Dick Walsh grew up with Montreal’s Christmas window displays, back when passersby would patiently wait in line to catch a glimpse of the magical Hudson Bay, Eaton, and Ogilvy displays. “Back then, it was the only time of year the city would allow music to be played outdoors,” remembers the visual designer, who actually began his career at Sainte-Catherine’s Eaton Centre. “Near the end of the 70s, we were forty or so people working on those window displays. All the decorations were handmade. We would start decorating the trees in August!”
In 2018, Holt Renfrew Ogilvy donated their famous animated window displays to the McCord Museum with the goal of ensuring their longevity. For decades, the Enchanted Village and The Mill in the Forest delighted Montrealers with their magical stuffed animals. Unveiled for the first time in 1947, both displays are now exposed at the Museum during the holiday season. The late John Aird Nesbitt, former owner of Maison Ogilvy, would no doubt be surprised to discover that his mechanical displays, purchased from the German toymaker Steiff, are still going strong after 40 years. Indeed, their magic is still very much intact. At a time when online retail is soaring, they still manage to attract old and young alike. “Back in the day, the goal of those displays was to delight,” points out Walsh.
Most of today’s retail chains now opt for a uniform décor across all their stores. However, some independent shops still get creative when it comes to attracting their customers. “It depends on the talent and the attention to detail of the person creating the display,” explains Walsh, who says the secret to a successful display is creating that wow effect. “You have about 15 seconds to grab a passerby’s attention. The goal of a window display is to get someone to stop and admire it, not necessarily get them to go into the store. If people are delighted, they’ll come back!”