See more of the Virtual Museum of Canada
image image
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 Section Menu For Collectors - For Teachers - For Students
image Fashion to Furnishings
Fashion to Furnishings
Capturing Customers
Company Histories
Order to Delivery
Catalogues (1880-1975)
Games and Activities
  Frank Dojacek (1880-1951), Ukrainian 
Booksellers & Publishers Ltd.  

Enlarge image.Frank Dojacek (1880-1951), founder of Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Limited/ Winnipeg Musical Supply Co. Painting by Eugenia Greinert (1951), oil on canvas.


Frank Dojacek and Mail-order Shopping in the Prairies, 1906-1975
by Paul Robertson

During the 19th and 20th centuries, thousand of East Europeans immigrated to Canada. Frank Dojacek, an emigrant from Bohemia, tapped into this huge market for foreign-language books and other products from the "Old Country." In addition to his retail, printing, and publishing operations, he established a lucrative mail-order business supplying new Canadians with printed materials in the language of their choice as well as other culturally familiar products.

Introduction | Frank Dojacek, Bookseller and Publisher | Central European Immigrants | Mail-order Business | Bibles, Dictionaries, and Guide Books | Printing and Publishing Business | Musical Merchandise | Housewares and Calendars | Patent Medicines and European Goods | Import Business | A Family Business | The Business in Decline | Ukrainian Booksellers Recreated in Museum Exhibit | Conclusion


  Main window of Ruthenian (later 
Ukrainian) Booksellers & Publishers Ltd.  

Enlarge image.Main window of Ruthenian (later Ukrainian) Booksellers and Publishers Ltd., ca 1918. The store's name is written in German, Ukrainian and Polish.


Alongside department store catalogues, specialist purveyors of foreign-language books and other items of particular interest to European immigrants retailed their wares by mail order. The availability of this type of merchandise to these first-generation Canadians played a key role in ensuring their cultural survival and integration into Canada.

Due to obvious differences in the language, culture, religion, and societal values of mainstream British Canadians, central European immigrants were at a particular disadvantage in Western Canada from the mid-1880s to the mid-1910s. In an effort to build communities that could maintain and strengthen links with people from their own world, new arrivals established churches and other institutions. However, adapting to the ways of the New World was that much more difficult when most sources of information were only available in English or French. How were homesteaders to get information about their new country if they could not understand the language?

Frank Dojacek, Bookseller and Publisher

By the late 1800s, Winnipeg had become the gateway to homesteads in the West for thousands of immigrants. A significant number stayed in the city's North End, a vibrant community of people of many origins, talents, and interests. One of these new arrivals was Frank Dojacek (František Dojacek), who, in 1903, emigrated from Bohemia, a region now in the Czech Republic. Originally trained as a tailor, the environment in Winnipeg fostered his entrepreneurial skills.

  Frank Dojacek's family, ca 1930.  

Enlarge image.Frank Dojacek's family, ca 1930.


Frank Dojacek soon realized that immigrants from central Europe represented a largely untapped market, especially for foreign-language books. At the time, most printed material in languages other than English or French were imported from Europe and there was no efficient means of distribution to people isolated on rural farms.

By 1904, Dojacek was peddling books door to door across the Prairies. Within two years he established a shop in the North End of Winnipeg and purchased the stock of John Bodrug, one of the first people to import books from Eastern Europe.

Central European Immigrants

  German Book and Music Store catalogue, 

Enlarge image.German Book and Music Store Catalogue, 1937.


Although Dojacek was a Czech national, as an astute businessman he recognized the power of demographics. By far, his largest client base was ethnic Ukrainians. From 1891 to 1914, about 170 000 Ukrainians from Eastern Europe entered Canada; another 60 000 arrived between 1925 and 1934. In light of this, Dojacek named his business Ruthenian Booksellers and Publishers, "Ruthenian" being the more commonly used term to describe a Ukrainian at the time. The store's name was modified in 1920 to Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Ltd. (Ukrainska Knyharnia i Nakladnia) to reflect the changing identity of the Ukrainian community in Canada.

  Polish Book and Music Store catalogue, 
ca 1950.  

Enlarge image.Polish Book and Music Store Catalogue, ca 1950.


While acknowledging the importance of the Ukrainian community as a client base, Dojacek did not forget the other central European groups that made up the Western Canadian immigrant community. He built a bond with the consumer in several ways. In his advertisements to the German community, he referred to his business as the German Book and Music Store (Deutsches Buch- und Musikgeschäft). Likewise, Polish consumers shopped at the Polish Book and Music Store (Polska Ksiegarnia). Being fluent in seven languages himself, Dojacek ensured that customers in the shop were served in their own language.

  Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers 
Ltd., ca 1953.  

Enlarge image.Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Ltd. Catalogue, ca 1953.


