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Mail Box Before E-commerce: A History of Canadian 
Mail-order Catalogues image
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Fashion to Furnishings
Capturing Customers
Company Histories
Order to Delivery
Catalogues (1880-1975)
Games and Activities

Families Past and Present

Social Studies, History

Change, Ways of life, Ethnicity, Immigration

Mail-order catalogues on this site


  1. Ask students to research their own family history by talking to their parents, grandparents, and other family members.
  2. Ask them to recreate their family in a specific year, such as 1920, 1940, 1960, or 1970.
    • Who were the family members in the selected year and what were their ages?
    • Where did they live?
    • What were the occupations of the income earners and their sources of income?
    • If possible, ask them to estimate what their incomes were and what their disposable income might have been.
  3. Ask students to find out if their families had access to mail-order catalogues in the selected year.
    • What do they remember ordering from catalogues?
    • Are there any pieces of furniture or clothing in their houses today that they recall ordering from a catalogue?
    • If they did not have access to mail-order catalogues, find out where they obtained items such as furniture and clothing.
  4. Ask students to record on paper, audiocassette, or video the memories their parents and grandparents have of mail-order catalogues:
    • What was it like to receive them?
    • What did they want to order?
    • What do they remember ordering?
    • Ask for any other stories they may have about mail order.
  5. Ask each student to make a presentation about his or her family in the selected year. Each student should begin by placing a tack on a large map of the world representing where the family lived and then continue with a presentation of the occupations, incomes, and experiences with mail-order catalogues.
  6. Conclude with a class discussion comparing the experiences of the different families, and comparing experiences of the past with the present day.

This activity can be extended further by challenging students to find items ordered by their families in the historic catalogues on this site.


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