Animated Christmas Windows

There are trees in this picture. They are my excuse for writing off topic about the animated Christmas* windows on Queen Street between Bay and Yonge.

You’ll notice I didn’t write: at The Bay on Queen Street. That’s because, to me, these will always be the Christmas windows at Simpsons.

For those playing along in other home towns, or joining us after 1991 when Simpsons became The Bay, Simpsons and Eaton’s were once duelling department stores, like Canada’s Macy’s and Gimbels. (Like Tim Horton’s now, Simpson’s did away with its apostrophe in 1978. As another bit of retail trivia, Simpsons was where the kids’ show Today’s Special was filmed, after hours at the store.)

Eaton’s (another name that has left us, as their stores are now Sears) “owned” the Santa Claus Parade (from 1905 to 1982). And I’m sure that Eaton’s own Christmas windows were really very nice (click here [Update: in 2014, this link is now a dead end] for an illuminating series of Archives of Ontario interviews with Robert Barnes, a former general manager of visual merchandising at Eaton’s).

However, my animated-window-heart still belongs to Simpsons, where I toiled (toyled?) in the toy department one Christmas, and later earned my stripes as a young special events coordinator and retail copywriter.

Unlike today, when the hottest window real estate is strictly devoted to merchandising, the showpiece of the Simpsons animated Christmas displays used to be the Queen Street corner window. In 2009, the action is restricted to five windows along Queen.

In my time at the store, the moment the windows were unveiled, the display department began brainstorming about how to out-do themselves next year. Everything was done in-house. And the windows were truly magical, over-stuffed with hidden delights in every corner.

In a pared-down way, this still holds true. No matter what your faith or your age, the windows are a wonder-full Toronto tradition.

Here, you can make out the reflection of Toronto’s Old City Hall. If you come down to see the windows, bring your skates and take a few circuits around the rink just a snow-ball’s throw away (if we had any snow, that is; the probability of which is actually quite slim – as this post from The Intrepid illustrates) in Nathan Phillips Square at New City Hall. It’s an iconic way to celebrate this winter solstice period in Toronto.

(*Their focus on Santa couldn’t make these anything but Christmas windows. However, the Christian holiday is deeply rooted in so many more ancient European and Middle Eastern traditions that perhaps we can say it is almost universal. Happy holidays to you all.)


  1. Cool displays–I didn't realize they had those in Toronto! In Detroit, it was always Hudson's, which was later taken over by Marshall Field's, which MMD points out is now Macy's. But Macy's is not really like Hudson's was. 🙁

  2. Thanks for sharing these lovely festive windows – and for the history. When I was a little girl, going with my mom to one of these grand department stores was a thrill.

    Merry Christmas to you both!

  3. I toiled for The Bay at Christmas, when I was young and foolish, working in retail at Christmas. Now that I am old and still foolish, and still working in retail at Christmas, where was I going with this…
    The windows are magical and I see new details every year,(not sure if they are new, or if I am just noticing them for the first time).
    A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you both!

  4. Helen, This brought back memories of the windows at Jordan Marsh and Filene's in downtown Boston. When I was a child in the 1950s and early 1960s, we would take a 1-hour train trip to Boston each year at Christmas to see the animated windows. I found both the annual train trip and the store windows magical. -Jean

  5. You've reminded me of when I was a student in Newcastle and we all used to go to Fenwicks department store to see what the animated windows were each Christmas. Happy Days!

    Have a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

  6. I had forgotten about animated window displays. I have a vague memory that the Germans did rather good ones when I was a child.
    Have a fabulous Christmas.

  7. Sounds like this post chimed a happy chord! Thanks for stopping in, everyone. Please have an eggnog, or at least plenty of your favourite nog, for me. Wishing you an animated celebration, wherever you may be.

  8. Remember all the beautiful window displays from our Eaton's stores!!
    Long gone..
    I don't like driving down to the city anymore. It is not easy to drive along Bloor St. with all the constructions going on.

    Lovely pictures!!
    Thank you for all your wonderful posts.
    Please continue 2010!!
    At this Christmas Season we remember and honour those who are no longer with us and cherish those who are.

    Peace On Earth and best wishes throughout the New Year


  9. I still call The Bay by its old name Simpson's, however the old Eaton's store is definitely Sears ( I guess the Eaton's store wasn't that old when Sears took over).

  10. What a treat to see store windows dressed for the holidays! Thank you for sharing. My grandmother used to take us to see the Christmas windows in downtown St Louis! The best was Famous-Barr…Dillards bought them out and they were NEVER the same! Window decorations aren't a part of the city flavor anymore and certainly not in Nashville!

    I hope your holiday was splendid! happy New Year! gail

  11. great tradition going to see the store windows dressed for christmas. I vaguely remember, as a very small child, going to department stores in England to see Father Christmas, being awestruck by the decorations and if I wasn't too timid sitting on his knee to get my photo taken. Later when we moved to Canada we lived in small northern towns. I don't remember any decorated store windows.

  12. Thanks for sharing the pictures – I never made it down to the windows this year – something that is usually on my "to do" list for Christmas. Brings back so many fond memories of Christmas shopping with my mother and my first job was at Simpsons back in 1973 in the china department. We had so much fun that Christmas culminating with singing carols on the subway home on Christmas Eve. Happy New Year.

    1. I'm not sure, to tell you the truth, Tim. I should go have a look sometime soon. They're sadly diminished from ye olden days when I toiled in the department store.

You might also like