To mark Remembrance Day in 1948, the department store erected a memorial to fallen employees.
They were Faithful unto Death
In proud remembrance of the two hundred and sixty-three members of the Eaton staff who made the supreme sacrifice in World War II, having gone forth valiantly to fight for the survival of freedom. Their names are here inscribed that all may read who pass this way. 1945
(inscription, Eaton’s war memorial plaque, 1948)
For Eaton’s employees, Remembrance Day held a special significance in 1948. The department store spent $25,000 installing bronze war memorials in Toronto, Montreal, and Winnipeg to honour its workers who died serving in the Second World War. Designed by sculptor Edward Watson, the plaque placed in the Eaton’s store on Queen Street West complemented a similar memorial erected years earlier to those who fell during the First World War.
During the fight against the Axis, Eaton’s president R.Y. Eaton revived the company’s policy of subsidizing enlisted employees, despite warnings that the model was financially unsustainable, given how many more employees would serve in the Second World War than served in the First. Married men were paid a salary that, combined with their military pay, equalled their regular income, while bachelors were compensated up to two-thirds of their normal salary. To comply with the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act passed in 1942, any employees honourably discharged were returned to their old jobs or given a suitable equivalent.
When the war ended, new company president John David Eaton ordered staff to organize a series of banquets across Canada to honour returning veterans. One of the first, held at the Eaton Hall estate near King City in September 1946, saw more than 2,500 vets bused in from the city. John David and R.Y. Eaton gave attendees 10-karat gold signet rings, replicas of which were later sold for $3.97.
Delayed due to a materials shortage, it wasn’t until November 10, 1948, that flying officer George Knox, representing the Eaton Veterans’ Association, unveiled the Second World War memorial. Reverend David MacLennan of the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church conducted the quiet ceremony; attendees included Eaton’s company directors, war veterans, and families of the fallen employees listed on the plaque.
Afterwards, veterans’ committees representing Toronto, Montreal, and Winnipeg decided to offer John David Eaton a token of their appreciation. More than 95 per cent of Eaton’s employees contributed to buy a large silver punch bowl crafted in Denmark, which was accompanied by 24 goblets and a tray engraved with military crests. The notoriously private company president declined the gift on the grounds that he wasn’t owed anything. “Father didn’t think he was deserving of any gift from them,” his son Fredrik later said. “Those guys fought in a war.” The bowl sat wrapped in cellophane on a storage shelf for years before the Eaton family accepted it.
The Toronto memorial moved to the Eaton Centre store when it opened in 1977. Several years after Sears took over the site, the Eaton family requested the plaque be returned to them. They donated the memorial and its First World War counterpart to the Canadian War Museum, where it remains today.
Additional material from Eatonians: The Story of the Family Behind the Family by Patricia Phenix (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2002); the November 11, 1948 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the November 11, 1948 edition of the Toronto Star.