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At Work: Historical Images of Labour in Saskatchewan

At Work: Historical Images of
Labour in Saskatchewan

 
University of Saskatchewan

Retail Trade

A
A "Rawleigh Man", 1913

Retail has been defined as the sale of goods or commodities in small quantities directly to consumers. Saskatchewan retail workers are found in a wide variety in locations - from small corner or convenience stores; independent bakeries, butcher shops or clothing stores; to local outlets and franchises of national grocery, drug, hardware and clothing chains. Large general department stores carrying a wide range of products may still be found in Regina, Saskatoon, and a few smaller communities.

As communities sprang up across southern Saskatchewan in the settlement era many independent merchants established stores to sell grocery products, dry goods, drugs, and hardware. Also relatively common were local butcher shops and bakeries. After the First World War, Saskatchewan became the site of many retail cooperatives, almost all now associated with Federated Co-operatives Limited.

Grocery Store, [ca. 1920]
Grocery Store, [ca. 1920]

During both the settlement and post settlement era Saskatchewan's farm population was widely scattered over a large area. Before personal cars became common and work began in earnest on the construction of reliable road systems, home visits by travelling merchants, including the independent representatives of such firms as Watkins and Rawleigh, provided retail opportunity. The tradition of direct home visits and sales has been continued by such firms as Avon and Tupperware. Many goods were also purchased from mail order catalogues distributed by such firms as Eaton's, Simpsons and the Army & Navy Stores. The receipt and processing of these orders, as well as the shipment and delivery of goods, to smaller communities provided many jobs.

Grocery Checkout, 15 September 1982
Grocery Checkout, 15 September 1982

From 1925 to 1986 the Army & Navy Store, self described as 'Canada original discount store', maintained its mail order division in Regina. The store specialized in low-cost consumer products, many of which were sourced from distress or bankruptcy sales. Many cash poor consumers depended upon the store during the Depression, often paying with government relief cheques. The mail order department once advertised 12 hour service.

At present many chain stores in Saskatchewan advertise a wide variety of goods at low prices. Some lament the curtailment or elimination of traditional retail services such as bagging and wrapping, lay away plans, and the delivery of purchases, all of which are labour intensive. In many larger department stores, checkout and payment has been separated from the duties of floor staff, and several large grocery chains are now encouraging if not requiring self check-out and bagging. Some consumers complain that there is often a shortage of knowledgeable sales staff on store floors; on the other hand some chains have recognized the importance of well trained floor staff in maximizing sales, and have provided motivation to them through commission plans.

Interior View of Billie Maslen's Butcher Shop, [1910]
Interior View of Billie Maslen's Butcher Shop, [1910]
Butchers at Work, [ca. 190-]
Butchers at Work, [ca. 190-]
Baker at Rosthern, 10 September 1982
Baker at Rosthern, 10 September 1982
Maidstone Co-op Home Staff, [20 September 1947]
Maidstone Co-op Home Staff, [20 September 1947]
Del. Bob Benjamin Pays for Farm Supplies at <br />Swift Current Farm Service Centre, [1980]
Del. Bob Benjamin Pays for Farm Supplies at
Swift Current Farm Service Centre, [1980]
Wrapping Room, Birks, 1936
Wrapping Room, Birks, 1936
 
In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it. They must not do too much of it. And they must have a sense of success in it.
John Ruskin ~ English artist and art critic (1819—1900)