From Eaton’s to Sears to Nordstrom

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2014.


Toronto Star, February 8, 1977.

After months of rumours following Sears Canada’s decision to close its Eaton Centre store, Nordstrom announced this morning that it will open at the corner of Yonge and Dundas. Scheduled to open in the fall of 2016, the high-end American retailer plans a three-floor department store; it’ll take up one-third of the space shoppers enjoyed when Eaton’s opened on the site in 1977.

Unlike Nordstrom, it took Eaton’s much longer than three years to get up and running. They first conceived of their plan—a massive, modernized store in the heart of downtown—in 1958. Early proposals called for tearing down Old City Hall and the Church of the Holy Trinity. They called it “Project Viking.”


Eaton’s in 1919. A Souvenir of Eaton’s Golden Jubilee 1869–1919 (Toronto: T. Eaton Co. Ltd., 1919).

Eatons had been on Queen Street, across from Simpsons (now the Bay) from the end of the Victorian era. Besides the main store, it spread out into a series of buildings—some used as retail space, some as office, some as manufacturing—along James Street, something like a polished version of how Honest Ed’s is stitched together. By the 1950s the old store was getting creaky and management wanted a new facility, or at least the chance to fix up what they had on Queen Street, and build a retail/office development around it.

Eaton’s asked numerous architectural firms to draw up plans for a new modern retail/office complex; those plans included the demolition of several historic buildings. Community opposition to the proposal, by this time renamed Eaton Centre, prompted Eaton’s president John David Eaton to cancel the project in May 1967. (He didn’t take it well: Eaton reportedly told associates that they should tell Mayor William Dennison that he could “shove Old City Hall up his ass.”)

Back at the drawing board, plans picked up steam again following discussions with developer Fairview Corporation (later Cadillac Fairview, which still owns the mall). Fairview placed three conditions on its involvement: Old City Hall had to be preserved; Eaton’s would be the main tenant in the office tower at the north end of the project; and Eaton’s had to move its store from Queen Street to Yonge and Dundas. Since Simpson’s was at the south end, this would provide an anchor store at each end of the mall, in a set-up similar to suburban shopping centres. The Eaton family balked at moving the store; it took a year of negotiation before they agreed.


City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 420, Item 16.

Designed by chief architect E.L. Hankinson, plans for the 1 million square foot store included nine floors of retail space, stretching from teen fashions on 3 Below (now the Urban Eatery food court) to home entertainment and kitchen appliances on the sixth. Food offerings included snack stalls; Sir John’s restaurant, which served liquor (a development which would have horrified the store’s teetotaler founder, Timothy Eaton); and, on the sixth floor, the 1,000-seat Marine Room. The new store also offered an 8,500 square foot event space, though it lacked the grandeur of the College Street store’s Eaton Auditorium and Round Room.

On February 5, 1977, both the Queen Street and College Street Eaton’s closed for the last time. Over the next few days, employees, retirees, and shoppers got to preview the new Yonge-Dundas store. Reviews were favourable. “My God, it’s huge,” retiree Alf Ryan told the Star. “You need a compass to get around. I think I like it.”

The store officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on February 10, 1977. Premier William Davis joked that he was anxious for the store to open so that he could start receiving the sales tax. Music was provided by a 70-piece band from Malvern Collegiate and the 48th Highlanders pipe band—selections included patriotic toe-tappers like “Canada” and “A Place to Stand.” Plans for the Fort York Guard fire their muskets were scrapped after rehearsals, when officials decided the noise would upset elderly attendees. The Globe and Mail wrote that the opening day crowd “looked the same as it always does: ladies who answer to ‘duckie’ carting shopping bags, keen-eyed young matrons, youngsters in synthetic down jackets and real jeans, a few men.”

In August 1999, after years of declining sales and bad marketing decisions, Eaton’s filed for bankruptcy. Sears Canada picked up the remnants of Eaton’s two months later and decided to relaunch seven locations, including the Eaton Centre, as an upscale chain. Rechristened eatons (sans capital letter and apostrophe), the new store launched a month behind schedule in November 2000. Despite expensive remodelling and a flashy, aubergine-themed ad campaign, the new chain barely had time to overcome its initial mistakes before Sears threw in the towel in February 2002.

That summer saw the store finish its conversion into a Sears store. There were lingering attempts to carry a more diverse range of products than your average suburban outpost. Floor reduction, which had started in the 1990s, continued. Upper floors were replaced with office space. As Sears Canada’s fortunes declined, rumours ramped up over just how long the Eaton Centre branch would last, a question which was answered last October.

When the eatons brand was retired in 2002, Sears Canada CEO Mark Cohen noted that “The notion that customers see value in a top-drawer, high-priced, somewhat selective assortment is false. [Canadians] value very high levels of presentation and customer service but don’t exhibit any desire to pay for it.” Yet high-end retail has increased in recent years as the gap between upscale and downmarket merchants widens. It remains to be seen if Toronto will support three Nordstrom locations (Eaton Centre, Sherway Gardens, and Yorkdale), or if we’ll be writing about other branding change at Yonge and Dundas a decade from now.

Sources: The Eatons: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Royal Family by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999), the February 11, 1977 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the February 7, 1977, February 8, 1977, February 10, 1977, and February 19, 2002 editions of the Toronto Star.


Nordstrom opened its doors as this article predicted, welcoming its first customers in September 2016. But, like lower-case eatons, it did not prove a roaring success over the long run. In March 2023 Nordstrom’s announced it was closing its Canadian division. So yes, less than a decade later we’ll be writing about a branding change if another department store chain decides to occupy some of the store’s space.

Opening Maple Leaf Gardens

This post is an expanded version of a “Historicist” column originally published on Torontoist on November 14, 2009.

Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Chicago Black Hawks on opening night of Maple Leaf Gardens, November 12, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 25811.

“The accolades were not out of place. There was simply nothing like Maple Leaf Gardens anywhere in Canada, writer Kelly McParland observed in his biography of Conn Smythe. “It was more than just a step-up on the old, cramped, badly ventilated Arena Gardens; it was a generation or more ahead of any other building in the country. It was clean, comfortable, and welcoming.”

Built in an almost unimaginable span of five months, the building that became a temple for generations of hockey fans is a testament to the executives who used their persuasive skills to raise the necessary funds during the Great Depression.

Hap Day and Conn Smythe, likely celebrating the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup victory, April 16, 1949. Day was on the Leafs roster when the Gardens opened. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 132809.

From the dawn of the National Hockey League in 1917, its Toronto franchises had called the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street home. By the late 1920s, its small capacity (eight thousand seats) and lack of amenities like reliable heating led Smythe, the Maple Leafs’ general manager and part-owner, to push for a new facility at any opportunity. Larger arenas in ChicagoDetroit, and New York allowed those teams to offer higher salaries to top players, which made Smythe fear that Toronto’s limited financial resources would leave the team uncompetitive. He also felt the arena’s drawbacks prevented a higher-quality clientele from attending games. As he told the Star’s Greg Clark, “As a place to go all dressed up, we don’t compete with the comfort of theatres and other places where people can spend their money. We need a place where people can go in evening clothes, if they want to come there from a party or dinner. We need at least twelve thousand seats, everything new and clean, a place that people can be proud to take their wives or girlfriends to.”

Toronto Star, January 9, 1931.

By early 1931, Maple Leaf Gardens Limited was established to raise funds for a new building. The first site considered was at Yonge and Fleet (present-day Lake Shore Boulevard) on property owned by the Toronto Harbour Commission. The company then looked at land that had belonged to Knox College on Spadina Crescent north of College Street, but faced opposition from nearby businesses. The same site was part of an arena proposal made by a set of unrelated financial investors was announced in early 1931, which was opposed by nearby residents spearheaded by future Toronto mayor Nathan Phillips and a pair of local clergymen. Smythe admitted the Spadina plan mystified him, but it provided the motivation to prod the team’s directors to speed up the site finding process.

John David Eaton and Lady Flora Eaton at opening of Eaton’s College Street store, October 1930. Fonds 1244, Item 1638.

Smythe and Maple Leafs director Ed Bickle negotiated with Eaton’s throughout 1930. The department store opened its College Street location (now College Park) that year and was open to drawing more customers from a nearby arena, even if its clientele might not be the type of people they hoped to attract to their frou-frou new store. Eaton’s owned land along Church Street between Alexander and Wood streets, but there was one holdout lot within the land parcel. Charles Carmichael demanded $75,000 for his property at 60 Wood Street, even though its value was closer to $10,000. When Carmichael continued to hold out, discussions began over Eaton-owned property at Carlton and Church, a site Smythe preferred due to its direct access to streetcar service.

Negotiations dragged on for months, with Eaton’s proposing several ideas that kept the arena out of sight of the upper class clientele they wanted to bring into the neighbourhood, including workarounds on Wood Street to dodge Carmichael’s property. Bickle pointed out that the arena could serve plenty of useful other purposes, such as convention space, and even proposed naming the building “Eatonia Gardens.”

