Tis the season for holiday parties and after a two-year hiatus on these seasonal celebrations, most are back in full swing this year. The festive season prompted a dive in the archives for examples of the company Christmas parties of the past. The images of the office parties of the mid-20th century presented to us by pop culture paint a picture of copious amounts of alcohol mixed with incredibly poor decision-making, but how much of this representation is accurate?
A 1955 article from the Canadian Press noted that office parties were popular in cities across Canada, despite often being illegal since the consumption alcohol was not permitted in workplaces without a permit in most jurisdictions. This was the case in all provinces except for Quebec, however, where office parties fell under the same rules as parties in private dwellings.
By 1964, a New York columnist with the Associated Press was already starting to ask if the office party was facing extinction. In his assessment, the quintessential office party of the past – consisting of spiked watercoolers, telling off bosses, fisticuffs, and romantic escapades – was dying out because “the younger generation just doesn’t have the stamina to endure them, and the older generation doesn’t have the strength left to enjoy them properly.” An interesting perspective, albeit a seemingly biased one.
While wild office parties were likely part of some companies across the Townships, this was not the version that was recorded for posterity. Instead, most of the photos and write-ups in the Sherbrooke Daily Record present company parties that were frequently family affairs. Among them were Dominion Lime’s Christmas party where all children of employees received a gift, candy, and oranges. Similarly, Ingersoll-Rand, National Thread, and Canadian Celanese – to name but a few – hosted parties for the entire family.
In a selfless act in 1957, the employees of Philip Carey in Sherbrooke voted to forgo their annual Christmas party and, instead, donated the money to a relief fund for one of their fellow employees, Lionel Denault, after the Denaults lost their home and eight of their nine children in a horrific fire.
Although the family format of Christmas parties was most popular in the Townships, there were still employee-only office parties, which usually consisted of a banquet meal, dancing, and a visit from Santa (there was no age limit on Santa, apparently), but could include other activities such as carol singing, skits, darts, or cards.