbage collection, our street was lined with discarded Xmas trees. We dragged away as many as possible and built a pile of them behind our garage. We then climbed on the garage roof and jumped into the trees. My father was not happy when he had to put them out to the garbage in early spring.  

16. Being threatened that if we did not behave we would receive a lump of coal in our Xmas stocking  

17. Xmas tree decorations of wood, glass and paper, as there were no plastic ornaments.

18. The school Xmas party where our parents sent treats. My mother always sent a large tin of butter tarts. Store-bought treat were unheard of in our neighbourhood.

19. Going door-to-door selling boxes of Xmas cards to earn money to buy gifts.

20. Knocking on doors and when people answered we started singing carols. The people invariably gave us a nickel or dime.

21. The Salvation Army band playing carols under a streetlight, while volunteers went door-to-door to collect funds to send parcels to the troops overseas.

22. If we has a paper route, we collected a “fortune” in Xmas tips (25 cents was considered the best we could expect).

23. Getting Brazil nuts in our stocking for the first time, as in 1944 the Atlantic shipping routes had been cleared of Nazi submarines.

24. The extra Xmas matinees at the local theatre.

25. Going skating at night under the lights at the local park, the sound of the slap of the hockey pucks on the boards resounding in the crisp night air. 

           Merry Christmas

A link to the history of the Santa Claus Parade (1905-2015)

A link to five favourite sites in downtown Toronto to view Xmas lights

To view the Home Page for this blog:

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these the movie houses of the past. The book is a trip down memory lane for those who remember these grand old theatres and a voyage of discovery for those who never experienced them.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 more of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 70 of the city’s heritage sites with images of how the city once looked and how it appears today. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016.


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A wartime Christmas in Toronto—1944


Gazing north on Bay Street from Adelaide Street toward Queen Street and the Old City Hall, in December 1944. 

In December 1944, the Second World War was raging across Europe and the Pacific, the casualty reports in the newspapers a dreaded part of daily life. However, in Toronto the economy was booming as many factories in Toronto had been converted to manufacture munitions, military uniforms and necessities for the soldiers overseas. The Ford plant in Oakville was turning out tanks, jeeps and trucks instead of automobiles.

Christmas was approaching and many foods were in short supply. In the days leading up to the yuletide event, my parents struggled to obtain treats for our festive dinner and for gifts to place under the tree. However, for my brother and me, anticipation of Santa’s all-important delivery conjured dreams of delight. We were young and not aware of the privations imposed by the war.

In 1944, anything that contained metal was scarce, since it was required for the war effort. Most toys were manufactured of wood—wooden cars, boats, building blocks, game boards and even the runners on sleds. Because food products became scarce, in 1942 the government rationed food and issued coupons to purchase many items. Even Jell-O was included as gelatine was used in manufacturing explosives. Other rationed foods were tinned products, as the metal to make tins was needed for other war purposes. My family longed for a few tins of salmon, but was rarely able to obtain them. Meat, butter, sugar, dairy products and flour also required coupons. The shortages were heightened because Canada was shipping vast supplies of food overseas to Britain to sustain the people on the home front, and to feed and clothe the soldiers across the English Channel. Silk was reserved for making parachutes, so women’s silk stockings were rare. Gasoline and rubber tires were also restricted, so people drove their cars less or not at all. However, the Christmas of 1944 was one of the most memorable of my life. It was not only because of family happiness, toys and food.

It was the year the greatest snowstorm on record ever to hit Toronto occurred. The snow began on a Monday evening, December 11th, when light flurries silently swirled across the streets and laneways.. Their intensity increased as midnight approached and in the early hours of the morning of December 12, Torontonians awoke to a wintry world beyond imagination. By 8:00 a.m. 19 inches (nearly 50 centimetres) had fallen. The storm continued and by 10:00 a.m. there were 20 inches and 21 by noontime. Before the storm abated in the afternoon 22.5 inches of snow had accumulated.

When people gazed out their frost-covered windows, it was as if an enormous snow-filled dumpster had dropped its contents, burying the city. Streets were impassable, sidewalks impossibly blocked with drifts. Mail boxes and fences were buried, garden sheds having vanished beneath a deep layer of white. Other than the wind, the only sounds were the muffled clip-clops of a few horse-carts whose owners had foolishly braved the drifts.

