MP-1984.105.4 | Goodwin's department store (future site of T. Eaton Co.), St. Catherine Street, Montreal, QC, ca. 1912

Goodwin's department store (future site of T. Eaton Co.), St. Catherine Street, Montreal, QC, ca. 1912
Anonyme - Anonymous
About 1912, 20th century
Silver salts on paper - Gelatin silver process
20 x 25 cm
Gift of Mr. Earl Preston
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Architecture (8646) , Cityscape (3948) , commercial (1771) , Photograph (77678) , streetscape (1737)
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Keys to History

The department store was the beachhead into the modern consumer society. Nineteenth-century retail was based on specialized dry goods stores supported by wholesalers who assembled goods from manufacturers and distributed them to merchants. Credit and barter were the usual terms of business between merchant and his wholesaler and customers. Beginning in the 1870s, in cities like Paris and New York, the department store brought varied lines of goods all under one roof. Each "department" offered a different product line. The wholesaler was squeezed out; stores now bought directly from manufacturers or established their own factories. And sales were moved to a cash basis - guaranteed quality at a guaranteed price.

Irish immigrant Timothy Eaton (1834-1907) pioneered the department store in Canada. Opening his first department store on Toronto's Yonge Street in 1869, Eaton spread his stores across the country - Winnipeg in 1905, for instance - and used catalogue sales to reach areas that would not support a store. Others to emulate Eaton's success were Robert Simpson (1834-1897) in Toronto and Nazaire Dupuis (1843-1876) in Montreal. By 1910 Eaton's, with 17 factories, its own brand names, a delivery service and 8,800 employees, was a model of vertical integration.

  • What

    The department store was a marvel of engineering. Supported by steel framework, its floors were airy and capacious. Electricity provided the lighting and powered elevators and escalators. Pneumatic tubes carried messages and payment between departments. Restaurants served lunch. Picture-windows full of goods enticed shoppers.

  • Where

    The department store gave new meaning to the term "downtown." Stores like Eaton's, Dupuis Frères and Morgan's along Montreal's Ste. Catherine Street made that neighbourhood the city's prime shopping area.

  • When

    Timothy Eaton opened his first department store in Toronto in 1869. The store catered to the needs of a wage-earning, cash-driven society. "One price, cash, and satisfaction guaranteed," Eaton's promised. This prompted a new style of retailing: sale days, advertising and Santa Claus parades, all designed to stimulate sales.

  • Who

    The department store democratized consumption. The Eaton's catalogue sat on virtually every rural kitchen table. City folk flocked to Eaton's for everything from shirts to cookies. By 1919, the Eaton's empire registered sales totaling $123.6 million.