Interesting Lambton Businesses: The Newton Hat Shop

The Newton Hat Shop interior photograph from the Sarnia location
Sarnia Canadian Observer
March 14, 1919
Throughout Lambton County’s history some businesses have ignited the public imagination and left an interesting legacy. The Newton Hat Shop is one example, a local business first established in Sarnia and eventually moved to Petrolia, owned by Katherine N. Newton. The Lambton Room is fortunate to have some interesting documentation from Newton’s business.

Newton was a milliner (maker or seller of hats) who opened her first shop in Petrolia in 1918 and continued in business for over thirty years. She created and decorated her own hats but also ordered the latest hat fashions from hotspots like Toronto, Vancouver, New York and Paris. Newton operated two different hat shops, one in Sarnia and one in Petrolia. A newspaper advertisement in the Sarnia Canadian Observer announced the arrival of a store on March 14, 1919 at 129 Front Street (see scan from paper). The stores have been referred to variably as “The Newton Hat Shop” and “Miss Newton’s Hat Shop.” By 1946 the Sarnia location had closed and the Petrolia location was changing locations again, as announced in the Petrolia Advertiser-Topic on December 12: “Another new business will be open to the public in Petrolia on Saturday next when Miss Kate Newton, of town, opens the Newton Hat Shop in the former Pearson block.”

Blank company invoice

Newton owned and operated her hat shop at a time when few other women were in business for themselves. She was a pioneer for businesswomen and exercised creative talents crafting hats and managerial/economic talents running her own small business. Little has been recorded about Newton personally outside of her business life. She ultimately chose not to marry and lived at 4227 Henry Street in Petrolia with her older brother, Roy, her sister, Ethel, and her mother.

After she passed away May 24, 1968, a search through Newton’s attic revealed an inventory of over 500 hats in storage. These were purchased by George L. Smith, a local historian who has often swooped in to collect and purchase local artifacts and documents that might otherwise have been lost to history (it was also Smith who rescued from a dumpster the original Sarnia Observer Negative collection, thousands of negatives published between the 1950s-1970s and now safely stored in the Lambton Room – see blog post Local History Gem! The Sarnia Observer Negative Collection.) Some of the hats Smith collected even had the original price tags! The collection was sold to the Canadian Museum of Civilization and featured in the Hold Onto Your Hats! exhibition, which noted that Miss Newton’s collection “provides important information about the millinery trade in Ontario, as well as a visual and tactile impression of the kinds of hats that were popular in Ontario in the first half of this century.”
For more information on Katherine Newton and her hat shop, visit Dave and Lyn Dennis’s A Glance Back, Kate Newton article.
Women’s Cloche from The Newton Hat Shop, late 1920s. Rayon.
From Canadian Museum of Civilization collection.
Front of card published by the Newton Hat Shop

Interior of card published by the Newton Hat Shop

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