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Montréal's St. Catherine Street Shopping District
by Alan M. Stewart

Until 1890, Montréal's major department stores were concentrated in a fashionable shopping district in Old Montréal. Within a decade, all but one had relocated to St. Catherine Street, between Bleury and de la Montagne. The move coincided with the transformation of space in Montréal. These grand and spacious stores, as well as their mail-order operations, contributed to a new type of shopping experience.

  Map of downtown Montreal showing St. 
Catherine Street  

Enlarge image.Plan of downtown Montréal showing the main commercial artery, St. Catherine Street, and five department stores.


Carsley's, the First Mail-order Catalogue in Canada | Goodwin's Montreal Limited | From Goodwin's to Eaton's | Scroggie's | Murphy's | Hamilton's and Ogilvy's | Conclusion | Further Reading

With a population of about 325 000 in 1901, Montréal was Canada's pre-eminent metropolis. As the city grew, the urban landscape was transformed. Although Old Montréal retained its role as the city's business district - enhanced by the construction of new office buildings - new districts came into being. Workers travelled greater distances between home and work place. Middle-class families moved to the suburban belt that surrounded the city on its western, northern and eastern flanks. Industrial suburbs emerged to the southwest and east.

  St Catherine Street West, early 20th 

Enlarge image.View of St. Catherine Street West, early 20th century.


The emergence of a distinctively retail axis along St. Catherine Street illustrated that the old-fashioned type of city with its mixture of residence and workplace and commerce, finance and industry - all accessible on foot - was gradually disappearing. The division of Montréal into separate spaces was not unique to Montréal, but the pattern here was quite pronounced. Moreover, mail order played an important role in the process.

  Henry Morgan's store, 1893.  

Enlarge image.Colonial House, Henry Morgan & Co.'s uptown store, St. Catherine Street, Montréal, Quebec, ca 1893.


With the opening of the Morgan's store on Philip's Square in 1891, the shift to St. Catherine Street signalled not only a separation of "uptown" retailing from "downtown" wholesaling and finance, but, for most firms, a significant increase in the scale of their activities. Although the transformation of St. Catherine Street into a major retail artery relied on the importance of a rapidly expanding local market, transactions with out-of-town customers by means of mail order boosted sales considerably.

Six major department stores dominated the retail landscape of English-speaking Montréal by 1895: Henry Morgan, S. Carsley, W. H. Scroggie, John Murphy, Henry and N. E. Hamilton, and James A. Ogilvy & Sons. Of these, the first three operated mail-order lines that endured for decades, even surviving one or more ownership changes in the case of Carsley's and Scroggie's. Murphy's transacted some out-of-town orders, but by 1905 had been absorbed by the Robert Simpson Company, which ran its own catalogue business from Toronto.

Carsley's, the First Mail-order Catalogue in Canada

  Carsley's on Notre Dame Street, early 
20th century.  

Enlarge image.Carsley's store on Notre Dame Street, at the turn of the century. S. Carsley, Fall/Winter Catalogue, No. 28, 1901-02, p. 2.


In 1871, Samuel Carsley established his dry goods store on the north side of Notre Dame Street, just west of Saint-Jean. Through successive expansions in the 1890s and early 1900s, the store ultimately occupied nearly the whole frontage of Notre Dame Street between Saint-Jean and Saint-Pierre, with an extension through to Saint-Jacques.

  Carsley's Fall Winter 1901-02, cover.  

Enlarge image.S. Carsley, Fall/Winter Catalogue, No. 28, 1901-02, cover.


According to its 1899 catalogue, Carsley's pioneered catalogue retailing in Canada, issuing its first catalogue in 1882, two years before the T. Eaton Company of Toronto. By 1894, its "immense mail-order department [was] one of the wonders of the establishment," with hundreds of orders being processed daily. Parcels amounting to $5 or more in value were shipped prepaid to any railroad station within a radius of nearly 1000 kilometres [600 miles], while single pairs of kid gloves were sent post paid anywhere in Canada. Not many Carsley's catalogues are known to have survived.