A breakthrough came in January 1931. The Yonge and Fleet site was rejected for good after a $100,000 kickback was demanded by a party involved in the sale. Eaton’s decided to sell the Carlton and Church site, though it maintained the right to approve the exterior design of the arena. This would not prove a problem as the architectural firm hired, Ross and Macdonald, had also designed Eaton’s College Street. Eaton’s would also receive $25,000 worth of stock.

Directors of Maple Leaf Gardens, Ltd., 1931. Excerpt of opening night program reprinted in Maple Leaf Gardens: Fifty Years of History.

Beyond the clout of fellow Maple Leafs directors such as mining executive J.P. Bickell in calling in favours with other businessmen, Smythe used all of his powers of persuasion to convince others to invest in the new arena. As Trent Frayne described him in a 1999 Globe and Mail profile:

Smythe wasn’t a big fellow, but he could dominate a room. His bright blue eyes were his most revealing physical aspect—warm and welcoming sometimes, colder than ice cubes other times. He was often intimidating, as often charming. He was described once by a friend as a “practical mystic. He believed in playing hunches and he believed in luck; mix his superstitions with his practical ability and you had him, a belligerent Irishman.” He was stocky and big-chested. He wore pearl grey spats and an off-white Borsalino fedora. He could be somewhat acerbic.

Sketch of Maple Leaf Gardens as it was first unveiled in the press. The Telegram, March 5, 1931.

Smythe, Bickell, and the other executives prodded local business titans to invest, despite questions about the timing of building a $1.5 million facility. As Elias Rogers Coal head Alf Rogers asked Bickell, “Don’t you know there’s a depression on?” (Rogers eventually bought twenty-five thousand dollars worth of stock).

Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. was incorporated on February 24, 1931. Its prospectus promised potential investors that as few as five shares “would make you as enthusiastic a fan as the wealthiest subscriber.” Gardens shares were touted as excellent gifts and positioned as a way to build a financial trust for children.

When construction bids were tendered, the Gardens found itself $250,000 short of financing the lowest offer. When Smythe came out of a meeting with the Gardens board and bankers indicating that they felt construction should be delayed for a year, Maple Leafs business manager Frank Selke ran down to an Allied Building Trades Council meeting on Church Street. Selke, who also served gratis as the business manager of an electrician’s union, proposed to the attending unions that any labourers who worked on the Gardens would receive 20% of their pay in Gardens stock instead of cash. Few objections were raised toward Selke’s scheme and he proceeded to sign agreements with twenty-four unions. When word of this plan reached Sir John Aird of the Bank of Commerce, he agreed to fund any lingering shortfalls. Workers who held onto their shares would have eventually made a nice little profit, as prices fluctuated from the fifty-cent range in the mid-1930s to the hundred dollar level by the end of World War II.

Dignitaries gathered to lay the cornerstone of Maple Leaf Gardens. Left to right: William MacBrien (former president of the Maple Leafs), Ed Bickle (vice-president of Maple Leaf Gardens), W.D. Ross (lieutenant-governor of Ontario), Reverend Dr. John Inkster, J.P. Bickell (president of Maple Leaf Gardens), and Victor Ross (a director of Maple Leaf Gardens). Mail and Empire, September 21, 1931.

Construction began on June 1, 1931 and proceeded at a rapid pace. Haste was necessary, as the facility had to be ready for the Maple Leafs home opener on November 12. Over 1,200 labourers, 750,000 bricks, and 77,500 bags of concrete were required to build the Gardens. The cornerstone was laid by Ontario Lieutenant-Governor W.D. Ross in a dignitary-laden ceremony on September 21. “Toronto,” said Ross, “is, and has been for years, a sports centre. Our position on Lake Ontario, our National Exhibition, our general enthusiasm for sports of all kinds—amateur and professional—make this city the ‘logical location’ for a building worthy of our record, of cur[rent] need and of our ambition.”

Bickell then stated the aims and idealism behind the Gardens, as well as complimenting Ross. We don’t recall some of the following aspirations being trotted out when the Air Canada Centre came to be, nor did the name W.D. Ross roll off the tongues of Leafs fans.

This building, with which I trust your name will be long associated, perhaps might be regarded as a civic institution, rather than a commercial venture, because its object is to foster and promote the healthy recreation of the people of this British and sport-loving city. It represents the combined efforts of all sections of the community. Capital for its creation has come very largely from those who are actuated by a spirit of civic patriotism, rather than a desire to reap financial benefit. No less a high ideal has inspired those who labo[u]r is creating it, for I am glad to tell your Hono[u]r that the members of the various trades employed are becoming part-owners of the enterprise by accepting a substantial portion of their remuneration in stock. There is I believe no precedent in any similar project for this happy situation.

A time capsule was laid that day, which was opened 80 years later.

Mail and Empire, November 12, 1931 (left), The Telegram, November 9, 1931 (right).

Long lines formed when season tickets went on sale on October 14. Selke and Smythe dropped by the queue to observe the buyers. Selke related to Globe columnist Bert Perry the specific seating needs of one family, who were fans of Leafs tough guy Red Horner:

One subscriber was telling the ticket-seller that he wanted tickets for his wife, his daughter and himself. He mentioned that his daughter, a high school student, was a great hockey fan, and she was particularly fond of the playing of Red Horner, the youthful defense player of the Leafs. It was his desire to obtain seats that would be located as near to Horner as it was possible to get during a game, so he finally decided to take them right behind the penalty box. And that is where he got them.

Opening ceremony at Maple Leaf Gardens, November 12, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 25804.

Despite minor delays, the Gardens was ready to greet a sold-out crowd of over thirteen thousand eager to see the Leafs take on the Chicago Black Hawks on opening night. Early in the day, Smythe wandered from line to line to observe the reactions of those seeking rush tickets. His queue jumping drew the notice of a police officer, who escorted Smythe off the premises until his identity was established. A later starting time was planned so that patrons had enough time to acquaint themselves with the seating plan.

The Black Hawks were in a state of disarray when they came to Toronto. Despite having reached the Stanley Cup final a few months earlier, coach Dick Irvin either quit or was fired in September. This wasn’t a shocking move given owner Frederic McLaughlin‘s habit of going through coaches like one changes clothes. “Where hockey was concerned,” Smythe once mused, “Major McLaughlin was the strangest bird and, yes, perhaps the biggest nut I met in my life.” McLaughlin’s wife, dancer Irene Castle, felt he ran the Black Hawks “with the zeal of an amateur who doesn’t know what it’s all about.”

Godfrey Matheson was hired as Irvin’s replacement and guided the team through pre-season training in Pittsburgh. He failed to arrive in Toronto. While initial reports suggested he was hospitalized for a stomach ailment, the Telegram reported on opening day that Matheson had “departed to Florida, a victim of a nervous breakdown.” The paper suspected that McLaughlin might “forget his pride” and rehire Irvin. Instead, it appears team physical director Emil Iverson went behind the bench.

Some of the dignitaries who bored the audience on opening night at Maple Leaf Gardens, November 12, 1931. Left to right, based on identifications in a similar photo published in the next day’s Mail and Empire: J.P. Bickell, Ontario Premier George Henry, unknown (possibly Ed Bickle?), Toronto Mayor William J. Stewart, Canadian Bank of Commerce VP George Cottrell, broadcaster Foster Hewitt, and NHL president Frank Calder. This City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 25805.

When the 48th Highlanders and Royal Grenadiers band played “Happy Days are Here Again” at 8:30 p.m., Smythe felt that “the scene was pretty much as I had imagined it in my rosiest dreams.” After the bands finished, Mayor William J. Stewart presented the team with floral horseshoes on behalf on the city. The many dignitaries who followed bored sections of the crowd. Telegram columnist Ted Reeve joked that “the ceremonies included everything but a one minute silence as a tribute to the stockholders.” Several paper admonished the crowd for heckling the speakers, especially Bickell and Ontario Premier George Henry, demanding that the game begin. In Bickell’s case, according to Selke’s memoir, he “fortified himself with a few extra belts of Scotch” to handle any jeers from the crowd during the long speech he had prepared. “Ceremonies figure out nicely on paper,” Telegram sports editor J.P. Fitzgerald observed, “but they do not work out at all in practice and it looks as though if outstanding citizens are to officiate at openings and on other gala occasions they must confine themselves to pantomimic gestures, short and snappy, a kind of lending their visible presence only.” Mail and Empire sports editor Edwin Allan echoed these sentiments, noting that “there will be no more opening ceremonies in professional games this year, and this is something to be thankful for.”

The Telegram, November 13, 1931.

