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Mail Box Before E-commerce: A History of Canadian 
Mail-order Catalogues image
Mail box
Mail box
image Main Menu Sources Contributors Travelling Exhibition Feedback image Table of Contents
image   For Collectors - For Teachers - For Students
image Contributors
Fashion to Furnishings
Capturing Customers
Company Histories
Order to Delivery
Catalogues (1880-1975)
Games and Activities

Project Background | Project Members | Contributors

This virtual exhibit was created by the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now the Canadian Museum of History) in 2004 in accordance with the standards and best practices of the time. It may include outdated applications that may not be compatible with more recent browsers and other technologies, including assistive technologies. It is being retained for research and reference purposes although information contained within the exhibit, particularly links to other content, may also be out-of date. Any enquiries or comments related to this exhibit should be directed to the Canadian Museum of History.

This virtual exhibition is a collaborative project of the following partners:

Canadian Museum of Civilization
Library and Archives Canada
Toronto Culture

The Canadian Museum of Civilization gratefully acknowledges the financial investment by the Department of Canadian Heritage in the creation of this on-line presentation for the Virtual Museum of Canada.

Project Background

Mail order is a subject of natural interest to the Canadian Postal Museum. The museum has published on the topic in the past, and in 2002 opened an exhibition on this very theme called "Satisfaction Guaranteed." In the fall of 2000 I met with Léon Robichaud, historian and professor at the Université de Sherbrooke. He agreed to feature the mail-order catalogue as the main theme of his graduate history course in multimedia. The course took place in the winter of 2001. I attended the student presentations, and, following that, determined that something of a virtual nature had to be done with this theme.

Two of the students conducted further research on mail order here at CPM. Eventually, students in Professor Bryan Young's undergraduate course at McGill University were brought on board to do research as well. Meanwhile, in the summer of 2001, I approached Catherine C. Cole, consultant and curator with a strong interest in material culture and mail order. She agreed to manage the project.

We set about looking for partners and found them at the National Library, the digitization task force working with Susan Haigh, and at the Culture Division of the City of Toronto, where Elisabeth Joy works. They worked with us to prepare the joint proposal for the Virtual Museum of Canada and have been with us since the project got underway in the spring of 2002.

A host of authors was recruited to collaborate on the project. Their work forms the basis of this virtual exhibition as does the insight and enthusiasm of the high school students surveyed for this project. It is hoped that for them and for all Canadians this exhibition will provide a window on the past that will help them, and us, better understand the logic underlying the maddening pace of modern life.

 - J. Willis

Project Members

Core Team
Stephen Alsford, Web Site Manager, Canadian Museum of Civilization
Catherine C. Cole, Historian and Principal Consultant, Catherine C. Cole & Associates, Heritage Consultants
Tania Costanzo, Project Officer, Library and Archives Canada
Elisabeth Joy, Supervisor, Collections and Conservation, Museums and Heritage Services, Culture Division, City of Toronto
Jennifer Quincey, Project Officer, Library and Archives Canada
Diane Schreiner, Interpretive Planner, Canadian Museum of Civilization
Dale Simmons, Writer, Library and Archives Canada
John Willis, Historian, Canadian Postal Museum

Project Management
Catherine C. Cole

Web design and development
Imatics Inc. (
Digital Creations
Peter Crane Applications Developer, Library and Archives Canada
Mike Mitchell, Manager, Digitization Bureau, Library and Archives Canada
Bob Patterson, Canadian Museum of Civilization
John Staunton, Canadian Museum of Civilization

Research Collaboration
Chantal Amyot
Shirley Lavertu
Christa Middlemiss
Marguerite Sauriol
Alain Turgeon
Liz Turcotte

Betsy Mann
Diane Schreiner
Tamara Tarasoff

English Editor
Wendy McPeake

French Editor
Pierre Cantin

English Translation
Paula Sousa

French Translation
Françoise Charron, le mot juste
Jérôme Demers
Maurice Isabelle, Qualitexte Enr.

Steven Darby, Canadian Museum of Civilization
Harry Foster, Canadian Museum of Civilization
David Knox, Photographer, Library and Archives Canada


Carol Anderson is a Toronto-based researcher, writer, and editor. Since completing her MA in Canadian history at York University, Carol has explored the history of working people, ethnic communities, and public and private institutions.

Christina Bates is the curator for Ontario history at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. She has published widely on social history, women's history, and the history of dress.

Emmanuel Béland is currently finishing his MA thesis on the making of a hero, Jacques Marquette, famed explorer of the Mississippi. He is a historian and specialist in multi-media communication. As contributing author, he collaborated in the CD-ROM project commemorating the bicentennial of Sherbrooke in 2002.

