The Boot and Shoe Men of 142 King St E

Banner photo is of King St E, looking west from Jarvis, 1868 – Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.

On the north side of King St E, at Jarvis, stands a building which has been watching Toronto’s progress since the late 1840s. Once part of a clutch of early commercial buildings which sat just east of St James Cathedral, 142 King St E is now the last of the gang.

Photo: K. Taylor, 2019.

The lush and lovely St James Park, with its Victorian flower garden, now occupies much of the block between the cathedral and Jarvis St. But in the 1840s, this stretch would’ve appeared as a continuation of the fine storefronts which made King St the shopping destination it was once famed for.

With the help of W. S. Boulton’s 1858 Atlas of the City of Toronto, you can get a sense of the original streetscape:

142 King St E (circled), once sat mid-block between a now lost street named Francis (later Commercial St) and Nelson (now Jarvis). From the 1858 W.S. Boulton Atlas of the City of Toronto and Vicinity.

Fleshed out and made real, this is what the portion neighbouring the cathedral looked like:

If you’re thinking that St James looks a little different here, that would be because it’s missing its spire. Following the Great Fire of 1849, the cathedral was rebuilt and re-opened in 1853, but the spire wouldn’t be added until 1874/5. Photo looking north-west from St Lawrence Hall in 1859, courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Here’s another shot with the spire, should it not feel right to go on without it:

King St looking north-east from Church in 1906. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Through the years, the now-lost block of stores would be occupied by a variety of enterprises including dry goods, hardware and home furnishings merchants, saddlers, grocers, and even an auction house. But like 142 King St E itself, one business would hold on much longer than the rest.

Short and sweet – name, business, location. This was as restrained as Thompson ads would get. From the 1856 Toronto City Directory.

Thomas Thompson was born in Yorkshire, England in 1803 and made his way here to York (Toronto), Upper Canada in 1830. For a time, he ran a private school house at Jordan and Melinda Sts. But in 1834, he decided his future lay in footwear and opened his first boot and shoe shop on King St E, near present day Victoria.

Thompson’s first boot and shoe shop on King is visible at left – just beyond where the two gents are chit-chatting while keeping an eye on the action. Lithograph of King St, looking west from present day Victoria St, in 1841. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Over the next decade, he’d expand his offerings to include all manner of dry goods and in 1847 would move the whole works into a newly built storefront on King, near Jarvis. He’d call it The Mammoth House:

Announcing his move to new digs, as well as rental opportunities for societies – benevolent or otherwise. From The Globe, December 1847.

Thompson’s Mammoth House was one of a handful of fashionable shops which adopted a majestic creature as mascot and namesake. One of these – and a close neighbour of Thompson’s – was the Golden Griffin, which sat just east of St James on the north side of King.

From the building to the griffin statue to the jumble of suits and the kid in the too-big-top-hat, I love everything about this photo. Photo, 1872, courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Keeping with the theme, there was also Richard Score & Son’s Golden Elephant:

I can’t be sure, but I’d imagine it’s been some time since an elephant had a positive connotation in relation to clothing. Advertisement from the Toronto Guide for the Provincial Fair, 1866.

Robert Walker and Sons – which moved into Thompson’s former storefront – would be famed as the Golden Lion:

Though Walker’s Golden Lion was also a dry goods palace, it appears there was no great competition with Mammoth House. Thompson and Walker, it seems, were quite friendly and Thompson’s son – Thomas Jr – had his first job at the Golden Lion. Photo from 1873, courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

But enough of golden idols, let us return to Thomas Thompson and his Mammoth shop.

Sadly, I’ve yet to find a photo of Thompson’s storefront or the mammoth statue that must’ve graced the facade. From Toronto Guide for the Provincial Fair, 1866.

From his new premises, Thomas Thompson would continue to enjoy great success for the next 20 years – a run marred only by his death on October 12th, 1868. With his passing, the business would pass on to his son who, as it happens, was also named Thomas Thompson.

This would prove handy as neither the signage nor advertisements required any change.

Had my mother be involved in writing this copy, she’d have said “Don’t say ‘cheap,’ say ‘inexpensive’.” From The Globe, October, 1868.
The man himself – Thomas Jr – circa 1860s/70s. From an article in the Toronto Daily Star on April 27, 1905, celebrating Thompson and his wife’s 50th anniversary.

