A love affair with shoes that started at Ross’s Ladies’ Wear

1962 shoes

My friend Elaine’s high-school-graduation shoes, purchased in 1962 and still looking extraordinarily stylish today. (Photo courtesy of Elaine Kapusta)

Posts that I’ve done on local retailers that Queensborough-connected readers and I remember from our younger days (or that resemble non-local retailers that readers elsewhere remember from their younger days) always seem to draw a fair bit of interest. I suppose there’s something a bit magical in our memories about the stores we visited as small children. The excitement of getting a new outfit or of seeing a display featuring more candy than you could ever imagine eating; the interesting clean smells of “dry goods” on shelves; the promise of all the rolls of pretty fabric and the Butterick, Vogue and Simplicity pattern books (not to mention the rickrack and other “notions”) at the sewing-supplies store; that funky contraption (which I’ve learned from reader Nicole was called a Brannock Device) with which the man at the shoe store use to to measure your growing feet – all of those images just kind of conjure up small-town midcentury childhood, do they not? A childhood in which money was not abundant and a visit to the store was something special.

Dack's from Thos. A. Ross matchbookOne of my more recent posts on that general theme was to ask who among my readers might remember a Madoc store run by “Thos. A. Ross” that sold Dack’s shoes for men. (This came about because reader Sash had discovered on eBay a vintage matchbook advertising that store.) I asked whether there was any connection between Thos. A. Ross’s store selling Dack’s for men and a Madoc store that I remember well from my childhood, Ross’s Ladies’ Wear – a wonderful place that I first wrote about here.

But in that matchbook-inspired post I apparently erred in saying that Ross’s Ladies’ Wear did not sell shoes. I don’t remember shoes being among the goods on offer at Ross’s, but some readers have assured me that they were.

And apparently not just any shoes! The shoes that Ross’s sold were enough to launch at least one person onto a lifelong love affair with shoes. Now, we all know that lots of women have had a lifelong love affair with shoes, and I myself might qualify; but I don’t think too many people can say that it started at Ross’s Ladies’ Wear in Madoc. I think that’s very cool.

Here’s the note that Lamoine (Thompson) Luukko, who grew up in Queensborough, sent me with her story:

Desert boots

Desert boots! They look great on both men and women, they’re comfortable, and they have a midcentury-cool vibe. What’s not to love?

It was about Grade 11 when Bev Holmes (a classmate) arrived at school (Madoc High) wearing a pair  of the most magnificent boots called DESERT BOOTS. Lo and behold, sold at Ross’ Ladies Wear.

I immediately  proceeded to convince Mom I should use some of my money from working that summer…She finally caved and I was the proud owner of Desert Boots.  Saddle shoes and black ballerina flats followed, and I have never recovered.

I have since bought hundreds of shoes but will never forget my Desert Boots.

Desert boots! Oh man (as I told Lamoine in response) – I remember them so well! Back in the 1960s, I too thought they were the coolest thing ever. And I would have loved to have had a pair. Sadly for me I never did until many years later, when I was well into my 20s; but I made up for lost time then, and made sure always to have at least one pair in my closet. I still do.

It turns out that Lamoine’s younger sister, my Queensborough friend Elaine, also considered Ross’s the go-to place for stylish shoes. The wonderful pair that you see in the photo at the top of this post came from there – in 1962! (And they still look smashing.) Here’s Elaine’s shoe story:

The Thompson girls bought shoes at Ross’s Ladies Wear. Attached is a photo of a pair of shoes I bought in 1962 for my Grade12 fall graduation. These spike shoes were too much for me so they were left behind  tucked in a secret cupboard under a stair tread when I went off to teachers’ college in 1963. They have continued to hide for the last 52 years. Shoes that hurt never get worn. The little cupboard also holds a pair of pink satin shoes with pointy toes. I look at them every few years.

I love the way Elaine tells that story. Surely she is not alone in keeping a pair of shoes (or two) that were bought for a momentous occasion once upon a time, that haven’t been worn for many years (and perhaps were hardly worn in the first place because they pinched or were tottery), but that are special to memory and thus are “looked at every few years.”

Because they take the person who once wore them back to a place and time.

When the perfect shoes could be found at Ross’s.

16 thoughts on “A love affair with shoes that started at Ross’s Ladies’ Wear

  1. Elaine’s shoes are beautiful, but it’s not hard to see why she hasn’t worn them. How do people wear shoes that are so pointed? They have a classy look, just as so many men’s shoes from that time also had classy, pointy toes; but, in either case, the cramping was always an issue.

    Now, as for the dessert boots, they look timeless, too, and they were always very comfortable to wear — no issue with toes being cramped there. I can remember buying them in Madoc, but not at Ross’s. I got mine at the shop that was on the west side of the street, but I cannot remember the name of the shop. West’s was the menswear shop, and there was Stickwood’s for dry goods, and Devolin’s was in that stretch, too. I don’t think either West’s or Stickwood’s sold shoes, though. I was with my sister and a friend when they bought a pair of shoes at the same place, so the shop sold shoes for the whole family. We were all around ten years of age then, and one of the girls were taken with a pair of shoes that had a slightly high heel (about 1 1/2″). For a girl of that age, having a bit of a lift seemed a big deal, especially when the sales-clerk said the heel was known as the “princess” heel.

    Wish I could remember the name of the shop! And these photos of the shoes of Elaine and Lamoine are great reminders of the styles of the day, and of the quality merchandise that one bought in Madoc.

    • Interesting query, Sash, and while I can’t answer it (it would have been before my time, I’m afraid), I hope one or more readers might be able to: Knowledgeable people, what was the name of a shop on the west side of Durham Street in Madoc that sold shoes for the whole family?

