Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

The Eatons: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Royal Family

by Rod McQueen

In this unauthorized corporate history, financial journalist Rod McQueen describes the rise and fall of the Eaton’s department store empire and what really happened to the family behind the throne.

The founder of Eaton’s, Timothy Eaton, an Irish emigrant with a solid work ethic, would be turning in his grave if he could see the inefficient and arrogant business management of his descendants. According to McQueen, the root of Eaton’s problems lies in the family’s disdain for commerce and their “born to rule” attitude. As McQueen traces the evolution of the modest dry-goods store into a national chain, he concludes that self-indulgence, hidebound adherence to tradition, and a kind of folie de grandeur, especially on the part of Lady Eaton, culminated in a complete lack of business acumen and vision. McQueen’s argument that the Eatons truly believed they were royalty is utterly convincing. And they come across like nouveau riche characters out of a Jane Austen novel who don’t want to sully their hands dealing in “trade.”

Instead of reinvesting company profits, the Eatons used the money to finance their regal lifestyle. They were slow to react to changing business conditions such as the growth of Sears and the rise of shopping malls. Even after Lady Eaton’s death, the department store was managed by the Lady’s precepts. There was dithering among management about future direction, virtually no leadership, and a convoluted decision-making process.

Despite George Kosich’s new strategy (Kosich stepped down in late November after this book was published), McQueen concludes it’s too little, too late, and the Canadian economy simply cannot support a chain of high end department stores.

McQueen’s book is a gripping account that reads like a novel. As with all the best business books, it’s a story not just of bottom lines and financial pages but of family struggles and real people. But unlike other wealthy families who rose from modest origins, the Eatons did not seem to understand the value of a dollar and quickly fell prey to all the dangers of inherited wealth.


Reviewer: Susan Hughes

Publisher: Stoddart


Price: $32.95

Page Count: 320 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-7737-3120-2

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 1999-1

Categories: Politics & Current Affairs