  Carsley's 1885, cover.  

Enlarge image.S. Carsley Catalogue, 1885.

  Carpet department, Carsley's Spring 
Summer 1902, p. 171.  

Enlarge image.S. Carsley Spring/Summer Catalogue, No. 30, 1902, p. 171.


Issued in 1885, the first surviving catalogue - 23 pages in length without illustrations - bore a long title designed to draw the reader's attention to some of the store's home furnishings: "The perusal of the following pages will be esteemed a favour by S. Carsley, importer of European and Eastern carpets, Iron, Brass and Composite Bedsteads, and all House Furnishing Draperies, Manufacturer of Superior Bedding, English, French, and German Mattresses." The first six pages discussed how in recent years the quality of carpets had deteriorated by the introduction of jute - a defect not shared by Carsley's carpets - and advised customers to beware of the false economy of purchasing "low price carpets for the sake of saving a few cents a yard." Advertising copy made the case for buying floor cloths and linoleum, metal bedsteads, wall hangings, and reed furniture from Carsley's. Prices were indicated for selected goods, but seem to have been incidental to the larger sales message being conveyed.

The 1899 catalogue covered the entire store's spring and summer goods. Considerable effort was taken to educate customers about the desirability of making certain purchases. The pages devoted to each department typically begin with a paragraph explaining what was new and different and how the assortment offered by Carsley's was unequalled. Women were advised:

A well fitting corset is absolutely essential to a good form, without the aid of such, the most perfect figure must lose in contour and appearance. Corset buying with us has been made a study, keeping always in view the necessity of having the very best materials in substance, whilst at the same time demanding the necessary pliability and adaptability to ensure an easy pleasant fit. (Carsley's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1899, p. 42)

Following the store's expansion and reorganization, some departments were better equipped to handle a larger range and volume of merchandise. Carsley's boasted:

The stock of wall papers now on hand is probably the largest in any retail store in Canada and comprises all the newest and best kinds, from the ordinary paper suitable for kitchens, etc., to the exquisite floral and gold effects. Buying wallpaper by sample through our mail order department is easy, expeditious and satisfactory. Write for samples, and you'll have them by return of mail. (Carsley's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1899, p. 113)

Through these promotional texts, customers might learn about the provenance of quality goods, whether the best embroideries "made on the hand looms of St. Gall and Herizoff among the hills of Switzerland"; kid gloves from Grenoble, Paris, and Saint-Denis, France; china from Carlsbad, Haviland, Dresden, Doulton, Wedgwood, Copeland, and Winton; or handkerchiefs from the handlooms of Belgium. Information on the care of these items was occasionally provided. Buyers of Carsley's British-made hosiery were instructed that "soap should never be rubbed on fancy hosiery, use suds only, made of best soaps, wash, dry and iron on wrong side, all this should be done quickly."

  Carsley's uptown store on St. 
Catherine Street.  

Enlarge image.Carsely's after 1909 at its new location occupying part of the block on St. Catherine Street between University and Victoria.


In 1906, Carsley's, having delayed its move to St. Catherine Street for a full decade after other major department stores had left the business district, aggressively planned its entry uptown. By purchasing the property leased by Scroggie's department store, Carsley's acquired a prime location on St. Catherine between University and Victoria and forced one of its major competitors to relocate. Carsley's did not take possession of the premises until May 1909, when Scroggie's lease expired, but began buying properties behind the store in anticipation of an extensive building program.

Goodwin's Montreal Limited

  Goodwin's, Montreal, early 20th 

Enlarge image.Building housing Goodwin's store, early 20th century.


Within five months of opening its new premises in May 1909, Carsley's sold its business to A. E. Rea & Company. The latter began construction of an extension that more than doubled the floor area. The store was known as Rea's until 1911 when, after W. H. Goodwin became managing director, it became Goodwin's Montreal Limited and then simply Goodwin's Limited.


  Goodwin's Fall Winter 1911-12, cover.  

