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Eaton's Winnipeg and Toronto Catalogues Compared
by Catherine C. Cole

In 1905, John C. Eaton convinced his father Timothy that there was a growing market in Winnipeg and Western Canada that should be met by a regional catalogue. Eaton's faced competition from a number of western department stores and local stores, but captured a huge share of the market. Until the Second World War, the Toronto and Winnipeg catalogues were different in structure, goods offered, and descriptions, as Eaton's successfully targeted the western market.

  Eaton's Fall Winter 1904-05, cover.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's (Toronto) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1904-05.

  Eaton's Spring Summer 1919, cover.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's (Winnipeg) Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1919.


Eaton's in Winnipeg | Marketing to Practical, Individualistic Men in the West | Clothing for Cold Weather | Overalls as Practical, Patriotic Workwear | Comfort over Fashion in Women's Clothing | Larger Sizes in the West | Stylish or Strong Footwear | Children's Clothing | Homemade Entertainment | Farm Machinery | The Imperial Brand | Cream Separators | Edgerite Tools | Harness | Automobile Supplies| Conclusion |Further Reading

In the early 20th century, a number of western department stores published mail-order catalogues. Eaton's and Simpson's produced the largest catalogues. Eaton's replaced its Toronto catalogue with one published by the Winnipeg store in 1905. Simpson's continued to publish in Toronto, but built a warehouse in Regina in 1916 to facilitate shipments to Western Canada. The Hudson's Bay Company published a catalogue from 1896 to 1913, Woodward's from 1898 to 1953, and Army and Navy from 1919 to 1986. The Hudson's Bay Company was managed from England and did not understand the potential for growth in Western Canada so decided not to compete with Eaton's. Woodward's held its own in British Columbia for many years. Army and Navy, being a discount line, did not compete directly with Eaton's and Simpson's. Individual stores also published their own smaller catalogues.

  Simpson's Fall Winter 1917-18, cover  

Enlarge image.Simpson's Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1917-18, cover.

  Hudson's Bay Company Autumn Winter 
1910-11, cover.  

Enlarge image.Hudson's Bay Company Fall/Winter Catalogue, No. 58, 1910-11, cover.

  Woodward's Spring Summer 1919, cover.  

Enlarge image.Woodward's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1919, cover.

  50th Anniversary, Army and Navy 1969, 

Enlarge image.50th Anniversary Issue, Army and Navy Catalogue, 1969.


Eaton's in Winnipeg

The Eaton's catalogue was predominant in Western Canada. John C. Eaton, Timothy's son, developed the Winnipeg store and mail-order business. Timothy thought that Winnipeg, the Hudson's Bay Company's base in Canada, was too small to support a second large department store. But, John C. pointed out that Winnipeg's growth rate was faster than Toronto's; at the time, there were half a million immigrants west of Winnipeg, many of whom were Americans used to dealing with Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck.


  Timothy Eaton, Eaton's Souvenir 
Booklet, ca 1905-10.  

Enlarge image.Timothy Eaton, Souvenir Booklet, ca 1905-07.

  John C. Eaton, Eaton's Souvenir 
Booklet, ca 1905-10.  

Enlarge image.John C. Eaton, Souvenir Booklet, ca 1905-07.



The first Winnipeg catalogue was published with little fanfare. The cover showed a woman fashionably dressed in a fur coat, drawing back the curtain to reveal the new Winnipeg store. In 1907, mail-order stock was separated from retail and the department moved to the top three floors of the Winnipeg store. In 1909, the department was organized into separate departments and began to purchase its own stock. In 1916, a new building behind the store provided five acres {16 hectares] of space for the mail-order department. A second huge building was built in 1921. Eaton's established distribution centres in Saskatoon in 1915 and Regina in 1917. Other large Eaton's stores opened in the West: Regina in 1926, Saskatoon in 1928, and Calgary and Edmonton in 1929. New branch stores carried a more limited range of goods in smaller centres.


  Eaton's store, Winnipeg, ca 1910.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's Winnipeg store, from a set of stereoscopic images, ca 1910.

  Eaton's mail-order department, ca 

Enlarge image.Eaton's Winnipeg mail-order operation, from a set of stereoscopic images, ca 1910.


There was a strong relationship between Eaton's stores and the catalogues: The stores had a "Farmers' Waiting Room" for the use of rural shoppers visiting from out of town and invited visitors to the city to see the full range of goods and services that supported the catalogue. The catalogue also provided a "Personal Shopper" who would scour the Winnipeg store for items not found on the catalogue pages.

