Canadian Fashion Connection – Master John

Although ‘Master John’ sounds like some kind of fetish shop, it was actually Toronto’s glam-rock boot shop in the 1970s. Stocked with styles that rivalled Vancouver’s Fox & Fluevog, London’s Terry de Havilland or Los Angeles’ Fred Slatten, John Master opened his first shop at 611 Yonge Street in c. 1971. The shoemaking was done at a small factory at 2752 Danforth Avenue near Main Street. His shop was as its height of success in 1974 – around the time he opened another shop at 513 Yonge Street. However, a declining interest in platform shoes forced him to close his first shop by the end of 1975, and the the second shop in 1979. 

His boots were not the best quality in terms of construction, but they never lacked pizazz. Silver leather platforms trimmed with snakeskin were common features of his showiest thigh-high pieces. Master claimed to have sold 300 pairs of handmade shoes a week to his clients which included: Black Sabbath, KISS, and British actor Christopher Lee.

Added November 5, 2019: At the time I wrote this, little was known about this elusive bootmaker, but since then a lot more information has surfaced. I wrote another blog about him here.

Image top: John Master holding one of his prized thigh-high boots

Image right: A shot of the front window, June 4, 1975, images courtesy Vintage Toronto

Thanks to Terry Charter for sending some more pics (below) of Master John boots. Although Master John never labelled his boots, Terry has picked up some examples with known provenance from the original owners:

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.
This entry was posted in Canadian dress, Obscurier Couturiers, Shoes. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – Master John

  1. Terry Charter says:

    I have been searching for a classic pair of Master John’s leather platform boots for some time now. What ever happened to the great pair that I owned and wore proudly back in the 1970’s? How I would love to have them to just throw on for fun with those 6″ heels, knee high soft black leather, decorated with silver stars and gold half moons, wonderful platform boots that zipped all the way up. The 1970’s were so special to me as I was in my late teens back then working for Le Chateau during the day and spinning disco and rock and roll records most of the night, depending on which club I was working. I miss those days, back in good old T.O. and Master John’s on Yonge Street was an important part of that magical time, as was the music, the people, society and life itself. I guess I just don’t want to give it up or say goodbye to those good times, so the search continues for a great pair of those incredible boots in size 11 by Master John.

    • Jonathan says:

      Good luck with your search – they are RARE finds! A lot of his work was unsigned as well, so you might find something that he made, but not even know it!

    • Joe Trippi says:

      I have at least two pair of “Thigh High” that I wore on stage…he had a picture of us in his store, it was next to the Kiss picture!!

      • Jonathan says:

        If you ever want to part with them – PLEASE contact me!
        Jonathan Walford

      • Terry Charter says:

        Hello Joe,
        Any chance you still have a copy of that photo. It would be great if you could add it to Jonathan’s post here. And like Jonathan said earlier, photos seem to be as hard to find as the boots themselves.
        I saw one of your performances a few days ago on Youtube and sure enjoyed it! Such a great gift to have and share with the world and have a blast while you’re doing it. Keep Rockin’!

  2. Terry Charter says:

    A couple of points that I thought were worth mentioning was that I seem to recall these boots costing me $130.00 at a time when most that worked in retail were earning in the neighbourhood of $7.00 per hour. It was also the time of the bell bottom, and I had them. Great big bell bottom jeans that almost completely covered those great boots, so no one could actually see how cool they really were, unless you took them off. I was 6 foot tall and 130 pounds at 18, but instantly I became 6′ 6″ in my Master John’s. I had a suit styled denim jacket, black tee as we all did back then, my “Lee” bell bottoms and those cool platforms. What a site! And it was amazing how agile you could become with those big “clunkers” on. I drove an MGB with those little pedals so close together, and danced the nights away with them on too. One more memory includes a night in Montreal at a discotheque. It must have been Halloween because the place was filled with people dancing in wonderful costumes. One couple in particular were dressed as Frankenstein and the bride of Frankenstein. They were magnificent looking, so authentic, dancing together to a Rick Jame’s song “Super Freak” while both wearing extremely tall platform boots, most likely from Master Johns. They towered over everyone. It was a moment in time that I will never forget. It was perfect and I was in awe! Great memories.
    Thank you for this article Jonathan and thanks for taking me back.

    • Jonathan says:

      Don’t you wish you had pictures? All of my best memories from my youth in the New Wave early 80s are in my head — no pictures like today when everyone takes photos ALL THE TIME!

  3. Josh Isenhower says:

    Just picked up a pair yesterday, here in mid Michigan! Fantastic.

