Window Displays – a Window to Edmonton’s History
Window displays are tied to the early beginnings of Edmonton’s commercial history. They’re tied to the social life of the community and they go back to the beginning of commercial architecture in Edmonton.
In 1893 the Edmonton Bullet reports that a bison head was a featured festive display in the window of Larue & Picard’s general store. The occasion? Hunting season.
In the city’s early days window displays were created for festivities ranging from patriotic events, such as coronations, to particular hunting seasons. The prairie chicken hunting season, for example, was in fact a widely celebrated holiday. The spoils of the prairie chicken hunt were then used to festoon storefront windows. In Hugh Duncan’s, a drugstore, a tribute to miners who had passed away in a tragic accident was featured in their window.
Window displays were also clever marketing devices for early Edmonton stores. In 1905, for example, J. Sommerville & Sons, a hardware store, featured in their window a battleship constructed from their wares. In Christmas of 1905, another store, McDougall & Secord, featured what they called the “White Bear Singing School.” An early Edmonton Journal article reported that this window display featured a pipe organ made from rolls of cloth, and a doll seated at an organ.
At Thanksgiving, butcher shops such as Burns, Gainers, and Vogel, displayed animal heads and sometimes fully mounted animals in their windows. It wasn’t unusual to see entire animal carcasses in windows.
It wasn’t until later that Christmas and other heart-tugging holiday window displays became much more popular. Animated displays came much later, as did displays for occasions such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween.
When Edmonton was a small community, window displays were tied right into the media. For example, at one point, the media reported a large potato that looked like Abraham Lincoln. It was announced in the paper that this Lincoln potato head would be displayed in a storefront window, thus giving the store an advertising boost.
Almost every store featured window displays and were even reviewed in newspapers. By the 1920s and 1930s warm holiday displays were becoming more common. Edmonton’s big animatronic Christmas displays took off in the 1950s in stores such as the Hudson’s Bay Company and Eaton’s. Electric trains were a favourite fixture set in elaborate landscapes, and elves and animals were also popular items set in magical tableaus.
The Hudson’s Bay Company was one of the last stores to give up its large scale animatronic window displays in the 1960s.
All of these holiday window displays made lasting impressions on the children, many of whom have forgotten details of holidays past – except for details of magical holiday window displays.