Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Eaton's was once Canada's largest department store retailer. Founded in Toronto by Timothy Eaton, an Irish immigrant, in 1869, Eaton's first advertisement read "We propose to sell our goods for CASH ONLY – In selling goods, to have only one price." In an era where haggling for goods was commonplace, this was a revolutionary business practice.
Eaton's was well known for its customer service, as expressed in its long-standing slogan "Goods Satisfactory or Money Refunded."
In 1883, Timothy Eaton opened a new four-storey department store in downtown Toronto, and by the time he died in 1907, Eaton's had two large stores and a Canada-wide mail-order service, which was no small feat in the days before mass transportation.
The Eaton's catalogue, which was nicknamed the Homesteader's Bible, became an icon of Canadian culture, even appearing in many works of Canadian literature. Most famously, in Roch Carrier's story "The Hockey Sweater," a young Québécois boy asks his mother for a Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey from the Eaton's catalogue, but receives a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey instead. Due to 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 don't wish to offend Mr. Eaton by returning it. The Eaton's catalogue was discontinued in 1976.
Eaton's was also well known for giving back to the community as exemplified in its sponsorship of the annual Toronto Santa Claus Parade. By the 1950s, the parade was the largest in North America, stretching for a mile and a half and involving 1,000 participants.
In 1977, the crown jewel of the Eaton's empire, the Toronto Eaton Centre, opened in downtown Toronto, replacing two previous downtown Eaton's stores. The massive complex, stretching 400 m on several levels from Dundas to Queen Street and boasting 200 stores, was anchored at the north end by an immense nine-storey Eaton's.
In the 1970s, Eaton's tried to expand its reach in Canadian retailing by opening a chain of discount or "junior" department stores called Horizon. The Horizon chain was closed in 1978. Three of its stores were converted to Eaton's stores, and the others were closed.
However, in Quebec, Eaton's played a very different role in the early 1960s: it was seen by many in the emerging Quebec nationalist movement as a symbol of English Canadian hegemony. It was, for instance, at Eaton's stores that many francophone Québécois reported being told to "speak white," in turn inspiring another famous work of Quebec literature, Michèle Lalonde's poem Speak White. As a consequence, Eaton's stores in Quebec dropped the English possessive in the chain's name, becoming simply Eaton. A few years later it undertook a major effort to woo French language Quebecers, by placing bilingual signs in the stores (long before the Quebec government made laws requiring this) hiring bilingual sales staff and spending millions on marketing efforts in the French language media. A similar effort was made by The Bay (la Baie), the other formerly "English-only" chain in Quebec. As a result, Eaton and the Bay grew and grew again in Quebec all through the late 1960s and 1970s by taking a large part of the customer base which had formerly gone to "French-only" department stores such as Sauvé and Dupuis, which eventually closed down.
Eaton's continued to thrive through the 1980s, but was hurt in the 1990s by strong competitors such as the Hudson's Bay Company and Sears Canada, and by new specialty stores making their way up from the United States. It filed for bankruptcy protection in 1997. The chain finally folded in 1999 after a failed initial public offering, and its assets were acquired by Sears Canada.
Sears closed some Eaton's stores, converted others to Sears stores, and kept a number of stores with the intention of relaunching eatons as a more hip, modern brand, with a lowercase "e" in a circle as its logo and a splashy ad campaign built around the colour aubergine. However, that experiment didn't last, and in 2002 Sears folded the eatons name and converted the remaining stores to Sears, including the flagship Eaton Centre store in downtown Toronto. However, the mall is still known as the Toronto Eaton Centre.
After being closed for several years following Eaton's bankruptcy, the famous 9th floor restaurant in the downtown Montreal store was recently restored by Fournier, Gersovitz, Moss et associés, a Montreal architectural firm. It is protected as a registered historical site, because of its rich Art deco design.
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