Marketing to Practical, Individualistic Men in the West

  Eaton's Spring Summer 1916, 
p. 97.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's (Winnipeg) Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1916, p. 97.


A comparison of the Toronto and Winnipeg catalogues reveals that Eaton's adapted itself to the needs of people living in Western Canada. The catalogues were different in format, structure, contents, pricing, and marketing. Unlike the Toronto catalogue, which catered to working women in cities as well as to rural women, the Winnipeg catalogue catered more to rural men and their wives. There were far more single men in the West than women. This emphasis is apparent from a glance at the layout of the catalogue. Initially, Winnipeg placed menswear at the front; even after conforming to the industry norm of opening with ladies' wear, menswear continued to have more prominence on its pages.

   Slicker coat (detail), Eaton's Fall 
Winter 1919-20.   

Slicker coat from Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1919-20, (detail).

Enlarge image.

Eaton's stated that it understood the preferences of western men. For example, a suit with an unusual dip in the front was remarked upon as being very popular in the West but did not appear in the Toronto catalogue. Phrases such as "Real Men," "The Broncho Shirt," and "The Harvester" were featured in early catalogues. Later catalogues endeavoured to appeal to the western masculine psyche: Phrases such as "More and more Western Men are demanding style and distinctiveness in clothes," "Offering to every Western man," and "A Western Canada Favorite" are common. Eaton's assured patrons that "Your needs — your preferences — your clothing habits — as we know them from our years of supplying men of the West — are our guides in planning this catalogue." Customers were advised of the practicality of Eaton's menswear. Phrases such as "Practical Garments for Practical Men" and "The 'Common Sense' Idea Behind All EATON Men's Clothing" were written to appeal to western buyers.

Clothing for Cold Weather

   Burberry coat (detail), Eaton's Fall 
Winter 1926-27.   

Burberry coat from Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1926-27, (detail).

Enlarge image.

The Winnipeg catalogues featured more, and more practical, cold-weather clothing. In 1905, the first items in the catalogue were men's overcoats, indicative of the focus on men's clothing for cold weather that was to prevail. The 1907 catalogue described the rigorous winters of the West and advertised coats adapted to withstand severe, cold, and stormy winters. In 1919-20, Winnipeg offered more fur coats, sheepskin coats, overcoats, sweater coats, mackinaws, and norfolks, and fewer cloth coats, stoles, and muffs. Toronto sold raincoats, whereas Winnipeg sold slickers and oilskins. Interestingly, at a time when most coats sold for $20 to $30, Winnipeg carried a Burberrys ulster coat for $82.00! This coat was not available through the Toronto catalogue.

The Winnipeg catalogues recognized that westerners spent more time out of doors. Eaton's told its shoppers: "Outdoor men will appreciate 'Buckskein' for comfort just as the Byrd Expedition did when they used it as official equipment on their last survey of the frozen reaches of the Antarctic," and "Materials are chosen with an eye to Western weather and Western conditions - cut and sized with consideration for the activities of Western life - styled directly to the Western fancy."

Overalls as Practical, Patriotic Workwear

  Overalls with shirt and tie, Eaton's 
Fall Winter 1926-27.  

Enlarge image.Overalls worn with a shirt and tie in Ontario, Eaton's (Toronto) Fall/Winter 1926-26, p. 245.

  Overalls with work shirt, Eaton's Fall 
Winter 1919-20.  

Enlarge image.Overalls worn with a work shirt, Eaton's, Winnipeg, Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1919-20.


Overalls were featured in the Winnipeg catalogues and their virtues described in great detail. Compared to an entire section dedicated to workwear in Winnipeg, Toronto carried only one page of overalls. In the Toronto catalogue, overalls were worn with a white shirt and, in some cases, a tie, whereas in Winnipeg they were worn with work shirts. Both catalogues featured "Federation" overalls, but the Winnipeg catalogue provided details of construction features, such as double seats and knees, strong elastic, and denim suspenders. Some of the Toronto models held props, while the Winnipeg models all held hoes and were shown working. Winnipeg's 1935-36 catalogue included a tribute to overalls: "The rugged pioneers of farm and trail, of mine and forest, placed faith in the overall's utility. Today, as in years gone by, the men of farm, forest, mine and railroad, wear the overall."

