Friday 15 January 2016

How Eaton's Influenced Canadian Culture

"Eaton's Department Store, Simpson's and the Hudson's Bay Company were the three major stores that represented Canadian pride, nationalism and modernity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries," 
(Donica Belisle, Retail Nation:  Department Stores and the Making of Modern Canada )

Eaton's helped bring Canada into the modern age with its catalogue which reached rural places that would otherwise not have access to its products.  Selling everything from farm implements to prefabricated houses to the latest appliances, the catalogue represented modern culture at its best.  As an Eaton's advertisement from 1892 announced:  "This is emphatically an age of PROGRESS.  The golden age is before us, not behind, and those who're unwilling to keep up with the procession will have the decency to STAND ASIDE." 

Eaton's represented Canadian nationalism and pride, particularly during the First and Second World Wars.  The Eaton's Catalogue displayed patriotic covers during the war years.  Gift baskets were sent to Canadian soldiers overseas to boost their morale.  Eaton's employees who served overseas had their jobs held for them until they returned.  Sometimes their medical expenses due to war injuries were paid by Eaton's.

Eaton's also affected popular culture.  The Santa Claus Parade, which debuted in 1905, set the tone for other major parades in North America (see  Many Canadian children grew up watching the parade either from Toronto's Yonge Street or on their television screen.  Those children often grew up to be Eaton's customers.

Eaton's is even mentioned in Canadian literature, specifically the French Canadian folktale Le Chandail de Hockey (The Hockey Sweater) in which a young Roch Carrier asks his mother to buy him a new hockey sweater.  He is so disappointed when his mother, who writes to Monsieur Eaton, receives a Toronto Maples Leafs jersey rather than a Montreal Canadiens one.  For fear of offending Monsieur Eaton, Roch's mother insists that he wear "le chandail".  Being a Torontonian, I guess it only made sense that Monsieur Eaton would have been a Leafs fan.

Timothy Eaton has also left his mark on the world of religion.  A former Presbyterian who converted to Methodism during the tent revivals in Southern Ontario, Timothy was a devout Christian.  After his death, his widow had a church built in his memory, Timothy Eaton Memorial Methodist Church, later United, which is still in use today.

Flora Eaton, an active fundraiser for the Red Cross, allowed Eaton Hall to be used as a military hospital during the Second World War courtesy

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