For some Canadians, Boxing Day is the time to go shopping and take advantage of post-Christmas discounts from retailers. 

As reported in November, it has more recently been pushed aside by Black Friday, a day of deals that is the traditional start of shopping season for Americans. It spread to Canada around 2005, according to reports in the CBC archives.

Back in 1984, though, the day to look for deep discounts was Dec. 26. And stores in some Canadian provinces risked a penalty by opening on the statutory holiday.

“In provinces like Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Ontario, Boxing Day sales are against the law,” said Knowlton Nash, host of CBC’s The National, that day in 1984.

Not much of a deterrent

In Montreal and in Edmonton, shoppers were out in force on Boxing Day. (The National/CBC Archives)

The potential rewards for retailers on Boxing Day were just too great to keep them from obeying the law.

“What this store is doing is illegal,” said reporter Vicki Russell, as the camera captured images of a long queue of people outside a leather-goods store on Toronto’s Yonge Street. “And under Ontario law, it could be fined up to $10,000.”

Manager Al Vancardo was unfazed by the threat.

“We feel if people want to come down, they can come down,” he said. “We don’t care about the laws.”

The store was among “a few dozen” that defied the law, allowing customers in to try, and with any luck, buy their stock of men’s leather jackets at up to 70 per cent off.

Too much business to be timid

Bay Bloor Radio, a stereo store, was open on Boxing Day for the first time in 39 years of business.

“I believe that my staff was being discriminated against,” said owner Sol Mandlsohn, whose store was buzzing with audiophiles. 

He had remained closed on Boxing Day the year before and paid the price by being closed when others were open. 

By opening, he told the Toronto Star, he was hoping to “test the law and see if it is valid.” 

“I think it’s all right. He should be open,” said shopper Ennio Sartori. “I have to work tomorrow so I can’t make it here. Today I took advantage and I came over.”

Was the law ‘useless’?

Russell reported that police had said they would investigate any store that was open on Boxing Day. They had done the same for Boxing Day 1983 and issued warnings, but laid no charges.

According to the Toronto Star, the prohibition against Boxing Day shopping had come into force in 1975. But the day after this report aired, it reported that Ontario’s solicitor general was considering a repeal.

“You never like to see a law so violated that the law is useless,” said George Taylor.  

The following year, the Toronto Star reported that 154 stores had been charged with Boxing Day violations.

But according to TVO, it wasn’t until 1996 that the province amended the Retail Business Holidays Act to drop Boxing Day.