Retail at War

World War II Honour Roll for Woodward Stores Limited. Designed by A.J. Casson.

During World War II many associates served on active duty with the armed forces. These people are remembered in honour rolls and other similar memorials. The Bay Queen St. in downtown Toronto, former flagship store of the Robert Simpson Company, features a bronze Honour Roll in its south-eastern entrance which commemorates Simpsons associates who died on active service in World War II. The beautiful illuminated Honour Roll illustrated here, which commemorates associates of Woodward’s who served during WWII, was designed by well-known Canadian artist Group of Seven member A.J. Casson.



Employee newsletters from the WWII era frequently mention men and women on active service. Greetings from those overseas to their colleagues at home were routine. This gallery of photos from Woodward’s scrapbook of WWII veterans gives us some idea of the women who donned uniforms and undertook wartime service.



M. Simpson, of Woodward’s Mail Order, enlisted April 1943.



B. Hall, of Woodward’s Grocery, enlisted March 1942.


M. Francis, of Woodward’s China Department, enlisted April 1944.

Mrs. Allen, of Woodward’s Grocery, enlisted March 1943



Simpson’s Tuesday-Morning Bulletin, April 25, 1944.

Those who stayed behind were busy as well. The purchase of “Victory” bonds through payroll deduction was a significant contribution. And stores held major bond sales drives for the public as well.The Simpsons Girls’ War Service Club sent items “most needed by the girls” to the Women’s Territorial Army (Auxiliary Territorial Service) in Britain. In return they received a letter from Buckingham Palace from the ATS’ Commander-in-Chief, the Queen (the late Queen Mother) thanking them for their gift. Simpsons also equipped and donated a complete blood donor clinic to the Canadian Red Cross.Starting with donations from 1,576 associates in September 1943, it opened its doors to the general public the following month. Its mission: to help the agency’s Toronto chapter meet its target of 3,500 donations a week, a goal unattainable without the new Richmond St. facility.


Wartime presented other challenges to the retail sector. Certain commodities were severely restricted and could not be sold at all. Many businessmen served as ‘dollar-a-year’ men under C.D. Howe, Minister of Supply and Services, volunteering their time and expertise to the war effort. Henry W. Morgan, President of Morgan’s of Montreal, served as Deputy Coordinator of Textiles for the Wartime Prices and Review Board which oversaw prices and wages in an effort to keep inflation in check. In 1942 he spoke before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about the effects of the war on the Canadian retail sector. Walter Zeller was Director-at-large of the National War Savings Committee and also served as a special advisor to the Chairman of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board. In 1942 Woodward’s President Billy Woodward served as an adviser on business and logistics to the federal government. Charles L. Burton of Simpsons served as President of the Citizens’ Committee for the Troops in Training, headquartered in Toronto. It coordinated the efforts of the various benevolent associations catering to the needs of servicemen in the navy, army and air force.

At Zellers WWII was a time of great change. Plans for significant expansion of the chain had to be put on hold during the war years. Female associates stepped into the places vacated by their male colleagues and made significant career strides – such as improved managerial training opportunities – as a result. In 1943 47% of male staff were on active service and 87% of current staff were women. And it’s worth noting that despite conflict Zellers continued to increase its profitability throughout the war years.