The Eaton's catalogue grew from the first 32-page booklet published in Toronto in 1884 to the "big book" of the 1920s, a 500-page institution in Canadian history, with regional catalogues and distribution centres in Western and Eastern Canada. In addition, a French-language edition was published. By 1976, when the catalogue closed, Simpson's Sears had long surpassed Eaton's in sales, but not in nostalgia.

Timothy Eaton's first catalogue, published in 1884, was a 32-page booklet distributed to out-of-town visitors at the exhibition in Toronto. Eaton expressed his vision for the catalogue in 1887: "This catalogue is destined to go wherever the maple leaf grows, throughout the vast Dominion. We have the facilities for filling mail orders satisfactorily, no matter how far the letter has to come and the goods have to go."

Early Growth

From the 1890s, Eaton's factories in Central Canada and Winnipeg manufactured a range of goods: men's and women's clothing, jewellery, furniture, upholstered goods, window shades, harness, horse collars, suitcases and leather trunks.

Eaton's mail-or Read More
The Eaton's catalogue grew from the first 32-page booklet published in Toronto in 1884 to the "big book" of the 1920s, a 500-page institution in Canadian history, with regional catalogues and distribution centres in Western and Eastern Canada. In addition, a French-language edition was published. By 1976, when the catalogue closed, Simpson's Sears had long surpassed Eaton's in sales, but not in nostalgia.

Timothy Eaton's first catalogue, published in 1884, was a 32-page booklet distributed to out-of-town visitors at the exhibition in Toronto. Eaton expressed his vision for the catalogue in 1887: "This catalogue is destined to go wherever the maple leaf grows, throughout the vast Dominion. We have the facilities for filling mail orders satisfactorily, no matter how far the letter has to come and the goods have to go."

Early Growth

From the 1890s, Eaton's factories in Central Canada and Winnipeg manufactured a range of goods: men's and women's clothing, jewellery, furniture, upholstered goods, window shades, harness, horse collars, suitcases and leather trunks.

Eaton's mail-order business grew quickly. Mail-order stock was separated from that of the store in its own building in 1903. Eaton's produced a number of giveaways, such as fans, fly swatters, shoehorns, celluloid bookmarks, and match safes, which promoted the image of the company.

Eaton's published a number of specialized catalogues for the Western market such as the Klondike Catalogue (1898) and the Settlers' Catalogue (1903). The Winnipeg edition was introduced in 1905. The growth rate in Winnipeg at the time was faster than in Toronto, and Winnipeg became the distribution centre for Western mail-order business.

After the death of founder Timothy Eaton in 1907, John C. Eaton became president. His wife was also a key figure in establishing the image of the Eaton's business and family. Eaton introduced the guarantee that goods must be satisfactory or money would be refunded, and the policy that postage be paid both ways. Sales were conducted on a cash-only basis. In 1909, the mail-order department was organized into separate departments and began to purchase its own stock.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Colour cover of Eaton's Spring/Summer Catalogue

Eaton's (Moncton) Spring/Summer Catalogue 1926, cover.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc., Library and Archives Canada

© Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc., Library and Archives Canada


Photo of letter to patrons

This letter to patrons explains the nature of the mail-order business. Eaton's Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1884, inside front cover (reproduction).

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc.

1988.56.1205 a,b.
© City of Toronto, Culture Division, T. Eaton Company Collection


Black and white photo of Timothy Eaton

Timothy Eaton, Souvenir Booklet, ca 1905–07.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc.

© City of Toronto, Culture Division, Morris Norman Collection


Black and white photo of John C. Eaton

John C. Eaton, ca. 1905 – 1907

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc.

© City of Toronto, Culture Division, Morris Norman Collection


The practice of using trademarks and brand names grew after 1910 and the number of Eaton's trademarks that were introduced increased rapidly. Eaton brands included Eaton, Eatonia, Acme, Cravinette, Edgerite, Imperial, Foundation, Multiplex, Braemore, Lady Fair Birkdale, Renown, etc. Some of these products were produced by Eaton's or by subsidiary firms; others were produced under license.

Eaton's Winnipeg sold $11 million worth of goods in 1911, including houses and barns. Eaton's introduced the Product Research Bureau to study goods being offered through the catalogues and to compare them with those sold by other companies. Also in 1916, a new eight-storey building behind the Winnipeg store provided 2 hectares [five acres] of floor space for the mail-order department.
The practice of using trademarks and brand names grew after 1910 and the number of Eaton's trademarks that were introduced increased rapidly. Eaton brands included Eaton, Eatonia, Acme, Cravinette, Edgerite, Imperial, Foundation, Multiplex, Braemore, Lady Fair Birkdale, Renown, etc. Some of these products were produced by Eaton's or by subsidiary firms; others were produced under license.

