Wednesday 6 January 2016

Going Up?

When I was growing up, I remember my mom taking me to the Hamilton Eaton's store on James Street.  A highlight was the ride on the elevator.  It was a real experience.  Two things stand out in my mind:  the iron bars which folded like an accordion when they opened and closed; and the elevator operators who wore white gloves and a uniform.

Timothy Eaton had an elevator installed at his Queen Street store in 1886, the first retail passenger elevator in Toronto.  The elevator, likely an Otis cage elevator, served three, and later, eight floors. Customers had the luxury of shopping from floor to floor without having to lug their parcels up and down flights of stairs.  Elevator operators, always polite, wore uniforms similar to those worn by stewardesses in the early years of air travel.  As the elevator stopped at each floor, the elevator operator would call out the goods for sale there.  

The most popular stop for children would be the fifth floor, where a plethora of toys were on display at Toyland.  In December, Santa Claus waited for tots to sit on his knee and tell him what they wanted for Christmas.  For housewives, a popular stop would have been the ninth floor where the Georgian Room was located, once considered Toronto's finest restaurant.  Housewives could listen to an orchestra play as they dined, a welcome change from cooking and washing dishes at home.

With the invention of automatic elevators, elevator operators were no longer needed.  Riding the elevator lost its appeal.  It was no longer an experience, but simply a mode of transportation.

Calgary Eaton's elevator operators circa 1942 courtesy

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