Chain Stores That Have Come And Gone In Toronto

Remember shopping here?

In light of the closures of mega department stores in the past couple years like Target and Sears, we thought we’d look back at some of the other beloved chains stores that have come and gone. It’s definitely a walk down memory lane.


(Simpson’s, 1891” by Adam, G. Mercer – Toronto, old and new : a memorial volume, historical, descriptive and pictorial, designed to mark the hundredth anniversary of the passing of the Constitutional act of 1791 (1891). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.)

Formally a dry good store, it became the Robert Simpson Company and opened its doors in 1858 in Newmarket. A fire two years later destroyed everything causing them to reopen in Toronto. After a brand change and the passing of Robert Simpson, his widower Mary sold the business for $135,000 in March 1898 to a syndicate of three Toronto business guys, Harris Henry Fudger, Joseph Flavelle and Alfred Ernest Ames. The rest is shopping history.


(Display. Christmas Display at Woolworth’s BAnQ P48S1P06790” by Conrad Poirier Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.)

Originally named as Wool Co., Woolworth Canada was the Canadian unit of F.W. Woolworth that was founded in the 1920s which set up shop in North York. Other vintage names under the Woolworth banner included Foot Locker, Bargin Harolds, Northern Reflections, and Randy River. The company was eventually renamed Venator Group Canada in ‘98 and finally Foot Locker Canada in 2001.


(Eaton’s Spring and Summer Catalogue 1942” by Photographer unknown. Published by the T. Eaton Co. Limited. – Own personal collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.)

T. Eaton Copmany Limited was the mother of all Canadian department store retailers. Founded in 1869 in Toronto by Timothy Eaton, the store pioneered several retail innovations including the classic Cash Only line and “Goods Satisfactory or Money Refunded” motto. In 1905, The Globe wrote, “there is hardly a name in Canada, with the possible exception of the Prime Minister, so well known to the people at large as that of Mr. Timothy Eaton”.


(Atari at Consumers Distributing” by reinap. Licensed under Public Domain via Flickr.)

Before eBay, we had Consumers Distributing. A catalog store in Canada and the U.S. at its peak, the store had 243 outlets across the country. Their Canadian headquarters were just over on Airport Road in Mississauga.


(A Dominion supermarket on the west side of Yonge Street, north of Eglinton Avenue, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.” by Eric Trussler. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.)

The old Dominion supermarkets ran rampant in Toronto since 1919. After a few owner changes, from Argus Corporation to The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) that restricted the chain to the Greater Toronto Area, the store closed and was acquired by Metro Inc. This ultimately saw the beginnings of the Metro chain in 2008.


(“That Time When Beckers was Fresh and Ready”  via RETRONTARIO.)

If you, like most people, spent all their allowance money on chocolate milk as a kid, then you’ll most likely remember Becker Milk company, better known as Becker’s. Founded in 1957 in Toronto, Becker’s was a popular chain of convenience stores that had over 160 locations in Ontario. Cheap, self-branded snacks, a plethora of delicious milk-related products and terrible stomach aches were the name of the game for this franchise. The franchise was eventually sold and rebranded to Mac’s Milk a few years back. Canadian legends Rush liked their chocolate so much so that they listed the company under “special thanks” on several of their albums. Talk about chocolate milk being ‘close(r) to the heart’.

Take a look at this sweet Becker’s commercial from the 80s. But be careful, the special effects in this video might blow you away.

Beckers Instant Giveaway 1985 by Retrontario

Though your parents may have loved BiWay, if you were a kid the feeling was not so mutual. The discount chain carried cheaper self-branded clothes along with school supplies and general merchandise. Wearing BiWay branded clothes to school may have caused for public shaming by the other school kids, but it saved your parents a couple bucks. This was definitely a back to school store, — they might as well just served you broccoli at the door.


(Harold Kamin, 82 Bargain Harold’s Dies by Photographer Andrew Stawicki  Published by The Toronto Star. via Toronto Star File Photo.)

Founded by Harold Kamin, otherwise infamously known as “Bargain Harold” himself, what ended up as a mini-empire of general stores started from modest beginnings in 1970. Along with partner Arthur Anisman, Bargain Harold built up his simple bargain chain from one location to 52 locations that were eventually sold to Kmart in 1985 for $16 million. Talk about a good bargain.