- Nov 17, 2018
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Scott-McHale: A Brief History
Over the past winter I have been accumulating documents, drawings and photographs relating to the history of one of our favourite Canadian shoe manufacturers, Scott-McHale of London, Ontario. I had hoped to be able to wear out a little shoe leather in the archives of London before summarizing my results, however given present circumstances that opportunity may not arrive for some time. As such I have decided to forge ahead and update my findings at a later date.
I am taking on the history of Scott-McHale before Dack's for two reasons. The first is personal. I spent much of my life in London and many of the buildings, places and streets that I will describe I have personally visited, not always entirely sober, and well before I had any interest in vintage Canadian shoes. The second reason is that the history of Scott-McHale, being roughly half the length of Dack’s, is somewhat more accessible via internet-based sources, and therefore provides an easier place to start. A proper history of Dacks will require much more sleuthing, especially regarding the years between 1834 and 1919.
Technically, the company under the appellation Scott-McHale, existed only from 1922 to 1959. In early 1959 it was purchased by Savage Shoes of Cambridge and the name changed to McHale Shoes. There were also two earlier iterations, Cook-Fitzgerald from 1904-1916 and Scott-Chamberlain from 1916 to 1922. As such the history of the company falls into four natural units which provide a useful organizational framework.
In this first installment I will explore the company's origin and the early Cook-Fitzgerald years. In future installments I will describe the brief but fascinating Scott-Chamberlain years, the glory years of Scott-McHale, and finally the three decades spent under the ownership of Savage Shoes, which itself had been purchased by the American conglomerate Interco in 1954. In these first four installments it is my intention to focus primarily on the people and events surrounding the company, rather than on the shoes. In a fifth and final installment I hope to return to the shoes and trace their development through a series of advertisements, catalogs and photos.
Part 1: The Early Years, Cook-Fitzgerald (1904-1916)
The Cook-Fitzgerald Shoe Co. was founded in 1904 by Mr. C. J. Fitzgerald of New York City and Mr. Joseph P. Cook of London, Ontario. Mr. Cook came from a family of shoemakers and retailers whose presence in the London area stretched back into the mid-19th century, while Mr. Fitzgerald was a renowned sports reporter who also happened to be married to Mr. Cook’s sister.
J. P. Cook’s father, Philip Cook (Fig. 1), arrived in the new world as a boy, living briefly in New York City before relocating with his family to Malahide Township southeast of London near Aylmer, Ontario. Philip’s father, Owen Cook, had previously been a shoemaker in Ireland.
Through the late 1850’s and early 1860’s the young Philip Cook served his apprenticeship at the John McPherson Co. shoe factory, which at the time was located in London before moving to Hamilton. In 1864 Philip struck out on his own, purchasing the existing business of a Mr. Crabb, located on Dundas Street, and opened his own custom workshop.
Over the following decades the focus of Mr. Cook's business shifted from custom manufacturing to retailing factory produced shoes. This was a trend witnessed across North America with the introduction of mechanized production equipment in the United States. Many small family run shops were either driven out of business, changed the focus of their business, or themselves expanded their production as occurred with Dack's of Toronto. In 1886 Joseph Cook with the assistance of his younger brother Philip Cook Jr., officially took over the business from his father, while a third brother, Edward Cook relocated to Toronto where he founded Owl Shoes. By 1899 and after five moves to progressively larger premises along Dundas Street, Cook Shoes took up residence at the southeast corner of Dundas and Richmond Streets (Fig 2-4). Specializing in high quality men’s footwear, Cook Shoes stayed at this location until at least the 1970’s. The store was L-shaped, with an entrance at both 167 Dundas Street and 398 Richmond Street. This location, which still stands today, was just three blocks north of the Cook-Fitzgerald factory at the southeast corner of Bathurst Street and Richmond.
Figure 1: Philip Cook (Circa 1875)
Joseph P. Cook (Fig. 5) was born on February 18th, 1862 and began his apprenticeship at his father’s store at the age of 15. At the age of 22 he bought his father’s business and changed its name to J.P. Cook Co. Limited. It was J.P. Cook’s stated ambition to become a manufacturer of “high class men’s shoes”, and it is to this vision that we owe our thanks for all the wonderful footwear that was to follow; including our beloved John McHale Custom shoes.