As for the audience in general, Perry observed:

With its row upon row of eager-eyed enthusiasts rising up and up from the red leather cushions of the box and rail seats, where society was well represented by patrons in evening dress, through section after section of bright blue seats to the green and grey of the top tiers, the spectacle presented was magnificent. The immensity of this hippodrome of hockey, claimed to be the last word in buildings of its kind, was impressed upon the spectator, and those present fully agreed that Toronto had at last blossomed forth into major league ranks to the fullest extent.

The structure may have awed attendees, but the on-ice product didn’t. Mush March of the Black Hawks scored the first goal early in the first period. The Leafs tied the score late in the second period thanks to Charlie Conacher, but fell behind for good when Vic Ripley scored early in the third period. The Leafs outshot the Black Hawks 51-35 but the sterling goaltending of Chuck Gardiner helped Chicago come out on top by a score of 2-1. Gardiner’s performance was remarkable given the game was stopped for fifteen minutes during the second period when Conacher collided with the goalie (during this time, NHL teams rarely carried a backup). Though Gardiner’s arm was severely injured, he made it back on the ice and was applauded by the crowd.

Game summary, Toronto Star, November 13, 1931.

One spectator who didn’t have a good opening night was Forest Hill resident Norman Martin. During the game, three youths stole his car. “Up in the labyrinths of Rosedale,” the Mail and Empire reported, “Motorcycle Officer Constable #263 saw them and decided they looked suspicious. He chased them and ran their car into the curb. As they stopped, one of the trio hopped out of the car and hot-footed into the night.” All three were charged with car theft and hauled into juvenile court the next day.

Programme from the first year of Maple Leaf Gardens. Image via Global Vintage Sports.

After a slow start and a coaching change that saw opening night coach Art Duncan dumped after five winless games in favour of Irvin, the Leafs also proved to be a success by the end of the 1931/32 season, when they brought the Stanley Cup to their new home.

Sources: Maple Leaf Gardens: Fifty Years of History by Stan Obodiac (Toronto: Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd, 1981); If You Can’t Beat ‘Em in the Alley by Conn Smythe with Scott Young (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981); J.P. Bickell by Jason Wilson, Kevin Shea, and Graham MacLachlan (Toronto: Dundurn, 2017); The Lives of Conn Smythe by Kelly McParland (Toronto: Fenn/McClelland & Stewart, 2011); The Story of Maple Leaf Gardens by Lance Hornby (Champaign: Sports Publishing Inc., 1998); and the following newspapers: the September 22, 1931, October 15, 1931, and November 13, 1931 editions of the Globe; the February 13, 1999, and February 17, 1999 editions of the Globe and Mail; the November 11, 1931, November 12, 1931, and November 13, 1931 editions of the Mail and Empire; the November 12, 1931 and November 13, 1931 editions of the Telegram; and the November 13, 1931 edition of the Toronto Star.

Bonus Features: Ontario Place’s Opening Weekend

Before diving into the post, read my TVO story on the opening of Ontario Place in May 1971.

Globe and Mail, March 11, 1969.

Coverage of the press conference which introduced “Ontario Showcase” (as it was originally known) to the world.

ts 69-03-11 cowan review

Toronto Star, March 11, 1969. Click on image for larger version.

AF-1970-10 ontario place 28-29
AF-1970-10 ontario place 30-31

A four-page preview from the October 1970 edition of Architectural Forum. Click on the images to view larger versions.

Architecture Canada, August 10, 1970.

Globe and Mail, May 21, 1971.

Toronto Star, May 21, 1971.

The Telegram, May 22, 1971.

The caption: “Ontario Place carpenter Jim Rimmer discovers he has a secret admirer as he takes a coffee break during the final cleanup in Pod 5. The lady to the left is part of a display that Rimmer is working on.”

Globe and Mail, May 22, 1971.

Thoughts from architect Eb Zeidler, Canadian Architect, June 1971.

Canadian Architect, June 1971.

Windsor Star, May 25, 1971.

From the opening ceremony, Premier William Davis speaking in front of guards from Fort York.

Globe and Mail, May 24, 1971.

The Telegram, May 24, 1971.

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The Telegram, May 24, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

Toronto Star, May 24, 1971.

ws 1971-05-26 the wonder of ontario place 300px

Windsor Star, May 26, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

Yorkdale’s Fifth Anniversary

Originally published on Torontoist on February 26, 2014, to mark the 50th anniversary of Yorkdale.

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Opened on February 26, 1964, Yorkdale Shopping Centre inspired generations of malls to come through its size, architecture, and carefully selected mix of tenants. By the time it turned five in 1969, the mall had lived up to its original promise of bringing downtown shopping to Toronto’s growing suburbs through familiar retailers like Eaton’s and Simpsons.

“Everything at Yorkdale is planned for you, the customer,” observed an advertorial in the Telegram. “And we like to think, after five years of service, we’ve proven a point: people do like to shop at Yorkdale…and for many good reasons.” Among those reasons were store concepts that wouldn’t be found in today’s Yorkdale (five-and-dimes like Kresge’s, general hardware stores like Aikenhead’s), and community services such as a branch of the North York Public Library.

The Star and the Telegram published special advertising sections on the eve of the mall’s anniversary: their pages were filled with ads, advice for navigating the mall, fashion tips, and plugs for a commemorative Chrysler auto show.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1969.

The fifth anniversary saw the introduction of shopping carts to tote children around the mall. Yorkdale’s previous effort to provide strollers ended when many left the premises—sightings were reported at Expo ’67 in Montreal. Dominion supermarket was forced to “lock in” their carts due to accidents and theft. The mall’s new carts were available for 50 cents plus safety deposit.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1969.

Speaking of Dominion, it used Yorkdale’s anniversary to launch its Baker’s Oven line of bread and desserts.

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Besides celebrating Yorkdale’s anniversary, Eaton’s marked its centennial in 1969. Eaton’s played a crucial role in the mall’s construction, refusing to commit unless Metro Toronto sped up approval of the neighbouring Spadina Expressway (now Allen Road).

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Opened in 1966, the community branch of the North York Public Library at Yorkdale provided the mall’s intellectual component. “Tiny tots are invited to bring along their mothers to special storytime programs,” an advertorial noted, “and students are encouraged to research school projects in the reference department. There’s a fine assortment of novels for the busy homemaker, not to mention a wide selection of current magazines and newspapers.” We’d agree with the advertorial’s assessment of libraries in general: “We don’t know of a better bargain…anywhere.”

Toronto Star, February 25, 1969.

Given the mall’s upscale ambitions these days, it’s hard to imagine Yorkdale once housed a traditional five-and-dime like Kresge’s. Shoppers headed to the forerunner of K-Mart and the mall’s other stores were guaranteed that the interior temperature would always be a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit, that the snow would always be cleared from the parking lot during winter, and that if traffic into the shopping centre was heavy, “Toronto’s men in blue are always on hand to guide and direct you in and out of Yorkdale.”

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

The mall’s fashion coordinator, Norma Wildgoose, was given space in the Star to review the season’s fashion trends. “Eeenie-meenie-minie-moe—the choice of a conglomeration of fashion looks—the 1969 woman never had such a diversified decision for spring. Whatever she decides is her look—she will be pretty,feminine, with fit, flare, and flattery,” Wildgoose declared. She saw navy, red, and white as the season’s favoured colour combination for women, followed by pastels. For the “sideburns and moustache department,” Wildgoose proclaimed the death of the Nehru jacket in favour of avant-garde designs. She also wondered if couples would the “his and her” pairing of flowery jackets and plaid trousers.


The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Checking my notes, one image was left on the cutting room floor. Here’s what would have been the accompanying text:

It appears Aikenhead’s Hardware believe you could run off the fumes of Groundhog Day for an entire month. Two years later, Molson bought the venerable Toronto-based chain and gradually shrunk it after acquiring Beaver Lumber soon after. The brand was revived as a big box chain in the early 1990s, but was purchased by Home Depot.

The Telegram, February 25, 1969.

Ah, late 1960s catchphrases…

Yorkdale: The Instant Downtown Uptown

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on November 28, 2009.

Yorkdale, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 196.

Christmas shopping is upon us, which means it’s time for the claustrophobic to avoid approaching most of Toronto’s shopping malls. Yorkdale will be one of the busiest spots, as drivers try their best to avoid getting into a fender-bender with the twenty-seven other drivers fighting for a precious parking spot. The same scene probably played itself out when the mall opened as an attempt to bring the diversity of downtown shopping to the suburbs, complete with modern conveniences, even if the mall no longer contains tenants like five-and-dime chains, display space for bathroom fixture manufacturers, or grocery stores.

Once upon a time, a millionaire from British Columbia decided that he would like to buy some land north of Toronto to run a sleepy farm. Barrett Montfort purchased most of the property where Yorkdale sits in 1942 and claimed he never saw a development boom coming. “It just never occurred to me that something like Highway 401 would ever be built there. It was just an old farm when I bought it. It had been a good farm for many years.” By the mid-1950s, Eaton’s rented his property with an option to buy as the department store eyed potential sites for a suburban development. Corporate officials saw that Montfort’s land sat at a future transportation crossroads, thanks to a proposed extension of Spadina Road on the east side.

