The Timothy Eaton Statue

Timothy Eaton Statue at the MTS Centre

The imposing 3,500 lb Timothy Eaton statue was unveiled in Eaton's Winnipeg store on December 11, 1919. It, and an identical one at the Toronto store unveiled three days earlier, were a gift from Eaton's employees to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the retail empire.

The sculptor was Welsh immigrant, Eaton's manager and eventually Eaton's director, Ivor Lewis. An accomplished artist and singer, Lewis is noted for his contributions to Toronto's arts and theatre scene.

Timothy's son and company president Sir John C. Eaton came from Toronto for the unveiling that was attended by "thousands of employees." It began on the main floor at 8:00 a.m., a half-hour before store opening. 

After the singing of O Canada Mr. H. McGee, an Eaton's vice-president and their oldest-serving employee, made the presentation. He noted that the Winnipeg store was known as "J.C.'s Baby" as it was Sir John who was instrumental in having the store and mail order catalogue house built in the city, even going so far as to personally select the site.

Sir John C. Eaton (source)

Eaton was in attendance but suffering from a severe cold and his response was read on his behalf:

" me it is most gratifying....that the deeds of my father still live and will be perpetuated for all time by the erection of this magnificent memorial".

As a return gift Eaton announced that beginning January 2, 1920 the store would close at 5 pm, a half hour earlier, to lighten the hours of employees. It was noted that the store was already closed Saturdays in July and August as a thank-you to staff who had worked hard to get the Winnipeg location up and running.

Eaton's ad Dec. 11,1919 (source)

That evening a gala dinner was held in honour of the Golden Jubilee.

During its 80-year presence at the department store the statue became a landmark at which people would meet up when visiting downtown. A superstition developed that rubbing the toe of Eaton's left foot would bring good luck.

In 1999 the Eaton's empire collapsed and the fate of the statue was in question. 

It had a brief stint at Polo Park Shopping Centre when Sears Canada tried unsuccessfully to revive the chain. After the second collapse in 2002, the Eaton family announced that the Winnipeg statue would go to a museum in St. Mary's, Ontario, the Eaton family's home town. That prompted negotiations between the family and heritage advocates that ended in a compromise: the statue would become a provincial heritage object; ownership would go to the Province; and it would be placed in a 'site of significance.'' 

Above: Eaton on the move (source)

In 2003 The Bay took over the former Eaton's retail space in Polo Park and the statue was removed by arena builders True North Entertainment. After some time in storage, Timothy Eaton was unveiled in 2004 sitting in almost the exact  spot, one floor up, from where he sat for 80 years. Also unveiled at the site were the bronze war service panels from the store.

Toronto's Eaton statue is now at the Royal Ontario Museum . The Eaton family were long-time benefactors of the institution.

Eaton's Online Exhibit Archives of Ontario
Eaton's Seeks Bankruptcy Protection Maclean's Mar. 10, 1999
Eaton's Statue to Stay Put on the Prairies CBC May 19, 2002
Eaton Statue Declared a Provincial Heritage Object Manitoba Press Release Oct. 22, 2002
Famed Timothy Eaton Statue moves to its new home Royal Ontario Museum Press Release
True North relocates Timothy Eaton statue True North, April 21, 2004

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