Sometime at the end of the 19th Century, my grandfather went to work as a fur cutter for one of the most fashionable Hatters and Furriers in the City of Toronto.
Robert Reilly was born and raised in Montréal. He learned the fur trade with Green and Son, Furriers.
Originating in 1832, Greens was a well-established business by 1856 the house itself was valued at £4000 and employing 12 men and 115 women with wages averaging £200 per month. Apparently only 15% of their goods were for home consumption. It was thought at the time that the trade could extend to six times its present importance. This would provide a good working opportunity for an ambitious young man.
Fur cutters earned good wages.
In the 1881 census I found Robert living in a boarding house in the St-Lawrence district of Montreal operated by the widow by the name of Mrs. Thomas Reilly age fifty-nine. This was most likely his mother. He was twenty-one at the time and employed as a fur cutter. It is possible that Robert got some money after the death of his mother in Montréal and this is what helped with his inspiration of Reilly’s in Toronto.
His next appearance is in Toronto in 1891 with wife Clementine and three boys aged eight to two. His wife was from Ontario but his first child was listed as born in Quebec so this would mean he left Montreal shortly after 1883. They also have a domestic living with them implying that he was making a good wage. His occupation at that time is listed as hatter.
R. Reilly had moved Toronto after training with Green and Son. The fur trade was much stronger in Québec than Ontario so in the beginning the most profitable furriers were in Montréal. Reilly’s ambition must have led him to Toronto to establish a new market. He probably kept ties with his Montréal connections, which would have helped.
“In its time it was considered to be one of the most reliable and fashionable Hatters and Furriers in the city.” (Toronto Illustrated 1893).
The store not only sold a complete line of furs and hats for women but also carried silk, Derby and soft hats from London, Canadian and American manufacturers.
Also carried was a full line of ladies and Gents wear. Very much as would have been seen in “Selfridges” a famous British department store.
Reilly continued to keep a factory at 147 Yonge, and it would have been there that Benjamin McEwan would have been employed. Mention was made in (Toronto Illustrated 1893) of the skilled workmanship to come from his factory, stating that he manufactured to order, as well as repaired and altered furs to meet the latest fashion. He supplied not only Toronto but all over the province. The time of the fancy department store has all but vanished and along with it fancy hats and fur coats. Now is the era of warehouse sales and online shopping. Sad to see it all disappear.
*1866 should probably be 1886. Robert did not leave Montréal before 1883 and was born in 1861, so it is impossible that the business was established then as written in “Toronto Illustrated 1893”.