Mail-order Business

By way of mail-order catalogues printed in separate language editions, Frank Dojacek reached clients too far away to shop in his stores. Catalogues in German, Ukrainian, Polish, and Czech-Slovak were distributed to homes throughout the West. Although there were some categories of items common to all versions of his catalogues, he customised each edition to the target community's interests and needs.

Bibles, Dictionaries, and Guide Books

From the beginning, the mainstay of the Dojacek operation was an extensive inventory of multilingual printed materials, especially in German and Ukrainian. There were dictionaries, bibles and other religious books and documents, political books, novels, and books for children. Many publications addressed topics relevant to a new immigrant's adjustment to life in Canada: educational primers for adults, self-help books and guides covering home medical care, farming practice, and letter writing.

  Books and Music Store catalogue, 1934, 
in Czech and Slovak.  

Enlarge image.Book and Music Store Catalogue, 1934, in Czech and Slovak.


  Winnipeg Musical Supply Co. catalogue, 
ca 1937.  

Enlarge image.Winnipeg Musical Supply Co. Catalogue, ca 1937.


The primers were very popular adult educational tools, as many immigrants had not had extensive schooling before coming to Canada. By 1924, Frank Dojacek had sold 11 000 primers in ten editions. The Ukrainian-English dictionary he published had a sale of 10 000 copies. By 1944, the annual catalogue increased in size until the listing of Ukrainian dramatic works alone comprised 600 titles.

Printing and Publishing Business

Frank Dojacek was also a shrewd businessman who owned his own printing and publishing company to supply his stores and catalogue operations. Originally located in the basement of his Winnipeg store, his printing operation produced many of the books that he sold in the store and by mail order as well as newspapers in Ukrainian, German, Polish, and Croatian. This business was later known as National Publishers Limited and was a leader in ethnic publications in Canada.

  Books in German.  

Enlarge image.Books in German: training guide for German pilots, children's story, songbook.

  Books in Ukrainian.  

Enlarge image.Books in Ukrainian: Captain of Industry by Upton Sinclair (translation), Ukrainian spelling book, cookbook, letter writing guide.


Dojacek clearly understood the importance of these communication tools: printed information that could provide an immigrant with news of the homeland, a piece of literature, or perhaps some practical information for everyday living. He also knew that the full benefit of these materials could only be attained if they were available in a language that could be understood by the reader.

Musical Merchandise

Within a few years, Dojacek supplemented his published offerings with musical instruments and supplies in recognition of the sales potential of another important central European cultural expression. In the early years of his business in the 1910s and 1920s, he stocked an extensive range of accordions, harmonicas, violins, round-back mandolins, guitars, trumpets, and drums, as well as traditional Slavic instruments such as the tsymbaly (hammered dulcimer) and the balalaika.

As tastes changed, so did Dojacek's stock. By the 1930s he had replaced the old-style round-back mandolins with flat-back models and balalaikas were no longer offered. One item that remained in the catalogues for decades was the violin package that included the instrument, case and accessories and in 1953 was selling for $24.95.

  Books in Slovak and Czech.  

Enlarge image.Romance novel in Slovak and cattle care guide and children's reader in Czech.

  Wall calendars, early 1950s.  

Enlarge image.Wall calendars, early 1950s.


Housewares and Calendars

  Wall calendar, 1930.  

Enlarge image.Wall calendar, 1930.


The various businesses grew steadily, but not spectacularly, in the 1910s and 1920s. Dojacek survived the 1930s in large part due to his astute business sense. It is not clear when he first started publishing his catalogues, but a 1918 edition offered a full range of books and other publications as well as a selection of musical instruments, sheet music and accessories, sewing supplies and household giftware, and other items for the home. The range of stocked goods increased gradually to include records and record players, radios, clocks, pens, appliances, jewellery, and toys.

A mainstay of the business in the 1970s was a wide offering of decorative and pictorial wall calendars depicting religious images, central European patriotic themes, literary works, scenic pictures, and images of children and animals. These were often fitted with renewable calendar pads so that clients could keep a favourite image year after year.

  Decorative paper wall plaque with 
scriptual quotation in Russian, 1940s.  

Enlarge image.Decorative paper wall plaque with scriptural quotation in Russian, 1940s.


  Violins, ca 1934.  

Enlarge image.Violins,1934.


Patent Medicines and European Goods

In addition to being able to purchase items that they could read, new immigrants could always find culturally familiar household items through Ukrainian Booksellers. Patent medicines ("Blood Bitters," "Persia Balm," and "Florida Water"), blade strops, scythes and sickles, embroidery thread, and religious items were imported directly from Europe. Dojacek avoided competing with mainstream Canadian department stores by concentrating his efforts on merchandise not generally carried by the larger companies. Stores such as the Hudson's Bay Company and Eaton's eventually realized the value of stocking these specialty items and came to him to obtain their supplies of blade strops and other wares.

  Accordions, ca 1937.  

Enlarge image.Accordions, ca 1937.

