Halloween in Peel: A look at some selected records


I always look forward to the fall – cooler weather, beautiful foliage, and of course, Halloween. Those of us interested in the origin and history of Halloween generally can make good use of published scholarship on the subject, such as Nicholas Roger’s Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, David Skal’s Death Makes a Holiday, or Lisa Morton’s Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween.

But if you are interested in exploring the celebration or observance of Halloween in the Peel area specifically you will likely need to do some research here in the Peel Archives. And as we have mentioned previously, archives do not, unlike libraries, arrange our holdings according to theme or subject. Rather, we arrange and describe the records in our care according to their provenance, i.e. the person, organization, or government office that created, collected, and/or utilized the records prior to their transfer to the Archives.

All of this is to say that if a patron comes to us wanting to explore the celebration of Halloween in Mississauga, Brampton, and/or Caledon over time, that patron will not be handed one authoritative file on the subject, but will rather need to check various fonds and collections to locate relevant material.

As a treat for those who may be interested in Halloween in Peel, I am going to highlight some relevant material that can be found throughout our vast holdings:

Halloween postcard sent to Millie Giffen, 1910, Giffen-Thornton family fonds

Halloween postcard, 1910

Millie Giffen lived in the settlement of Campbell’s Cross (now located in the Town of Caledon) and received this postcard from family. Sending such postcards at Halloween was a very popular activity in the early 20th century, and many of the cards from that time period are now treasured collectibles. [1]

Halloween postcards sent to Lavina Bella, 1927 and 1929, Betty Odlum fonds



These postcards were sent to Lavina Bella, the mother of Brampton resident and noted photographer Betty Odlum.

Streetsville Review newspaper article, October 15th, 1925, Streetsville Review fonds


This article, published in the Village of Streetsville (now forming part of the City of Mississauga), provides tips and instructions for hosting a Halloween party, including decorating and recipe ideas.

Excerpts from the article:

When the Guests unmask at midnight

“The first autumn festival is at hand, and the housewife may entertain with an informal frolic and costume dance.”

“The decorations may be carried out in pumpkin yellow and black, and if you can add a few bundles of cornstalks from the field this will give you greater leeway in the decorations and arrangements.”

“A cider well can be arranged in the kitchen and will be a spot of real merriment if a fairy is presiding and dispensing the drink.”

“It is best to get the affair under way by 8 o’clock, for promptly at midnight the guests must unmask and sit down to the supper. Old-fashioned games and dancing will fill the intervening space of time. [A] well-seasoned substantial menu will form an ideal menu for the midnight Hallowe’en supper.”

Sample menu:

  • Macadoine Salad
  • Toasted Cheese Sandwiches
  • Sausage Sandwiches
  • Nut and Celery Sandwiches
  • Masquerade Sandwiches
  • Witches’ Punch
  • Pumpkin Tarts
  • Mince Tarts
  • Cruellers
  • Coffee
  • Apples, Nuts, and Raisins

If you are interested, the article contains recipes for some of the above items.

Brampton High School “Hallowe’en Frolic” party (1929-1932)

The ticket stub / advertisement is for the Town of Brampton High School’s 1932 “Hallowe’en Frolic” party, and was saved by student John Bloor Lindner.

I have not yet been able to find a summary of the festivities for that year, but I have found a discussion of a previous event in the pages of the 1929 issue of the school’s yearbook, “The Quill”:

Some notable excerpts:

“The night of spirits, phantoms and pranks came as usual on the last day of October…”

“The chords were struck on the piano and a stream of beveiled [sic], cloaked ladies, clowns, fairies, spectres and one hundred and ninety-nine other costumed folk began to swing into the grand march for judging.”

“As the spectators looked on at the gorgeous parade they did not know whether they were living in the eleventh century or the twentieth or whether this were a play, staging Julius Caesar or the Merchant of Venice.”

“The races gave a decided touch of excitement to the evening and especially the ‘Duck for the Apple’ race.”

“The party concluded with a dance. At one o’clock the cheers and school yells were given, good-byes were said and the merrymakers all left the school, tired but happy after such a lively night of frolic.”


Animated map of Albion township, [ca. 1933], Wm. Perkins Bull fonds

Albion Township animated map, [ca. 1933], segment

In this drawing commissioned by Peel historian Wm. Perkins Bull, youth playing a Halloween prank placed a wagon on the roof of a farm in the Macville area (just south of Bolton in Caledon). Other pranks that often occurred on October 31st included removing and hiding fence gates, transferring animals from one stable or farm to another, soaping windows, and relocating outhouses.

Carrying out such pranks was a popular Halloween activity from around the middle of the 1800s up until the late 1930s when the practice was gradually replaced with the less disruptive “trick or treat” tradition. The act of handing out fruit, nuts, and/or candy to “trick or treaters” was partially conceived as a way to essentially  bribe the area children to refrain from vandalizing the homeowner’s house or property. [2]

Halloween party, Streetsville (Mississauga), 1965,  Al Betts fonds

Al Betts was a local and prolific area photographer, and we are lucky enough to have his fonds here. Among other things, he has documented some really neat Halloween events that took place in the area, including this costume party featuring Frankenstein’s monster, a hillbilly (likely inspired by The Beverly Hillbillies TV show) , and what appears to be an accident victim:

There are also some neat vintage Halloween decorations visible in the background, including a scarecrow, a ghost, and a jack o’lantern.

Halloween bonspiel, Chinguacousy Curling Club, 1975, Brampton Guardian fonds

PN2010_00711, 1975 Guardian

Pictured here are curlers dressed up as characters from the children’s television program Sesame Street.  Costumed characters were competing in a “Halloween bonspiel” and include what appears to be Cookie Monster, as well as Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, and Big Bird.

Peel Staffer Halloween articles and artwork, October 1993 and October 1998, Region of Peel fonds


The Staffer was an internal newsletter for Region of Peel employees, and here are two examples of how Halloween was acknowledged by Regional staff. In the October 1991 issue we find safety advice from Peel Regional Police for children and their families taking part in “trick or treating.” In the October 1998 issue there is no specific mention of Halloween, but the entire issue is full of classic Halloween imagery, including pumpkins, witches, and bats.

The Days of the Dead – Dias de los muertos audio recording, 1997, Region of Peel fonds


This audio cassette, which contains music composed and arranged by Rafael Fuentes, was sold in the Peel Heritage Complex / PAMA gift shop in conjunction with a travelling exhibition on the Days of the Dead. It is important to note that Days of the Dead and Halloween celebrations are not synonymous, but do, according to at least one scholar, share “obvious common historical origins.” [3]

You can listen to a short clip from side A of the tape here:


Hopefully you have enjoyed this brief exploration of some of the neat Halloween related records that currently reside in the holdings of the Peel Archives.

Happy Halloween!

Kyle Neill, Senior Archivist


[1] David Skal, Death Makes A Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, 2002, pg. 37-39

[2] Skal pg. 52-53

[3] Stanley Brandes, The Day of the Dead, Halloween, and the Quest for Mexican National Identity, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 111, No. 442 (Autumn, 1998) pg. 359

August 2022 edit : Added in material regarding the Brampton High School Hallowe’en Frolic event

October 2022 edit: Added in the Al Betts fonds example

3 responses to “Halloween in Peel: A look at some selected records

  1. Pingback: This week’s crème de la crème — October 28, 2017 | Genealogy à la carte·

  2. Pingback: Researching the “woodland world”: Historic vegetation in Peel | Archives @ PAMA·

  3. Pingback: Ghosts of Christmases past in Peel and beyond | Peeling the Past·

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