On Canadian Ground - Stories of Footwear in Early Canada See more of the Virtual Museum of Canada
ExhibitionMemorable Shoes

KAMIKS OF THE INUIT
MOCCASINS OF THE FIRST NATIONS
CHANGING STYLES - THE ROLE OF TRADE & VOYAGEURS
SHOES FOR A NEW LAND
SHOES MADE IN THE AGE OF THE CRAFTSMAN
CANADIAN FOOTWEAR IN THE AGE OF THE MACHINE
MEN'S SHOES
WOMEN'S SHOES
BELL SHOES
CHILDREN'S SHOES
SKATES
INDUSTRIALIZATION - MAKING SHOES WITH MACHINES
THE RETAIL STORE
BULLDOG TOE BUTTON BOOTS
ADVERTISING SHOES
THE PRESENT BEGINS HERE
A. Henderson & Son Shoe Store, Pictou, Nova Scotia, c. 1831
A. Henderson & Son Shoe Store, Pictou, Nova Scotia, c. 1831
A. Henderson & Son Shoe Store, Pictou, Nova Scotia, c. 1914
A. Henderson & Son Shoe Store, Pictou, Nova Scotia, c. 1914
The Retail Store

Keeping Stock

In the first half of the nineteenth century, some shoemakers in the larger towns began to stock an inventory of shoes, rather than just making them on demand. This was the beginning of the retail shop, where people could go to buy an inexpensive pair of ready-made shoes. One early example was ‘Cheap Thomas Thompson’s Shoe Warehouse’ which flourished in 1830s Toronto.

Mass Production and Imports

To get the volume of product required to stock a shoe-store, entrepreneurs adopted several approaches. Some shoemakers set up a system of mass production, in which leather was pre-cut to standard sizes, and craftsmen performed a few, specific tasks in an assembly-line fashion. The result was still a hand-made shoe, but one made by several pairs of hands, not just one. As early as 1809, one master shoemaker in Montreal employed a dozen journeymen; a few years later he stocked 500 pairs of ready-made shoes on his shelves.

Other businessmen simply imported shoes to meet the demand, principally from the growing shoe manufacturers in the United States. It was the mechanization of shoemaking that made it possible to stock a store with hundreds of relatively inexpensive pairs of shoes in the latest styles.

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