Army and Navy's mail-order catalogue operations ran from 1925-86, making it one of the longest running Canadian department store catalogues. "Canada's Original Discount Store," Army and Navy's low-end retailing approach was unique with a focus on distress merchandising: bankruptcy sales, cash purchases, and discount goods. Although the catalogues days are over, the company still has six department store locations in British Columbia and Alberta.

Born in San Francisco in 1897, Samuel Joseph Cohen opened his first Army and Navy store on West Hastings Street in Vancouver in 1919, selling liquidation stock, and First World War army-and-navy surplus goods. For many years, Army and Navy purchased its stock from closing, bankrupt, or destroyed (fire and flood) stores. The company's philosophy was to buy goods at the cheapest prices possible and pass the savings on to customers and to buy and sell in volume for cash.

Cohen opened a second store in Regina in the 1800 block of Scarth Street in 1920 and, in 1925, the mail-order headquarters. The first Army and Navy store in Edmonton opened in 1928, north of Jasper Avenue on the west side of 101 Street. Cohen's brothers, Joseph Cohen of Vancouver and Harry Cohen from Edmonton, joined him in the business.

The Army and Navy catalogue extended the reach of the department stores into the rural heart of the prairies. In the late 1920s, the Regina store's advertisement in "The Farm Movement," encouraged readers to watch for the new catalogue and to use the slogan: "Your money's worth and more — or your money refunded." It advertised that the mail-order department was "equipped to give 12 hour service on all orders."

Running from 40 to 80 pages, Army and Navy's catalogues were small relative to Eaton's and Simpson's, but they were filled with bargains. Army and Navy was not a full-line department store: The catalogues featured primarily clothing, hardware, hunting and fishing supplies, some toys, and household goods. Stock varied considerably from one catalogue to another because of the way goods were purchased. Catalogue pages were relatively small at 8" x 10" and colour was limited, making it an inexpensive catalogue to produce. Along with the orders, Army and Navy sent customers mail-order coupons that could be applied to their next purchase. It was also possible to purchase gift certificates for use through mail order. Goods not sold through the catalogues were sometimes cleared out through the store.
by Catherine C. Cole

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans