The first Eaton's catalogue was a 34-page booklet issued in 1884. As Eaton's grew, so did the catalogue. By 1920, Eaton's operated mail order warehouses in Winnipeg, Toronto and Moncton to serve its catalogue customers. Catalogue order offices were also established throughout the country, with the first opening in Oakville in 1916.
At a time when Canada's population was predominantly rural, often living in isolated settlements, the Eaton's catalogue provided a selection of goods that was otherwise unavailable to many Canadians, much like the Sears Roebuck catalog in the United States. It served an important economic role, as it broke local monopolies and allowed all Canadians access to the prices and selection enjoyed in some of the larger cities. The catalogue offered everything from clothing to farming implements. Some Canadians even purchased their homes from the catalogue, with Eaton's delivering to them all the materials necessary to build a small prefabricated house. Today, a large number of Eaton's catalogue homes still exist throughout the country, primarily in the West. The catalogue had many other uses, ranging from its use as a learning tool by settlers learning to speak English, to its use as goalie pads during hockey games.
The catalogue became an icon of Canadian culture, even appearing in many works of Canadian literature. In Roch Carrier's story The Hockey Sweater, a young Quebec boy asks his mother for a Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey from the Eaton's catalogue, but receives a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey instead. As the family is francophone, the mother does not order using the catalogue forms but instead writes a note and sends money to the department store. Because of the prevalent language and cultural barriers of the English- and French-speaking Canadian populations, his family is unaware that the item could be exchanged, and they do not wish to offend Mr. Eaton by returning it.
At a news conference on January 14, 1976, Eaton's announced that the 1976 spring-summer catalogue would be their last. 9000 mail-order employees were out of work. Many Canadians were in shock. In one notable incident, Barbara Frum of CBC Radio’s As It Happens opened her interview of Eaton's president Earl Orser with the question "Mr. Orser, how could you?"
Over time, the catalogue became a less profitable operation, and by the 1970s, it was a money-losing proposition. As Canada's population became more urban over the course of the 20th century, Canadians had access to a greater number of local stores, and were less reliant on catalogue purchases. By the mid-1970s, it was estimated that 60% of the suburban customers throughout Canada lived within a thirty-minute drive of an Eaton's store. Others blamed Eaton's management for the catalogue's failures, pointing to the similar Simpsons-Sears catalogue (later the Sears Canada catalogue), which continued until a much later date even though it never enjoyed the iconic status or popularity of the Eaton's catalogue.
The T. Eaton Company Limited, commonly known as Eaton's, was a Canadian retailer that was once Canada's largest department store chain. It was founded in 1869 in Toronto by Timothy Eaton, a Presbyterian Ulster Scot immigrant from what is now Northern Ireland. Eaton's grew to become a retail and social institution in Canada, with stores across the country, buying-offices around the globe, and a catalogue that was found in the homes of most Canadians. A changing economic and retail environment in the late 20th century, along with mismanagement, culminated in the chain's bankruptcy in 1999.
In 1919, two life-sized statues of Timothy Eaton were donated by Eaton's employees to the Toronto and Winnipeg stores, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the company. The Toronto statue is now exhibited in the Royal Ontario Museum. The Winnipeg statue was housed in the suburban Polo Park Mall for a few years after 1999, until the Hudson's Bay Company opened a Bay store at that location and wanted the statue of its former competitor removed. After a tussle with the Eaton family, who wanted to move the statue to St Marys, Ontario, the Manitoba government declared it a provincial heritage object. It now sits in the city's new arena, Bell MTS Place, one floor up from nearly the same spot where it stood in the old store. People often rubbed the toe of the statue's left shoe since it is believed by some to bring good luck to do so. As a result, the toe is much shinier than any other part of the statue.
To publicize the parade, Eaton's published a number of books and records about a sad little bear called Punkinhead (originally created by Charles Thorson) who becomes Santa's sidekick and takes part in Santa's parade. A Punkinhead character was included in the parade for many years.