  4. Mike Creamer says:

    Man I’m 58 now I bought my 1st pair of boots at 15. I had 4 pairs a blue almost to the knee boot, a black wedge platform maybe 5-6”? Well I moved out at 21 , packed up my 69 Camaro and moved North! Went home 2 weeks later to see the folks and to my well let’s just say amazement ALL my boots were taken to The Salvation Army Man!! Also my box of about 75 concert stubs? My Rock T-shirts along with many bongs etc!! I was FURIOUS looked at my Mother ready to SCREAM at her , when she said “ I’m sorry honey , I figured you left it all because you didn’t want it”?. Man I was livid but just said “ that’s ok Mom it was a mistake “! While biting my lip lol! So I’m guessing no chance to find any around that aren’t $1,000 huh ? Oh well we’re great flashy boots tho in the day lol… Peace out there People

  5. Sierd says:

    Listening to Humble Pie, Live at the Fillmore right now. Inside the double album sleeve is a photo of Steve Marriott or Peter Frampton wearing a pair of Master John high heels. Loved ‘em! So I got myself a pair! 1973 or 1974 it was. Made of patched leather, knee high, multi coloured, 3” leather heels, no platform. Damn they were cool. Worn with patched Levi bell bottoms and a full length blue pea coat. Damn I was cool. Then 5 years later I moved to Victoria with my new wife and child and during house cleanup the wife put them in the bag for Sally Ann! Ouch! Still married after +40 years so I guess I forgave her. Damn, I want those boots back!

    • Jonathan says:

      I hear a lot of stories from a lot of people about some garment or accessory they regret they don’t still have…

  6. michael sweenie says:

    I just purchase the original Master John store sign !! I started going to Master Johns in 1975 and still buy cowboy boots from Bootmaster in the same location owned and run by one of Master johns original employees !

  7. Terry Charter says:

    I’ve acquired 3 pair now, but all smaller sizes. Still looking for a size 10 1/2 or 11. The store sign is quite a piece of fashion history…lucky fellow! I wonder what happened to all of the un-sold stock when Master John closed his doors for good? And one writer comments “Listening to Humble Pie”. Now that guy has great taste in music! “30 Days In The Hole” is one of my favourites from Humble Pie “Smokin”. It’s all about the good times isn’t it. The feelings, the memories, the music and the fashion of the 70’s. THE OPTIMISM that was so evident. I think many of us want to be there right now, to go back for just a while at least, to savour those moments and to be cool, be part of the coolest decade of the century and live without a worry in the world. There was so much hope in the 70’s for a bright future, so much colour in our fashion, even in the vehicles we drove. There was so much style and creativity everywhere. There’s no doubt in my mind why Master John’s was born, he and his creations were mean’t to be. It was a special time in so many facets of our culture. “God Bless” the 70’s!

    • Jonathan says:

      He closed down his Yonge street locations but remained in business well into the 1980s out on Danforth – eventually making cowboy boots as his main style. So I imagine he just sold whatever he had until they were gone… I have yet to see any labelled pair – do you have a photo of his label?

      • Terry Charter says:

        Sorry there is no label or stamping to be found validating that they were created by Master John’s. One pair I purchased were from the owner, stating that he did purchase them from the store on Yonge Street. The other 2 came from the Guelph area from relatives of the original owner, without knowledge of their history, but certainly have Master John’s trademark of quality and design. There are some fake replicas out there made of plastic or some other kind of man-made materials that I’ve seen on the used market sites…so be wary of those. Always make sure they are made from real leather, as were the heels that were layered with thick leather pieces up to 3/16″ thick to form the heels for anyone searching. I will have to dig the 3 pair out and photograph them for you.

  8. Bill Sokil says:

    I used to walk by and occasionally go into Master Johns on Yonge Street as a teenager working at Yonge and Bloor. I those days you cruised the strip a lot. After they closed I thought they were done but one day I was walking on Danforth and found them again. Went in and they measured me up by drawing my feet on paper and measuring my calf for a pair of cowboy boots. I picked the sole, the leather and the stitching. Next thing I new I have a pair of Master Johns custom cowboy boots all for under 250$. Only wore them a couple of times but still have them as they are from the boot maker to the stars. Ha

    • Jonathan says:

      Does your pair have a Master John label? He never labelled his boots in the 70s when he was doing the platforms. Would love to see a pic of your cowboy boots!

  9. Al Parkes says:

    I remember the dancers out front. I also met John Baldry there. I think the lady that worked the for years was Nancy. She was great.

  10. michael sweenie-lane says:

    This past Fall I purchased the original Mater John store sign and a few months later bought an original pair of Master John Platform boots !

    • Jonathan says:

      You must have some connection with the store – good memories? Would love to see a pic of the sign — it was in olde fashioned writing I think – wasn’t it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.