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.
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:
Fleshed out and made real, this is what the portion neighbouring the cathedral looked like:
Here’s another shot with the spire, should it not feel right to go on without it:
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.
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.
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:
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.
Keeping with the theme, there was also Richard Score & Son’s Golden Elephant:
Robert Walker and Sons – which moved into Thompson’s former storefront – would be famed as the Golden Lion:
But enough of golden idols, let us return to Thomas Thompson and his Mammoth shop.
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.
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:
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:
While some may have been topical, others are just plain odd …
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 :
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.
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.
Should you now be wondering what “normal” shoes looked like during the period, here are the styles being pushed in 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:
Weighing in on this issue – which by the way was front page news – was Johnston Carey himself:
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.