John Craig Eaton, the son of Timothy Eaton, became an early proponent of building a combined store and mail order operation in Winnipeg. Although Timothy Eaton initially had misgivings over the difficulties involved in managing a store 2100 km from Toronto, John Craig was eventually able to convince his father. Eaton's acquired a city block on Portage Avenue at Donald Street, and the five-storey Eaton's store opened to much fanfare on July 15, 1905. Timothy Eaton and his family were on hand for the opening of the second Eaton's store, with the Winnipeg Daily Tribune noting in its front-page headline: "The Canadian Napoleon of Retail Commerce Reaches the Capital - Views His Great Store for First Time - Well Pleased".
Eaton's difficulties were not all caused by external forces. Poor management by the last two generations of Eaton family members to run the chain contributed to the demise of Eaton's. Stores that once served as landmarks in their communities were not renovated. New Eaton's stores built since the 1960s were largely indistinguishable from other chain stores, further reducing Eaton's status as a destination store.
Eaton's had two buying offices located in Europe (see advestiment with addresses for offices ):
Eaton's pioneered several retail innovations. In an era when haggling for goods was the norm, the chain proclaimed "We propose to sell our goods for CASH ONLY – In selling goods, to have only one price." In addition, it had the long-standing slogan "Goods Satisfactory or Money Refunded."
Eaton's sold private label appliances under the "Viking" label. These were largely manufactured by White.
Sears had trouble securing name brand merchandise consistent with the image of the new chain. This was mainly because of Eaton's bankruptcy. It was also because of doubt in Sears' ability to manage an upper-end chain, since until recently their merchandise was of lower price and quality compared to the old Eaton's and The Bay. George Heller, then-president of rival department store The Bay, publicly warned vendors not to supply the new Eaton's with merchandise. Many mid-to-upper tier brands, particularly in clothing, feared reprisal and avoided the new Eaton's.
The landmark red brick store, known as "the Big Store" to Winnipeggers, was a success. The initial staff of 750 grew to 1200 within a few weeks of the opening. By 1910, three more storeys were added to the store and other buildings were constructed. By 1919, the Eaton's operations in Winnipeg covered 21 acre and employed 8000 people.
Another Ross and Macdonald-designed landmark, the former Eaton's store in downtown Saskatoon, now serves as the offices of the Saskatoon Board of Education after housing an Army & Navy department store for decades following Eaton's relocation to Midtown Plaza in the 1960s.
Of the seven locations involved in this experiment, those in Winnipeg and Victoria, which were close to existing Sears stores (and, in the case of Winnipeg, in the same mall) were sold to rival department store The Bay. Yorkdale likewise already had a Sears (as well as The Bay) and so the Eaton's space was redeveloped for smaller retailers. The four remaining locations were rebranded as Sears, but ultimately all closed between 2008 and 2015 as Sears itself faced difficulties. These spaces were subsequently taken over mainly by Holt Renfrew (Calgary) and Nordstrom (in Ottawa, Vancouver, and downtown Toronto), though Sears Canada retained the top floors of the former Toronto Eaton Centre location for its head offices.
In 1977, the Toronto Eaton Centre opened in downtown Toronto, replacing two previous downtown Eaton's stores. The complex — stretching 400 m on several levels from Dundas to Queen Street and boasting 200 stores — was anchored at the north end by a nine-storey Eaton's store.
Retailing and land use trends in the last decades of the 20th century did not favour Eaton's. Traditional department stores, including Eaton's, commanded an ever-shrinking share of the Canadian retail dollar, as big box stores, such as Wal-Mart and Zellers, and specialty stores expanded their shares of retail sales. With the advent of urban sprawl, most Canadian downtown shopping districts (which were historically dominated by Eaton's) had to increasingly share retail sales with growing suburban shopping areas, where Eaton's was just one of many competitors.
Eaton's transformed retailing in Canada, and its methods were eagerly adopted by retailers throughout the world. Many approaches to sales and service that are taken for granted by customers today were originally popularised by Timothy Eaton and his store.