Exterior of Eaton’s Yorkdale, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 199, Item 1.

After four years of planning, Yorkdale was unveiled to the public at a press conference held at the Granite Club on October 16, 1958. Officials from Eaton’s and rival department store Simpson’s announced that the two companies were ready to open locations in the same shopping complex for the first time, in order to provide consumers “with the best suburban shopping facilities to be found anywhere in Canada.” Besides land acquired from Montfort, the development team also purchased property held for future use by General Motors to assemble enough space to build a twenty-five-million-dollar, sixty-two-store plaza.

Local officials and residents were giddy about the news—as long as property values rose and more businesses decided to settle in North York Township, why complain? “Every community should have one,” said Bert Egan, president of the Blackwater-Ranee Ratepayers’ Association. “I think this is the greatest thing in the world for any community. It’s a wonderful thing for North York’s commercial assessment, and it’ll make things a lot easier for the residential taxpayers.” Egan did not forsee any NIMBY-style reaction from those he represented, as long as the plaza was nicely landscaped. North York Reeve Vernon Singer felt Yorkdale was “the break-through we’ve been hoping for to open the door to further commercial and industrial development. It will prove what we’ve always claimed, that North York is at the centre of the Toronto area. Yorkdale will almost move the corner of Yonge and Queen to Dufferin and Highway 401.”

Simpson’s Court, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 198, Item 1.

North York officials hoped that Yorkdale would speed up the arrival of the Spadina Expressway, though the controversial road briefly proved an obstacle. Just as the preliminary architectural and engineering studies wound down in 1960, an offhand conversation with an official from the Ontario Department of Highways revealed that expansion plans for Highway 401 coupled with a massive interchange with Spadina would not include any direct access to the plaza. To add insult, the developers would also have to sacrifice a few acres for the good of Metro drivers. After negotiation, access was secured and the site studies were renewed.

Simpson’s Court, Yorkdale, date unknown. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0014666f.

Once the Lawrence Avenue to Highway 401 stretch of the Spadina Expressway was approved by Metro Council, shovels went into the ground at the end of May 1962. Eaton’s and Simpson’s unveiled their store designs with promises of bringing shoppers the services they had grown accustomed to downtown with a modern flair. Each store’s restaurant would act as eye candy—the Vista at Eaton’s would provide diners with a view of the mall from a series of mushroom-shaped balconies, while the Court at Simpson’s would be accessed by a curving staircase. Simpson’s brought in pioneering mall designers Victor Gruen and John C. Parkin to work on their store and bring the excitement they had generated south of the border. “My purpose,” said Parkin, “has been to make a visit to Simpson’s a pleasant, almost European shopping experience rather than a visit to the clinical type of store.”

The opportunity for classy shopping couldn’t come fast enough for nearby residents during the excavation phase. Complaints were made to the township in July 1962 about dust clouds that forced residents to close their windows on hot summer days and thwarted attempts to hang laundry. Contractors were charged with anti-noise bylaw violations for operating trucks at all hours. Construction company representatives tried to assure residents that if work was allowed to continue twenty-four hours a day, the pain would be over in a month. This plea must have worked, as we found no evidence of a “Stop Yorkdale” campaign in the papers.

The Telegram, February 25, 1964.

The imminent arrival of Yorkdale and construction of the Spadina Expressway left the TTC in a tizzy. As the 1960s began, transit officials were always assured that the Spadina and its accompanying subway line down the middle were fifteen to twenty years away from reality. The TTC was unprepared to lay track along Spadina anytime soon and proposed to run an express bus service until demand warranted the subway. A 1963 plan called for the future subway platforms between Lawrence Avenue and Highway 401 to be built initially as bus depots, but this failed to materialize by the time Yorkdale was ready to welcome customers. Opening-day patrons without cars would find themselves crammed onto the Dufferin bus, which stopped in the parking lot every fifteen minutes.

During the first year of construction, other anchors were announced. Dominion announced plans for a “jet-age” supermarket located where Holt Renfrew now sits. Shoppers wouldn’t have to worry about lugging groceries around the rest of the mall thanks to an underground pickup station where orders sent down via conveyor belt could sit for several hours. Other services included an in-store deluxe microwave oven to cook roasts and other large slabs of meat on demand and a fish counter with “such delicacies as freshly caught West Coast salmon, oysters, Alaska crab and Arctic char flown to Toronto by jet aircraft.” Other food vendors were encourage to set up kiosks in a “food bazaar” in front of the store that planners insisted would bring a touch of the Middle Eastern shopping experience to North York, even if the products were as exotic as meat from local delis.

The Telegram, February 25, 1964.

Soon after Dominion’s announcement, Famous Players and Twentieth Century Theatres joined together to provide shoppers with a twin cinema—one screen for Hollywood blockbusters, the other for artier flicks. Filmgoers were promised a reversible escalator that would speed up their entry or exit (no need to linger around the concession stand when there’s shopping to do!). Among the other early tenants, one that caught our eye was a food stand operated by a familiar name. According to the Telegram, “the most unusual eating place is Mac’s, run by the owners of Mac’s Milk…Mac’s will serve just one main dish—roast beef, which a chef will cut to order from a 20 or 30 pound roast and put on the customer’s selection of seven varieties of hot bread and rolls.”
As opening day neared, Eaton’s added the final touches to its store, including one of the first automated entrances in Toronto, which was billed as an “air curtain.” Ontario College of Art student Suzan Fawcett was commissioned to create two “think pieces” out of metal to place in the foyer. As architect Elmore Hankinson noted, “We wanted to express our faith in our young, local artists. Canadian artists need encouragement but too often it comes after they have gained a reputation.” One of Fawcett’s works, Aurora Borealis Opus No. 1, was quickly dubbed “the harp” by construction workers for its arrangement of metal rods.

Toronto Star, February 26, 1964.

The Telegram sent two shoppers on a preview of Yorkdale. They were awestruck. “I’ve never seen so many stores in my life. It’s just like a city in itself,” said Marion Clancy. “It’s just as bright as being outdoors, but it’s far nicer. You don’t get your hair blown around.” The rest of the public had their first opportunity to check out the mall at 9:30 a.m. on February 26, 1964. Over one hundred thousand shoppers were estimated to have passed through that day, which created a scene that compared to the CNE midway. Barber John Folino later recalled that many of those wandering through “were all dressed up like they were going to church.” The official ribbon cutting took place at noon, followed by a lobster and cocktail lunch for VIPs. Plebeians made do with freebies from banks and stores, along with reduced prices on meals like the roast turkey special at Kresge’s one-hundredth Canadian location—for the princely sum of sixty cents diners received “savoury dressing, cranberry sauce, cream whipped potatoes, giblet gravy, buttered green peas, roll and butter” with their fowl.

The parade of people heading into “the instant downtown uptown” for opening day required fourteen police officers to direct traffic, though the traffic jam was nowhere near as bad as Yorkdale’s first Saturday of business a few days later. Maybe it had something to do with falling on Leap Day, as drivers found themselves in a jam running three miles on either side of Dufferin Street. All 6,500 parking spots were filled by 11 a.m. and police took two hours just to find an appropriate overflow location. Poorly marked underpasses didn’t help the situation.

A sampling of stores at Yorkdale, circa 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 197, Item 1.

Architectural critics soon weighed in with their opinions. If the two critiques published in Canadian Architect magazine were any indication, they weren’t pleased. Ron Thom found the complex “sadly lacking,” with unimpressive entrances that didn’t stake out their significance, a parking lot that felt like it was designed by a computer and a lack of unified design. “Only the Simpson’s store…stands as a coherent statement of what it is. The remainder resembles a group of separate parts, each designed by an angry individualist, determined not only to outdo, but to undo all the other parts around—a sort of architectural salad.” He did like the court outside Simpson’s, where the impressiveness of the spiral staircase and fountain made it an ideal place for children to play and their parents to rest. Fellow critic Donovan Pinker felt that Yorkdale symbolized the fragmentation of the city, the sterility of the suburbs, and was generally too segregated from the “spice of urban life.”

Eaton’s Court, 1960s. Yorkdale Archives.

None of these views deterred shoppers, with more stores open and sales looking rosy as the 1964 Christmas season approached. Nearby shopping centres definitely felt an impact, with Lawrence Plaza reporting a 25% drop in sales since Yorkdale opened. Shoppers enjoyed the wide walkways of what for a short time was the world’s largest shopping centre until the expansion of Honolulu’s Ala Moana in 1966.

Sources: the June 1964 issue of Canadian Architect; the October 17, 1958, May 31, 1962, December 15, 1964, and February 21, 2004 editions of the Globe and Mail; the February 25, 1964 and February 26, 1964 editions of the Telegram; and the October 17, 1958, June 3, 1960, May 31, 1962, July 10, 1962, November 24, 1962, April 3, 1963, February 21, 1964, February 25, 1964, February 27, 1964, and March 2, 1964 editions of the Toronto Star.