Because of the gale-force winds, snow was piled six to ten feet high. The previous record snowfall was in 1876, with 16.2 inches (41.1 cm). During the snow crisis of 1999, when Mayor Mel Lastman called in the army, 15.5 inches (39.3 cm) fell. The 1944 storm still holds the record in Toronto as the greatest amount of snow from a single storm—22.5 inches.

Schools were closed and the city came to a standstill. It remained cold in the days ahead, despite efforts to clear away the accumulation, it became obvious that the snow would remain for Christmas Day, creating anticipation for yuletide magic.

                                                                                                                                                                   * * *

On Christmas morn, the dim light of the day had not yet crept under the window blind in the bedroom I shared with my brother. The vast piles of snow surrounding our home were far from my mind. Despite the darkness, I was aware that my brother, two years older, had already retrieved his stocking from the foot of the bed and was struggling to untie the knots in the string that secured it. Next, I detected the sweet scent of oranges, which I knew from previous Christmas’, were in the toes of our stockings.

The previous evening, my brother had expressed doubts about Santa’s ability to cruise the night skies delivering gifts to an awaiting world, but there was no evidence of this as he pulled the goodies from his stocking. I smiled smugly, the darkness hiding my feeling of superiority. Eagerly, I crawled toward the treasures in my own stocking while thinking, “I was right. Santa is real. The citrus bouquet of the oranges was proof.”

By the time the first rays of morning filtered into the room, I had strewn the contents of my stocking across the blue and yellow rectangular patterns of the bed quilt. I surveyed my treasures with great delight. The enormous navel orange, Red Delicious apple and the array of other treats were indeed worthy of old St. Nick. They included a bag of jaw-breaker Christmas candies, suspiciously similar to those I had seen in Woolworths when I had been shopping with my mom. I admit that I found it surprising that Santa shopped at Woolworths, as the Kresge’s store was closer and offered a larger assortment.

The jaw-breaker candies were contained inside a red-netting bag with a draw-string. Images danced in my head of sucking on them while I read Batman and Superman comic books in the days ahead. The rolls of candy Lifesavers were in different flavours, my teeth not included among their abilities to save. The Brazil nuts were a treat as only recently had the North Atlantic been cleared of Nazi submarines and the shipping lanes to South America reopened. The fat walnuts and almonds were unshelled and would require metal crackers to unlock their crunchy goodness. Beside them were two five-cent packages of Planter’s Peanuts. The most unusual treat was a package of pink bubble gum, which my mother frowned upon. I wondered if Santa had received permission from her. 

I continued examining more of Santa’s gifts. There was a pair of small plastic scotty dogs, one black and one white, with magnets glued to them. If the dogs were placed face to face, they were attracted to each other but if placed end to end, they repelled. There was a package of “Jacks,” a game of skill played with a bouncy ball and six pointed metal jacks. The set of magic rings, accompanied with special instructions on how to separate them, would provide fun when I expertly amazed my friends. A bottle of “invisible ink” was another of Santa’s gifts. My brother and I would be able to write messages to each other, the words on the pager disappearing before our parents spied their naughty contents.

My reverie ended when I heard my mother descending the stairs to prepare breakfast. Slipping into our clothes with the speed of Superman in his costume-changing phone booth, my brother and I were only minutes behind her. However, we did not go to the kitchen. We dashed into the living room, where the Christmas tree stood in all its glory. A few days before the all-important day, my dad had departed in the darkness of the evening, an hour later returning with the most revered plant species in the scientific world—a Christmas tree.

Beneath its branches were piles of gifts, colourfully wrapped. For me, the most exciting tags were those with my name on them, accompanied by the words, “From Santa.” One gift was too large for Santa to wrap, so it leaned against the wall beside the tree. It was a five-seater cedar toboggan, complete with a bum-saving pad to cushion us against the bumps as we glided down the slopes of Fairbank Park.

My mother preferred spruce trees to pine, and on Christmas morning its scent engulfed our home. A few days before, my brother and had I helped with the decorations, which at our ages mainly consisted of placing tinsel on the lower branches. Now, securely standing in its designated corner of the room, the strings of coloured lights magically transformed it into one of the eight wonder in the world. The lights were on a single-circuit, so if one bulb burnt out, the entire string was out of operation. It required many minutes to locate the dud bulb and replace it. But on this morning, the bulbs sparkled brilliantly, the small metal reflectors under them intensifying their light. The reflectors had been purchased by my parent before the war. At the pinnacle of the tree was a small angel wearing a white dress with small, gold paper-stars on her crown. Each year my mother starched and ironed the angel’s dress so that she appeared as stylish and pure as those in the ancient angelic band in the cloven skies over Bethlehem.

