Saturday, August 8, 2009

Timothy Eaton Statue

Timothy E
Object: Timothy Eaton Statue
Location: 2nd floor, MTS Centre, 300 Portage Avenue
Unveiled: December 11, 1919
Artist: Ivor R. Lewis

Background:

The imposing 3500 lb Timothy Eaton statue was unveiled in the 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.


Ivor Lewis (Source)

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


Sir John C. Eaton (Source)

Timothy's son and company president Sir John C. Eaton came from Toronto for the unveiling. 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 Winnipeg. He even personally selected the site.

The ceremony was attended by "thousands of employees" and began on the main floor at 8:00 a.m., a half-hour before store opening. After the singing of O Canada, H.McGee, an Eaton's vice-president and its oldest-serving employee, made the presentation.

Eaton was in attendance but suffering from a severe cold or flu. His response read on his behalf:

To 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.


Eaton Golden Jubilee Ad, Dec 11, 1919, Manitoba Free Press

As a return gift, Eaton announced that beginning January 2, 1920 the store would close at 5 pm, a half hour earlier than usual, 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 worked hard to get the Winnipeg store and catalogue building open.

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


During its 80 years at Eaton's the statue became a landmark at which people met up when visiting downtown. A superstition developed that rubbing the toe of Eaton's left foot would bring you good luck.

In 1999 the Eaton empire ran out of luck. It collapsed and the fate of the store and 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 statue would go to St. Mary's, Ontario, the Eaton family 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.


Timothy E arriving at new home (Source)


In 2003 The Bay took over the former Eaton's retail space in Polo Park and the statue was removed by the True North Entertainment, developers of the new arena that sits on the former Eaton's store site. After a brief time in storage, Timothy Eaton was unveiled in 2004 at almost the exact spot, just one floor up, where he sat for 80 years. Also unveiled were the store's two large bronze war service panels.

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

Related:
My Timothy Eaton Statue photo album

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 Gov't 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 Press Release, April 21, 2004

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