      • I think I might have the answer, but I’m not completely sure. From checking a CHSS yearbook, in the Advertising section, there is an ad for West’s. It reads as follows:

        Compliments of
        George West
        Men’s Wear

        Headquarters for
        Men’s Clothing
        Men’s Furnishings

        Ladies’ and Men’s High School Cardigans
        Madoc, Ontario Phone 473-2890
        So, if West’s sold shoes, and also sold ladies’ cardigans, what are the chances that they also sold shoes for girls and women? The ad doesn’t specify if their shoes are for men only, or for both women and men, although “Footware” is indented under the section for men’s items. I think this requires a trip in the WayBack Machine.

      • Well, the WayBack Machine it is — thanks to CHTV Madoc. The following video has just been released, of the 80th anniversary of the Village of Madoc. Around 14.45, you will see a view of the shops on the west side of Durham Street, including Bata Shoes! I remember the street festival that appears toward the end of the film. My parents and I went to it, and I recall King Ganam was one of the guest fiddlers at the evening show. What a wonderful bit of local history, preserved on film and so kindly presented by CHTV Madoc.

      • Sash, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you for finding and sharing this – not to mention to Gord Pigden for shooting this priceless footage, and his son Terry for preserving it. What a wonderful glimpse into Madoc’s history as of midcentury! To see those long-gone stores (Kincaid’s IGA!) again, and well-known folks like Stan Hawthorne at the keyboards – just wonderful! Now as for the Bata shoestore, oddly I have no recollection of it at all, even though there was one in prtactically every town in my youth. I think the one in Madoc must have been gone (for some strange reason) by the time my family moved to the area.

      • Oh, you’re very welcome. I was thrilled to find it, and when the video started, I had no idea that it would feature the street dance. I remember that event very vividly. But, when they were showing the beginning ceremonies at the park beside the Armouries, I had no recollection of that. I even wondered if that had happened just before we moved, but then it seemed to me that we would have been there. Seems funny how I didn’t remember the other events having taken place, and then I realized that it would have been on a Saturday, and my father would have been working. My mother would have stayed at home with two small children (I was four at the time.) But, as soon as the footage showed the truck blocking the intersection of Durham & St. Lawrence, it was like an instant flash-back, and that they were setting up for the street party. King Ganam was the featured guest at the street dance. He was a well-known fiddler of his day, with a recording contract, and just as well-known to some as Don Messer. I might be wrong, but I have a hunch that Graham Townsend (another fiddler) was there, too. That part is sketchy to me. But, since that day in 1958, I’ve often thought of that street party, and now I can see it once again.

        This is a wonderful bit of history of Madoc. How many people remember this? Thanks to CHTV, they have presented something of local importance, and so nicely preserved and converted for current technologies.

        As for the Bata store, I can’t recall when it closed. If they didn’t place ads in the high school yearbook for the late 60s, then they may have been gone by then. Now, if I could only see the footage a bit more clearly … I’d like to know the exact order of the shops, starting at the north end … Richard’s Restaurant, Pigden’s Radio & TV, Devolins Grocery Store, and then Stickwoods, Bata and West’s would have fit in the current empty space (although I’m not entirely sure of the order, possibly Bata was in the middle.) And, yes, how nice to see Kincaid’s again, and the restaurant which later became Mary Jane’s. Do you remember the billiards hall down across from Pigden’s?

      • Here we go again my memory being a bit sketchy. I believe it was in the space where the vacant lot is (beside the Dough Box Bakery). But, McCoy’s was at that end of the street, too, and I can’t recall what was in the shops between there and where Wilson’s is now. The billiards hall would have been in the northern part of Durham, just before one gets to St. Lawrence; certainly not as far south as Wilson’s. I noticed the buildings seemed a bit taller on the west side, where the 5-to-a-dollar store would have been. The current dollar store roof seems to be quite a bit lower. Also, this 1958 footage would have been before a fire that happened in the 5-to-a-dollar/Johnston’s drug store area. Did you notice the bunting above some of the shops? And it was nice to see Ross’s with their striped awning again.

  2. I yearned for a pair of Hush Puppy desert boots. “Yearned” is probably a mild way of describing my feelings………..perhaps “ached” or “lusted” would be better descriptors. I was perhaps ten or 11 and lived in Cornwall Ontario. The shoes were in the tiny shoe department tucked into the back of the old, wooden-floored, downtown Zeller’s store. Sadly, my frugal mother would not even consider the idea. I can still remember the bitter disappointment – almost 50 years later!
    …………and yes……..I’ve owned MANY (expensive) pairs of desert boots over the years!

    (Note to self: time to find a new pair.)

    • Jane, I can just tell that you and I have a lot in common! Firstly, a love for desert boots (I have quite a few pairs but, now that I think of it, could use a new one, like you); but also, memories of old department stores with wooden floors. Oh, and frugal parents. A big welcome to Meanwhile, at the Manse!

      • Katherine, I just discovered your lovely blog last weekend and I’ve been scanning the archives over the past few days. I cannot imagine why I haven’t come across your adventures sooner – it’s my sort of read!
        As to having a lot in common……I do agree. Bells keep going off in my head as I read. I’m afraid however, that to itemize ALL the shared interests/experiences/attitudes would make me look decidedly stalkerish, so, for now, I’ll refrain.
        Thanks for the warm welcome!

      • Jane, I appreciate your kind words (and the time you’ve taken to read all those posts) so much – thank you! It feels like we have a real little community going on here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and I am so happy you’ve joined it!

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