The only obstacle separating us from our gifts was breakfast, a meal that we normally enjoyed, but on this morning, the oatmeal was viewed as a mushy mess, despite the generous portions of cream and brown sugar. When the seemingly interminable meal ended, we gathered around the tree. The gifts were divided accordingly and we took turns opening them, one gift at a time. This ritual created great suspense, permitting us to observe and appreciate everyone else’s presents, or at least that was what my mother told us.

My brother received a chemistry set and grinned maliciously at the thought of making stink-bombs. I received a Morse Code set, complete with the batteries, a Morse Code converter, and twenty feet of wire. My brother and I would use them under the blankets in bed to send messages to each other after our parents had turned out the lights. Each set possessed a flashlight bulb that would illuminate the caves we created under the quilts. We both received board games, books, jig-saw puzzles and of course the inevitable socks, mitts, underwear and sweaters.

After the ritual of the gift-opening concluded, my mother entered the kitchen to commence preparing the evening feast. Our dad took my brother and me to visit our grandparents, who lived about three-quarters of an hour’s walk from our house, located a few doors from Lauder and Amherst Avenues. We referred to my grandmother as Nan, an abbreviation of the word nana. We affectionately called our grandfather Gramps. They had lived in several different houses since they arrived in Toronto in the spring of 1924 from Newfoundland, with my dad’s younger brothers. For the past few years, they had lived on Eversfield Road, near Rogers Road and Dufferin Street.

We were too young to appreciate my grandfather’s jokes, but my brother and I loved him as he was always jovial and gave warm hugs. Thinking back, I remember that my dad and uncles laughed in a strange manner when they listened to Gramps’s stories, and that he was careful my brother and I, as well as Nan, were not within earshot. On one occasion, I overheard one of the stories, but it didn’t make any sense to me. It contained a hidden meaning that eluded me at my age. However, most of all we appreciated the extra treats Gramps gave us. He stole them from the cookie tins after Nan had hidden them away in the pantry. At our ages, we considered the pantry to be the size of the Mammoth Caves of Kentucky. When my grandmother learned about his pilfering, she scolded him. He ignored her reprimand and replied, “Children and cookies belong together.” We thought he was smarter than the Wise Men in the Christmas story.

Because my aunts, uncles, and cousins also visited my grandparents on Christmas Day, their house was invariably crowded. No one in our home on Lauder Avenue smoked, but at my grandmother’s, several of my uncles puffed on the weed, much to my grandmother’s disapproval. For me, the smell of cigarette smoke became as much a part of the season as did the Christmas-morning scent of oranges.

When we returned to Lauder Avenue in the late afternoon, opening the door, the mouth-watering smell of the turkey and the sweet potato roasting in the gas oven welcomed us. During our absence, close friends of my parents had arrived, bringing us more presents. The turkey dinner was great, as my mother was the world’s best cook. Everything was terrific, except the turnip, which I hated. In fairness, what could anyone do with with such a vile bitter vegetable? After dinner, we sang carols, and my dad whispered funny stories to our guests. I was not allowed to hear them, which confirmed my suspicion that something was odd about the jokes that were told by adults in my family.

Despite employing every delay tactic possible, it was soon time for my brother and me to ascend the stairs to our bedroom on the second floor. I sat for a few moments at the top of the stairs to lament the passing of another Christmas. At this age, it seemed as if it would be at least five years before another Christmas day appeared. Later in life, it appeared as if Christmas arrived several times a year.

Snugly ensconced in the cave under the quilts, my last memory of the day was the sound of the Morse Code clicking a message. Pencil ready, I wrote down the dots and dashes to decipher the message. My brother had wired me—Merry Christmas 1944.


Looking north on Yonge Street from south of Richmond Street, the Bay Store on the northwest corner, December 1944.


Gazing south on Bay Street toward the Eaton’s College Street store (now demolished) on the southeast corner of Bay and College Streets, December 1944.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto, Press Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)














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