Simpsons (department store)

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Not to be confused with Simpsons of Piccadilly in London.
Robert Simpson Company
Private (1858-1978)
Subsidiary (1978-1991)
Industry Retail
Fate Converted to The Bay
Successor The Bay
Founded Toronto, Ontario, Canada (1858)
Founder Robert Simpson
Defunct 1989 (Quebec)
1991 (elsewhere)
Headquarters Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Area served
Key people
Robert Simpson (Founder)
Albert Ernest Ames
Joseph Flavelle
Harris Henry Fudger
Charles Luther (C.L.) Burton
Edgar G. Burton
G. Allan Burton
Edgar "Ted" Burton
Products Clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, appliances, housewares, tools, and electronics
Parent Hudson's Bay Company

The Robert Simpson Company, or Simpsons (Simpson's until 1972), was a Canadian department store chain, founded by Robert Simpson in 1858. The Hudson's Bay Company purchased the chain in 1978, and it ceased operation in the 1990s.


Robert Simpson's store in 1891

The dry goods store that later became the Robert Simpson Company opened in 1858 in Newmarket, Ontario. A fire destroyed the store in 1870 and reopened two years later, in Toronto. Robert Simpson House at 384 Botsford Street was his home Newmarket from 1861 to 1876. The company was renamed the Robert Simpson Company Limited in May 1896 shortly before Robert Simpson's sudden death on 14 December 1897, at the age of 63. With no male heir, Simpson's death placed a heavy burden on his wife, Mary, and daughter, Margaret, who sold the business for $135,000 in March 1898 to a syndicate of three Toronto businessmen, Harris Henry Fudger, Joseph Flavelle, and Alfred Ernest Ames.

Page from the Robert Simpson Co. White Goods Catalogue, 1901

In 1912, Charles Luther (C.L.) Burton became assistant general manager at the Robert Simpson Company, then under the directorship of his old friend and mentor H. H. Fudger. By 1929, Burton was president of Simpson’s, becoming chairman of the board in 1948 when his son Edgar assumed the presidency.

Menswear showcase of Simpson's store on St. Catherine Street in Montreal, 1936

The store in downtown Toronto included one of Toronto's most exclusive restaurants, the Arcadian Court, which opened in 1929 and still operates today after the store's acquisition by Hudson's Bay Company in 1978. Throughout its history Simpsons was the traditional carriage trade department store in Toronto, competing with the T. Eaton Co. The motto "You'll enjoy shopping at Simpson's" was conceived by Robert Simpson and remained the company's slogan until its acquisition by the Hudson's Bay Company.

Name change[edit]

Previous logo (changed in 1957)

Until 1972, the operating name of the company was Simpson's. During a time of increased pressure and sensitivity towards French language issues in Quebec, the company dropped the apostrophe. Although not yet law, companies began dropping the English possessive 's from their names. Competitor Eaton's became "Eaton". However, management did not want the company known as Simpson, so it dropped the apostrophe and changed the name to "Simpsons". After the Hudson's Bay Company acquired the company, it changed the name of the chain to Simpson for the stores in Quebec while retaining the Simpsons name in other provinces.


Simpsons-Sears logo

In 1952, General Robert E. Wood, the Chairman of U.S. retailer Sears, Roebuck and Company, sent a letter to Edgar G. Burton, President of the Robert Simpson Company of Toronto, proposing a partnership between their two companies in order to serve the Canadian market. The deal to create Simpsons-Sears Limited, a Canadian catalogue and department store chain separate from the Simpsons chain, was signed on September 18, 1952 and the terms were 50-50. Each company put up $20 million and had equal representation on the new company's Board of Directors. The new company was to have two main objectives. The first was to expand Simpsons' existing mail order business, which was sold to the new company. The second goal was to build a string of stores modelled on Sears, Roebuck's format right across the country.

The agreement also contained a provision that would prove to be a major bone of contention in the coming years. Under its terms, Simpsons-Sears could not open a retail store within 25 miles of Simpson's existing stores in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Regina and London. In return, Simpson's promised not to build any stores outside of those five cities. Simpsons-Sears mail order business, however, was free to operate anywhere in Canada and so was the new Simpsons-Sears Acceptance Company, the credit arm of the operation.

The business operations of Simpsons-Sears began when the first Simpsons-Sears Spring/Summer Catalogue rolled off the presses of Photo-Engravers and Electrotypers, Ltd. and were delivered to 300,000 Canadian homes in early 1953.

On Thursday, September 17, 1953, the first Simpsons-Sears retail store opened in Stratford, Ontario at 9:15 a.m. The second Simpsons-Sears store opened in Kamloops, B.C. in December of that year.

