Canadian Fashion Connection: Murray-Kay Limited

Cover of the spring/summer 1917 Murray-Kay catalogue

Murray-Kay Ltd. began when George B. Wylie set up a drapery dry goods store in the late 1840’s at 21 King street East in Toronto. The company was renamed ‘Wylie and Murray’ when Wylie took on Mr. W.A. Murray as a partner. After Wylie retired in 1858 the company was operated by just Mr. Murray and was renamed as W.A. Murray & Company. In 1872 Murray took on a new partner, a Mr. Dynan, but his name was never included in the name of the business.

Over the years the company expanded to include #23 King street by 1865, #17 & #19 King street by 1875, #25 & #27 King street by 1890, #29 & #31 King street by 1905, and #15 King street by 1920. By 1885 the company employed 300 in the importation, manufacture and retailing of dry goods, millinery, house furnishings, and carpets. However, the company specialized in clothing and period advertisements focus on their wide range of clothing for men, women, and children, millinery, fancy goods & notions, boots & shoes, sportswear, and underwear. In 1892 dressmaking was added to the list of available services, and in 1900 the company was first advertised as a department store.

In 1910 the company amalgamated with John Kay, a furniture and carpeting shop and in 1911 the company was officially renamed Murray Kay Co., Ltd. By the 1920s, the fashionable shopping area in Toronto had moved up to Bloor street from King street. Murray Kay Co., didn’t change locations which perhaps lead to the company taking on a new partner in 1923, renaming themselves as Petley & Murray Kay. However, this amalgamation closed its doors in 1925. John Kay reopened in new premises and continued to make furniture into the 1980s.

Swimwear including rubber bathing caps, from the spring/summer catalogue 1917

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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28 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection: Murray-Kay Limited

  1. Lizzie says:

    Love that Annette Kellerman suit!

  2. JoAnne says:

    Did they sell chairs? I have a set of rush seated chippendale style dining chairs. The business label is attached to the bottom “Murray-Kay Ltd”

    • Jonathan says:

      There wasn’t any furniture in the catalogue and from everything that is said in the catalogue it is implied they are only clothiers. I suspect your chairs are from a company that opened after Murray Kay closed, perhaps even by the same family. But I don’t know.

      • costas says:

        My brother just gave me a murry kay rocking chair.it is very low to the ground with a high back. It has the label
        on the bottom murry kay limited.really cool
        chair .the base of the leg has crack
        were it joins so we will have to see how we can repair it.the srews are straight flat head.

        • Jonathan says:

          I wonder if its the same company because the catalogue is only fashion related and they are only listed as clothiers in the city directory. A bit of a mystery to find out!
          Update April 24/2016: Murray Kay did sell furniture between 1910 and 1925.

  3. Tammie Trickey says:

    I have found an old Murray-Kay catalogue NO26 Fall & Winter 1919-1920……in good condition…not perfect. Is there any value to it?
    Thanks, Tammie

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Tammie;
      Well, it would have value to me and the museum! If you are interested in donating it, I can give a fair market tax receipt value for it. I could also purchase it but you have to come up with a price and offer it to me first, otherwise I would be in a conflict of interest.
      Jonathan

  4. Ginette says:

    I have purchase and old style rocking chair with no arm rest it’s very interesting.
    There is actually a label saying “Murray-Kay limited” under the chair
    I’m just wondering what is the history to this chair
    Thank you

    • Jonathan says:

      Someone else had a Murray-Kay chair and was asking about it. The catalogue I have has no furniture in it. Sorry, but I don’t know if they did sell furniture at one time, or if its another Murray-Kay Company.
      Update April 24/16 Murray was just clothing, but when it amalgamated with John Kay in 1910 they sold furniture as well, between 1910 and 1925, when the company closed.

  5. Carol says:

    I have a third generation dinning room set chairs and pedestal table all labeled Murray Kay 30 King street

    • Jonathan says:

      Turns out Murray joined with Kay in 1910, and became the Murray Kay Co. Ltd., so any furniture with the Murray Kay label dates from 1910 – 1925 when the company closed. John Kay survived the close-out but the furniture would be marked as John Kay, not Murray Kay.

  6. Pingback: Departmental stores | Dave Till's blog

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for filling in a blank about the furniture part of the store. As you can see from the comments many people have Murray-Kay furniture. Its good to know that they can safely date their furniture now to between 1910 and 1925, or even 1911 and 1923.

  7. Wayne Pyke says:

    Hi,

    I have a beautiful porcelain bowl…hand painted from France. The is a stamp on the bottom with a star in the middle. Printed beside the stamp is “made in France for the Murray Kay Co. Ld. Toronto”. Thought it to be very cool. Value? It is a veg. dish, white background, roses all around and edged with gold. Handles are painted gold as well.
    Thanks. Wayne.

  8. John Tobin says:

    We have a beautiful Murray-Kay limited sideboard Buffett that we are trying to
    Determine the value of. It measures 72″ long x 26″ wide x 40″ high with a 10″ high
    Decorative backboard at the top. Can you help us to find the value of it ? It is in good condition.
    Thanks.

    • Jonathan says:

      Sorry, not something I can help you with. I would suggest calling an auction house in the Toronto area.
      Jonathan

  9. Vicki Baker says:

    I Have a complete Oak Dining set with plate under table
    Murray-Kay Limited 36&38 King St W
    China cabinet,Buffet,sideboard and Pedestal table with 6 chairs
    Thank you I now know approximate date

    • Lynn Rogers says:

      Hi Vicki
      I too have a complete set of Murray-Kay furniture. I now know it was built sometime between 1910-1925. I have a round dining room table with 2 leaves that insert into that table, 5 chairs and a 6th chair that is the captains style chair. A china cabinet that is mostly all glass. And a side board that has a high decorative piece to it. Just wondering if you found any more info on your set? My furniture tag also says Murray-Kay limited 36 and 38 king street west Toronto.

  10. Caroline says:

    Hi there! I recently acquired a secretary desk with an old tag that says John Kay Company 36 and 38 King Street West Toronto. Would you be able to tell me an approximate age please? Thanks!

  11. Debi Greenlay says:

    I have a large framed sign that says.

    Kays ltd clothing.

  12. Shawn McLachlan says:

    This company also imported trunks. I have a flat top steamer trunk with the label W.A. Murray & Co. I’m unsure what year it was made. My guess is 1900. Do you have any information that may be of help? Thank you

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi – I have a small catalogue from 1917, but it’s only clothing. There must have been catalogues for the furniture and trunks too…

  13. Derek Huber says:

    As a postcard collector (deltiologist), I have been cataloging my collection of Toronto locations and have come across this one particular card that I thought was of the interior of a restaurant but upon researching the name on the face of the card I came across your blog. The inscription on this (unused) black and white postcard reads “Italian Pergola & Art Room, W.A.Murray Co., Limited. Toronto. Canada”. An unusual scene of some fashionable ladies sitting in a large room, in comfortable wicker chairs, surrounded by framed artwork all the way around and the ceiling is covered in fake vines. On reflection, certainly not a restaurant! Would you have any idea what the purpose of this room was and/or was it part of business conducted by this company. Thank you very much. Derek Huber

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