Northway Circle

Northway Circle is named in honour of John Northway and Sons

John Northway Stratford-Perth Archives

John Northway

Born in 1848 at Leat Farm, near Lifton, England, John Northway became a tailor, a merchant, a clothing manufacturer, and a philanthropist.

He became a tailor in England and in 1869 immigrated to New York. After setbacks there and in Hamilton. Ont., he became an assistant tailor in a small shop in Embro, Ont. The other assistant was Scottish-born Kitty McKay. She knew the trade, was spirited, and informed in the world of finance. After their marriage, she played a major role in Northway’s success.

In April 1873, the Northways opened a tailoring shop in Tillsonburg, one of southwestern Ontario's most enterprising towns. A Baptist, he attached himself to dominant Baptists and Liberals. He added dry goods to his shop, absorbed the stocks of merchants hit by the depression of the 1870s. In 1886 he hired an assistant, Robert Marshall Anderson, who became his partner three years later when he bought a failing store in Orillia and left Anderson in charge at Tillsonburg.

Northway focused on taking over ailing firms and turning them around. He eventually he held stores at Tillsonburg, Orillia, Simcoe, Ingersoll, St Thomas, Ridgetown, Woodville, Toronto, Chatham, Brantford, Hamilton, and Stratford. He inspected them routinely, shifted his managers to enliven the retailing, convened regular consultations, fixed standards of staffing, purchasing, and merchandising, and skirted brokerage houses by buying in bulk in Europe and the United States, where he also sketched the latest fashions.

Northway specialized in womenswear. He never considered himself in broad competition with the Eaton’s and Simpson’s department stores. His strategy was plain; he countered Eaton’s claim of “Big bargains developed by big business” with the “exclusive” quality of Northway’s workmanship and fashions, and the slogan “Style is a constant study in our designing rooms.” By 1911 he was beginning to exhibit a preference for fresh American styling.

Northway’s rise led to his appointment to the northern Ontario, wholesale dry goods, and waterfront development committees of the Toronto Board of Trade. From an intensive career spent building his own companies, Northway grew to appreciate a broader world. Recognizing the problems of social reconstruction that followed the downturn of 1906-1908 and the First World War, advanced a systematic approach to employee welfare and played no small part in furthering industrial and business reform in labour matters.

Northway died in 1926. Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography

This Beacon-Herald photo from Aug. 2, 1932, is from the Orr Collection. The dominant building, with its long awning, is at at 48-56 Ontario St. and housed the John Northway and Sons store. The corner building was later home to Wade's Flowers Ltd. and Canadian Gifts store, operated by Frank and Marg Wade. Brian Wendy Reis . . . FB

These signs once hung on the former Albion Hotel at 54 Ontario St. They were donated to Stratford Antique Warehouse (now gone). The signs date back to 1927, when John Northway and Sons bought the building. Stratford-Perth Archives