Eaton's Winnipeg sold $11 million worth of goods in 1911, including houses and barns. Eaton's introduced the Product Research Bureau to study goods being offered through the catalogues and to compare them with those sold by other companies. Also in 1916, a new eight-storey building behind the Winnipeg store provided 2 hectares [five acres] of floor space for the mail-order department.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Photo of the back of a map with brand name ads

Eaton's brand name ads on the reverse side of a map of the CNE.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc.

© City of Toronto, Culture Division, Morris Norman Collection


In Saskatchewan, Eaton's went head-to-head with Simpson's. Simpson's built an eight-storey warehouse in Regina in 1916. Eaton's established distribution centres in Saskatoon and Regina to provide faster delivery of heavy goods to customers in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. There was a strong relationship between the stores and the mail-order catalogues. New stores, with mail-order salesrooms, opened throughout the region. Eaton's was slow to open stores in British Columbia because of the strength of the competition, Woodward's.

In response to the Canadian government's Soldiers' Land Settlement Scheme after the First World War, Eaton's produced a booklet for soldiers planning to farm in the West, containing "the full requirements of a soldier." The economy on the Prairies boomed and a second nine-storey building was built in Winnipeg in 1921.

Eaton's Atlantic headquarters was built in Moncton in 1920, the same year that Eaton's mail-order business peaked at $60 million. The catalogues remained important in the West throughout the settlement period, although the value of individual orders dropped during the Depression. In the 1930s, Eato Read More
In Saskatchewan, Eaton's went head-to-head with Simpson's. Simpson's built an eight-storey warehouse in Regina in 1916. Eaton's established distribution centres in Saskatoon and Regina to provide faster delivery of heavy goods to customers in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. There was a strong relationship between the stores and the mail-order catalogues. New stores, with mail-order salesrooms, opened throughout the region. Eaton's was slow to open stores in British Columbia because of the strength of the competition, Woodward's.

In response to the Canadian government's Soldiers' Land Settlement Scheme after the First World War, Eaton's produced a booklet for soldiers planning to farm in the West, containing "the full requirements of a soldier." The economy on the Prairies boomed and a second nine-storey building was built in Winnipeg in 1921.

Eaton's Atlantic headquarters was built in Moncton in 1920, the same year that Eaton's mail-order business peaked at $60 million. The catalogues remained important in the West throughout the settlement period, although the value of individual orders dropped during the Depression. In the 1930s, Eaton's introduced a monthly payment plan for large ticket items. With growing urbanization in the post-war period, the catalogues decreased in importance.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Catalogue page with some facts about Eaton's

Facts of interest about Eaton's, 1921.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc.

© City of Toronto, Culture Division, Morris Norman Collection


Eaton's was forced to re-evaluate its practices after Simpson's, its largest competitor, merged with Sears of the United States in 1953. Each district had done its own buying until, as part of a structural reorganization of the company, buying for both the stores and the catalogue was centralized in a Company Merchandise Office. Eaton's began to abandon manufacturing in the mid-1960s. In the 1960s, the catalogue was profitable only in the West and in Atlantic Canada, and by the early 1970s, the Eaton's catalogue was losing $17 million a year. In 1976, it ceased operations.

In 1900, three-quarters of Canadians lived on farms; by the 1970s, the population had shifted and three-quarters of Canadians lived in cities. Changing demographics is only one explanation for the closure of the mail-order department; Sears's mail order thrived after the Eaton's closure, tripling its sales. Management problems within Eaton's eventually led to the bankruptcy of the stores as well as the end of the catalogues.
Eaton's was forced to re-evaluate its practices after Simpson's, its largest competitor, merged with Sears of the United States in 1953. Each district had done its own buying until, as part of a structural reorganization of the company, buying for both the stores and the catalogue was centralized in a Company Merchandise Office. Eaton's began to abandon manufacturing in the mid-1960s. In the 1960s, the catalogue was profitable only in the West and in Atlantic Canada, and by the early 1970s, the Eaton's catalogue was losing $17 million a year. In 1976, it ceased operations.

In 1900, three-quarters of Canadians lived on farms; by the 1970s, the population had shifted and three-quarters of Canadians lived in cities. Changing demographics is only one explanation for the closure of the mail-order department; Sears's mail order thrived after the Eaton's closure, tripling its sales. Management problems within Eaton's eventually led to the bankruptcy of the stores as well as the end of the catalogues.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Colour cover of Eaton's Spring/Summer Catalogue

Eaton's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1976, cover.

Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc.

© City of Toronto, Culture Division, T. Eaton Company Collection


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • observe and identify the characteristics of early 20th century lifestyle;
  • compare the evolution of the Canadian and Quebec society over several decades;
  • explain the similarities and differences between past and present society;
  • discuss the main events of the 20th century (economic crisis, World Wars, unionization, feminist movement) and the impact that they had on Canadian and Quebec societies.

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