Many people have fond and vivid memories of mail-order catalogues. Some remember the modest clothing, fabric, or other items their families ordered. Just about everyone remembers the expensive and glamorous things, such as gowns, dining sets, fancy dolls, and bicycles, that they wished they could order but could not afford. Mail-order catalogues brought a world of goods into the homes of Canadians in even the remotest regions and created many dreams from coast to coast.
Many people have fond and vivid memories of mail-order catalogues. Some remember the modest clothing, fabric, or other items their families ordered. Just about everyone remembers the expensive and glamorous things, such as gowns, dining sets, fancy dolls, and bicycles, that they wished they could order but could not afford. Mail-order catalogues brought a world of goods into the homes of Canadians in even the remotest regions and created many dreams from coast to coast.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Audio of people recounting memories of catalogue orders, real and wished for

Catalogues aren't the big deal they used to be when I was a kid.

The Eaton's catalogue usually arrived in early fall and was good for the entire year. Most of the pages were printed black and white on unglazed paper, but ten or twelve pages were glossy, displaying the more expensive dresses, coats, hats, suits, and dolls in full, glorious colour. It was like having a city full of stores right in our own home.

The hardware "store" displayed tools such as hammers, saws, and clamps, as well as harnesses, black and shiny on chunky Clydesdale horses with fat, feathery feet. The ladders, paint and brushes, rakes, hoes, and slim garden cultivators made our old tools, with their haywire patches and silvery handles, look positively archaic.

The furniture "store" had bedroom suites with waterfalltop dressers, all matching. For an elegant look in the dining room, we could purchase a huge pedestal table with a buffet, a china cabinet, and six matching chairs — five ordinary ones and the "daddy" one with arms

Please note that the French version of this file represents a different story.

Canadian Museum of Civilization

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Catalogue page with colour drawings of coats

This glossy full-colour page from the Eaton's Fall-and-Winter 1918-19 catalogue featured several pricey items. The two coats were made of wool and the three dresses of wool, poplin, and taffeta.

Eaton's Fall and Winter 1918–19 catalogue, Winnipeg edition, p. 63.

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

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


Catalogue page with black and white drawing of a breeching set

The leather Western Prairie Team Breeching Set included everything a farmer needed to harness a pair of horses for work in the fields. The set included bridles, lines, martingales and breast straps, traces, hames, bellybacks, back pads, breeching, and spreadchain.

Eaton's Fall and Winter 1918–19 catalogue, Winnipeg edition, p. 524.

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

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


Audio of people recounting memories of catalogue orders, real and wished for

I remember "when I was young," maybe 6 or 7 years old, being at my grandparents' house in Pointe-du-Lac, Quebec. I would look at all the images from the Sears catalogs and the adults would let me cut from the older issues. I would cut out everything I needed to "furnish" a house, which was usually a shoe box but sometimes a large piece of paper. I would arrange rooms such as a living room with the coffee table, lamps, carpet, and a woman, a man, and babies cut out from the Sears Catalogue. I could do all the rooms in a house. I played that way for hours on end and invented all my stories based on what I had cut and placed.

by Manon Guilbert

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Catalogue page of couches and armchairs

In 1936, a child making a dollhouse out of pictures from the catalogue could have used one of these chesterfield sets, made up of a chesterfield, armchair, and button back chair.

Eaton's Spring and Summer 1936 catalogue, Toronto edition, p. 260

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

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


Audio of people recounting memories of catalogue orders, real and wished for

My sister and I had nearly worn out the Eaton's catalogue. It contained about twelve pages of toys, and one of the pages was glossy, showing in magnificent colour a host of dolls, from the little black one with two bumps on her composition head, where red and white ribbon bows were tied, to the elegant "Eaton Beauty" that had real hair. Not only did she have real curls but also real lashes on eyes that shut when she was laid down. She wore a ruffled bonnet, lace-trimmed pantaloons, white socks, and black, shiny booties that could be taken off and put on again. And her dress! It was just like a princess's gown, with puffy sleeves and ruffles on the full, long skirt, ruffles that started at the waist and arched down around the hem. The problem was that she cost nearly twenty dollars, and we knew very well that she was out of the question. There had been no crop for several years and we were broke. But it didn't cost anything to dream.

by E. Comstock

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Catalogue page of dolls

As this full-colour page shows, catalogues offered dolls to please every girl. Whether she wanted a doll with eyes that opened and closed, one that wet its diaper, or one that could smile and cry, she could have found the doll of her dreams in the Eaton's Fall-and-Winter 1948-49 Catalogue.

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

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


My family arrived from Scotland in 1927 to live on an isolated farm in Saskatchewan. When introduced to Eaton's and Simpson's catalogues my mother was horrified. She had been accustomed to shopping in Edinburgh for all our clothing needs. "Just imagine everyone eyeing you up and down, wondering which catalogue they had seen that dress in and then going home to look up the price! No thanks!"

Consequently, most of our dresses were made at home by her expert hands. We did choose dress material from the many pages of yard goods depicted in the catalogues. More than once I overheard someone remark in a puzzled voice that they could not remember seeing that outfit in the catalogues, wherever did she get it?

When I first attended school in Canada, I was annoyed to discover that my first grade four homework was an assignment to complete an order form to Eaton's. It was to be correctly filled out with name and address, item number, colour, size, and page etc., then the total expenditure calculated without mistakes. I ordered everything I ever wanted and could never hope to own.

