Having already established a reputation as a retailer of quality goods in Montréal, Henry Morgan & Company established its mail-order business around 1891. Through seasonal and speciality catalogues issued at least until 1910, the store offered discriminating shoppers the latest in staples and fancy dry goods as well as a variety of household furnishings and accessories.

Founded in Montréal in 1845, Henry Morgan & Company was a Canadian pioneer in department-store merchandising before it formally launched its mail-order business some time around 1891. That year, the store relocated to spacious new quarters on St. Catherine Street in what was then the city's "Golden Square Mile." The building's impressive appearance and elegant furnishings were designed to entice the patronage of the district's affluent shoppers, while employees in the fourth-floor workrooms attended to orders from out-of-town customers.

Morgan's prided itself on the high quality of its goods, for which customers willingly paid higher prices. In calling attention to the superior lines of merchandise in its catalogues, Morgan's did not want to alarm customers about high prices Read More
Having already established a reputation as a retailer of quality goods in Montréal, Henry Morgan & Company established its mail-order business around 1891. Through seasonal and speciality catalogues issued at least until 1910, the store offered discriminating shoppers the latest in staples and fancy dry goods as well as a variety of household furnishings and accessories.

Founded in Montréal in 1845, Henry Morgan & Company was a Canadian pioneer in department-store merchandising before it formally launched its mail-order business some time around 1891. That year, the store relocated to spacious new quarters on St. Catherine Street in what was then the city's "Golden Square Mile." The building's impressive appearance and elegant furnishings were designed to entice the patronage of the district's affluent shoppers, while employees in the fourth-floor workrooms attended to orders from out-of-town customers.

Morgan's prided itself on the high quality of its goods, for which customers willingly paid higher prices. In calling attention to the superior lines of merchandise in its catalogues, Morgan's did not want to alarm customers about high prices but wished to assure them that, even for the many inexpensive wares, "each article placed on sale is the best to be procured of its kind."

Following the example of other department stores, Morgan's issued two main catalogues each year, with its clothing lines and specialized goods organized seasonally for spring and summer and fall and winter. The catalogues provided itemized descriptions for the full range of the store's goods, indicating the price, available colours, sizes or other particulars as necessary, frequently supplemented by line drawings or, less often, photographs.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

New lines of merchandise became available to the mail-order shopper as the store itself expanded to accommodate them. By 1905, curtains, toys, silverware, trunks and valises, pictures and framing, sporting goods, sewing machines, electrical goods, and confectionery could all be obtained by mail order.

Morgan's offered a greatly expanded range of goods and services after establishing the Dominion Motor Car Company in 1906 and a factory in 1907. Created to maintain the store's transport fleet, the car division also painted and repaired clients' vehicles and built motorboats. The factory manufactured "all work required in the erection and furnishing of private and public buildings" and although mail-order customers could not make use of all of the available services, they were invited to place requests for flooring, electrical wiring and fixtures, plumbing, cabinetry, carpet cleaning, upholstery, and mattresses.

The staples of the dry goods business, such as ready-made women's and children's clothing and accessories that could be purchased "to greater advantage through the Mail Order Department," received the most attention in Morgan's catal Read More
New lines of merchandise became available to the mail-order shopper as the store itself expanded to accommodate them. By 1905, curtains, toys, silverware, trunks and valises, pictures and framing, sporting goods, sewing machines, electrical goods, and confectionery could all be obtained by mail order.

Morgan's offered a greatly expanded range of goods and services after establishing the Dominion Motor Car Company in 1906 and a factory in 1907. Created to maintain the store's transport fleet, the car division also painted and repaired clients' vehicles and built motorboats. The factory manufactured "all work required in the erection and furnishing of private and public buildings" and although mail-order customers could not make use of all of the available services, they were invited to place requests for flooring, electrical wiring and fixtures, plumbing, cabinetry, carpet cleaning, upholstery, and mattresses.

The staples of the dry goods business, such as ready-made women's and children's clothing and accessories that could be purchased "to greater advantage through the Mail Order Department," received the most attention in Morgan's catalogues. By 1910, the store published additional listings for motor boats, marine hardware, baseball equipment, sewing machines, Kodak cameras, baby carriages, china, camping equipment, and hardwood flooring, to assist the customer in buying more specialized items.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Recognizing the importance of Christmas sales, Henry Morgan & Company issued special catalogues annually from at least the end of the 19th century. The earliest extant catalogue (1897) was unusual because it devoted a whole page to a single item or class of items, whether it was for sewing machines, French opera glasses, portable gas lamps, a combination tea kettle and chafing dish that could be brought to the table, or a whole series of toys, from rocking horses to toy stoves to building blocks. It also featured a two-page colour insert of Christmas dolls that was exceptional for the period; colour was rarely used in catalogues and none of the other extant Morgan's catalogues featured it.

