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For the week of Monday December 6, 1999

On December 8, 1869, Timothy Eaton opened the doors to his store at 178 Yonge Street, Toronto, laying the foundation for what many consider Canada's most important retail revolution!

Timothy Eaton

Timothy Eaton
© Reproduced with kind permission
of the T. Eaton Company

Born in Ireland in 1834, Eaton learned to fend for himself after the death of his mother in 1848. At the age of 13, he became an apprentice at a store and, though treated harshly, came away from the experience with an understanding of the retail industry and a desire to be fair, honest and generous.

At 20, Eaton joined the rest of his family who had already moved to Upper Canada. After setting up various enterprises with his brothers in Kirkton and St. Mary's, Eaton moved to Toronto in 1868. The following year he bought William Jennings's dry goods store. Eaton's experiences, ideals and ability to recognize and capitalize on emerging trends culminated in merchandizing innovations which led to profound changes in the way people shopped.

By means of cash sale for a fixed price, frequent discount sales and aggressive advertising, the company prospered and grew. Eaton tapped a developing market by making his store accessible to the growing class of wage earners. His guarantee of "one fair price for all" and "goods satisfactory or money refunded" won the confidence and support of his customers. It did not take long for T. Eaton Co. to outgrow its first location. In 1883, Eaton moved his store to a bigger building at 190 Yonge Street, which became Toronto's first department store.

Reproduced with kind permission of the T. Eaton Company

© Reproduced with kind permission
of the T. Eaton Company

Another innovation came a year later when he introduced a mail-order service using catalogues. This extended the store's influence beyond the city's boundaries and gave Canadians across the country access to goods otherwise not available. Through mass appeal, Eaton created a market which required constant expansion to keep up with demand. In 1905, Eaton took the first step to establish a national chain by opening a branch store in Winnipeg.

Timothy Eaton died in 1907, but his influence continued to be felt in such industries as manufacturing (Eaton's manufactured many of its own products), construction, transportation and, of course, retail. His fair treatment of employees was notable for the time. Eaton changed the way Canadians shopped by adapting to their needs and, in the process, created a national icon.

Timothy Eaton is commemorated by a Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque in Toronto, Ontario.

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