Gaëtanne Blais is the Coordinator of Curatorial Services for the Canadian Children's Museum. She holds MAs in classical archaeology and Museum Studies. Prior to joining the Children's Museum, Gaëtanne worked as a research consultant in material culture and interpretation and was Assistant Curator at the Canadian Postal Museum for two years.

Neil Brochu studied fine art and literature at the University of Guelph and, more recently, museum studies at the University of Toronto. His interest in decorative arts and oriental rugs in the Toronto context was encouraged through work on the Spadina Collection in Toronto.

Nicole Cloutier has a PhD in History. An art historian and museologist, she has published numerous articles and catalogues on Canadian art history, and is one of the founders of the Musée des ondes Emile Berliner in Montreal.

Catherine C. Cole (MA) is an Edmonton-based heritage consultant with a longstanding research interest in Canadian retail and mail-order history and Western Canadian social and business history.

Jennifer Cook-Bobrovitz is a librarian, local historian, and writer in Calgary.

Louise Duguay is currently writing a book about artist-painter Pauline Le Goff Boutal (1894-1992), to be published by Éditions du Blé in 2005. She has a BA in Education and an MA from the University of Manitoba, as well as a diploma in Fashion Design from Sheridan College. She teaches plastic arts and the history of Canadian art.

Bianca Gendreau holds MAs in History and Museology from the Université de Montréal. She joined the Canadian Postal Museum in 1991, where she has been curator of collection development since 1995. She has developed several major exhibitions both physical and virtual, and has published and lectured on the history of the post.

Les Henry is the author and publisher of Catalogue Houses: Eaton's and Others. He is also professor emeritus of soil science, University of Saskatchewan, farmer, farm newspaper columnist, and agricultural and environmental consultant

Elisabeth Joy was formerly the Supervisor, Collections and Conservation for the City of Toronto's Culture Division. She managed Registration, Conservation, Exhibit Design, and Textile Reproduction Services for the City's museums and Historic Collection. She holds an M.A. in Conservation of Cultural Heritage from the Université de Paris I - Panthéon-Sorbonne and an M.A. in Public Administration from l'ENAP.

Shirley Lavertu has an MA (History) from the Université Sherbrooke, multimedia stream. She is a cultural development agent, specialized in local and regional heritage.

Charles Long is an Ottawa writer and frequent contributor to Cottage Life.

Sylvie Marier obtained a BA in Education from McGill University in 2003. She is undertaking an MA in the history of high-school education at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Eileen O'Connor completed her PhD in History from the University of Ottawa in 2002. Her dissertation, "Regulating Healthy Bodies: Health, Medicine and Dress Reform in Victorian Canada," examines the social and cultural authority of medicine in problematizing women's dress. Eileen teaches courses in Women's History as a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa.

Lorraine O'Donnell is a historian living in Quebec. She completed her McGill University doctoral thesis on the history of the visualization of women at Eaton's in 2003.

Hélène Plourde has a BA in History (with a minor in political science) from the University of Ottawa, where she is working on her MA. She is currently an employee with the Canadian Children's Museum in Gatineau.

Paul Robertson, Canadian Museum of Civilization historian, curated the permanent exhibit, "Many Voices: Language and Culture in Manitoba," which includes a recreation of Frank Dojacek's Ukrainian Booksellers and Publishers Winnipeg store.

Scott Robson has worked with the historical collection of the Nova Scotia Museum since the 1960s. He maintains a special interest in photographs and other historical images, and in textiles, especially quilts and hooked mats. His work with Sharon MacDonald on quiltmaking has been published as Old Nova Scotian Quilts and Courtepointes anciennes de la Nouvelle-Écosse by the Nova Scotia Museum and Nimbus Publishing Ltd., Halifax, 1995.

Marguerite Sauriol has an MA in History from the University of Ottawa and works as a consultant with the Canadian Postal Museum/Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Alan Stewart is a historian specializing in the social history and urban development of Montréal from its founding to the 20th century.

Evelyn Strahlendorf was the guest curator of "Timeless Treasures," an exhibition of dolls at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. She is the editor of The Canadian Doll Journal and the author of Dolls of Canada: A Reference Guide.

Tamara Tarasoff has an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto, and specializes in developing interpretive exhibitions, programs, and multimedia products.

John Willis has been a historian with the Canadian Postal Museum/Canadian Museum of Civilization since 1991. He has published articles and books on postal communication and social history. He is a historian by trade and persuasion.


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