Recently I purchased a pair of Canadian WW2 canvas shoes made by the Hewetson Shoe Company. They are in what I consider almost pristine condition. During WW1 and WW2 many civilian factories were converted over to wartime factories producing everything that soldiers and armies required.
One such company out of Canada was the Hewetson Shoe Company. While they predominately made children’s shoes, they also got into the war effort and made shoes for the Canadian RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) service men/women and army.
One such shoe was a partial leather and canvas shoe. From what I have discovered, the shoes came with at least two types of soles. One was made from leather and the other, which I have, was made from some type of rubber. The markings on the sole said Holtite, which I believe pertains to the traction of the rubber and Perfect, which was on the heel.
The shoes came in 2 flavors. A bluish grey version for the RCAF and a khaki version for the army. The shoes were designed for PT and were called Canvas shoes or Plimsolls(Plimsoles).
My shoes have a date stamp of 1942 with Hewetson Shoe Company on the footbed. It appears the “194” is in a different font than the “2”, which appears smaller. I am wondering if when the soles were stamped they used 2 different stamps. One that said “194” and others that contained “1”, “2”, “3” and so on representing the actual year that the shoes were made.
The shoes also have the Broad Arrow encased in the letter C, standing for Canada.
While the Canadians went with a classy look, the British went for function. The British Plimsolls were more like a minimalist sneaker or moccasin and had rubber bottoms. The British Army training shoes (Plimsolls) or gym shoes were constructed with military cotton drill uppers and rubber bottoms. These were issued as sports or PT (physical training) kit and they were also worn by troops fighting in Burma and the Far East to help air their feet out in camp, after fighting in the jungle.
The J.W. Hewetson Shoe Company was founded in 1908 by John William Hewetson in a factory he built in Toronto. The company initially fared well but their progress was abruptly halted in 1913 when the Toronto factory caught fire and was completely destroyed. J.W. Hewetson was determined to rebuild his business and following the trend established eight years earlier by the Copeland-Chatterson Company, he decided
to move his company to Brampton. Here both land and labor were less costly. An ideal location was chosen for the factory on a sizable property, conveniently situated at the junction of the Grand Truck and Canadian pacific Railway Tracks.
Mr. Hewetson approached the Town of Brampton for a loan to finance the new construction. The Town Council agreed to this but in order to ensure the company’s stability, they asked that A. Russell Hewetson, J.W. Hewetson’s only son, join him in the business. A. Russell Hewetson was studying for the ministry at the University of Toronto at the time but in order to help his family he ended his studies and went into business with his father.
Russell Hewetson was a great visionary. He sought to integrate his social ideals into the operation of the Hewetson Shoe Company by turning the company into a cooperative where workers shared in the profits. Had it been achieved this would have been a significant innovation in the business realm. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1928. Work began on the construction of the Brampton Hewetson factory in 1913 and all machinery and equipment was in place by November of that year. With the help of a large staff of workers, including carpenters, machinists, millwrights, and others the manufacturing of children’s boots and shoes began in January 1914. Production continued to grow through the first two years of the First World War but catastrophe struck in September 1916 when fire broke out on the company premises. The entire second floor was gutted, but unlike their former Toronto factory, the Brampton building was able to be repaired.
Following the conclusion of the War, business was booming once again for the Hewetson Shoe Company. In 1922 the business had expanded to such an extent that it was necessary to add a third floor to the existing building, bringing the total square footage to 26,280. In August of 1924, a three-storey building was erected immediately to the rear of the existing structure along the railway tracks to the west. By 1925, Hewetson children’s shoes were known from coast to coast and a decision was made to expand the line to include women’s shoes. Founder, John W. Hewetson, passed away in 1930, and A.W. Thompson was engaged to replace him as general manager. At this time, Mrs. J.W. Hewetson assumed the presidency, a position she held until her death n 1945. She was succeeded as president in 1945 by Mr. A.G. Davis, the father of William G. Davis, Premier of Ontario from 1970 to 1985.
The J.W. Hewetson Shoe Company has a strong connection with the former Premier Davis, who is regarded as one of Brampton’s most famous citizen’s. J.W. Hewetson was his maternal grandfather and Davis was named after him. As a child, William G. Davis lived with his parents and Hewetson grandparents in “the Castle,” the stately Elizabethian style mansion on Church Street West. His father was a well-known figure in Brampton throughout his life. As a youth A.G. Davis excelled in several sports, most notably lacrosse where he became one of the best players in the country and played on the famous Brampton Excelsior Mann Cup Team of 1914. In recognition of his contribution to the sport, A.G. Davis was elected to the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. In professional life he practiced law after graduating from Osgoode hall Law School and is most vividly remembered as the Crown Attorney for Peel County.
The firm continued to be family owned until 1956 when Hewetson was purchased by the Shoe Corporation of America (S.C.A.). Hewetson’s along with three other Canadian shoe manufacturing firms owned by S.C.A. would be united to form the Shoe Corporation of Canada (S.C.C.). Despite this merger the Brampton factory and the shoes produced there continued to bear the Hewetson name. In 1968 the S.C.C. decided to relocate its head office from Midland, Ontario to Brampton. This move necessitated extensive alterations to the office section.
In January 1970, building to accommodate the increased staff and equipment. Hewetson’s and the other units of S.C.C. were sold to J.D. Cartier Shoe Co. Limited of Toronto, once again returning Hewetson Shoes to Canadian ownership. ‘ The company continued to manufacture shoes at the Brampton plant until 1979 when they were forced to cease operation due to escalating leather costs and inexpensive imported shoes. In recent years, Mr. David Nava has purchased the Hewetson building, which now houses several business simultaneously and is now known as ‘The Old Shoe Factory Business Centre”.
Holtite Rubber Company of Canada Limited & Cat’s Paw
Unfortunately the Heweston Shoe Company and the Holtite Rubber Company of Canada Limited are gone, so the only way you are going to find these shoes is by luck, which happened to be with me when I found my pair.
Now for those who want the look and style and don’t really care about it being an accurate historical representation, there is a company (Doursoux) making reproductions. They call them Birman shoes. The canvas is slightly larger with a combo leather sole with a rubber heal.