Canadian Fashion Connection – Gordon MacKay Co., Ltd.

Women's Swimwear from the 1922 Gordon MacKay Co. Ltd. Wholesale catalogue, Toronto

Women’s ‘Sunnyside’ brand swimwear from the 1922 Gordon MacKay Co. Ltd. Wholesale catalogue, Toronto

John Gordon immigrated to Canada from Scotland at the age of 13 with his family in 1841. After his father died in 1851 John and his family moved to the city of Hamilton, Canada West, where they would be nearer his uncle Donald Mackay. In 1855 John and Donald formed’ Gordon and Mackay’, a wholesale dry goods business. In 1859 the company moved to Toronto, first locating at Wellington Street East and later at the corner of Bay and Front Streets.

Due to the increased expense of procuring cotton goods after the start of the American Civil War in 1860, they bought out a small cotton mill in Merriton (now a part of St. Catharines) and expanded the plant, renaming it Lybster Mills. The mill and the company grew slowly but steadily, weathering the economic depressions of the 1870s and 1890s.

Smith's of Windsor, one of Gordon MacKay's retail stores, c. 1928

Smith’s of Windsor, one of Gordon MacKay’s retail stores, c. 1928

In 1899, the Company was incorporated as Gordon Mackay Company Limited, but five years later, the great fire of 1904 in Toronto destroyed the Gordon Mackay warehouse. After rebuilding, the company expanded into retailing, acquiring their first store in 1911. At that time, the Puritan brand of women’s garments and underwear was Gordon MacKay’s leading product line. By 1922 ‘Gordon’ was the standard name used for most of their product lines, from gloves to men’s ties and shirts; men’s work-wear dungarees and boiler suits were sold under the brand name ‘Mackay’s Mechanic’; women’s and girl’s dresses were sold under the brand name ’Ruth Gordon’ (no relation to the actress); knitted mitts were sold under the trademark of ‘Snow-King’; yarns under the trademark of ‘Granny’s Own’, Knitted bathing suits were sold under the name ‘Sunnyside’, after a famous beach in Toronto, and their hosiery was sold under a variety of brand names including: ‘Puritan Maid’, ‘Big Chief’, ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Rough & Tumble’, ‘Bonnie-Tot’, ‘Little Nell’, and ‘Schoolville’.

Over the next 50 years the company shifted from wholesale to retail, acquiring independent department stores and clothiers, such as the Walker department store in Galt, and Smith’s of Windsor. By the early 1960s Gordon Mackay was only manufacturing for their own stores, all of which gradually closed over the next two decades.

Online catalogues from Gordon MacKay Co., Ltd.: 1922c. 1909c. 1907

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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9 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – Gordon MacKay Co., Ltd.

  1. Daniel says:

    The same Puritan brand who did “Forever Young” with the Gloria Swanson tie-in?

    • Jonathan says:

      I don’t think there was any relation. Puritan Dress Co., was an American dress company founded in 1909, whereas Gordon MacKay’s is a Canadian-made product line of women’s and girl’s dresses and underwear.

  2. Darryl R. Toews says:

    Hello,
    Was there a connection between the T. Eaton Company in Toronto and Gordon MacKay Co.?
    The reason I ask is that I am in the process of identifying the WWII names found on the T. Eaton Co. WWII war memorial plaque. There is a G. E. Robertson listed on it and of the two G. E. Robertson’s that I can currently find in military records, only one has employment in the retail sector – Gordon MacKay Co. – and this is a Gordon Edwin Robertson.

    His records do note that his parents lived and worked on the Eaton Farm which I gather through my research was the farm owned by the T. Eaton Co. That might be the reason then that his name appears on the memorial.

    I’d be grateful to know, though, if there was a relationship between the two companies.

    Thanks!

  3. Barb West says:

    Hello, I came across a baby slip from the early 1950’s , labelled Gordon Mackay, Madeira, surprised to see these clothes manufactured so far from Canada. I assume this is the same as Walker Stores founders. My Aunt worked at the Tillsonburg store and we have her 25 yrs gold watch, with Gord Mackays name on the back. Great momento from days gone bye.

    • Jonathan says:

      I bet the baby slip has embroidery on it – Portugal was a centre of embroidery manufacture just before and after WWII, so the line was probably commissioned by Gordon McKay directly from a collective of embroiderers. Gordon MacKay was the house brand for Walker Stores.

  4. Lesley is Fitzpatrick says:

    Gordon Makay had an office on King St in Saint John New Brunswick where my father worked from late 1959 until mid-1962 before it closed. Do you have information on that location? The address , who worked there , what business was conducted in that timeframe? My father began work with the company around the end of WWII in Toronto. I remember him learning to drive so he could go on the road with sample cases!

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