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  Eaton's Grove Cottages, Eaton's Camp 
and Cottage Book 1939, p.46.  

Enlarge image.Many Eaton's prefab cottages are probably still standing today. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1939, p. 46


The Cottager's Catalogue
by Charles Long

Reprinted with permission from Cottage Life.

For a few glorious summers, when the "e" in e–commerce stood for Eaton's, cottagers enjoyed convenience shopping that would be hard to match on the Internet. From about 1934 to 1941, a special catalogue offered up to 50 pages of cottage supplies — everything from fishing worms to the fish themselves, packed in ice and delivered from Toronto to your dock to feed any luckless anglers. And, if you didn't have a cottage in 1934, you could find one on page 28, a two-storey prefab with living room, a kitchen, five bedrooms, and two baths for $1,050. Delivery was free on all but the smallest orders, and Eaton's motto - goods satisfactory or money refunded - promised no disappointment between the ad on the page and the chair on the deck, like the Cape Cod model for $1.75.


  Powdered milk, Eaton's Camp and 
Cottage Book 1939, p. 21.  

Enlarge image.Powdered milk was a boon to cottagers who had no electricity. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1939, p. 21.


Eaton's wasn't alone, of course. Simpson's delivered, as did local merchants. Joyce Graham remembers when both the ice man and the vegetable boat made regular stops at her parents' Georgian Bay island, near Pointe au Baril, Ont. But the big summer order, delivered just after opening, came from the icon of mail order. "I can still picture Mother making her list," Graham recalls, "and it always included powdered milk, 'Klim' they called it … disgusting stuff!"

  Delivery service to cottages, Eaton's 
Camp and Cottage Book 1940, p. 43.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's delivered the goods to cottagers across the country. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1940, p. 43.


Today, those special cottage catalogues are almost as hard to find as cottagers who were old enough to rebel against Klim so long ago. The earliest edition of Eaton's Summer Home Handbook was smaller than the regular catalogue, and much, much slimmer at just 32 pages. They weren't mailed widely, like the regular catalogues, but had to be picked up at the store or requested by mail. The Handbook reappeared annually until 1937 and then returned in 1939 with a few more pages and a new name: Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book.

  Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book 1939, 

Enlarge image.Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1939, cover.


The cottage books didn't mark any grand departure for Eaton's, which began its catalogue business in 1884 (Simpson's followed 10 years later). The company had always sold what we think of as cottage goods — things like oil lamps and fishing tackle. But the idea of a unique cottage market wasn't quite so obvious when ordinary rural residents still used oil lamps and summer homes were for the wealthy few.

  Fishing lure, Eaton's Camp and Cottage 
Book 1940, p. 28.  

Enlarge image.The catalogue sold a variety of fishing lures to enthusiastic anglers. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1940, p. 28.


The "Summer Needs" insert of 1897, for example, ran 13 pages of bicycles before it got around to other "summer requisites" like the "Labrador" icebox ($8.25) and the Arrowwanna woven hammock, with valance and pillow ($1.50). Eaton's didn't remark on whether these were intended for the lake or the backyard.

  Outboard motor, Eaton's Summer Home 
Handbook 1937, p. 28.  

Enlarge image.Large goods, such as motors and boats, could be bought through the catalogue. Eaton's Summer Home Handbook, 1937, p. 28


When the idea of cottage was still in its infancy, Eaton's lumped outdoor enthusiasts together in some unusual combinations. The spring-and-summer catalogue of 1901 divides camping supplies between page 197, where tents share the page with flags and awnings, and the back cover, where camp beds and hammocks appear with lawn mowers and horse nets. The very Methodist Mr Eaton, who wouldn't countenance alcohol, tobacco or playing cards in his catalogues or his stores, had a full page of "Guns, Rifles (and) Ammunition" facing a page of "Bibles, Hymn and Prayer Books" in the same catalogue.

"Sportsmen's Supplies," a special flyer from about 1905, includes a scene from "Lake Rosseau" [sic] in Muskoka, plus illustrations of a camper, a hunter, and a fisherman, all well equipped and therefore successful in their outdoor pursuits. "The object of this booklet is to direct your attention to some of Ontario's beauty spots," the back page claims. "The landscapes you must see to appreciate, and, if you would have game in abundance and fish in plenty, you must visit our forests, lakes and streams. To do so in comfort, it is necessary to be properly equipped. We have studied your needs, so that we are enabled to provide you with everything you require; and that, too, with the minimum of trouble."