In attending school I did find out that some people held values other Read More
My family arrived from Scotland in 1927 to live on an isolated farm in Saskatchewan. When introduced to Eaton's and Simpson's catalogues my mother was horrified. She had been accustomed to shopping in Edinburgh for all our clothing needs. "Just imagine everyone eyeing you up and down, wondering which catalogue they had seen that dress in and then going home to look up the price! No thanks!"

Consequently, most of our dresses were made at home by her expert hands. We did choose dress material from the many pages of yard goods depicted in the catalogues. More than once I overheard someone remark in a puzzled voice that they could not remember seeing that outfit in the catalogues, wherever did she get it?

When I first attended school in Canada, I was annoyed to discover that my first grade four homework was an assignment to complete an order form to Eaton's. It was to be correctly filled out with name and address, item number, colour, size, and page etc., then the total expenditure calculated without mistakes. I ordered everything I ever wanted and could never hope to own.

In attending school I did find out that some people held values other than I had been taught. In our house, if an item of clothing was not to our satisfaction, it was promptly wrapped and returned. I was surprised to learn that some people wore a dress to a dance or a jacket to Saturday night in town, before returning the items. I learned this when an older friend complained that Saturday night's rain had shrunk her jacket and now she could not send it back.

I returned to mail-order shopping when I was married in 1941 and went to live in the Sayward Valley (on Vancouver Island). Eaton's and Simpson's continued to do their best for their customers during the war years when all goods became less available. They substituted frequently with higher priced items but gradually that too declined until most orders were barely filled.

Our longest held-over mail order was for a gas-powered washing machine ordered in the fall of 1941. Unknown to us, the company kept our name on their list and in 1947 delivered the Maytag machine. It served for many years in Sayward and elsewhere, thanks to Mail Order.

Memories, 1927 to 1947 (Courtesy Comox Archives and Museum, Comox, BC)

Please note that the French version of this file represents a different story.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Catalogue page of maytag washers

Two models of electric and gas-powered washing machines were available in the 1948-49 catalogue, one of which was Eaton's own Acme brand. The Maytag described in this memory was not offered in the Eaton's catalogue and may have been ordered through the Simpson's catalogue.

Eaton's Fall and Winter 1948–49 Catalogue, Toronto edition, p. 538

Used with permission of Sears Canada, Library and Archives Canada

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


For many years Eaton's Catalogue was a very important book in Canadian families. My most memorable years are during the 1920s and 1930s. What excitement there was in the spring and again in the fall when the new ones arrived! Each member of the family had favourite pages to turn to first. The boys usually turned to the building toys or special wearing apparel. The girls were interested in dolls and, of course, pretty dresses.

One year, I won first prize in the July 1st parade for a little lamb decorated with ribbons and bows that I entered. I was about 8 years old, and when I came home, the first thing I did was to look in Eaton's Catalogue. I found a picture of a little red dress, so off went my money order of $2 along with the order form. How pleased I was when the package arrived in the mail, and it was everything I had hoped for.

When I was 10 years old and my sister was almost 12, we were looking in the new Spring catalogue and wishing for the two-piece suits for young girls. Actually, the ladies' fashion pages had their version too, which was a three-quarter-length coat and matching skirt. My brother who was a young school teacher, overheard us and aske Read More
For many years Eaton's Catalogue was a very important book in Canadian families. My most memorable years are during the 1920s and 1930s. What excitement there was in the spring and again in the fall when the new ones arrived! Each member of the family had favourite pages to turn to first. The boys usually turned to the building toys or special wearing apparel. The girls were interested in dolls and, of course, pretty dresses.

One year, I won first prize in the July 1st parade for a little lamb decorated with ribbons and bows that I entered. I was about 8 years old, and when I came home, the first thing I did was to look in Eaton's Catalogue. I found a picture of a little red dress, so off went my money order of $2 along with the order form. How pleased I was when the package arrived in the mail, and it was everything I had hoped for.

When I was 10 years old and my sister was almost 12, we were looking in the new Spring catalogue and wishing for the two-piece suits for young girls. Actually, the ladies' fashion pages had their version too, which was a three-quarter-length coat and matching skirt. My brother who was a young school teacher, overheard us and asked how much they cost. "Eight dollars a suit," we said. Now I know, he wasn't making a lot of money then, teaching in a one-room country school, but he told us to order them, and he would pay for them. We felt like the two best dressed young girls in our town that year.

This is a very special memory in my life because when the war broke out my dear brother put his teaching job on hold in 1939 to serve his country. Then, like many other young men, he made the supreme sacrifice. Killed in action, 1944!

Getting back to country school teachers, the Eaton's Catalogue was also important to them. When the Christmas concerts took place, each child received a little gift from Santa. It was handy for the teachers to make out a list of names and ages, and amount to be spent. This then was sent to Eaton's where Santa's elves did the shopping, wrapping and tagging.

Eaton's Catalogue, then, was like going to a "Shopping Mall," or the "Internet" of today, with the convenience of shopping from home. The old catalogues were recycled too. Children loved to cut out pictures for fun, or school projects. My sister and I and our friends made cut out dolls with changes of dresses for the girls and suitable clothes for boys. Then what was left of it, went to the "outhouse," its last recycling destination!! Dear old "Eaton's Catalogue," you served Canadians so faithfully for many generations and left us with so many memories of the good old days.

Memories, ca 1920-40. (Courtesy Comox Archives and Museum, Comox, BC)

Please note that the French version of this file represents a different story.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Colour catalogue page of sketches of women's dresses

This page shows several dresses that could have been purchased for less than $2 in 1926, including a red one.

Eaton's Spring and Summer 1926 Catalogue, Moncton edition, p. 89.

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

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


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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