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.
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.