October 22nd, 2020

Rise of Eaton’s in Lethbridge

By Submitted Article on November 19, 2019.

By Danica Renke, Zoey Lorne and Aimee Benoit

“Eaton’s to Lethbridge and Southern Alberta is like Macy’s to New York.”

– Lethbridge Herald, Sept. 22, 1955

Department stores were founded in the mid-1800s and soon spread throughout Europe and North America. They sold everything from bicycles to ginger beer, all inside one building. With novel technology such as escalators, electric lighting and air conditioning, these lavish retail establishments became hubs of activity.

In Canada, the industry was defined by three names: the Hudson’s Bay Company, Simpson’s and Eaton’s – once Canada’s largest department store. The T. Eaton Company was founded in 1869 when Timothy and Margaret Eaton purchased a small dry-goods store in Toronto. As the store grew, Eaton’s popularized several retail innovations such as cash-only sales and fixed prices instead of haggling, which was the previous norm.

With a booming catalogue business, Eaton’s was in no rush to install brick-and-mortar stores in Western Canada during the early years of the 20th century. Eventually, the company did see enough demand, however, and in 1926 they opened a series of small self-serve grocery stores across the region.

Eaton’s opened its first “TECO” store in Lethbridge in 1927 at the corner of 4 Avenue and 6 Street South. The store became so successful that in 1955 the company built a new, modern building at the same location. Eaton’s became a landmark in Lethbridge and the central shopping hub for residents looking for quality goods.

When Eaton’s moved into the new Park Place mall in 1988, a Lethbridge Herald article notified the public that “Eaton’s will no longer have its traditional window displays that have raised excitement as well as some eyebrows over the years.”

The store took the opportunity to develop a new image focused on men’s and women’s fashion. However, the move to the mall marked the beginning of Eaton’s decline in Lethbridge, and across the country.

For more about the history of Eaton’s in Lethbridge, you can visit the Galt Museum & Archives’ temporary exhibit “It Pays to Shop at Eaton’s,” on display until Feb. 2, 2020.

Your old photos, documents, and artifacts might have historical value. Please contact Galt Museum & Archives for advice before destroying them.

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