Let’s follow this fashionable explorer into the Globe and Mail‘s special advertising section published the day before Yorkdale’s grand opening…

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

The opening day map of the mall. As of November 2020, only Birks, Peoples and Scotiabank remain (though CIBC is represented by a bank machine, and the movie theatre evolved into the present-day Cineplex).

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

The preview for Simpson’s. The chain’s first suburban Toronto store, located at Scarborough’s Cedarbrae Plaza, opened two years earlier.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Growing to nearly 80 stores at its peak, Calderone Shoes was bought by Aldo in the late 1990s and phased out the brand in the mid-2000s.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

According to the Star, Birks was “rich in mahogany panelling and opulent carpeting and draperies.” Perhaps shoppers could pick up some fancy jewels at Birks…

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

…and show them off while shopping for groceries.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Somehow, wandering around Yorkdale in night attire never caught on.

Globe and Mail, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

The Star‘s preview coverage included this guide on how to get to Yorkdale, and plenty of ads…

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

A much more detailed version of the Dominion ad. Let’s take a closeup at the innovations.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1964.

Given the choice between the two opening attractions, first ticket buyer Ralph Carveth chose To Bed or Not to Bed, which the Globe and Mail described as “a very silly title for a very clean little film about frank amorality.”

As for the main attraction, Seven Days in May is worth a watch in light of the post-election shenanigans south of the border.

Toronto Star, February 27, 1964.

Free boutonnieres from a well-established tailoring firm were among the giveaways and festivities surrounding the opening. Other highlights included a performance by vibraphonist Peter Appleyard at the Bank of Nova Scotia branch.

(Aside: check out A Tailored History of Toronto, Pedro Mendes’ book about the history of Walter Beauchamp, which I contributed research to.)

Globe and Mail, February 27, 1964.

In his biography A Store of Memories, G. Allan Burton reflected on how the Sinpsons-Eaton’s relationship had evolved by this point:

The successful conclusion of the Yorkdale deal only increased the mutual respect in which the age-old competitors…held each other. There was a time when Eaton’s, being considerably larger than Simpsons for many of the early years, regarded us with amused tolerance. Now we could, and did, deal as equals. Both of us were faintly amused at the backwardness of the Hudson Bay Company generally, and in particular their reluctance to go into shopping centres. Yet Eaton’s tried to dictate a maximum size for our store in Yorkdale, but I refused, saying I would build the size we wanted and if Eaton’s wanted to build more or less that was their prerogative!

Toronto Star, February 27, 1964.

Bonus Features: Riots, Dances, and Parades (VJ Day)

This post features bonus material for a piece I recently wrote for TVO.

star 1945-08-14 front page

Headline, Toronto Star, August 14, 1945.

“If the expected announcement of the Japanese surrender comes between now and 7 a.m. tomorrow, Wednesday will be VJ Day for Toronto,” controller David Balfour, filling in for mayor Robert Hood Saunders, told the press on August 14, 1945. “Like everyone else, we’re waiting for the official word. Nothing will be done until we have official word.”

gm 1945-08-15 page 2

Globe and Mail, August 15, 1945.

Balfour only had to wait a few hours to act. At 7 p.m., official announcements of the Japanese surrender were made by American president Harry Truman and British prime minister Clement Atlee, followed shortly thereafter by Mackenzie King.

gm 1945-08-15 celebrations in chinatown

Globe and Mail, August 15, 1945.

At the Christie Street Hospital for military veterans, a bingo game was about to begin when the news broke. As downtown streets filled with revelers, the TTC quickly put into place streetcar diversions it had planned for the celebrations. Ticker tape showered the streets. Flags were erected.

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Editorial, Globe and Mail, August 15, 1945.

georgetown herald 1945-08-15 front page vj day

Georgetown Herald, August 15, 1945.

As I mentioned in the piece, celebrations in smaller communities followed similar patterns. In Georgetown, people filled Main Street as the word got out. That evening a street dance broke out, with music provided by a group called the Rhythm Rubes. VJ Day started with a parade consisting of veterans, several pipe bands, the Royal Canadian Legion, and the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. After a prayer, “The Last Post” was played. Baseball followed in the afternoon, with fireworks and dancing to Harvey Fisher’s Orchestra in the evening. Apparently a giant bingo game was considered, but, according to the Georgetown Herald, “arrangements could not be made in time for this and it had to be cancelled.”

oc 1945-08-15 repats zellers vj day ad

Ottawa Citizen, August 15, 1945.

Advertisers joined in the celebrations, with many quoting biblical passages or famous authors. Zellers went for a touch of Tennyson…

star 1945-08-16 simpsons ad

Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

…while Simpsons chose American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes for inspiration.

star 1945-08-16 burroughes ad

Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

The recently-established United Nations inspired a hopeful future to retailers like Burroughes Furniture.

oc 1945-08-15 canadian department stores vj day ad

Ottawa Citizen, August 15, 1945.

Eaton’s Canadian Department Stores division depicted the sun breaking through clouds.

star 1945-08-16 editorial and surrender cartoon

Editorial cartoon, Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

Effigies of Japanese Emperor Hirohito were set ablaze everywhere, including the examples in the next few images…

star 1945-08-16 north york hirohito effigy

Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

We’ll stay in Oakville for two more photos…

star 1945-08-16 oakville 1

Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

star 1945-08-16 oakville 2

Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

Wartime Canada has a period pamphlet outlining what a “farm commando” could do to help the war effort. The provincial farm service drew more women than men.

star 1945-08-16 sudbury photos

Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

Two pictures from Sudbury. The top one feels like it was taken before the situation soured, while the bottom was after the liquor store was looted.

ws 1945-08-16 front page

Windsor Star, August 16, 1945.

What other ways were old gasoline rationing coupons used?

The White Torontonian’s Indian

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 6, 2015.


Children’s Saturday morning classes, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 2, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 86.

“The Indian of imagination and ideology has been as real, perhaps more real, than the Native American of actual existence and contact,” Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. wrote in his 1978 book The White Man’s Indian. This image was further elaborated upon a quarter-century by Thomas King, who refers to the clichés many of us grew up with as the “Dead Indian” in his book The Inconvenient Indian:

They are the stereotypes and clichés that North America has conjured up out of experience and out of its collective imaginings and fears. North America has had a long association with Native people, but despite the history that the two groups have shared, North America no longer sees Indians. What it sees are war bonnets, beaded shirts, fringed deerskin dresses, loincloths, headbands, feathered lances, tomahawks, moccasins, face paints, and bone chokers. These bits of cultural debris—authentic and constructed—are what literary theorists like to call “signifiers,” signs that create a “simulacrum,” which Jean Baudrillard, the French sociologist and postmodern theorist, succinctly explained as something that “is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.”

Built into this image are elements of racism and excessive romanticism, all of which shaped how aboriginal culture was presented to generations of Torontonians, especially children.


Excerpt from Eaton’s advertisement, the Toronto Star, November 17, 1923.

Dressing up in stereotypical aboriginal costumes was done with little discomfort for much of the 20th century. Homemaker columns in Toronto’s daily newspapers periodically offered tips on how to make your own Indian maiden outfit of the type often worn while pretending to be a noble savage or reciting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” For example, take this suggestion published by the Star in 1911:

You could make an Indian costume out of khaki, coloured drill, or duck. Have leggings and a loose affair something like a midi blouse fringed at the bottom. Any bands of beading or bead charms available should be worn. Have a gilt or coloured band for the head with feathers or quills standing up all round it. The hair should be braided.


Toronto Star, May 6, 1922.

Such an outfit might have been worn by public speakers while presenting travelogues of their adventures in aboriginal lands. Take the case of Martha Craig, who gave a slideshow at Massey Hall in March 1902 illustrating her canoe trips in both her homeland of Ireland and around Lakes Temagami and Timiskaming. “Miss Craig, who wore an Indian costume, has evidently given deep study to Indian lore,” observed the Globe, “and her lecture, though not as distinctly enunciated as one could wish, was a most interesting narrative.” We hope her diction problems didn’t include attempts to speak in pidgin dialect while discussing northern Ontario.

Similarly attired was Mabel Powers, who gave a three-day series of talks at an auditorium Eaton’s Queen Street complex in December 1921. “Dressed in Indian costume, and standing on a stage which represented a corner of an Indian encampment,” the Globe reported, “Miss Powers delighted her audience—particularly the children—with her quaint stories, so alluring in spirit, so suggestive of the great outdoors, and so indicative of the mind of the stalwart race that once possessed North America.” Powers, raised in suburban Buffalo, studied Iroquois culture and toured throughout the region, frequently lecturing at the Chautauqua Institute. Adopted into the Seneca nation as an adult, she was given the name Yehsennohwehs, which meant “storyteller.” Powers saw her talks, which stressed the spiritual aspects of aboriginal culture in ways foreshadowing the peddling of such beliefs to the counterculture decades later, as a means of building bridges between all races by offering “a better understanding of the hearts of the red brothers.”