  Helpful guides to hunting and fishing, 
Eaton's Summer Home Handbook, 1937, p. 24-25.  

Enlarge image.The catalogue also provided cottagers with helpful guides to hunting and fishing. Eaton's Summer Home Handbook, 1937, p. 24-25.


So little trouble that the booklet ends with a helpful summary of Ontario's fish and game laws.

  Fishing reel, Eaton's Camp and Cottage 
Book 1940, p. 28.  

Enlarge image.All of a cottager's fishing needs could be met through the Eaton's catalogue. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1940, p. 28.


It wasn't until 1934 that Eaton's identified cottaging as a market that might merit its own catalogue. Camping and fishing gear remained with sporting goods in the big catalogues, which continued to be the encyclopedia of everything Canadians might want to buy (except spirits and tobacco; playing cards had made it in). The first Summer Home Handbook did, however, bring cottage essentials together. It must have been a success because the next edition in 1935 announced "Back Again!" and (shades of 1905) included Ontario's fish and game laws plus a fishing guide.

  Eaton's delivers the goods, Eaton's 
Summer Home Handbook, 1937, p. 18-19.  

Enlarge image.Eaton's delivered orders to the nearest station or dock, or even right to the cottage door. Eaton's Summer Home Handbook, 1937, p. 18-19.


Most significantly, the 1935 Handbook introduced a new twist to Eaton's already generous delivery policy. Like modern courier services, mail and freight didn't deliver to cottages as readily as they did to year-round residences. So, for cottagers, Eaton's promised delivery to the nearest steamship dock or railway station and, where possible, "direct to your summer home." If the steamship wouldn't stop at the cottage dock, the local water taxi or freight boat would, and at Eaton's expense.

  Clover Leaf salmon, Eaton's Camp and 
Cottage Book, 1939, p. 10.  

Enlarge image.Canned goods could be stored all summer at the cottage. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1939, p. 10.


The 1936 catalogue put the policy this way: "We have built up a very speedy, close-to-the-camp-or-cottage-as-possible delivery which you'll find it hard to beat ... and EVERY grocery order is packed in convenient-sized boxes strapped for shipping." When perishables were added, like fresh meat, the cottager had to pay the difference between the standard freight rate and express, plus a few pennies for the dry ice in which to pack it.

  Beehive Golden Corn Syrup, Eaton's 
Camp and Cottage Book 1939, p. 9.  

Enlarge image.Many grocery items were available through the Eaton's catalogue. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1939, p. 9.


Otherwise, Eaton's paid the freight on food orders of more than $15 within a radius of 200 miles [322 km] of Toronto. General merchandise was delivered free within the same area, so long as the order was more than $2, or $5 for bulky items like furniture and china. And there was at least one exception by weight. A 1939 summer sale advertised the Brock wood-burning cookstove for $59.85 delivered. But, since the lightest model weighed 470 lbs, Eaton's added this proviso: "Waterfront $5.00 extra."

Given the prices of the day, it's hardly surprising that the company wanted to avoid paying freight on orders of less than $2. Especially with the promise that anything could be returned at Eaton's expense. A box of 50 fresh dew worms cost 65¢. If the fish didn't bite, the worms might be blamed and sent back to Toronto. Likewise, the summer reading. When you could borrow a book from Eaton's Lending Library for 3¢ a day, you could hardly expect them to deliver a novel to your dock and then pay to return it with a full refund if you didn't like the ending. Some customers were almost that demanding. Like the woman who sent back the bedpan she'd had for 13 years because it was now the wrong shape for her bottom. Eaton's sent a full refund.

  Eaton's Summer Home Handbook 1937, 

Enlarge image.Eaton's Summer Home Handbook, 1937, cover.


Cottagers weren't the only group of customers to attract Eaton's attention. The Winnipeg store had a special "Farmers' Waiting Room," with comfy chairs where country patrons could gossip or read while their wives finished shopping. In Ontario, the company published a catalogue for prospectors, carrying much the same goods advertised in the 1937 Summer Home Handbook. Only the names and the prices changed. Cottagers, for example, were offered a 16' Peterborough canoe called "The Competition" for $63.50, while the working woodsmen could buy a virtually identical craft, renamed "The Huron," for $82. Like the cottagers, prospectors could expect Eaton's to deliver the canoe for free. And, as with the cottage fishing guide, Eaton's invited bushwhackers to write for their special prospectors' guide. Whether how-to advice from a Toronto merchant ever led a prospector to the motherlode is less certain than the laughs such an offer would have roused in hard-rock country.

