This statue of Timothy Eaton is in the concourse of the MTS Centre where the Winnipeg Jets play hockey. I remember this statue well. Years ago it was located on the main floor in the old Eaton’s Store which stood on the very same spot where the MTS Centre is now. When my family came into Winnipeg from Steinbach to shop, we would often argree to rendezvous at a certain time at Mr. Eaton’s statue. The Eaton’s store went bankrupt in 1999 and eventually arrangements were made to declare the statue a part of Manitoba’s provincial history and preserve it in the MTS Centre.
Timothy Eaton came to Canada from Ireland and built a retail empire with large department stores both in Toronto and Winnipeg. Mr. Eaton also had a nation wide mail order business. I remember how excited I was as a little girl when the Eatons’ catalogue came out, especially the Christmas edition. We looked through it so many times picking out the things we dreamed about getting for Christmas. My mother remembers longing for an Eaton’s Beauty Doll for Christmas, a special line of dolls produced each year by Eatons.
This statue was a gift to the Eaton family from the Eatons’ employees. It was presented to Timothy Eaton’s widow Margaret and his son John in 1919 on the occasion of the store’s 50th anniversary. The employees wanted to show their gratitude for the company’s generosity during World War I. All Eatons’ employees who enlisted in the army were promised their jobs back after the war. Married employees received their full Eaton’s salary during the war, and single men half their salary. Eaton’s sent their military employees care packages of chocolate, coffee, socks and other store products during the war. The company had many lucrative government contracts because of the war but donated all their profits from these contracts to the war effort. Apparently Mr. Eaton was also one of the first to close his business at 1 pm. on Saturday, instead of 6 pm. to give workers more time off.
The 3,500 pound statue was made by Ivor Lewis, a Welshman who worked in the Eaton’s advertising department. It was officially unveiled on December 8,1919. The Eaton’s Choral Society sang O Canada. John Eaton, Timothy’s son, had a cold so his wife Flora read his speech in which he thanked the employees for their kind gift. A replica was placed in the Eaton’s Store in Toronto. It is now in the Royal Ontario Museum.
This photo shows John and Margaret Eaton arriving at the store for the anniversary celebrations. Although I am sure many Eaton’s workers did appreciate their employer enough to donate money for a massive statue, I am also a little skeptical about the whole thing, because I know that during the Winnipeg Labor Strike in June of 1919, just six months before the presentation of the statue, Eatons tried to bribe their workers with a $4.00 a week raise so they wouldn’t go on strike. Despite this 500 of them walked off the job. Eatons also supplied the horses and baseball bats for the special police forces established to deal with the strikers.