Such understanding may not have been present when University of Toronto graduate students rang in 1929 with an Indian-themed ball at Hart House. The building was transformed to resemble a reservation in British Columbia, sans poverty. The décor, designed by Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer, included spruce trees placed in alcoves and totem poles. These motifs carried over into Lismer’s cover for the ball program which, according to the Globe, depicted “a totem pole by the side of a lake, with Indian figures in the foreground.”


Children’s Art Centre group in Indian costumes, December 20, 1934. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 51.

During this period, Lismer was the educational supervisor at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO). Among his initiatives there was an innovative series of Saturday morning children’s art classes which evolved, with the help of a Carnegie grant, into the Children’s Art Centre. Opened at 4 Grange Road in 1933, the centre ran annual exhibitions of children’s works, and an Easter pageant. For the pageants, students were given a topic to research, collected materials to illustrate their discoveries, and created performance elements ranging from dances to puppet shows.

One year, the pageant theme was “North American Indians.” Participant William Withrow described the process of creating his outfit, and how his imagination was stimulated:

I wore a headdress—we went out to Kensington Market and got feathers, and dyed them and then we seemed to make a real deal of the use of cardboard that had corrugations so that you could stick feathers in the tubular corrugations and make the headband. I think it was subtly suggested that we felt that we were inventing it, and I think that was the real genius in the way [Lismer] trained his teachers. The children always thought that they had thought all these things up, but I think there were little clues dropped, there must have been, because the results were glorious.


Photo by Barry Philip. Toronto Star, May 24, 1966.

Dressing children up in Indian garb was a staple of educational activities at cultural institutions and schools around the city. Even teachers in training donned the stereotypical outfits, as shown in a May 1966 Star profile of graduating students at Toronto Teachers’ College. Under the headline “It seems the natives are restless tonight,” 43 women enrolled in the Primary Specialist Course at the training school at Carlaw and Mortimer (later used as a set for the Degrassi franchise, now part of Centennial College) were shown practicing how to teach Kindergarten pupils—by exposing them to every aboriginal stereotype under the sun. The student teachers read a story about “Little Burnt Face” (reputedly based on a Mi’kmaq legend), built a teepee, and created songs. The “idea of the exercise,” according to the Star, “was to show how a Kindergarten class should work together and learn while almost playing at singing, dancing, and doing art work.” A group of 25 kids were then brought in as guinea pigs to learn the songs, drink “firewater” (juice) and eat “wampum” (cookies).

When it came to aiding and educating actual aboriginal children, there are stories scattered throughout early 20th century Toronto newspapers depicting religious authorities urging their auxiliary organizations to support residential schools in remote areas. Those who came out to hear Methodist archdeacons make their pitch likely had little inkling of the unfolding tragedy they would aid. Efforts to assist the construction of these schools may have been aided by speeches by the likes of Reverend John Maclean, who addressed the Methodist Young People’s Bible and Mission School in July 1902. Discussing the work of Methodist missionaries out west, “it appeared,” according to the Globe, “that he does not entertain a high opinion of the inland Indians of British Columbia, some of whom, he said, were too lazy to stand up when fighting.”


Indian project – 10 year olds, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 5, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 92.

The plight of some urban aboriginal children was exploited in the name of helping them. For years both the Star (Fresh Air and Santa Claus funds) and the Telegram (Hospital for Sick Children) published stories on the plight of poor, sick children which boosted fundraising efforts for worthy causes dedicated to improving their lives. From a modern perspective, many of these stories are jaw-dropping in their efforts to evoke pity, reaching depths which make Jerry Lewis’s most maudlin telethon moments look dignified.

Take the case of 11-year-old Louise and her two younger brothers, whose tale was published on the front page of the Star on December 3, 1932. The story opens with one of the most insulting descriptions of pre-contact Toronto we’ve ever encountered:

Years ago, just about where you’re standing now, the red man roamed. He loosed his deadly arrow at the fleeting deer, and sat over the campfire at night with his squaw and papoose. If the papoose got hungry, he let fly another arrow. And so on, season after season. And if the season was bad—they starved. Then came the “Great White Father,” or rather his representative, who fought and talked to the red man. The savage liked the fighting, but couldn’t stand the talking—so he finally gave in. What did it matter? The “Great White Father” said from now on things were going to be swell. There would be no more bad seasons.

Louise is described as “a little Indian girl—probably descended from coppery princesses, who followed he chase—proud, befeathered, fearless.” She wrote the paper to ask for help from the Santa Claus Fund as her mother was ill, her father had been unemployed for two years, and she felt pessimistic about her future.

How did the Star appeal to its readers to help Louise?

We know you’re not interested in whether the Indian shot deer on Yonge Street a couple of hundred years ago. You’ve got your own troubles. But what we wondered was, if we couldn’t just bring a little Yuletide cheer into Louise’s “teepee” and watch the two papooses laugh. It ought to be all kinds of fun.


Women in costumes with Indian motifs, Canadian National Exhibition, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5778.

Before getting too smug about rising above the insensitivity of many of these past appropriations of and reflections on aboriginal culture, it’s good to keep in mind the following perspective from Robert F. Berkhofer Jr.: “Although modern artists and writers assume their own imagery to be more in line with “reality” than that of their predecessors, they employ the imagery for much the same reasons and often with the same results as those persons of the past they so often scorn as uninformed, fanciful, or hypocritical.”

Sources: The White Man’s Indian by Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. (New York: Vintage, 1978); The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (Toronto: Doubleday, 2012); The Gallery School 1930-80: A Celebration by Shirley Yanover (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980); the March 7, 1902, July 24, 1902, December 28, 1921, January 1, 1929, and May 3, 1933 editions of the Globe; and the June 29, 1911, December 3, 1932, and May 24, 1966 editions of the Toronto Star.


Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen's Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand. - June, 1910

Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen’s Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand, June 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 4012.

One of several archival photos I left on the cutting room floor, featuring the builder of Casa Loma. The occasion appears to be a celebration held on the CNE grounds to mark the semi-centennial of the Queen’s Own Rifles on June 23, 1910. According to the Globe, Pellatt “addressed the Indians participating in the ceremony, thanked them for the honour they had done him in making him a chief, and expressed the hope that they would have an opportunity of meeting again.”

f1257_s1057_it6771_ice capades

Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades in “Indian” costume, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6771.

Also left on the cutting floor – I suspect it was a toss up between this photo and the group shot used at the end of the original post.

globe 1921-12-28 indian storyteller

The Globe, December 28, 1921.

globe 1925-12-05 ROM our indian friends

The Globe, December 5, 1925.

A story introducing the Royal Ontario Museum’s indigenous collection to young readers. Note emphasis on the “primitive” nature of their culture and the odd declaration of “how we all love the name” of “Indians!”

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1932.

The whole cringe-inducing plea to help indigenous children via the Star Santa Claus Fund.

star 1966-05-24 teachers college pow wow

Toronto Star, May 24, 1966. Click on image for full version.

A Look at Toronto’s Cycling Heyday

Originally published as a gallery post on Torontoist on May 27, 2013 to mark the beginning of that year’s Toronto Bike Month. As of this posting, 2020’s edition has been postponed until September due to COVID-19.

A cyclist during the height of the bicycle craze of the 1890s would have scoffed at the notion of a Toronto Bike Month. At the time, no special observance was necessary. Everybody was picking up two-wheeled vehicles in models designed for comfort, fashion, and style. They were speedier than a horse carriage, roomier than a crammed streetcar, and offered independent mobility. Outside of the winter months, bicycles were poised to rule the city’s streets for years to come.

The introduction of equal-sized wheels and inflatable rubber tires during the late 1880s produced safer bicycles, sparking a boom in sales. At the height of the fad, trendy riding clothes were available, spectators lined streets and tracks to watch competitive races, and relationships were cemented on leisurely rides. Yet within a few years of the 20th century’s arrival, the bike’s popularity began to fade as the next big thing began to take over: the automobile.


Mail and Empire, February 9, 1895.

A sampling of top-end models offered by one of the city’s largest bicycle retailers. A second ad in the same newspaper noted that “our Mr. Hyslop has given up all his other business connections with the intention of pushing the bicycle trade to its utmost extent…If energy, push, and live business ideas count for anything, we shall have it.”


The Globe, April 4, 1901.

Department stores sold their own lines of bicycles. In this ad, Eaton’s explains why they could sell a bike for far less than the average $50-$150 range. Given Eaton’s legendary generosity in terms in accepting returns with few questions asked, we imagine a few wheels made their way back to the store when riders needed an upgrade.


The Globe, April 18, 1898.

It’s a fact: stopping for a rest by the roadside while out for a ride will immediately turn your clothing to tatters and cause stubble to sprout from your face!


