Until 1890, Montréal's major department stores were concentrated in a fashionable shopping district in Old Montréal. Within a decade, all but one had relocated to St. Catherine Street, between Bleury and de la Montagne. The move coincided with the transformation of space in Montréal. These grand and spacious stores, as well as their mail-order operations, contributed to a new type of shopping experience.

With a population of about 325 000 in 1901, Montréal was Canada's pre-eminent metropolis. As the city grew, the urban landscape was transformed. Although Old Montréal retained its role as the city's business district - enhanced by the construction of new office buildings - new districts came into being. Workers travelled greater distances between home and work place. Middle-class families moved to the suburban belt that surrounded the city on its western, northern and eastern flanks. Industrial suburbs emerged to the southwest and east.

The emergence of a distinctively retail axis along St. Catherine Street illustrated that the old-fashioned type of city with its mixture of residence and workplace and commerce, finance and industry - all accessible on foot - was gradually disappearing. The division of Montréal into separate spaces was not unique to Montréal, but the pattern here was quite pronounced. Moreover, mail order played an important role in the process.

With the opening of the Morgan's store on Philip's Square in 1891, the shift to St. Catherine Street signalled not only a separation of "uptown" retailing from "downtown" wholesaling and finance, but, for most firms, a significant increase in the scale of their activities. Although the transformation of St. Catherine Street into a major retail artery relied on the importance of a rapidly expanding local market, transactions with out-of-town customers by means of mail order boosted sales considerably.

Six major department stores dominated the retail landscape of English-speaking Montréal by 1895: Henry Morgan, S. Carsley, W. H. Scroggie, John Murphy, Henry and N. E. Hamilton, and James A. Ogilvy & Sons. Of these, the first three operated mail-order lines that endured for decades, even surviving one or more ownership changes in the case of Carsley's and Scroggie's. Murphy's transacted some out-of-town orders, but by 1905 had been absorbed by the Robert Simpson Company, which ran its own catalogue business from Toronto.
by Alan M. Stewart

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

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