Enlarge image.Goodwin's Limited Fall/Winter Catalogue, No. 4, 1911-12, cover.

  Women's undergarments, Goodwin's Fall 
Winter 1911-12, p. 39.  

Enlarge image.Women's undergarments available at Goodwin's. Goodwin's Limited Fall/Winter Catalogue, No. 4, 1911-12, p. 39.


The only known surviving Goodwin's catalogue is the one issued immediately after the restructuring of the company, i.e., Fall/Winter 1911-1912. As a successor to Carsley's, Goodwin's inherited the mail-order operation but overhauled it. While Carsley's catalogue was printed in large format on cheap paper with simple illustrations, Goodwin's was smaller in size and communicated elegance, from the tasteful green cover featuring an illustration of the store through the 112 pages with their fine line drawings. A French version was also available.

Goodwin's advised customers that shopping by mail cost little more while guaranteeing satisfaction. It promised them the best goods at the lowest prices, delivered free to the nearest town. Claiming to be the only department store in Canada to do so, it confirmed that "ALL goods listed in our catalogue are delivered free to your nearest Railroad Station anywhere in Canada." For orders sent by mail and worth more than 50 cents Goodwin's recommended customers pay an additional two cents to guarantee safe delivery. In the "event of any dissatisfaction whatsoever," the store guaranteed to exchange the merchandise or refund the customer's money and return shipping charges.

From Goodwin's to Eaton's

In 1925, the T. Eaton Company purchased the store and property. Over the next few years, Eaton's rebuilt the store, proceeding section by section so as to limit the disruption of business. When finished, the store stood six stories high; another three stories were added in 1930—31. Eaton's acquired Goodwin's to gain a foothold in Montréal and to establish distribution facilities for the largely French-speaking market of Quebec. Eaton's opened a mail-order showroom on Bleury and, three years later, a fully automated mail-order operation on Mont-Royal Avenue East. Intended to speed up processing and reduce costs, this new facility could not survive the rapidly declining sales during the early Depression and closed in 1931. Eaton's increased its visibility throughout Montréal and Quebec with the elegant store on St. Catherine Street and the French catalogue that was introduced in 1928.


  W. H. Scroggie's store, 1905.  

Enlarge image.W. H. Scroggie's store in 1905.


Although Morgan's was the first of the large department stores to open its doors on St. Catherine Street, William H. Scroggie had operated his dry goods store at the corner of St. Catherine and University since about 1885. In fifteen years, Scroggie expanded and transformed his business, creating a department store that occupied the Queen's Block between University and Victoria. By 1904, his store consisted of a four-storey central portion with three-storey wings.

When Scroggie's entered the mail-order business is unclear, although it may have been after the store's first expansion in 1892. By 1903, it carried on an "extensive mail order business ... throughout the Dominion." Two years later, it styled itself "The Mail Order House of Eastern Canada," with the biggest business east of Ontario. Scroggie's mail-order sales pitch was all enthusiasm. Whether it was a question of how to send money - by express money order, postal note, or postal money order - or the cheapest, most reliable means of shipping goods (express was recommended for parcels between 2 and 25 pounds and freight for goods over 25 pounds), Scroggie's spring-and-summer catalogue of 1905 provided the customer with necessary information.

  W.  H.  Scroggie Spring Summer 1905, 

Enlarge image.W. H. Scroggie Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1905, cover.

  W.  H. Scroggie Spring Summer 1908, 

Enlarge image.W. H. Scroggie Spring/Summer Catalogue 1908, cover.


Scroggie's policy translated into key selling points. In 1905, the store promised to fill orders the day they were received; it offered savings of 10 per cent to 20 per cent compared to other stores; and, for dry goods of $5 or more and bulky merchandise of $10 or more, it paid freight charges to railroad stations within nearly 500 kilometres [300 mile] of Montréal. By 1910, the promise of free delivery (with exceptions such as sugar, flour, mattresses, and appliances) extended throughout Canada on orders over $25. Scroggie's emphasized that shopping at its store was safe: With the exception of millinery, toiletries or cut fabric, it promised to refund the money on the return of a purchase. Every parcel was stamped with a "seal of satisfaction."

