By Submitted Article on November 26, 2019.
This week’s ‘Your History’ column from the Galt Museum
By Danica Renke, Zoey Lorne and Aimee Benoit
Department stores initially focused on clothing and jewellery to attract more affluent middle-class women. By the early 20th century, most department stores had elegant tea rooms complete with high ceilings, beautiful views, entirely homemade food and weekly fashion shows. Although these strategies reinforced dominant norms about women’s tastes and needs, department stores also offered a place where women could be independent, away from their homes and families.
Conveniently located next to the bus terminal, Lethbridge Eaton’s was a destination for women to enjoy the afternoon. The store had a soda bar where shoppers could rest and enjoy something to eat and offered the latest fashions, cosmetics and everything a household could need.
The store was also an important employer for women in Lethbridge and many worked long careers as “Eatonians.”
“That was a career for them, and Eaton’s paid well. When you look back, they did have very good jobsÉ And I guess that was one place where women could be in a management role.” – Kelly Clampitt, former Eaton’s employee
Department stores played an important role in shaping the urban environment in Canada. By the 1950s most small towns had a department store or access to a wide range of products in catalogues. But Eaton’s offered more than just shopping; the company also played a visible role in the community – most notably through its iconic Santa Claus Parade in Toronto from 1905 to 1981.
In Lethbridge, the Eaton Social and Athletic Club held frequent events involving community members, such as whist drives, card parties and dances. The club sponsored curling competitions and had its own mixed curling team comprised of staff members and their partners. As another form of community participation, specialists from Eaton’s gave talks at the Southern Alberta Teachers’ Convention in order to educate teachers about fabrics in their home economics classes.
These activities no doubt helped capture new customers, but they also earned Eaton’s a special place in Canadians’ hearts.
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.