Walter Sedlbauer immigrated to Canada from Czechoslovakia in 1939 to work for the Bata Shoe Company at their newly opened manufacturing plant in Batawa, Ontario. In 1948 he, with business partner Anthony Ronza, founded Susan Footwear Industries in a former parachute factory in Burlington, Ontario.
A sneaker brand called Cougar became a breakout success for them in the early 1970s, rivalling adidas running shoe sales in Canada. Their next big success story came in 1976 with a snow boot style with a padded leg and red lining, called the Pillow Boot.
By the time Walter died in 1994, the company was running into hard times from foreign brands being dumped on the Canadian market. Most Canadian shoe companies didn’t survive the shift to the world market, including Bata. Wanting to keep the business going, Walter’s sons Steven and Ron bought the Cougar trademark out of bankruptcy in 1996. The brothers realized they had to play by the same rules as the modern shoemaking industry and revived the Cougar brand by moving manufacturing off shore. The new Cougar brand company found success in new designs based on Pillow Boot styles, updated for the contemporary market.
Innovative Canadian fashion designer and architect, Harry Parnass died January 1, at the age of 85.
Born in Germany, Harry’s parents immigrated to New York in 1936. He graduated with degrees in architecture from Columbia and Harvard universities and became a professor of architecture and urban design at the Université de Montreal from 1965 to 1991.
While designing retail stores in 1977 for the Montreal firm of Le Chateau he met Nicola Pelly, an English-born Canadian fashion designer for Bagatelle in Montreal. The two launched their Parachute label in Montreal in March, 1978. A Toronto boutique followed in late 1979. Their New Wave concept of unisex futuristic tailoring was popular in the U.S. and Canada. Overwhelmed by how business was changing and consuming their lives in 1989, Pelly and Parnass slowly closed their business – the last store shut its doors in 1993.
For more information about his architectural career, see this obituary.
Harry Tolton was born March 29, 1871 in Guelph, Ontario. He was an avid sportsman and traveller in his youth – touring Europe on a bicycle and winning the Zimmerman trophy in 1894 as a champion bicycle rider in Canada. By the turn-of-the-century he had started a shirt-making business in Galt, which he moved to Hamilton where he married in 1902. In 1905 he relocated his factory to Berlin (Kitchener) moving it from King Street East to King Street West before building his own factory off College Street. Tolton closed down the business when he retired in the early 1940s: He died in January 1947.
Bonnie Stuart shoes began as the Galt Shoe Manufacturing Company in 1910. Founded by E.C. Getty in Galt, Ontario, the company was sold or taken over by Dr. Joseph Radford and his son-in-law Andrew M. Stuart. Radford was a prominent physician, the city of Galt’s medical officer of health, a school board chair, and Galt’s mayor from 1895 to 1899.
The company began to specialize in children’s shoes but after a fire destroyed the Galt plant in 1922, the company moved to Kitchener, Ontario. The Bonnie Stuart brand was introduced in the 1940s, and in 1961 the company was renamed Bonnie Stuart Shoes Ltd. The company went out of business in the late 1990s.
In March 1919 Sam Cohen, a native of San Francisco, and his brothers Joe and Harry opened a store at 44 West Hastings Street in Vancouver, B.C. to sell surplus army boots. Originally known as the Liberty store, the name was changed to Army & Navy in 1922, probably to leverage the marketing from the long-established English Army & Navy stores. The store sold military surplus as well as goods from other stores closing down and even advertised its own closing in 1927 as a publicity gimmick, reopening as ‘new and improved’ months later.
Sam bought out his brothers and, in 1938, bought a five-storey building at 27 West Hastings St., turning the original location into a shoe annex. In 1948 he opened a new store on Cordova street and in 1959 bought the adjacent Rex Theatre to tear down the 1913 movie palace for a nondescript expansion. Over the years the business expanded across Western Canada to include stores in New Westminster, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw. The original location became famous for its annual shoe sale, first held in 1949.
Management of the business passed to his son Jack, but a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, necessitated bringing in Garth Kennedy, a non-family member, to help Jack manage the company for three decades. Jack’s son died of a drug overdose in 1978 and his eldest daughter died in a car crash in 1982, leaving his youngest daughter Jacqui to take over the family business, which she did after Jack died in 1995, and Kennedy died in 1998.
The Army and Navy became the longest running department store in Vancouver. However, department stores have been struggling with low profit margins since the 1980s, and even more so since the turn-of-the-century with online shopping. COVID-19 was too much for the business and the Army & Navy stores did not reopen after the quarantine shutdown in March.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were thousands of tailors, milliners, and dressmakers working across Canada. Some had labels that identified the name of their business and location, but most didn’t. A donation that came into the museum a few years ago had a label that identified the merchant tailor’s shop in Galt (Cambridge), and the name of the buyer. A merchant tailor was essentially a men’s wear shop that offered ready-made suits that could be adjusted to the buyer’s measurements.
The shop was owned by William H. Kennedy who was born in Caledonia, Ontario in about 1860. He learned his trade in merchant tailoring at establishments south of the border in Chicago and St. Louis, but by 1900 Kennedy had returned to Canada and set up a merchant tailoring business on Main street in Galt. He retired in 1915 and moved to California in the early 1920s, but returned to Canada in about 1929 and died in 1933.
The wearer of this suit is well known in local history. William Stahlschmidt was born in Germany in 1844 and immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four. In 1859 he came to Canada and trained to be a teacher. By 1869 he had become the principal of the Preston public school. He married in 1871, and in 1884 founded W. Stahlschmidt & Co., a business that specialized in making furniture for schools and businesses. In 1889 the company went public and was renamed the Canadian Office and School Furniture Company. Stahlschmidt died in 1929 and that same year the company amalgamated with the Preston furniture company that survived until the 1960s.
Benjamin Chapman presumably learned the watchmaking and jewellery trade from his father who had established a jewellery business in Dublin, Ireland in 1814. Benjamin worked for 16 years as a jeweller in Belfast before immigrating to Canada in 1864. Ten years later he established his own business at 261 Yonge street in Toronto.
B. Chapman’s shop offered imported clocks and jewellery from England and Germany. In January, 1890 The Trader & Canadian Jeweller reported that his store had recently installed the “new Edison incandescent electric lighting”, which “shows off their handsome goods to great advantage.”
William James Chapman (1911 – 1999) great grandson of Benjamin, was the last owner of the family business that remained in operation until at least 1977. In 1979 the original building was given heritage status and today it houses a Tim Horton’s on the main floor.
Founded in Montreal by Naila Jaffer on February 3, 1986, K’Ien Art Concept Ltee. was listed as a wholesale distributor of jewellery. This means they didn’t manufacture the pieces, but had them made (probably in Canada) with their label.
The company didn’t survive the early 90s recession. Their last annual general meeting was held in 1991, they failed to file after 1994 and were dissolved for non-compliance by the Canadian government on March 6, 2000.