Timothy Eaton


Timothy Eaton
Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library

Born: 1834, near Ballymena, Co. Antrim, Ireland
Died: 31 January 1907, Toronto, Ontario

Timothy Eaton came to Canada in 1854 and, two years later, opened a general store in Kirkton, Ontario with his brother, James. In 1860, they moved to St. Marys, Ontario and opened the J and T Eaton General Store. The dry goods business operated until 1868 when Timothy decided to move to Toronto.

In December 1869, T. Eaton Co. opened on Yonge St. in Toronto. The store originally offered dry goods, then moved on to sell clothing, housewares, furniture, and more. What set the store apart though was its marketing strategy. Timothy Eaton introduced many new ideas including sales for cash only, set prices (eliminating the common practice of haggling), and a policy of ‘goods satisfactory or money refunded’. The business was a success and in 1883, he opened a much larger store on Yonge St., which featured elevators, electric lights, and restrooms for women. A year later, Eaton's offered a mail-order catalogue and soon was accepting orders from across the country. The catalogues were often the only source for new products for people in rural, isolated areas and the business expanded rapidly.

Timothy Eaton died of pneumonia in 1907 at age 72 and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. He left an estate worth $5.3 million and his son Jack (John Craig) took over the business and its 9,000 employees.

Additional trivia:

On 8 December 1919, twin bronze statues of Eaton seated in an ornate armchair were unveiled in Toronto and Winnipeg. The statues, each weighing 1125 kilograms, were sculpted by Ivor Lewis and donated by Eaton's employees to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary. Shoppers soon developed the habit of rubbing the toe of the left shoe of the statues for luck. Eighty years later, the Toronto statue was moved to the Royal Ontario Museum. The Winnipeg statue, after some controversy about moving it to St. Marys, was given a heritage designation and remained in the city.

The catalogue business was discontinued in 1976 after 92 years in operation.

In the early 1990s, it became obvious that Eaton's was in financial trouble. Various restructuring plans were tried, including taking the company public, until 1999 when Sears Canada announced that they had bought all shares of the company, as well as several stores, the name, trademark, brands, and website. A year later, seven stores were relaunched under the name ‘eatons’ but continued to lose money. In February 2002, Sears gave up and announced that they were converting all remaining stores to their own name.

More information:

Chronology of Eaton's
Eaton's: A Canadian Institution, with clips from the CBC archives


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Added 07 March 2004.