Under Thomas Jr’s management, the Mammoth’s ads would become, er, interesting – almost as though the copy writer was working off of the company’s minutes:

From The Globe, April 8, 1890.

I say copy-writer but, really, I believe these babies were Thomas Jr’s all the way. According to historian Desmond Morton, Thompson designed them himself, drawing inspiration from current events – as in the case of this one which referenced the Knights of Labour during the 1886 Toronto Street Railway strike:

“The forces of Labour and the Powers of Capital are clashing! The answer is clear – buy carpets!” From The Globe, March 20, 1886.

While some may have been topical, others are just plain odd …

Schemes, plans and devices abound, but the people will not be kept from bargains – they speak of them in the Quiet Hamlet. From The Globe, November 11, 1884.

Early on, Thomas Jr worked alongside his older brother, John, who managed the Mammoth’s boot and shoe department. In 1870, however, John would strike out on his own, opening a standalone boot and shoe shop next door at 142 King St E.

The brothers would both enjoy great success. By the mid-1880s, Mammoth House had some 200 employees and was bringing in sales of roughly $250,000 a year. Thomas Jr. would retire in 1890, but the Mammoth would continue on until 1907 – finally closing its doors after more than 70 years in business. As for John, he would close-up shop in 1901. Holding onto the building itself, he would rent 142 King E out to another boot and shoe concern – the Carey Shoe Company.


The Carey Shoe Company got its start when 20-year-old Johnston Carey went into business for himself in 1872.  Originally living and working at 262 Queen St W near Soho, he’d eventually do well enough to move his family into separate, grander digs on Brunswick St.  With the turn of the century, business was better yet and he opened a second shoe store in the former Thompson shop at 142 King St E.  

The 1910s brought further growth and Carey, now in his 60s, welcomed a partner into the fold – his son, Albert Clarence.  

Here we have Albert Clarence (left) and his father, Johnston Carey :

Somehow, remarkably, they seem to be the same age … though I suppose it’s possible the photos are from different periods. From Footwear in Canada, 1912.

Together the two would expand the business to include stores in Barrie, Chatham and Owen Sound, and even as far west as Edmonton, Alberta.  But the heart of their enterprise would remain this building.   After several years of renting the space from John Thompson, the Careys purchased it in 1916.  The building itself was now nearly 70 years old and father and son decided it could use a facelift.  Once completed, the renovations included a dramatically modern, angled entrance with plate glass windows and a full-length mirror.  The better to help passersby envision themselves in the shoes, one imagines.

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From the September, 1916 Footwear in Canada

For all their success, there was an aspect of the shoe trade which troubled the Careys – namely, new fashions in footwear.  In 1912, father and son vented their concerns to the trade journal Footwear in Canada for a feature titled “Will Freak Styles in Footwear Remain?”:

“We consider the shoe trade very much handicapped by the popular fads.  We hold the last and pattern makers responsible for the frequent changes in style, as it all tends to bring grist to their mill.”

But they had a solution. Johnston Carey proposed that shoe manufacturers unite in rejecting the new fashions:

“I think the remedying of the matter is in the hands of the manufacturers, and to bring about a healthy state of affairs as far as the above is concerned it would be necessary for the Canadian and American manufacturers to get together and pass upon innovations before they would make even samples of any new lines.”  To underline his pointed, he added “As far as we are concerned we would gladly welcome any change that would diminish the styles in footwear.”

Of course, this is hardly the way of fashion – to say nothing of capitalism – and so their plea fell on deaf ears. 

Now I know you must be wondering what these hyper-faddish shoes looked like and so, after some digging, I’m happy to share a couple examples.

Behold!

Cover thine eyes! From Footwear in Canada, 1913.
What useful madness is this? From Footwear in Canada, 1913.
Um, strictly speaking, an anklet is not actually part of the shoe so this one shouldn’t even count, but whatever. From Footwear in Canada, 1913.

Should you now be wondering what “normal” shoes looked like during the period, here are the styles being pushed in 1913:

Oh yes, the difference is quite clear now. … I enjoy the way the ladies’ pumps are all pointing demurely downwards, while well-heeled Tan Blucher – Bull Moose emits day-glo orange confidence. From Footwear in Canada, 1913.