  M. Hohner accordion, ca 1950.  

Enlarge image.Accordion, M. Hohner, Germany, ca 1950.


Import Business

  Goliath model harmonica, ca 1970.  

Enlarge image."Goliath" model harmonica, M. Hohner, Germany, ca 1970.


The buying and importing of goods for sale through Dojacek's catalogue, "Book & Music Stores," and the retail outlets was carried on through F. Dojacek Importers and Jobbers, whereas his retail operations were carried out under the names of Winnipeg Musical Supply Co. and Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Ltd. In time, at least in the Winnipeg area, Winnipeg Musical Supply became the more familiar name to customers.

  German confirmation certificate.  

Enlarge image.German confirmation certificate.


At its height, the mail-order business catered to customers in all parts of Canada and some areas of the United States. Shoppers making orders sent a one-third-down payment and paid the balance by Cash on Delivery (COD) when the merchandise arrived by mail. Processing COD orders required a great deal of clerical work, however. When staff was short, for example, during the Second World War, this policy was suspended and customers were requested to remit an approximate amount to cover the order; balances were refunded.

If an item could not be found in one of Dojacek's catalogues, clients could make special orders. Winnipeg Musical Supply catalogues (in English) also advertised a mail-order repair service for musical instruments and phonographs, but all work had to be shipped prepaid by the customer.

A Family Business

  Children's toys, 1948.  

Enlarge image.Children's toys, 1948.


As Ukrainian Booksellers/Winnipeg Musical Supply grew as a business, Frank Dojacek opened adjunct branches in Edmonton, Regina, and Vancouver, often under the supervision of a member of his family. For Dojacek, community service overlapped his business. He often hired central European immigrants to work at the store. The presence of these immigrants on staff provided further familiarity and comfort to the central European customers. In turn, many of these staff members had long associations with the Dojacek business.

Dojacek's business remained family-run after his death. The second generation changed their name to Dojack to simplify it. The mail-order business survived into the 1970s, before telephone orders became common. Frank Dojacek's grandson Tom Dojack remembers his father Frank Dojack Jr. loading the daily mail order to take to the post office. He says the store's unofficial motto for mail order during this era was "no order was too small." Ukrainian Booksellers rarely disposed of unsold stock. Shelves of publications printed in the 1910s and 1920s remained in the basement storage when the store closed in the 1980s.

  Viewmaster, early 1950s  

Enlarge image.View-Master, Sawyer's Inc., U.S.A., early 1950s.


  Patent medicines.  

Enlarge image.Patent medicines.


The Business in Decline

By the 1970s, sales changed. For example, some of the European medicines that had been sold for decades became suspiciously popular in the late 1970s. That was until the Manitoba liquor commission suddenly banned their sale!

  Clocks and watches, 1937.  

Enlarge image.Clocks and watches, 1937.


By the 1970s, with changes in demographics and markets, the mail-order business was in serious decline. Although certain items such as the calendars, the Ukrainian-English dictionary, and harmonicas remained popular, sales had tapered off. This change can be traced to a number of causes. For instance, many items could be had more cheaply from other suppliers. Third-generation descendants of immigrants born in Canada who spoke fluent English no longer required the services of a business such as Ukrainian Booksellers. There was simply not the same demand for multilingual publications as there had been early in the century. With the improvement of transportation to move more goods westward and into rural areas, the advent of the shopping mall, and the migration of many people into urban centres, residents of the Prairies were not nearly as isolated as they had once been.

As a result, there was little need for a catalogue service to market merchandise by mail. The Winnipeg store, run since 1949 by Frank Dojack Jr., eventually found itself a remnant of a former immigrant community that had long since moved away from its traditional home in the North End of the city. In 1984, two years after the death of Frank Jr., Ukrainian Booksellers quietly closed.

Ukrainian Booksellers Recreated in Museum Exhibit

The Canadian Museum of Civilization has recreated an early 20th-century version of Ukrainian Booksellers in its permanent history gallery, Canada Hall. On display now are thousands of goods, publications, and catalogues once stocked by the business.


It has been argued that the mail-order catalogue ushered in the era of mass consumption in Canada, encouraging residents of rural areas to purchase an ever-increasing array of goods previously unavailable to them. In the case of Ukrainian Booksellers, its mail-order catalogue also provided an essential link with the outside world, and in particular, with the Old World.

The goods and services that Frank Dojacek was able to supply through his stores and catalogue business had several positive outcomes. As well as strengthening immigrants' bond with the Old Country and with other members of the ethnic community in Canada, they were effective at providing immigrants with another means of preserving their language, cultural ties, and traditions. Most importantly, they also acted as a measure for easing the difficult transition to the ways of a strange new land.

  European sickles and other tools.  

Enlarge image.European sickles and other tools, 1951.


  Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers 
mail-order form, 1940s.  

Enlarge image.Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers mail-order form, 1940s.



top of page
image image