Ad for Federation overalls, Eaton's 
Spring Summer 1924, pp. 152-53.
   Ad for Federation overalls, Eaton's 
Spring Summer 1924, p. 152-53.   

Advertisement for Federation overalls, Eaton's (Winnipeg) Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1924, p. 152-153.

Enlarge image.
  Women in overalls, Eaton's Spring 
Summer 1918, p. 188.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's (Winnipeg) Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1918, p. 188.


During the First World War, western women were encouraged to do their patriotic duty to contribute to the war effort by wearing overalls, as the women in Great Britain and France did. A western woman was quoted: "They are a sensible garment, and I wouldn't want to wear skirts again around the farm." The Toronto catalogue also carried a selection of women's overalls but they were not highlighted in the same way. Winnipeg continued to show women in overalls in the 1920s, whereas Toronto did not.

Comfort over Fashion in Women's Clothing

Until the 1930s, the Winnipeg catalogues promoted utility, value, and comfort over style in women's clothing. Toronto featured complete ensembles to show how pieces could fit together and showed more garments for specific purposes. In 1918, the Toronto catalogue claimed to be the "Canadian Woman's Own True Fashion Book," a claim not made by Winnipeg. In the 1920s, the Toronto catalogue was written like a fashion magazine, with an attempt at sophistication. Riding habits were available through Winnipeg before they were introduced in Toronto. When Toronto introduced breeches, there were fewer styles to choose from and they were recommended as sportswear.

  Eaton's Spring Summer 1918, 
p. 127.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's (Toronto) Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1918, p. 127.

  Eaton's Spring Summer 1918, 
p. 20.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's (Toronto) Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1918, p. 20.


Toronto showed housedresses "For the Housewife and Her Helper" and aprons for maids, whereas Winnipeg promoted wash dresses for housewives and nurses. Winnipeg showed more housedresses than did Toronto — the ratio was 14 to 8 in 1923-24 fall-and-winter catalogues. Toronto and Winnipeg described the same housedress differently. Toronto noted, "If you are wearing this pretty Checked Gingham Dress even unexpected visitors will not disconcert you for they will find you neatly and becomingly garbed." Winnipeg asserted: "Made in a style that looks well, and one that you will not tire of." There was no suggestion that a woman on the Prairies would be disconcerted if an unexpected visitor found her in a housedress.

  Gingham house dress (detail), Eaton's 
Fall Winter 1923-24, p. 96.  

Enlarge image.Gingham housedress, style no. 60T-644, Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1923-24, p. 96 (detail).

  Eaton's Fall Winter 1923-24, 
p. 101.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's Toronto Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1923-24, p. 101, style no. 98-6656.


Larger Sizes in the West

Winnipeg consistently showed garments on larger, full-figured women. The same styles often looked different because of the models used. For example, an apron shown in Toronto on a slim, fashionable model, was shown on an overweight, matronly-looking woman in Winnipeg. At the same time, Toronto tended to be more diplomatic, using the phrases "larger sizes" or "extra size," whereas Winnipeg referred to "stout women." In 1919, Winnipeg carried ten dresses recommended for stout figures, compared to only three in Toronto.

  Women's aprons, Eaton's Fall Winter 
1919-20, p. 315.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's Winnipeg Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1919-20, p. 315.

  Eaton's Fall Winter 1919-20, 
p. 166.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's (Toronto) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1919-20, p. 166.


One aspect of the catalogue that was markedly different was that of ladies' undergarments. The Toronto spring-and-summer catalogue of 1915 began with stylish models, then showed the more serviceable ones, whereas the Winnipeg catalogue showed serviceable models first.

  Eaton's Spring Summer 1915, 
p. 113.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's Toronto Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1915, p. 113.


Toronto said the Nemo "self-reducing corset" is "specially adapted for short, stout women who require a general figure reduction and a moderate degree of abdominal support." Winnipeg illustrated the Nemo against a backdrop of a woman working in the fields and described it as "a particularly good corset for the housekeeper, as it is so strong, serviceable and comfortable" and an "Excellent model for women who are hard on their corsets."

   Women's corsets, Eaton's Spring Summer 
1915, p. 113.   

Eaton's (Winnipeg) Spring/Summer Catalogue, Winnipeg, 1915, p. 113.

Enlarge image.

Toronto introduced pretty lingerie, brassieres, and bandeaus in 1919, before Winnipeg. Winnipeg continued to place more emphasis on corsets than brassieres and bandeaus throughout the 1920s and featured more short and extra-size garments as well as illustrations of larger women.


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