Improved service soon extended to French customers. While the 1905 catalogue told French clients that "nous préférons que vous nous écrivez en Anglais" [we prefer that you write to us in English], by 1908, catalogues were being issued in French. The company offered to send French catalogues to customers who had received English ones by mistake. In this regard Scroggie's was 20 years ahead of its Toronto-based competitors, Eaton's and Simpson's.

  W.  H. Scroggie Vente de Janvier et 
de Février 1910, cover.  

Enlarge image.W. H. Scroggie January/February Sale Catalogue, 1910, cover.

  Corsets for women and children, W.  H. 
Scroggie Vente de Janvier et de Février 1910, p. 16.  

Enlarge image.Corsets for women and children. W. H. Scroggie January/February Sale Catalogue, 1910, p. 16.

  Furs, W.  H. Scroggie Vente de Janvier 
et de Février, 1910, p. 20.  

Enlarge image.Furs from W. H. Scroggie January/February Sale Catalogue, 1910, p. 20.


For four years after Carsley's purchased the building in 1909, Scroggie's leased the cramped, two-story premises formerly occupied by Hamilton's at the southeast corner of St. Catherine and Peel. In November 1913, having negotiated a 19-and-a-half-year lease, Scroggie's moved into what was then the city's largest department store, a new, six-storey building on the south side of St. Catherine, between Bleury and Saint-Alexandre. In 1915, Scroggie's sold its operations to Almy's Limited, a company representing American interests from New York and Massachusetts. Almy's kept the business going, with a mail-order division occupying most of the sixth floor, until 1922 when it ceased activity.


In 1869, John Murphy established his dry goods store in a new five-storey remained and prospered at this location for a quarter century notwithstanding the competition from Samuel Carsley who, in 1871, opened his own department store next door. By 1890, Murphy's was active in mail order: "Orders from the country always receive our best attention and samples sent when requested. We keep a staff of hands who give their whole attention to letter orders."

  John Murphy's store, St. Catherine 
Street, 1909.  

Enlarge image.John Murphy's store, St. Catherine Street, 1909.


Squeezed by Carsley's and drawn by the opportunities in Montréal's Golden Square Mile, John Murphy & Company abandoned Old Montréal for St. Catherine Street, where it opened in a new five-storey building at the corner of Metcalfe in 1893. Presumably the mail-order division remained an integral part of the store. A year after the reorganization of Murphy's as a limited liability company in 1904, the Robert Simpson Company acquired a controlling interest, but continued to operate the store under the Murphy name. The store was extended in 1909-10 to occupy the western half of the block between Metcalfe and Mansfield Streets. In 1929, it was renamed Robert Simpson Montreal and all its assets were sold to Simpson's Limited, which demolished the building and built a new store covering the width of the block. Simpson's thus assumed a powerful presence on Montréal's premier shopping street.

Hamilton's and Ogilvy's

  Hamilton's store on St. Catherine 
Street, looking west from Peel Street.  

Enlarge image.Hamilton's store and view of St. Catherine's, looking west from Peel Street.


The remaining two department stores that moved their operations to St. Catherine were Hamilton's and Ogilvy's, neither of which was significantly involved in mail order. The origins of the dry goods business of Henry and N. E. Hamilton remain obscure, but, in 1891, the firm was sufficiently large and prosperous that it was able to take over the store vacated by Henry Morgan & Company on Victoria Square. After remaining there for five years, Hamilton's relocated to St. Catherine Street, where it occupied a new two-storey building on the southeast corner of Peel. In 1906, the department store made its final move, this time to the northwest corner of St. Catherine and Drummond where, as its business expanded, it gradually occupied the whole five-storey building by 1915. The firm last renewed its lease in 1925 and within two years ceased operation.

  Ogilvy's ad in Montreal Daily Star, 
March 14, 1910.  

Enlarge image.Ogilvy's advertisement in the Montreal Daily Star, March 14, 1910.


