The magic of Christmas window displays

2 minutes

Montreal centre-ville

  • © Plus ça change, moins c’est pareil Aujourd’hui, les chaînes de magasins misent plus sur une décoration uniforme pour l’ensemble de leurs boutiques. Mais certains commerces indépendants rivalisent encore de créativité pour attirer la clientèle. « Ça dépend toujours du talent et de la minutie de ceux qui font la vitrine », rappelle M. Walsh, pour qui le secret d’une devanture réussie réside dans l’effet wow. « Tu as à peu près 15 secondes pour attirer l’attention du passant. Le but d’une vitrine, c’est que les gens s’arrêtent, non pas qu’ils entrent dans le magasin. Si les gens sont émerveillés, ils reviendront! »
Every year, our downtown streets light up for the holidays. Sparkling window displays, a magical parade, festive ambience: thousands of people flock to the downtown core in search of the perfect gift. We take a closer look at our city celebrations—then and now.

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!”

The museum takes over

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.

Photo : Tourisme Montréal
Photo : Tourisme Montréal

Times, they are a changing

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!”