Unpalatable as they were, I’m afraid freak fashions weren’t the Careys’ only concern. There was also the growing problem of the price of leather – a crisis apparently brought on by the popularity of another new craze:

Boot and shoe makers’ big three beefs: #1 AUTOS! #2 Low cattle counts! #3 “… those furniture manufacturers seem to be using an awful lot.” From the Toronto Daily Star, October 2, 1912.

Weighing in on this issue – which by the way was front page news – was Johnston Carey himself:

From the Toronto Daily Star, October 2, 1912.

Even with rising leather costs and freak fashions to contend with, the Careys’ success would continue for several years.  It would be 1929 before their popular shop on King St E was closed for good.  It was that same year that 54-year-old Albert Clarence died following a brief illness.  His father, who’d long resisted retirement, gave up the business and spent his remaining years tending his garden and playing croquet.  In 1935, he passed away at 83.

Today, no trace remains of the Careys’ 1916 renovation of the building.  The once smartly angled entrance has now been restored to something very near the original design. But, if you look closely, you’ll find the Careys left one lasting mark. Over a hundred years later, the east wall still remembers the boot and shoe men.

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Photo: K. Taylor, 2019.

20 thoughts on “The Boot and Shoe Men of 142 King St E

  1. I’m so glad to see your posts back again! And what a post! That griffin is absolutely fabulous, I completely agree. Also, the purse shoe?! C’mon, yes please! I absolutely love love love an Edwardian boot (though the real thing always look far too narrow to fit on my feet, but I buy the Edwardianiest looking modern versions I can find) and the purse on the side is even more of a selling point, since basically not going anywhere far enough away in the past year to have to take a purse has made me realise I don’t miss having constant shoulder pain AT ALL, and I am very keen to not resume purse wearing when I do start venturing out regularly again, so any places to hide belongings on my person are very much welcomed. I will happily stick it to the Careys by taking all the “freak” shoes off their hands. The whole post is fab, but I’m obviously fixated on the shoes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I’m so happy you liked it!
      And I’m with you on the freak shoes and those boots! Pfft, freak? Such nonsense – who doesn’t need an extra pocket? And oh god, I hear you with the sore shoulder. After toting monstrous purses for years, my left shoulder is so bad now I’m like a worn out major league pitcher. Anyway … I have so many early ads for shoes that I wasn’t able to use here, which pained me greatly. Maybe I’ll write one shoe ad-heavy post, just for us.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! That means a lot coming from a great researcher like yourself. I bet you too have folders and folders of clippings you’d love to find a home for 🙂

      Like

      1. Haha, I definitely save stuff I come across researching totally different topics! I have a folder dedicated to future Twitter or article ideas.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A new post from my favourite Toronto Gal! Freak footwear and long-winded copywriting – I love it. Your research gives us context and provides the right details to take us back to a time we can only imagine by piecing together the stories and the evidence. Thanks for doing that for us so capably.

    Also, I’ve been wondering about the status of your book release…? Did our current state of upside-down-ness affect it? Looking forward to it, too, of course, when the time comes.

    Wishing you a healthy and joyful spring!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Vanessa, you do my heart good! Thank you so much for the lovely words – I am so happy to hear you enjoyed this post. I’m rather fond of these old boot and shoe men.

      And you’re right! This crazy, topsy-turvy time has pushed my book release back. As you probably could guess, it’s quite archival-photo heavy. When all the archives closed last March, production ground to a halt. But I understand we’re now back on track for a Fall release 🙂

      Hope you’re keeping and doing well! Looking forward to seeing Spring’s beauty through your eyes (and lens.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A joy to read about my great, great grandfather (and his son) who ran Mammoth House, over its six decade span. The flamboyant advertising copy is certainly “unparalleled in moder times”! The business suffered the effects of the great fires that razed Toronto in the 1800’s and it must have taken great courage to reopen the doors after these events.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a treat to get your note! I’m so pleased to learn you’re a descendant of Thomas Thompson’s. Yes, the business was remarkably resilient – and certainly highly regarded in the city.
      Thank you for writing and sharing your family connection!

      Like

  4. This article is brilliant. I love how you weave history, architecture, and fashion styles into your writing. I’m counting the days to your next missive. Meanwhile, let’s raise a glass to freak shoes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – you’ve made my day! So glad to hear you enjoyed the tale and will stop by again! Should be posting a new piece (or two) in the next few days.
      And hear, hear – viva freak shoes!

      Like

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