Figure 2: Interior of Cooks Shoes in 1912
Figure 3: Exterior of Cook's shoes in 1914, Facing East
Figure 4: Exterior of Cook's Shoes in the March 31, 1948
Figure 5: Joseph P. Cook, circa 1910
Mr. Cook’s partner in the manufacture of these high-class shoes was C.J. Fitzgerald of New York City. Fitzgerald was a sportswriter employed by the New York Sun and was highly regarded for his reporting on boxing and horse racing; he was also married to J.P Cook’s sister. It is not known how Ms. Cook and Mr. Fitzgerald met, or how Mr. Fitzgerald acquired his funds to invest in the start-up of a shoe factory in another country. It is quite possible that he was a point person for a group of New York investors, although this is just speculation. Fitzgerald was famous enough by 1899 to warrant a brief mention in the American Angler, describing a forthcoming fishing trip for trout in Pennsylvania (Vol 15, pg 212).
Cook and Fitzgerald set up their factory in an existing three-story brick structure located at the southeast corner of Richmond and Bathurst streets, three short city blocks south of the Cook Shoe store (Figure 6). It is not known when this building was constructed, although it shows up on an 1897 Bird's Eye View depiction of London. From 1904 to 1911 Mr. Fitzgerald remained a silent partner, with the burgeoning business run by his shoe making brother-in-law J.P. Cook. At first the company produced two main product lines, the Astoria, so named to evoke the glamour of the famed New York hotel, and the Liberty, named to imply a sense of connection to America, as it was judged by most Canadian purchasers that the finest shoes in the world were produced south of the border. After 1912 they added the lower price point Tecumseh line.
Figure 6: The North and West Aspects of the Cook-Fitzgerald Factory, 1912
Cook-Fitzgerald regularly advertised in print in addition to fielding a team of “travellers” who marketed shoes in person at retail locations from coast to coast. The business was very quickly successful, with Cook-Fitzgerald products being sold in the finest shoe stores across Canada. Individual shoes were given “modern” names such as the “President”, “The City”, “It’s It”, "Blarney", "Tickler", “Happy Days” and during the first world war the “Torpedo”.
Figure 7: Astoria and Liberty boots from 1914
Figure 8: A 1911 Cook-Fitzgerald Advertisement for It's It and the Tickler
In 1911, seven short years after Cook-Fitzgerald had been founded, Joseph P. Cook passed away at the age of 49. In the spring of that year he developed a bad cold but continued to work. His cold developed into pneumonia and he was hospitalized at London’s St Joseph Hospital. He appeared to be making good progress in his recovery, spending the warm summer days in a wheelchair on the hospital lawn. However, on August 23 he had a sudden turn for the worse, passing away on August 25th, leaving his wife Helen (nee Reid) and six children aged five months to 13 years.
The passing of Joseph Cook also left Cook-Fitzgerald briefly in disarray. C.J. Fitzgerald, who’s primary acquaintance with shoes came from wearing them, wrapped up his obligations in New York City and moved to London to manage the firm. Figure 9 depicts C.J. Fitzgerald, along with several members of the new board of directors of the company in 1912.
Figure 9:The Cook-Fitzgerald Board of Directors, 1912
In 1912 the company began an advertising campaign to raise the profile of their long-time factory superintendent, Mr. E.E. Donovan who had been promoted to Vice-President (Fig 10). This campaign had only shortly got underway when in late 1913 Donovan abandoned Cook-Fitzgerald to move to St. Thomas to take up the management of the new E. T. Wright & Co. factory, which had expanded into Canada from the United States. To add salt to the wounds, E.T. Wright used the same photo of E.E. Donovan in introducing him in his new capacity at their company. Despite these challenges, Cook-Fitzgerald continued to flourish under the stewardship of Fitzgerald, issuing a whole range of witty but blunt "Mr. Retailer" advertising, likely written by C. J. Fitzgerald himself (Fig 11).
Figure 10: A 1912 advertisement introducing Mr. E.E. Donovan in a more prominent role as Vice-President of Cook-Fitzgerald
Figure 11: A 1912 "Mr. Retailer" advertisement that appeared in Industry Publications such as the Shoe and Leather Journal
C. J. Fitzgerald led the firm successfully from 1911 through to the early years of the first world war, however it is clear that his heart was in New York rather than London. Early in 1916, having protected his investment and perhaps that of many others, Cook-Fitzgerald was sold to two businessmen from Galt (now Cambridge), and transformed into the fascinating subject of our next installment, the Scott-Chamberlain Co. (1916-1922). Fitzgerald returned to New York City where he continued his sports writing and was involved with the governance of horse racing. The last reference I find for him is his 1920 description of the Great Man o’ War’s win at Lawrence Realization Stakes.
He came through the final stages of the race like some great bird in full flight. His body beautifully
poised and his great muscular legs plying with the precision of pistons, the dirt rising in little clouds
where his feet had spurned.