Later Christmas catalogues adhered to a more conventional layout, with numerous items being illustrated and described on a given page. Specific Christmas or New Year's goods, such as gift tags, greeting cards, calendars, and other seasonal novelties that the store hoped to move quickly, were presented in the first pages. The 1908 catalogue grouped selected toys, china, silver, and miscellaneous household items by price to assist budget-conscious shoppers with their gift choices. Read More
Recognizing the importance of Christmas sales, Henry Morgan & Company issued special catalogues annually from at least the end of the 19th century. The earliest extant catalogue (1897) was unusual because it devoted a whole page to a single item or class of items, whether it was for sewing machines, French opera glasses, portable gas lamps, a combination tea kettle and chafing dish that could be brought to the table, or a whole series of toys, from rocking horses to toy stoves to building blocks. It also featured a two-page colour insert of Christmas dolls that was exceptional for the period; colour was rarely used in catalogues and none of the other extant Morgan's catalogues featured it.

Later Christmas catalogues adhered to a more conventional layout, with numerous items being illustrated and described on a given page. Specific Christmas or New Year's goods, such as gift tags, greeting cards, calendars, and other seasonal novelties that the store hoped to move quickly, were presented in the first pages. The 1908 catalogue grouped selected toys, china, silver, and miscellaneous household items by price to assist budget-conscious shoppers with their gift choices.

The arrival of the telephone at Morgan's sometime around 1909 had profound consequences for the organization of the mail-order department. The last extant catalogue was issued in 1910, and, by the early 1920s, the department as such had ceased to exist, its functions absorbed by a new "shopping service." This service may have existed in embryonic form before 1923, but it was undoubtedly expanded and consolidated with the completion that year of Morgan's new Union Avenue annex, complete with its large telephone exchange.

The service was designed to make shopping as convenient as possible for customers who ordered goods by post or by telephone, as well as for in-store customers who required assistance with a complex purchase. Although the shopping service survived into the 1950s, Morgan's mail-order business itself was in decline after 1910 and seems to have largely disappeared after 1930.

Henry Morgan & Company embraced mail-order sales as one component in an evolving retailing strategy that included high quality goods, excellent store locations, and the adoption of different merchandising techniques to win and retain consumer loyalty in the competitive Montréal market. Although the mail-order division allowed the department store to reach customers across the country during the economic boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from the 1920s Morgan's concentrated on its local market, making extensive use of newspaper advertising and encouraging shopping by telephone. In addition, it reduced its dependence on the success of the retail division by diversifying into non-retail areas that had initially spun off from the store's activities, such as real estate; packaging, storing and shipping goods; and, estate management.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Black and white photo of Morgan Store

The first published announcements of Morgan's mail-order service coincided with the opening of its new store facing Philip's Square in 1891.

McCord Museum of Canadian History, Notman Photographic Archives, Montréal, Wm. Notman & Son

1856-1935, 2539.1
© McCord Museum of Canadian History, Notman Photographic Archives, Montréal, Wm. Notman & Son


Black and white drawing of men's suits

Morgan's promoted the high quality of its custom tailoring for civil, military, riding, or livery garments.

Henry Morgan & Company Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1909, p. 68.

Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba

© Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba


Black and white catalogue page of Cars

Morgan's served as agents for several local and European car manufacturers and briefly offered cars for sale through its catalogue.

Henry Morgan & Company Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1907, p. 143.

McGill University Archives, Henry Morgan & Co. fonds

MG 1002, Box 4
© Hudson's Bay Company, used with permission


Black and white photo of Morgan Factory

The factory for Henry Morgan & Company was located in a separate building at the base of Beaver Hall Hill.

McCord Museum of Canadian History, Notman Photographic Archives, Montréal, Anonymous
c. 1910
MP-0000.812.3
© McCord Museum of Canadian History, Notman Photographic Archives, Montréal, Anonymous


Black and white catalogue page of baby carriages

Customers were invited to request a special catalogue about the numerous lines of baby carriages, only some of which were illustrated in the main catalogue. Baby carriages were among the bulky items that the store did not ship for free.

Henry Morgan & Company Spring Summer Catalogue, 1909, p. 99.

Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba

© Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba


Insert from Henry Morgan & Company Catalogue of Christmas Goods

As this rare colour plate demonstrates, Morgan's went to great effort to draw attention to its assortment of dolls.

Henry Morgan & Company Catalogue of Xmas Goods, 1897, between pp. 96, 97.

Ronald Chabot Collection

© Hudson's Bay Company, used with permission


Black and white catalogue page of Christmas gift suggestions from 1908

This selection of gift suggestions for $7.50 included pearl-handled fish carvers, an eight-day travelling clock with a brass movement, and a Queen Ann teapot of plate silver.

Henry Morgan & Company Christmas Catalogue, 1908, p. 46.

Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba

© Hudson's Bay Company, used with permission


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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