Prospectors didn't enjoy a lot of shopping options. But cottagers, accustomed to Eaton's service in the city, took their consumer habits north, often in direct competition with local suppliers. Noreen Bryson's parents cottaged on Lost Channel, between Severn Falls and Big Chute. "We had all the staples delivered at the beginning of the season," she recalls. "Mother went down to Eaton's [in Toronto] and made out the order at their desk, giving the date we'd arrive at the cottage. The local station had a special storage place where all this stuff would be taken off the train and held for pickup or delivery." Bryson was just a girl at the time, but she suggests that Doug Smith, a local jack of all trades, might have made the last leg of the Eaton's delivery, 7 km down the Severn River to the cottage.

  Kraft Dinner, Eaton's Camp and Cottage 
Book 1939, p. 13.  

Enlarge image.Kraft Dinner was a favourite Canadian food even in the 1930s. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1939, p. 13.


Doug Smith's daughter, Helen Diak, suggests it's possible. Smith, indeed, had a delivery boat, but he usually carried his own merchandise aboard, not Eaton's. "We lived in the community hall, which belonged to the cottage owners' association, and they had an agreement not to sell anything but cigarettes or candy. So Dad couldn't have a store in the house. But he did have a barge with a sort of building on it, stacked with groceries and stuff packed in ice — milk, eggs, cheese. He'd deliver, cottage to cottage. There was no way of calling him [for an order], but he'd do a regular round, maybe twice a week."

  Fishing lures, Eaton's Camp and 
Cottage Book 1940, p. 28.  

Enlarge image.A wide range of lures was available in the catalogue. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1940, p. 28.


Eaton's accepted orders by phone, by mail or at the store. The choice had something to do with convenience, and a lot to do with the difficulties of arranging payment in pre-credit days. It wasn't until 1936 that Eaton's began allowing limited charge accounts. Prior to that, buying was by Timothy Eaton's "strictly cash" policy, or through deposit accounts, whereby customers paid in advance and then deducted future purchases from the balance. Placing an order at the store meant cash, with money and receipts whooshing back and forth from accounting to the sales desk through vacuum tubes. But shopping from the cottage required a money order. That meant cottagers had to visit the local post office to order from Eaton's, and in much of cottage country, the post office and local store were combined. Which left discomfited cottagers filling out money orders for goods that were likely on the store shelves beside them, and the local postmaster/storekeeper glowering back through the wicket.

It's not surprising then that childhood memories — like Noreen Bryson's and Joyce Graham's — are of making the big summer order at Eaton's in Toronto for delivery at the cottage on opening day. That left the rest of the summer for local merchants. Eaton's tried it both ways:

The 1939 Camp and Cottage Book invites those already at the cottage to "Drop us a line! Leave it to these trained, efficient people of our SHOPPING SERVICE to shop for you this summer while you are away at the cottage. Whether it's a certain coloured chair for the porch, new bathing suits for the kiddies … or hampers of delicious foods for particular weekend guests …your order will be filled with utmost care and intelligence … Eaton's is just as near as your nearest mail box."

  Catering to cottagers' every desire, 
Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book 1940, p. 30.  

Enlarge image.The catalogue catered to cottagers' every desire. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1940, p. 30.


On the same page, Eaton's addresses those who have not yet left the city: "When you are in the store be sure and visit the CAMP and COTTAGE SECTION. Main store - Fifth Floor, Queen Street … everything from the knife to scrape the fish, to the pan in which to fry them! Blankets … tents ... lamps … cots … lawn swings … boats … flashlights … furniture … pots and pans. We have set them down in a real out-door setting that will set you all a-tingle to be on the way to your holiday home!" The Fifth Floor sales display even included a fully assembled cottage.

  All-wood outboard motor boat, Eaton's 
Summer Home Handbook 1937, p. 28.  

Enlarge image.High-end goods such as powerboats were sold to well-to-do cottagers. Eaton's Summer Home Handbook, 1937, p. 28.