The Globe, April 2, 1887.

Shockingly, the paper was not swamped with letters from angry bicycle repairmen for being portrayed as greedy businessmen preying on cyclists who chose their vehicles poorly.


The Empire, January 21, 1895.

During this era, competitive cycling was used as a sales pitch. L.D. Robertson, T.B. McCarthy, and R. Hensel were the top three finishers during the inaugural edition of the Dunlop Trophy Race on September 29, 1894. Participants rode a 20 mile course which included several loops of Woodbine Racetrack (then located at Queen and Woodbine), a journey out and back along Kingston Road, and a final loop of the horse track. The Globe observed that while Woodbine was is in good shape, Kingston Road was “pretty dusty and rutty.” It was also observed that race officials were too cheap to publicize the competition, resulting in only 1,000 spectators at Woodbine. The race moved to Ottawa in 1926, a year which proved to be its final ride.


The Globe, April 1, 1897.

Teach a few lessons, promote cycling as a competitive sport, and hope the lure of an “academy” sells a few more Cleveland brand cycles. Brilliant marketing, n’est pas?

471 Church Street was the venerable Granite Club’s second location, having moved there from St. Mary Street in 1880. The site hosted athletic and social activities for the local upper crust until the mid-1920s.


The Globe, April 8, 1908.

Have fun working through the logic of this ad. Would a transit pass plan be the modern equivalent of the hold-up man taking away your hard-earned cash?


The Globe, April 14, 1897.

The bike courier market was well catered to.


Mail and Empire, May 3, 1898.

Agricultural machinery giant Massey-Harris was among the manufacturers who jumped into the bicycle business. Instead of using country farmers to sell their bikes, M-H presented images of urbane gentlemen of all ages and sizes.


The Globe, April 30, 1897.

Bicycle advertising wasn’t immune from the depiction of Victorian women as delicate flowers.


Mail and Empire, April 2, 1898.

Since 1898, all bicycle repairs have been made bare-handed, without the assistance of tools.


Mail and Empire, May 7, 1898.

We’ll test you on your Red Bird part knowledge later on.


Mail and Empire, May 14, 1898.

Bicycles offer a less claustrophobic (unless caught in a tight squeeze with other vehicles), more independent alternative to crowded streetcars. Downside: you can’t read the latest catalogue while riding your bike.


Mail and Empire, May 21, 1898.

This man is laughing at the fools herding onto the streetcar. Or least we think he’s laughing—hard to tell beneath the beard, not to mention the fine Victorian skill of repressing external displays of emotion.


The News, April 2, 1903.

Unlike the Pullman railway car, the Hygienic Cushion Frame did include space for sleeping, or a porter to tend to any belongings you brought on your ride.

By this point Massey-Harris’s bicycle division had merged with several other manufacturers to create the Canada Cycle and Motor Company (CCM). The new company settled in Weston prior to World War I, establishing the town as the region’s bicycle production hub.


The News, April 2, 1898.

It might not be Daisy giving her answer do on a bicycle built for two, but perhaps this is how couples too clumsy to balance a tandem rode together.


Toronto Star, June 4, 1898.

A ride wasn’t complete with a fine new bicycle suit.


Mail and Empire, May 25, 1895.

Modern Tweed Ride participants may want to seek antique Rigby suits in case of rain.


The World, May 20, 1895

Next time you have a tummy ache, hop on your bicycle!


The World, February 17, 1900.

Then as now, there was a stampede for repairs and tune-ups before spring cycling season.


The News, May 10, 1902.

A sign of things to come—Hyslop began selling a motorized contraption called an “Olds Mobile.” Bicycle companies soon fought for ad space with car manufacturers, a battle the two-wheeled vehicles eventually lost.

Christmas in Toronto, 1869

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Harper’s Weekly, December 25, 1869.

Saturday being Christmas Day business was suspended in the city; that is to say, all places of business, except such as oyster depots, candy shops and saloons were closed. The streetcars ran as usual, and certainly did a paying business, as they were crowded with passengers nearly every trip. The weather was delightful, reminding one more of a day in spring than in winter; and, as a natural consequence, the streets were crowded with pedestrians, chiefly of the male sex, however. Divine service was held in several of the numerous places of religious worship in the city, and sermons appropriate to the occasion preached. – The Leader, December 27, 1869.

Torontonians gathering ingredients for their Christmas dinner 150 years ago had plenty of options from local butchers. “The St. Lawrence Market,” the Globe reported, “is peculiarly well adorned with meat of the most tempting character, while all over the city the butchers show that though they are not in the market they are quite prepared to meet the wants of the citizens, as respects Christmas cheer.”

The Leader was particularly taken with James Britton’s stall. “Mr. Jas. Britton, everybody in Toronto knows, and every Toronto epicure and gourmand blesses, or ought to, for he has certainly on this occasion pandered to their luxurious tastes most extensively and deserves for his splendid display of meats, to stand foremost on the list.”

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The Globe, December 23, 1869.

Among the advertisers that season was the Wesleyan Methodist Church, who invited the public to view the Christmas tree in the basement of their Richmond Street home. Visitors stopping in on December 23 could browse a “sale of useful and fancy articles” which raised funds for the congregation’s future home in McGill Square (the lot on the northwest side of Queen and Church). “Attendance was very fair during the afternoon,” the Telegraph reported, “swelling to a positive crowd in the evening.” The proceeds helped build the new church, which evolved into today’s Metropolitan United Church.

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The Leader, December 24, 1869.

Browsing the ads for the city’s dry goods merchants, one new name had entered the holiday shopping sweepstakes. Earlier that month, Timothy Eaton opened his first Toronto store at 178 Yonge Street, which offered the radical merchandising method of selling goods for cash only (the store’s “goods satisfactory or money refunded” motto debuted the following year). The store was snug: measuring 24 feet across and 60 feet deep, it only employed four people. Popular items early on included buttons, gloves, and underwear.


Toronto Mechanics’ Institute, circa 1867-1868. Photo by Octavius Thompson. Toronto Public Library, Z 3-7.

Among the Christmas Day festivities across the city was a dinner held at the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute at the northeast corner of Church and Adelaide for over 220 children living in charitable institutions such as the Protestant Orphans’ Home, the Boys’ Home, and the Girls’ Home (along with, as the Globe dubbed them, “20 inmates of the News Boys’ Home). Organized annually by businessman John Hallam, it featured a hymn sing where the kids’ performances were praised community dignitaries. “The Christmas tree was then disburdened and each child having received from its branches a toy or picture book,” the Globe reported, “and also been handed a paper bag containing cakes, raisins, apples, and sweetmeats, the children started for their respective homes, four happy little bands, rendered so by the liberality of those who will be amply paid for their kindness to these poor little orphans when they shall have addressed to them the words ‘inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.’”

(Journalists in 1869 were a wordy bunch)

Years later, as a city councillor, Hallam’s support of free public libraries played a role in the transformation of the Mechanics’ Institute’s collection into the Toronto Public Library. Hallam Street is named in his honour.

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Christmas menu for guests of the Queen’s Hotel. The Telegraph, December 27, 1869.

Some of the city’s wealthier, politically-connected citizens gathered for a Christmas dinner at the Queen’s Hotel (the present site of the Royal York). Toasts were made to Queen Victoria, various branches of the military, and Americans. The Telegraph printed the extensive menu.

The Globe reported on Christmas Day at the Don Jail:

Even without the heavy walls of the prison the genial spirit of Christmas penetrated, and brought a thrill of pleasure and a softening influence to many a hardened heard among the 154 incarcerated there. No relaxation of the prison discipline was admitted, except to allow friends to visit the inmates and bring with them some of the Christmas cheer which prevailed without. In more than one cell, tears came to eyes unused to weep, at the thought of former Christmas Days—when innocence made it a happy anniversary. Many a heart that knew not the crucified Saviour had reason to feel thankful for the natal day of Him who pardoned the thief on the cross.


Francis Henry Medcalf. Wikimedia Commons.

Politically, the holidays saw the start of nominations for city council candidates in the upcoming municipal election. Putting his name back into the fray was former mayor Francis Henry Medcalf, who had resigned from council on November 1 to protest a proposal to extend the term of office from one to three years. He decided to switch wards, moving from St. Lawrence’s (which covered the area south of Queen Street east of Yonge) to St. John’s (later known simply as “The Ward”). At a Christmas Eve nomination meeting, Medcalf claimed that when he was asked to run, he did so because, the Leader reported, “he owed the people of that ward a deep debt of gratitude for the hearty way in which they had always supported them, and he hoped he would be able to pay that debt before he paid the debt of nature.” Medcalf would represent the ward for two years, then returned to the mayor’s chair for a final two-year run in 1874.

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Canadian Illustrated News, December 25, 1869.

We’ll end with the parting thoughts from the Globe’s Christmas day editorial:

Let us hope, in any case, that the event may be happy, and that we, like the rest of the world, may find that, after of dread of turbulence and conflict, we are, as we should be, in peace and good will with all men.

