Let's Go Shopping 1948! Secondary Webquest
Introduction | Task | Process
| Evaluation | Conclusion
For over one hundred years, mail-order catalogues have been used to
goods to Canadians. In the past, when many people lived in rural areas
stores nearby, families depended on mail-order catalogues to shop for
toys, kitchen appliances, furniture, and other items. Catalogues such as
Simpson's, and Dupuis Frères brought the images of items only
in big cities to people in even the smallest and most remote communities.
grandparents or great-grandparents may well be able to tell you about the
they had dreaming about the things they would buy from the Eaton's
if only they had magic powers and all the money in the world! Of course,
these dreams came the desire for items that people did not really need and
In this Webquest, you will have the chance to go shopping! You will
about a family that lived in the last century, and you and your classmates
decide what you will buy from the latest Eaton's catalogue: the Fall
Winter 1948-49 catalogue. You will then go back to 1936 and forward
1956 and determine what a family might purchase from catalogues in those
When you have finished, you will compare your shopping experience with
of the other groups in your class, try to determine the reasons for the
in what you ordered, and discuss the role of mail-order catalogues in
our modern consumer society.
When you are finished each day's tasks, or when you have
entire Webquest, try out other fun things to
It is September 1948. You live with your family in rural Canada. Your
has just received the Eaton's Fall and Winter catalogue, only one of
major catalogues you will receive this year and the only major catalogue
will receive before next spring. Each member of your family would like to
a few items from the catalogue. However, you have a limited amount of
must stay within your budget. Your task is to learn about your family and
own particular character, think of what you would want to order as a
that family, discuss as a group what you really need and can afford, and
fill out an order form with your family's final selections. You will
travel to 1936 and 1956, and consider how the catalogue order would
what a similar family could afford in those years. You will then return to
21st century, make a collage of the items you ordered, and make a
about your family and its order to the rest of your class.
With the help of your teacher, divide into groups of four or five
These will be your 1948 families.
- As a group, ask your teacher to help you select a family:
Each group should select a different family.
- Read about your family. Fill in Worksheet
as a group.
- On a map of Canada, locate the town where
Fill in Worksheet #2 as a group.
- Decide which family member each of you will be: father, mother, child
2, or 3. Each student must take on a different character.
- Now find out about your character. Working on your own, go to the
to your Family section, and then to your character. Fill in Worksheet
#3 on your own.
- As a group, meet with your family members. Each family member presents
name, age, place of birth, role in family, occupation and interests, and
they want to buy. Find out how much money is available for this order.
back to working on your own.
- Look through the Eaton's Fall and Winter 1948-49
with the links that are provided with your family member's role
and then search the catalogue to find other items that could be of
your character. Make notes of all of the items you would like to buy. Fill
Worksheet #4 on your own.
- Narrow down your list to the items you would most like to buy. Think
you really want each of these items. Fill in Worksheet
#5 on your own.
- Optional: If you have access to a printer, print out the catalogue
each item on your Needs List.
- Fill out an order form for the
on your Needs List. Be sure to include the item name and page number,
and other specific information needed, and cost. Calculate the total cost
your order. How much will it cost? Don't forget the shipping cost to
town and taxes if there are any.
For shipping rates read "Information
about ordering." For sales tax rates, consult the sales
tax information page.
- Meet with the rest of your family. Go over each person's order.
up the total cost of all orders. Are you within budget? If not, as a
which items can be deleted. You must come up with a list that fits within
budget. When you have a list that each family member is satisfied with and
your family can afford, fill out another order
- If you printed out your items in Step 9, assemble one collage of all
each family member ordered, and a second collage of all the items that
- Now it is time to travel to 1936 and 1956. As a group, take your 1948
and try to find equivalent items in the Eaton's Spring and Summer
catalogue and the Eaton's Christmas Book 1956. When similar items
available, select an item that will serve a similar purpose (for example,
instead of winter boots, light gloves instead of winter gloves). When you
found an equivalent item for each, fill out two order forms.
As a group, determine the income for a family like your 1948 family in
1956. How much money would be available in each year for ordering goods
the catalogue? Can you afford the order? Think of reasons why a family
could afford more or fewer goods in 1936 and 1956 than in 1948.
- Changing technologies and fashions
Look at your orders in Step 12. How did types of items change between
1948 and 1956? How did fashions change? Did some items disappear
What replaced them?
Look in each catalogue for examples of items that disappear, appear, or
Here is a list to start you off: clothing such as gloves, corsets, hats;
such as parasols and handkerchiefs; radios; record players; wood stoves;
- Post a large map of Canada on the wall or project onto a screen. Make
to class members about:
- your family (members, income, disposable income) and where you live in
- how catalogue goods arrive at your house: where are they sent from?
do they travel to using which mode of transportation? At which post office
Display on the wall of the classroom your two collages and final order
Make a presentation about:
- each family member, what you wanted to buy and what you finally
- an explanation of how you proceeded from your wants to your needs
and as a family.
Discuss what was challenging about this task.
Present your catalogue orders in 1936 and 1956. Looking at your three
from 1936, 1948, and 1956 , point out which items changed, which items
and other changes you found in the items available. Present the income and
income available to a family like yours in 1936 and 1956, and whether or
the money could pay for the order in those years.
- Concluding class discussion
As a class, discuss the differences and similarities in the goods
by the five families in 1948. What accounts for these similarities and
Some factors to consider are regional variations, living in town or
and individual desires and values.
As a class, discuss the changes between 1936, 1948, and 1956 in goods
How did the selection of goods change? How did fashions and technologies
Did buying power increase or decrease during this period? Why?
It has been suggested that Canada's consumer society blossomed
the Second World War. Until that time, most people purchased what they
and had little money for extras. After the War, disposable incomes grew
goods available increased. This trend of increasing consumerism has
to this day. How did mail-order catalogues contribute to consumerism
1936 and 1956? Was their impact positive or negative?
Here is the grading rubric.
In 1948, mail-order catalogues were an important part of the lives and
of most Canadians. With the assistance of an efficient postal system and
railways, mail-order catalogues provided the means of selling a wide
of clothing, toys, furniture, and other consumer goods to rural Canadian
These catalogues must have led to a lot of dreaming and wishing, bringing
images of clothing and other items from across Canada and all around the
into people's lives in even the smallest towns.
After completing this Webquest, we hope that you have a better
of the goods that were available to Canadians in mail-order catalogues in
1930s, '40s and '50s, and some families that lived then. We also hope that
have learned how these catalogues contributed to the growth of consumerism
made it more difficult for people to balance their wishes with their needs
their budgets. Finally, we hope you have discovered how fascinating and
old mail-order catalogues can be, and that you will return to our site
to do more shopping!