Canadian Fashion Connection – H.W. Brethour, Brantford

We were just offered some clothes from an old Brantford, Ontario family. One of the garments has the label ‘From H.W. Brethour, Brantford, Ont.’ so I looked it up and I was amazed what I found online — twenty years ago it would have taken me a couple of trips to various libraries and archives and two or three days to find out what I did in an hour of googling. Here is what I found:

H.W. Brethour (H. is for Henry), was born in about 1830.  In 1859 he built a dry goods store at the present address of 94 Colborne Street in Brantford, Ontario (it was 80 Colborne street at the time). In the 1862 directory, which was based on the 1861 census, H.W. Brethour was listed as one of 13 dry goods stores in Brantford (the town also listed 9 boot and shoe stores, 7 clothiers, 2 hatters, and 9 tailors) for a population of around 7,000. In the 1869-1870 Gazetteer, the store is listed as a wholesaler and retailer of dry goods, millinery, ready-made clothing etc. I also found his name listed on several ship passenger lists from the early 1860s to 1890, so he travelled to Europe on buying trips.

Advertisement for H.W. Brethour dating from December 1884

In 1868 he hired local architect John Turner to do extensive alterations to the store, and the next year also had Turner build his new house at 88 Brant Avenue – the posh street where city businessmen and leaders were building their grand homes. His house cost $7,000 and was designed in the Italianate style with stained glass windows, gas, hot and cold water, and a hot air furnace. The house still stands and is currently the Beckett-Glaves Family Funeral Centre.

He was also proud of his garden and had a gardener’s cottage built to the south of the house for a cost of $500. He won various prizes at local fairs for his red onions, pippin apples, and grapes. Brethour was also noted for his philanthropy and was a founder of the Brantford Ladies College in 1874. He also offered various educational scholarships and sat on many public civic boards. In 1887, a township in the district of Temiskaming was surveyed along the Ontario/Quebec border and was named for H.W. Brethour “a prominent business man from Brantford, Ontario.”

Advertisement for H.W. Brethour from May 1887

In 1888 H.W. retired and sold his business to Edward Blackburn Crompton, who had already established a successful dry goods store in Barrie, Ont. Brethour’s wife died at the age of 66 in 1891 and 5 years later H.W. also died at the age of 66. He had at least two children, a son Edward who died at the age of 4 in 1865, and a daughter Charlotte who married W.C. Livingston, a local magistrate. He died in 1926 leaving Charlotte with huge debts. By 1933 ‘Lottie’ had lost the family home and moved into the YWCA where she lived until her death in 1949. She also lost three children, a two year old son in 1891, and two adult sons during the First World War.

On March 3, 1915 a fire razed the former store to the ground, and also caused extensive damage to the adjoining stores. E.B. Crompton’s losses mounted to around $200,000. A new four storey building was erected on the site, but the building was sold when Crompton retired in 1920.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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