He followed two older brothers and first settled in Upper Canada . His first venture in 1856 was a bakery in Kirkton, which they moverd to St-Mary’s, Ontario, which failed shortly after it started.
Eaton married Margaret Wilson Beattie on May 28th 1862. They would have five sons and three daughters. One of these sons, John Craig, would succeed him as president of Eaton after his death in 1907.
He began The T. Eaton department store in Toronto in 1869 when he purchased a dry-goods and haberdashery business at 178 Yonge Street. He did not believe in credit instead, introducing Canadians to fixed prices and no bartering. He also treated his employees with respect by closing at 6pm and giving them Saturday afternoons off to spend with family.
The store slogan was “Goods Satisfactory or Money Refunded.”
By 1884 he introduced the mail-order catalogue thus reaching out to rural populations. The arrival of the catalogue was a major event in small towns. It offered not only household gadgets and clothing but also such things as milking machines. At one point they even sold houses through the catalogue. Eaton’s would deliver all the materials to build the prefabricated house. Some of those houses still exist, mainly in Canada’s west.
I found an interesting article that mentions how the catalogue became an icon of Canadian culture, even appearing in many works of Canadian literature. “In Roch Carrier's story The Hockey Sweater, a young Quebec boy asks his mother for a Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey from the Eaton's catalogue, but receives a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey instead. As the family is francophone, the mother does not order using the catalogue forms but instead writes a note and sends money to the department store. Because of the prevalent language and cultural barriers of the English- and French-speaking Canadian populations, his family is unaware that the item could be exchanged, and they do not wish to offend Mr. Eaton by returning it.”
Timothy Eaton died in 1907 from pneumonia. He is buried in the Eaton family mausoleum in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto. When he died, his son John Craig Eaton inherited $5-million and the family business. It continued to flourish under his leadership. John Craig succumbed to the pneumonia as did his father and died in 1922 at a young age of fifty-six. John Craig’s son was too young to take over the helm at that time so a family cousin stepped in.
In 1914 “The Timothy Eaton Memorial Church” at St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto was erected in his honor through money donated by John Craig. There is also a town Etonia, Saskatchewan named for him.
During the war Eaton shipped gift baskets overseas to lighten the load of the men fighting for their country.
In 1919, two life size bronze statues of Timothy were donated by the Eaton’s employees commemorating the 50th anniversary of the company. One went to Winnipeg and the other Toronto. This was also in thanks to the company for securing the jobs of those who fought overseas during the War.
The final Eaton to be in charge of the department store was George Ross Eaton, David’ son. Unfortunately in the second half of the 20th century Eaton’s lost touch with their clientele and both service and value began to falter. The young Eaton was more interested and successful in car racing than the business, and from 1987 to 1997 under his direction the store declined, from once having 60% of the market to 10%.
It was in 1997 they filed for bankruptcy and the last of the stores closed in 1999.
After the bankruptcy Sears purchased Eaton’s corporate assets including all the shares and eight of its stores, with an option on five more. The price tag was $50M. It also bought the Eaton trademarks, brands and their website.
The Eaton family was not without hardship however. One of Timothy’s daughter’s survived the sinking of the ship the RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland in 1915 but his granddaughter Iris perished. Also a great great granddaughter was murdered in 1985 by a childhood friend deemed not guilty by reason of insanity.
Lately I have been enjoying the mini-series Mr. Selfridge. It takes me back to a time when Eaton’s would have been thriving in Toronto. It would seem that both Selfridge and Eaton and most certainly other business men of the era had a recipe for success with the launching of department stores.
As a child growing up in Toronto, it was always a treat to go to Eaton’s. Our most favourite time to visit the Eaton Department store was just before Christmas. There was a wonderful animated window display. Our father used to make a special trip in the evening when it was dark so we could see the window lit up after the store had closed.
We also enjoyed the annual Christmas parade, sometimes watching from the windows of the building where my father worked and other times right on the street where the action took place. The floats were numerous, each year it seemed to grow bigger and it was always exciting to see the final float with Santa Claus waving to the crowd. There was a particular float with Mother Goose riding a huge goose float that was one of my favourites.
Being let loose in Toyland to admire the newest toys and hope that Santa would bring you the one you desired. Eaton's had a mascot bear at Christmas named Punkinhead. There was someone who dressed up like him and wandered Toyland during the festive season. And of course there was Santa and his elves. We would wait in line to sit on his knee, have our picture taken and tell him what we wanted for Christmas each year. While I liked the idea of Santa, I never really liked the experience that went with it.
As we got a little older my mother would let us wander the store and we would always meet at a decided time at “Timothy’s Toe”. This was the large bronze statue of Timothy Eaton that stood prominently inside the front entrance of the store. We called it “Timothy’s Toe” because the toe was bright and shiny. I recently learned that the reason for this was that people would rub the toe for luck therefore keeping the bronze polished. There was second identical statue at the Winnipeg store. Both statues still exist. The one from Toronto is in the Royal Ontario Museum and the one in Winnipeg is at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. Apparently people still rub the toe for luck.
My great aunt Helen or Nell as she was called worked for the T. Eaton Company before she married in 1922. This would be during the time that Eaton ran a booming business.
Helen (Nell), Edward, and Alma McEwan are the final three children of John McEwan and Janet Stevenson. The had a total of thirteen, of which ten would live to adulthood. An added feature this week called "The Snow Globe". Enjoy.