33. Canadian Department Stores

When I was a kid in the early 1960’s, my family shopped at the Oakridge Mall, home of Woodward’s Department Store. Woodward’s had everything; cloth and clothes and food for my mom, toys for me, and hardware and stuff for my dad. Although the mall had other stores, I was rarely taken in, they did not seem to have anything I needed to be involved in the purchasing of, so Woodward’s it was. The exception, that magic once-a-year-event, when my Mom dressed me in my best clothes and took me downtown, during “Easter Break” to visit the “Big Three”. First we would go to the the Hudson’s Bay, on the corner of Georgia and Granville, and next, walk down Granville to Eaton’s, and finally to the “big Woodward’s” on Hastings. We would have had lunch in the cafeteria on the top floor of the Hudson’s Bay, wow, anything I wanted, and from one or more of those department stores, I would have gotten my new spring clothes…

The Department Store arrived in Canada in the mid 19th Century, at about the same time as they appeared in Europe and the USA. The new Department Stores offered a selection of goods that the customer could look at, and touch, or try, unlike the existing mercantile who kept everything in the back, and where the customer only went in to order to obtain what they needed. The new Department Store offered a chance for anyone to have a look, whether they needed or could afford what they saw, it  didn’t matter. Many of the Department Stores had restaurants where the customer could take a break from their shopping, as well as restrooms so one in need did not have to return home. The customer could make a day out of shopping, practical and social all in one, what could be better?

 Canadian Department Stores, unlike many of their international counterparts, understood that catering to all classes, in all situations, would help propel them forward. The T. Eaton Company established its first mail-order catalogue in 1884 , allowing them to add the rural population who could not make it into town, to their mix. The other Department Stores would follow suit. When the parcel post was introduced in 1914, it became even easier for Canadians to engage in catalogue shopping.

As the standards of merchandising changed with the advent of ready-to-wear clothing, Department Stores made sure to take the customer with them, and make them feel safe, on the journey forward.  Simpson’s 1896 catalogue stated, “Let the ready-made clothing of this store convince you that money can be safely invested and all your ideas of taste, style and wear maintained…We have set that as our aim, and judging by the satisfaction we are giving to the best class of people, we are about reaching it.”



Harrods London England 1834


Henry Morgan and Company Montreal 1845

                               Morgan’s 1890

Founder: Henry Morgan
Founded: 1845
Mail order: 1891
Ceased operations: 1960
Headquarters: Montreal
Area Served: Quebec and Ontario
Successor: Morgan’s was purchased in 1960 by Hudson’s Bay Company.

Henry Morgan & Company were one of the pioneering  Canadian companies in the department-store business. About 50 years after they first opened they 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 bring in the district’s high end customer.


Holt Renfrew and Co. Ltd. Quebec City

35, rue Buade
Québec, P.Q., Canada

Founder: William S. Henderson
Founded: 1837, Quebec City
Headquarters: Toronto
Parent organization: Selfridges Group Limited

Once a purveyor of fashion to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Holt Renfrew began in 1837 as a hat shop. By the 1930’s Holt Renfrew had grown to become a leading department store. Holt Renfrew was bought in 1986 by W. Galen and the Hon. Hilary M. Weston and under their ownership Holt Renfrew has become Canada’s destination for luxury retail.


Au Bon March Paris France 1852


Macy’s New York USA 1858


Dupuis Frères Montreal 1868

Founder: Nazaire Dupuis
Founded: 1868
City of operation: Montreal
Mail order: 1921 -1963
Ceased operation: 1978

A family company that quickly grew into one of Montréal’s largest department stores. The company highlighted its French Canadian roots in its marketing strategy and appealed directly to French Canadians’ sense of pride. In the 1930s and 1940s, the company participated actively in the “buy domestic” campaigns aimed at encouraging French Canadian businesses. Mail order also contributed to the development and popularity of Dupuis Frères. Through its mail-order service, the company became known throughout Quebec, as well as outside the province.


T. Eaton and Co. Toronto 1869

Founder: Timothy Eaton
Founded: 1869
Mail order: 1884
Ceased operations: 1999
Headquarters: Toronto

T. Eaton Company Ltd. was Canada’s largest Department Store. By the close of the First World War, Eaton’s was operating buying offices in Tokyo, Manchester, Leicester, Belfast, Zurich and New York, and it employed 16,000 people in Toronto alone and by 1940 it had become the world’s eighth largest retailer.


The Hudson’s Bay Company 1857

Founded: May 2, 1670
First Saleshop: 1857 Fort Langley
Headquarters: Toronto

As the fur trade lost importance in the late 19th Century  The Hudson’s Bay Company slowly transformed it’s original trading posts to retail outlets and by
1912, had begun it’s ascent into the world of the Department Store, beginning with the  “original six” Hudson’s Bay Company stores in; Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg. The Hudson’s Bay Company currently operates ten retail banners in North America and Europe, in formats ranging from luxury to premium department stores to off-price.


Founder: Robert Simpson
Founded: 1896
Ceased operations: 1989
Headquarters: Toronto
Successor: Hudson’s Bay

Robert Simpson’s original store was opened in 1858 in Newmarket, Ontario, but after a  fire destroyed the store in 1870, it moved to Toronto. The company was renamed the Robert Simpson Company Limited in May 1896, not long before Robert Simpson’s sudden death on 14 December 1897, at the age of 63.  With Simpson’s death the family sold the business in March 1898 to a syndicate of three Toronto businessmen. The store was acquired by Hudson’s Bay Company in 1978. Throughout its history, Simpsons was the traditional carriage-trade department store in Toronto, competing with the T. Eaton Company, and the motto “You’ll enjoy shopping at Simpson’s” conceived by Robert Simpson, remained the company’s slogan until its acquisition by the Hudson’s Bay Company.


Founder: Charles Woodward
Founded: 1892
Catalogue: 1897 – 1953
Ceased operations: 1993
Headquarters: Vancouver
Area Served: BC and Alberta
Woodward’s department store was first established in Vancouver in 1892. This family-run retailer spread throughout western Canada with its famous Food Floor and discount days.Woodward’s in Downtown Vancouver was the largest store, about 700,000 square feet, in Vancouver.Charles Woodward opened his first department store at the corner of what is now Main and Georgia Streets in Vancouver in 1892. The Woodward’s catalogue, business ran from 1897 to 1953, and proclaimed that it was “The Great Mail Order House of the West.” The mail-order business allowed the Woodward’s influence into remote locations in British Columbia and Alberta. They were the anchor store in Canada’s first shopping centre in West Vancouver in 1951. By 1988, the chain had grown to 29 stores throughout British Columbia and Alberta. The food floors were always an important part of Woodward’s stores. Financial problems in the 1980’s forced the stores closure, the Hudson’s Bay Company acquiring Woodward’s assets in 1993.