August 13, 2008

What do my Grandma, Eaton's Department Store, William Massey and American Express have in common?

As a child I never experienced going to stores. We lived in a village where the only store was a tiny variety store which sold a bit of everything.

My mother didn't take her children with her when she shopped, so it was not until age 10 that I experienced a store for the first time. My grandmother took me to "The City" (Toronto) to Eaton's Department Store. Timothy Eaton founded a dry goods store on Yonge Street in 1869, and that small shop ultimately became the largest department store chain in the country. Timothy Eaton's first store was occupied by the 20th Century by Eaton's large Main Store, the Eaton's Annex and a number of related mail order and factory buildings. Eaton's is now defunct and where the huge store once stood is a large mall called The Eaton Centre. It is the 3rd largest shopping mall in Canada, and an important Toronto Tourist attraction.

For me, as a 10 year old, a trip to "The City" was an adventure on its own, as the only time I ever went there was our family's annual trip to the Santa Claus parade in downtown Toronto every November. The number of people in Eaton's overwhelmed me and I don't remember much about the store itself! I was impressed, but scared, as I rode on an escalator for the first time. I'd never seen a store with more than one floor or taking up so much space so it felt very alien to me and definitely outside my comfort zone. I do remember how lovely my grandmother looked in her skirt and jacket, nylons and high heels. And I chuckle at the thought of seeing someone dressed that way in any store now!

But what do Timothy Eaton, William Massey and American Express have in common? In a convoluted, six degrees of separation kind of thing, Timothy Eaton, the founder of Eaton's Department Store, moved to the town of St. Mary's Ontario in the 1860s and opened a small store. St. Mary's was a very small town and my husband's 3rd great-grandfather William Massey also lived there.

William, a teamster, worked for the newly formed American Express Company which had an office in St. Mary's in the mid 1800s. In 1862 William was charged with stealing over $800.00 from the Company (approximately $20,000.00 now) and arraigned for trial. One of the jurors at his arraignment was non other than Timothy Eaton!

2 comments:

M. Diane Rogers said...

You have interesting connections there!

My grandfather had a store in a small town in Manitoba, and my mother said they used to notice who bought from Eaton's by mail order (before paying off their local store bill). My mother later worked for Eatons in Winnipeg and my first job was at Sears in B.C. Sears later bought Eaton's but the grand old store name is now almost forgotten, I guess.

Tex said...

I love those sorts of connections. Thanks for a "picture" of the Toronto Eaton's experience.