Sources: the December 23, 1869, December 25, 1869, and December 27, 1869 editions of the Globe; the December 25, 1869 and December 27, 1869 editions of the Leader; and the December 24, 1869 and December 27, 1869 editions of the Telegraph.

The Dying Days of the Eaton Centre Sears

When The Grid’s website entered its terminal phase following the publication’s shutdown, there were several stories I was unable to capture screen grabs of because they had already vanished. This was one of them. I suspect it went MIA first because it was a photo essay.

Lesson: always take screen captures of your online work as soon as it is published!

Based on my social media feeds, this story was originally published online on February 4, 2014, and was referenced in the February 13, 2014 print edition. This version is based on the draft I submitted, with additional thoughts and photos.

All of the photos used in this post were taken on January 25 and January 31, 2014.

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With less than a week to go before Sears closes its doors for good at the Eaton Centre, the final days of the department store’s blowout sale have offered shoppers more than hunting for deals amongst the dwindling merchandise. Walking through the store provides an education in how department store design has evolved since the space opened as Eaton’s in 1977, including elements that were around when the ribbon was the cut.


The final days have contrasted Sears’s higher-end pretensions for the store and the flea market atmosphere of a closing sale, reflecting the widening divide in the department store sector between luxury retailers and discounters.


While upper levels are filled with abandoned aspirational signage for kitchenwares and phantom cosmetics counters, the bottom floor lures shoppers to demonstrations of a Shamwow-esque cloth via a P.A. announcement promising a free gift.

After Sears closes its doors for good on February 9, the remaining armies of mannequins will march off as the site undergoes two years of renovations before Nordstrom opens in fall 2016.


The store witnessed its first closing sale when Eaton’s declared bankruptcy in 1999. Sears Canada briefly kept the old brand alive as “eatons” but switched the nameplate to the Sears in 2002. The retail space has shrunk from 10 floors in 1977 to the current four-and-a-half—Sears Canada’s head office occupies the top three-and-a-half floors, while the bottom two were turned over to the Eaton Centre.

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The brown-hued escalators are the most prominent remnants of the store’s Eaton’s era. The 1970s diamond logo lingers next to the escalators on the second floor.


The lower-case “e” logo used during the eatons phase marks each floor in the elevator bank.


On the fourth floor, I discovered a box of tiles marked “T. Eatons (sic) Company,” which hasn’t existed since 1999.

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The women’s fashion area on the second floor was divided into fixture sale space and a cordoned-off wasteland of walls bearing the brand names which held court here. The backdrop of columns set against emptiness appealed to some visitors—one evening I observed a romantic photo shoot taking place.

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Rows of well-worn office fixtures made parts of the second floor resemble IKEA’s “As Is” section. Among the heavily used items was a lonesome $50 microwave. Inside were remnants of past meals baked onto the rotating centrepiece. Discoloured grains of rice threatened to spill onto the floor. As I closed the door, an associate informed me that it had already sold. It served as a sad reminder of all the jobs lost with the store’s closure.

Note from 2019: It’s too bad I didn’t photograph the microwave, which was possibly the best representation of the depressing atmosphere. For a fixture in such poor shape, couldn’t management have raffled it off to employees or allowed them to express their frustrations by whacking it with baseball bats rather than hand it over to the liquidator?

On second thought, it’s the sort of the strip mining and ultra-capitalism Eddie Lampert, the Ayn Rand-obsessed hedge fund operator who oversaw the terminal decline of Sears across North America, might approve of.

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Plenty of marketing materials were up for grabs. For $75, you could take home this promotional image for Eva Mendes’s home décor line. Never mind that someone went wild with a black magic marker in a vain attempt to cover up the branding details.

Would a proud new owner have painted over the marker-covered areas? Sliced the panel neatly to remove the left side? Left it as an artistic/political statement?


Apart from the Tim Horton’s tucked into the cafeteria, the fourth floor was a ghost town of appliance and kitchenware displays.


Colorful signs for Keurig, Hamilton Beach, and other kitchen brands hung above empty displays.

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There were vacancies galore in the refrigerator section.


An electronic display which was still functioning last week offered an energy-savings calculator based on products no longer nearby.

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The “NOTHING HELD BACK” signs weren’t kidding. Apart from some fixtures destined for other stores, everything else was available for a price, including these faux fragrance holders filled with mysterious liquid.


Nearby were a homemade-looking Halloween mix CD ($1) and a box of coffee stir sticks. I didn’t check if they had been used.

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On the main floor, mini Christmas trees could be yours for 43 cents!


Apart from security passes needed to board at 3 Below (now the Urban Eatery food court) and the removal of the 2 Below stop, you can ride the elevators to all of the former Eaton’s floors.

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Checking out the seventh floor, which once served as Eaton’s bargain annex, I found this friendly piece of advice to Sears Canada head office employees. A cynic might wonder if this was an effort to boost floor traffic.

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Armies of mannequins were among the fixtures for sale.

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Prices varied depending on much body you wanted—a painted head/torso combination would set you back $100.


Standing alone next to large faceless collections of mannequins made me fear when they would awaken and launch their invasion of downtown Toronto.

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Sometimes all you need is a mannequin arm. These dismembered limbs are ideal for fixing old mannequins, as a canvas for horrific props, as a joke item, or as a back scratcher.

The original article draft ended here.


There were so many mannequin parts laying around. How many of these pieces wound up in stores, studios, or homes around the GTA?

The leather “Judys” on the right may have dated from the eatons relaunch in 2000. “Mannequins, like runway models, should bear no resemblance to most mortals,” Phillip Preville observed in Saturday Night magazine. “Eatons will have some of retail’s funkiest dummies, including leather-upholstered headless torsos, and, in the junior women’s section, urban punk girlie-quins.”


Some mannequins still found time to strike a pose in front of displays, even if those displays were cluttered with shopping bags.




The kitchen demonstration area, dubbed the “Great Kitchen” during the eatons era.


1970s phone casings with later payphones. Never mind the retro stylings, by 2014 an attached phone book was a rare citing (I didn’t check how outdated it was). Did the light above the phone signal that it was available for use?


Salon equipment was mixed in with leftover furnishings.

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$389 for a ripped couch. $389…

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Artwork from the optical department?


The other three store closings listed on this sign were leases Sears sold back to the individual malls in 2013. As of December 2019, these are the primary replacements for those stores:

Eaton Centre: Nordstrom, Samsung, Uniqlo, and a corridor on the mall’s second floor

Sherway Gardens: Saks Fifth Avenue, SportChek

Square One: Simons, SportChek

Yorkdale: Restoration Hardware, Sporting Life


By my second photoshoot, access to upper floors was more difficult.


A sampling of the fixtures available on the second floor.


Were any of these people asked if they wanted the remains of this cupboard bearing their names? Or was this a relic from the Eaton’s era?

Otherwise, it could have been yours for $30.


Matthew McConaughey and his clothing line were exiled to Barrie, a location closed when the remaining Sears Canada stores shuttered in January 2018.


Nothing to watch here.


These display cases, placed in the corridor leading out to the passageway between Trinity Square and Dundas Street, were reserved for Sears Canada’s archives. They definitely appeared to be from at least the 1970s, but I wondered if they were first used at an earlier point in Eaton’s history.

Does anyone know the current location of items like this or the rest of the Sears Canada archives?


A final exit into the alleyway.

From a Facebook post I wrote on February 13, 2014:

Wandering through Eaton Centre before heading home to find store still open, when several sources had indicated its end was going to be last weekend. Appears management is trying to milk as much out of the place as possible – the well-worn fixtures on the second floor were going for 50% off today, while the flea market/trade show styled demonstrations of products continue on the lower floor. PA announcement reminded shoppers they have less that two weeks to walk home with whatever remains.

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Reader reaction to the original “rather depressing” story.

Reconstruction soon began, as the bottom floor (the old Eaton’s 1 Below) became mall space, while the remaining three retail floors reopened as Nordstrom in September 2016. The upper floors remained Sears Canada’s head office until the chain wound down in early 2018.

With the store’s closure, part of my childhood passed on. Up until the end there were still plenty of reminders of the Eaton’s store I loved roaming through as a kid, from forgotten vintage signage to old logos to the escalators that retained their 1970s shades of brown. Windsor didn’t have department stores as large as downtown Toronto’s, and I never experienced Hudson’s Detroit flagship during its dying days, so visiting Eaton’s (and Simpsons) felt special to a kid overwhelmed by so much space. Eating in the marine-themed cafeteria. My dad indulging my need to ride every escalator as high or low as we could go. Wondering what mysteries lay in the closed off 3 Below floor.

Not that I’ll complain about what has happened to the site. Nordstrom performed a much-needed overhaul of the remaining space. Most of the merchandise is beyond my budget, but I like the modern-yet-traditional department store feel while walking through.