Such enthusiasm is partly the pitchman's art, but we'd like to believe that it had just a little bit to do with the fact that the Eatons, themselves, were ardent cottagers. Timothy and Mrs Eaton began holidaying at Windermere House in Muskoka in 1885. They bought land across the bay and built Ravenscrag in 1896. A 1923 biography describes their first visit in familiar terms. Arriving late, they stumbled over rocks and trees on their way up to the cottage. "There, Mr Eaton lit the lamp, Mrs Eaton unpacked the basket of cooked things they had brought along with them, the stove was lighted, the tea brewed and the two sat down to their first meal in the new home. 'This is grand, Mother, grand,' said Mr Eaton."

By the time the Summer Home Handbook appeared, R. Y. Eaton, the founder's nephew, was running the company. He, too, was a cottager, first at Port Credit and then at Ryestone, on Georgian Bay. Eaton cottages were always in a class of their own, but the simple pleasure of sitting down to a cup of tea on opening day is a common one, no matter how grand Timothy judged it. Ryestone might have boasted seven bathrooms in the main chalet, but the family still gathered in the evening to watch the sun set.

  Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book 1941, 

Enlarge image.Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1941, cover.


The last Camp and Cottage Book appeared in 1941. The special cottage delivery service continued, however. In 1964, the Superintendent's Office issued "Important Notice No. 92: As in past years, special arrangements have been made to deliver to summer cottages … from [June 9] to Sept. 30th, inclusive. These arrangements … are an extension to our regular Out-of-Town Delivery Policy … [they] consist of paying for trucking services, generally from railway stations to cottages and summer resorts. In some instances it also includes a delivery service by boat, from a steamship dock to a local dock."

The memo goes on to inform staff that the free service should not include uncrating, installation or delivery from the dock to the cottage door.

Local deliverymen were not quite so bound by company rules. Peter Wood, whose father had the Eaton's contract to deliver by truck around Rosseau, helped out until the mid-1960s.

  A radio for the cottage, Eaton's 
Summer Home Handbook, 1937, insert.  

Enlarge image.For those lucky cottagers who had electricity, a radio from the Eaton's catalogue helped them stay well informed throughout the summer. Eaton's Summer Home Handbook, 1937, insert.


"It took three men and a boy to do a cottage delivery," he recalls, "especially if it was something heavy. Pop took one end, my older brothers or cousins took the other, and they'd still need a boy to hold the screen door open. That was me. Some of those paths from road to cottage were like goat paths — quaint and woodsy to walk but a helluva thing to carry a fridge down, especially for the one walking backwards." Frank T. Wood and the boys did more than deliver to the door. They uncrated the big stuff and the crates went home to be play forts. And they hauled away whatever was being replaced, to the dump or if, like an old lawn mower, it had salvageable parts, back to town for recycling into the local economy.

Eaton's customers were not above taking advantage of the firm's old-fashioned dedication to service. One customer ordered something every day and inevitably returned it. When queried, she explained that her dog didn't get enough exercise and needed somebody to chase every day.

  Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book 1940, 

Enlarge image.Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1940, cover.


For Eaton's, delivery was a costly service. And, from the 1950s, the company faced fierce competition from Simpson-Sears. The new mail-order rival did not include the cost of delivery in its published prices, which made their goods look cheaper than Eaton's. Overall, the catalogue division lost $40 million in a decade and closed finally in 1976 amidst a public outpouring of nostalgia for the book that was a country's wish list for nearly a century.

It isn't just one company, but a way of doing business that has faded away. Like Eaton's, the ice man and the vegetable boat no longer call at cottage docks.


  Cottagers enjoy their summers, Eaton's 
Summer Home Handbook, 1937, p. 3.  

Enlarge image.The Eaton's catalogue helped Canadian cottagers enjoy their summer at the lake. Eaton's Summer Home Handbook, 1937, p. 3.

  Spork, Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book 
1941, p. 4-5.  

Enlarge image.Spork was a convenient alternative to fresh meat. Eaton's Camp and Cottage Book, 1941, p. 4-5.


The cottage editions occupied but one brief niche in Eaton's history, but the time and the place they portray remain the central memory for a generation of cottagers. And the forces that led to the rise and fall of Eaton's cottage service remain relevant today. Cottage shoppers still fret over the choice between the city's big-box prices and small-town service, and all retailers face new competition from that other big E on the net. What's lost forever is that $1.75 chair, delivered to the end of the dock, along with a 3¢ novel. Just hold the Klim.



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