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culture

Reel Toronto: A Christmas Story

Because everyone needs a break now and then, Reel Toronto is going on temporary hiatus. Here is one of our favourite installments, which originally ran on December 16, 2008.

Be careful! It’s “fragile,” which means it was made in Italy.

First, credit where it’s due. The Toronto Star beat us to the punch researching this, but since they didn’t have screencaps, and since they borrowed some of our material for a Halloween article, we figured we’re even-Steven.

Second, how could we not do A Christmas Story? We think it’s the best holiday movie there is (okay, after Die Hard). Not only was a huge chunk of it filmed here, it’s one of the great, subtle “I didn’t know it was filmed in Toronto!” movies of all time.

You win this round, Cleveland.

A Christmas Story takes place in 1940s Indiana and some of it was filmed in Cleveland. That means the greatest single location, Ralphie’s house, is on the other side of Lake Erie. The house (complete with leg lamp in the window) has been restored by its new owner and is part of a tour you can take. Fear not, however—there’s plenty of glory left for Hogtown and environs.

The camera must be so close to Speaker’s Corner you can practically smell the piss.

Queen Street West might not seem like the heppest place to get a Christmas tree, but a parking lot at #232 served the purpose back in the early ’80s. You can even see old-timey streetcars using the tracks.

Who knew the Port Lands were such a source of artistic inspiration?

And you know the great scene where the car breaks down and, for the first time, Ralphie lets loose with the F-word (not “fudge”)? That was shot right by the Cherry Street drawbridge (yup, the same one we just saw in The Incredible Hulk).

Apparently, we have alleyways perfect for you to stage your own reenactments of Our Gang.

When the school bullies chase Ralphie and his friends it’s along Sears Street, at Minto.
It culminates in this fight with Farkas, shot just west, at 64 Sears Street, north of Eastern Avenue. Ironically, it’s just around the corner from “Memory Lane.”

Things were funny before PC.

When all goes wrong, the family does a Christmas dinner at the local Chinese restaurant. In this case, it’s the former Chop Suey Palace at 744 Gerrard Street East, now home to Batifole. You can see what the frontage looks like these days at their website.

Basically, all the film’s interiors were were shot at 793 Pharmacy Avenue, once home to Magder studios. SCTV was among the other tenants there.

Then the production ventured out into 905sville.

When triple-dog dares come into the picture, nobody wins...

The schoolyard with the classic flagpole-licking scene was shot at Victoria P.S. in St. Catharines. Today it’s a women’s shelter so licking anything in the yard is definitely out. Anyway, it turns out the pole in the movie was placed there for the scene. It’s the magic of Hollywood, folks.

We stumbled across this site, which made our job easier and also includes some great now/then shots and the real estate listing (!) from when the school went up for sale.

If you do make the trip down to Niagara, you can stop in the St. Catharines Museum where they have the Red Ryder BB Gun and other props.

Vehicles also get in on the action. The 1938 fire truck belongs to the Chippawa Volunteer Firefighters Association in Niagara. The vintage streetcars seen above are property of the Halton County Radial Railway Museum.

Aside from that and knowing this is the film’s 25th anniversary, what else is there to know? [Ed note: This article was originally published in 2008, meaning the film is now almost four years older.] How about it that it was brought to you by the (recently-deceased) director of Porky’s, Bob Clark.

If you’re wondering, Peter Billingsley, who portrayed Ralphie, is pretty much out of the acting game. Now he looks like this. He’s a big-time producer and pals with Jon Favreau, which kinda explains why shaved his head doing something of a cameo as a scientist helping build Jeff Bridges’s suit in Iron Man.

Remember: Drink your Ovaltine!

CORRECTION: August 1, 2012, 5:10 PM This post originally had a link that was out of date. It has now been updated. We apologize for this oversight.

CORRECTION: August 2, 2012, 9:15 AM This post originally made reference to a restaurant that was in business when the post was originally written. It is no longer in business, so the reference has been removed.


Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

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