In the 1960s Simpson's was among the first 10 Canadian companies to start using computers in all their locations and programming was done in Toronto and Montreal by accounting clerks, many of whom were women. Enormous rooms with special ventilation were built to house IBM punch card main frame machines in those two locations.

In 1972, Simpsons and Simpsons-Sears agreed to end the 25-mile restriction and permit Simpsons and Simpsons-Sears stores anywhere. The following year, when Simpsons-Sears opened a store in the city of Mississauga, approximately 30 km (19 mi) west of Toronto, the company decided to use the Sears name alone in order to prevent confusion with Simpsons stores operating in Toronto.

In 1977 Simpsons launched a campaign called "Entre Amis-Between Friends", a bilingual campaign where the children of employees participated all across Canada to help promote the two official languages of Canada. It was a very successful campaign that lasted two years. All participants from Montreal and Toronto were invited to the Burton's brothers with all expenses paid for and they could discover the province's most popular attractions and celebrating the 1st of July (Canada Day).[citation needed]

Acquisition by the Hudson's Bay Company[edit]

The Bay Queen Street facade of Simpsons flagship store in Toronto, now operated by the Bay.

In 1978, the Hudson's Bay Company acquired Simpsons and federal competition law required the partnership to terminate, thus Simpsons and Simpsons-Sears could no longer share facilities. Sears stores continued to carry the Simpsons-Sears name on signage and the name remained in use both informally and as its business name well into the 1980s. Simpsons-Sears officially changed its name to Sears Canada in 1984.

In the 1980s, the Hudson's Bay Company converted three Simpsons stores into Bay stores, and rebranded one Bay store to Simpsons. It closed Simpsons flagship store in Ottawa in 1983.

In 1989, the flagship Simpsons store in downtown Toronto completed a $30 million facelift with a relaunch known as the Miracle on Queen Street. Its cosmetics area was reputed to be the largest in the world and the basement featured a gourmet food hall similar to Macy's in Herald Square in New York City or Harrods in London. The St. Regis Room expanded and upscale shops such as Alfred Dunhill of London opened boutiques in the store.

The flagship store's acquisition of a large quantity of toy robots was a major plot point in the movie Short Circuit 2.

The Hudson's Bay Company attempted to operate Simpsons as a more-upscale nameplate than its main brand, the Bay, but was unsuccessful. The Simpsons operations merged with the Bay in 1989 in the province of Quebec, and 1991 in the rest of the country. Since then, all of the stores have either been converted to the Bay or been closed, and the Simpsons name is no longer used.

Remnants of Simpsons[edit]

Former Simpsons building, now Simons, in Montreal.

While the Simpsons chain ceased to exist in 1991, the Hudson's Bay Company continued to accept Simpsons credit cards in its Bay and Zellers stores until the company launched the HBC credit card in 2001.

The Simpsons store on Queen Street West in Toronto continues to operate under the Hudson's Bay nameplate as the chain's, and Canada's, largest department store. The adjacent Simpson Tower which used to house Simpsons offices now serves as the headquarters for the Hudson's Bay Company. Those Simpsons stores that did not have a Bay store in close proximity were converted to Bay stores. Simpsons stores that were located near a Bay store closed, and the existing Bay store was relocated to the space or a new Sears store opened.

Of the five Simpson stores in Quebec, three - Anjou, Pointe-Claire and Laval - became "la Baie" stores. The two others, in downtown Montreal and St-Bruno, closed because there were la Baie stores nearby. La Baie in St-Bruno, however, relocated to the former Simpson site.

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office database reports that the trademark to the name "Simpsons" was owned by Sears Canada from 2001 to 2008. It was purchased from the Hudson's Bay Company in 2001, ten years after the name had been retired. In 2008, Sears Canada transferred all of its trademarks (including the Simpsons trademark) to 1373639 Alberta Ltd., which appears to be a shell company of Sears Canada.[1]

St. Regis Room and West End Shop[edit]

The two most "exclusive" clothing departments in the former Simpsons downtown Toronto location, the St. Regis Room (now known as the Room and extensively renovated in late 2009 by Yabu Pushelberg) for women and the West End Shop for men, are still in operation at the Bay's downtown Toronto Queen Street store. Designers in the St. Regis Room include Givenchy, Christian Lacroix, Valentino, Armani Collezioni, Louis Féraud, Karl Lagerfeld, Balmain, Andrew Gn, Lida Baday, Bellville Sassoon, David Hayes, and others. The West End shop designers include Hugo Boss, Strellson, and others.

While operated by Simpsons, the St. Regis Room offered some of the most exclusive fashion collections in Canada. Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Yves Saint Laurent, Claude Montana, André Courrèges, and many others were featured in this luxury store.

Old Simpsons Department Store trailers from 1960 on a field outside Whitby, Ontario

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CIPO — Canadian Trade-marks Database". Retrieved 2009-07-17. 

External links[edit]