From Storefront to Home Front: Memories of Eaton’s at War

2017, Mackenzie House, Program/Event
20th-century, Eaton Family, event photos, heritage buildings, history, neighbourhood, soldiers, T. Eaton Company, Toronto, tour, war, World War I
About This Project

Date: April 9, 2017

Partner: Mackenzie House

Venue: Mackenzie House – map

Project Members: Anthony Badame and Stephanie Read


From Storefront to Home Front: Memories of Eaton’s at War is a 90-minute walking tour of the Yonge & Dundas neighbourhood in Toronto’s downtown core. Taking place on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the tour explores the lives of Eaton’s employees who served in the First World War as civilians and soldiers, as well as of their families and friends. The stories of their contributions to the war effort, their movements, affiliations, and motivations provide participants with an intimate look at Toronto life during a time of incredible turmoil and resilience.


The tour is intended to be of interest to persons interested in the historical, political, commercial and/or military aspects of early 20th-century Toronto. As it is a 90-minute tour outdoors, the program may not be suitable for very young audiences or persons with mobility issues.


The walking tour begins and ends at Mackenzie House, which stands just a stone’s throw away from the former T. Eaton Company complex. Exploring the nearby Yonge & Dundas neighbourhood takes visitors to the places where Eaton’s employees who enlisted would have worked, shopped, enlisted, trained, prayed and celebrated.


Planning began in September 2016. The program took eight months to develop. The research phase was approximately seven months. Selecting and printing visual aids took a month, as well as developing and learning the tour script. We conducted several ‘dress rehearsals’ with Mackenzie House staff as well as our fellow students in order to test the script and tour route. The tour took place on April 9th, 2017, from 1 pm to 2:30 pm.


The Exhibition Team developed and conducted the tour. The route included ten main stops. When possible, the stops showcased buildings or monuments which would have stood during the years of the First World War. We also included two song numbers and encouraged participants to sing along, as a means of injecting levity and interaction into the tour narrative. We also used visual aids in order to show participants how the soldiers in our story would have looked, using historic photographs from the Archives of Ontario Collection. When necessary, we presented printed images of buildings which no longer exist, so that participants could visualize how those locations once looked. That being said, we decided to rely on descriptions of places when we could, so as to not deter too often from the flow of the narrative, as well as to encourage participants to let their imaginations fill in the gaps.


Mackenzie House is part of the City of Toronto Heritage Sites, therefore the City of Toronto Museums & Heritage Services provided free advertisements via their website, e-newsletter and social media platforms. Musings has written about the tour, and the Exhibition Team intends to create an “act of memory” for the event.


29 participants attended From Storefront to Home Front. The tour was an overall success. Participants were engaged, asked questions, sang along to wartime tunes and joined us afterward for a discussion over cider and cookies. The tour received resounding verbal positive feedback. 12 participants filled out questionnaires about their experience. Of those 12, 100% indicated that they enjoyed the tour and found it interesting and insightful. Furthermore, the majority indicated that they felt a deeper connection to Toronto’s history and landscape.


We would like to thank our sponsor the Faculty of Information, as well as our course instructor Matthew Brower and our fellow classmates for their feedback and support. We also thank the volunteers at the 48th Highlander Regimental Museum for their invaluable insight, Rebecca Noone and Hillary Walker Gugan for their expertise, and Frances Webster, Crystal Anderson & family, Sean Wilmot and Charmaine Nolte for sharing their family histories with us. We would also like to convey our sincere gratitude to Mackenzie House staff for their support throughout this project.