Margaret Wilson Eaton

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Margaret Wilson Eaton (Beattie)

Birthplace: Toronto, Toronto Division, Ontario, Canada
Death: March 18, 1933 (91)
Oakville, Halton Regional Municipality, Ontario, Canada
Place of Burial: Toronto, Toronto Division, Ontario, Canada
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Joseph Beattie and Elizabeth Beattie
Wife of Timothy Eaton
Mother of Lillie Eaton; William Fletcher Eaton; Edward G. Young Eaton; Josephine Smyth Burnside; Dora Guinn and 7 others

Managed by: Alek Josefowicz
Last Updated:

About Margaret Wilson Eaton

DOUG SYMONS Monday, January 24, 2011 8:07:29 EST AM

Margaret Wilson Beattie was two years old when her parents, along with three brothers and a sister, moved to Woodstock from Toronto in 1844. Her father, Joseph Beattie, opened a general store on the northeast corner of Dundas and Riddell Streets, currently the site of Scotia Bank. He sold the store to young John White in 1860 and the family moved to a house, which is now vacant but still standing behind Haight's Garden Centre near the old Bond's Corners on Dundas Street East.

After first seeing Margaret in 1861, an entranced young Tim Eaton often rode his horse to Woodstock's Chalmers Church on a Sunday just so he could sit and admire her. Any initial attempts to meet her were frustrated.

Apparently he was not unnoticed as Margaret later confided that "...something warned me that this young man was likely to prove dangerous and when he approached I always crossed the road to avoid meeting him."

The two met formally at a picnic later that year, married in 1862, and set up household in St. Mary's where Tim was in the dry goods and grocery business with his brothers Robert and James.

Margaret and Tim considered those St. Mary's years -when their family of eight was started -as their happiest. That was despite the deaths of three of their children in infancy. Edward, the heir-apparent, succumbed to diabetes at 37.

When the Eaton brothers split the business -Robert took groceries and James and Tim took dry goods-Margaret was active in what they called J and T Eaton.

Retail stores at that time had no fixed prices. Barter was usually the rule and cash was rarely used. It was a routine that did not suit Tim's temperament.

In 1869 he dissolved the partnership with James and moved to Toronto where most of the population of 70,000 worked for wages.

Advertising for the new T Eaton Company store opening on the southwest corner of Yonge and Queen Streets that December included one short sentence that would change retailing in Canada forever: "We propose to sell our goods for cash only, in selling goods to have only one price." Many businessmen thought he was crazy. They thought it even more so when the slogan, "Goods satisfactory or money refunded" first appeared on a T Eaton handbill the following spring.

Tim had always recognized Margaret's good intuition and character judgment and she had great influence on his business decisions such as the founding of Eaton's Employee Welfare Group, the reducing of store hours by closing at 5 p.m. even on Christmas Eve and, in 1886, giving paid summer Saturday afternoon holidays to all staff.

By 1883 the store had outgrown its space and although Tim wanted to move to the east side of Yonge Street Margaret urged him to buy what was known as the Page Block, north of Queen Street on the west side of Yonge. Once more he accepted her counsel and the site became the flagship of the Eaton empire. Today the Eaton Centre is a Toronto landmark.

Expanding rapidly, the company soon branched into a mail order operation. One of their ideas was to make the catalogue slightly smaller than the competition's so that when customers stacked them the Eaton book would be on top. When the company incorporated in 1891 Margaret was elected to the board of directors and served for many years.

The Eatons remained ordinary people. Family was important and, despite great success and wealth, they often had employees to Sunday dinner along with prominent guests and all were treated equally.

Margaret liked to travel and enjoyed fencing and riding. She was always concerned with women's roles in society and often hosted suffragette movement meetings.

When Tim died in 1907 Margaret funded the building of Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, another of Toronto's landmarks.

Margaret, who bridged the gap of traditional Victorian female and modern businessperson, died on 18 March, 1933. She is buried beside Tim in Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

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Margaret Wilson Eaton's Timeline

March 9, 1842
Toronto, Toronto Division, Ontario, Canada
May 28, 1862
Toronto, Toronto Division, Ontario, Canada
September 30, 1863
Saint Marys, Perth County, Ontario, Canada
December 4, 1865
Ontario, Canada
Ontario, Canada
December 6, 1867
Saint Marys, Perth County, Ontario, Canada
September 10, 1869
Toronto, Toronto Division, Ontario, Canada