The history of Ogilvy's is unique, since it began neither in the former retail district in Old Montréal, nor on St. Catherine Street. The store, founded by James Ogilvy in 1866 on Saint-Antoine Street, occupied premises at the corner of Saint-Antoine and de la Montagne Streets, on the edge of the uptown district. In the 1880s, the character of the street changed dramatically after the Canadian Pacific Railway built its tracks on the escarpment between Saint-Antoine and the Dorchester terrace. In 1896, James Ogilvy & Sons moved to a three-storey building on the northeast corner of St. Catherine and de la Montagne. Continued growth made further expansion necessary and, rather than enlarge the existing building, in 1909-10, the firm built a new four-storey store, six times greater in area, across the street on the northwest corner of de la Montagne. A fifth storey was added in 1929.


For Montréal's English department stores, the turn of the 19th century marked a period of significant growth and relocation. By 1910, all the major stores had left the business centre in Old Montréal and moved to St. Catherine Street. Although designed to serve the city market, these stores were, in at least four of the six cases, able to reach beyond the limits of that market by means of their mail-order businesses. The catalogue was both a representation of the store and an enticement to visit the store while in town.

  Busy retail scene on St. Catherine 
Street, 1930.  

Enlarge image.Busy scene on the retailing artery of St. Catherine Street, looking east from Stanley, 1930. Many of these buildings are still standing.


The harsher business climate of the 1920s brought business failures and takeovers. Only two of the original six stores - Morgan's and Ogilvy's - survived to 1930. Hamilton's disappeared entirely, while Scroggie's was reorganized by American interests as Almy's before succumbing as well. Murphy's retained its name but was purchased by Toronto-based Simpson's in 1905, while another Toronto giant, Eaton's, acquired Goodwin's in 1925. A strong French-Canadian competitor, Dupuis Frères, emerged on St. Catherine Street, east of the Main. Although in a class of its own, Dupuis was not entirely isolated from the English-speaking department-store industry. In 1910, the company recruited four of its managers from W. H. Scroggie.

Notwithstanding these difficulties and consolidations, the surviving department stores physically expanded during the 1920s, relying on an enlarged local and regional market created by the newspaper, the telephone, the automobile, and the mail-order catalogue. The big stores and big names complemented one another. The result was the commercial artery and shopping habit of St. Catherine Street that attracted Montrealers and well-informed out-of-towners by the thousand. The street and its shops are still very much in vogue.


Further Reading

In addition to the books and magazines below, readers may consult store catalogues. The following can be found at McGill University Rare Books and Special Collections: S. Carsley and Company, Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1899; Goodwin's Limited Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1911-12; W. H. Scroggie Limited Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1905. The McCord Museum of Canadian History holds the W. H. Scroggie Limited Spring/Summer Catalogue for 1908.

Book of Montreal: A Souvenir of Canada's Commercial Metropolis. Montréal: Book of Montreal Company, 1903.

Comeau, Michelle. "Les grands magasins de la rue Sainte-Catherine à Montréal: Des lieux de modernisation, d'homogénisation et de différenciation des modes de consommation. " In Material History Review/Revue d'histoire de la culture matérielle (41)(Spring 1995): 58-68.

Communauté urbaine de Montréal. Répertoire d'architecture traditionnelle sur le territoire de la communauté urbaine de Montréal. Les magasins, les cinémas. Montréal: CUM, Service de la planification du territoire, 1985.

Montreal Illustrated, 1894. Montréal: Consolidated Illustrating Company, 1894.

Souvenir Number of the Montreal Daily Star, Reviewing Various Financial and Commercial Interests Represented in the City of Montreal. [Montréal]: Henning and Camp, [1890].

Special Number of the Dominion Illustrated Devoted to Montreal, the Commercial Metropolis of Canada. Montréal: Sabiston Lithographic and Publishing Company, 1891.

Whitefield, Edwin. Topographical Business Directory, Montreal, C.E. Montréal: E. Whitefield, 1864.



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