HBC Heritage Services maintains a collection of catalogues for reference purposes. Please note that our series of catalogues is not complete. To request information about particular holdings, please complete the attached request form.
If you have copies of catalogues from any of these companies, and are interested in donating them to our collection, please Contact Us.
Hudson's Bay Company
In the 1880s HBC entered a new phase in its development as the basis of the Company's business shifted from trade for furs to a cash economy. In the larger western centres, such as Calgary, Vancouver and Winnipeg, the Company was opening retail establishments. While these stores catered to growing urban populations people located outside cities were still limited in their options. To remedy this situation and service these remote customers, Hudson's Bay Company produced its first catalogue in 1881.
People without direct access to stores could now purchase goods and have them delivered. Compared to other retail establishments however, HBC's catalogue service was relatively short-lived. The last customer-oriented catalogue was published in 1913. This distinction is important since catalogues continued to be produced internally after this date for the Fur Trade (later Northern Stores) Department. Internal catalogues provided the far-flung posts and depots with descriptions of the products with which they could stock their shelves and included everything from clothing and provisions to musical instruments, tents and canoes.
The Robert Simpson Company Limited opened its first mail order office in 1885 but didn't produce its first catalogue until 1894. By the early part of the 20th century, mail order had become a thriving part of the business, so much so that in 1916 a new mail order building was constructed in Toronto to replace the existing structure which had become too small. The mail order department continued to grow: new buildings were opened in Regina in 1916 and Halifax in 1919. In 1930, Charles Burton, then president of Simpsons, decided that the catalogues should be printed in-house, so the Toronto Mail Order Building was expanded to accommodate the presses. In the 1940s, the Company expanded its catalogue offerings to four per year. Simpsons continued to produce seasonal catalogues until the 1950s, when Simpson's and Sears signed an agreement. The resulting new company, Simpsons-Sears, took over the mail-order business. Its first catalogue was issued in 1953. Simpson's own catalogue tradition was continued in a diminished form through the annual Christmas Wish Book.
Following on the heels of Hudson's Bay Company in the west, Woodward's published its first catalogue in 1896. In 1902, after opening their first food centre, the Company also started to issue separate food catalogues. Woodward's mail order service was ended in 1953.
An overview of Hudson's Bay Company catalogues would be incomplete without mentioning Shop-Rite. These were not mail order catalogues per se, but rather were the basis of a whole new experiment in retailing. The Shop-Rite concept was based on the concept of catalogue shopping done in store. Customers would enter the store, browse the catalogue, select their merchandise and apply to the store clerk for the item. The first Shop-Rite stores were acquired by Hudson's Bay Company in 1972 and the chain, which eventually had over 60 stores in Ontario, closed in 1982.
Unlike its competitors, Morgan's did not have a formalized mail order division. Catalogues were occasionally produced however to advertise the types of goods available in store.
For more on mail order, see Before E-Commerce: A History of Canadian Mail Order Catalogues.