Donald McDonald was the son of a Scottish settler, who came to Nova Scotia in 1802 and settled on interval lands at Sunnybrae, Pictou County. In 1847 at the age of 18, Donald McDonald came to Sherbrooke and opened a tailor shop, which he ran from his home. Some years later, this building burned down, but Donald rebuilt in 1910. The new shop had a sweat room at the back, where pressing and ironing was done, and an adjoining home for Donald, his wife, Elizabeth, and their eight children. In addition to tailoring, Donald was a magistrate of the county, Judge of Probate, and Clerk of Sessions in the Presbyterian Church.
Donald McDonald only made men and boys clothing at his tailor shop, and he did all of the sewing by hand. It would have taken him approximately one week to hand sew a three-piece woolen suit, for which he charged $11.50 in 1866. A shirt was an additional $2.50. Donald would have ordered materials for clothing from suppliers in Montreal although many fabrics were imported from Scotland and England, such as wool and Harris Tweed.
Donald McDonald died in 1910 at the age of 81. His son, John ‘Geddie’ McDonald, took over the business and ran it until his retirement in 1943. Truman and Ruby Cruickshank bought the house and shop from John, including all the fabric, buttons, and materials still in the shop. The Cruickshanks did not run a business from their new home, rather, the tailor shop they used as a garage for tools, and the sweat room they used as a laundry room and for storage. The Cruickshanks lived in the house until it was sold to the Sherbrooke Restoration Commission in the mid-1970s.
Today, Donald McDonald & Son Tailor Shop features many items original to the shop or from tailor shops of the era. On display are pictures of Donald and Elizabeth and a silver medallion that belonged to their son, Alex, also a tailor. The materials on the shelf represent the types and styles of fabrics that were used during the McDonalds’ time. They came from the old Goodman’s store in New Glasgow. The buttons came from Cruickshank’s Tailor Shop, which was in the area at the same time. Other items on the shelves include beaver skin top hats, English derby hats, black Windsor derby hats, grey skimmers, straw boater, woman’s riding hat and tweed hats hanging on the wall. There are also collars for shirts, spats to put on over shoes for dressing up and also to keep snow out of low shoes, braces, button boxes and hat boxes.
On the counter is a button covering machine used by Donald and John to cover metal buttons with fabric. There is also a lap board, which allowed a tailor to sit in front of the window and do his sewing were the light was better. The Singer sewing machine in the front window dates to 1910 – something John would have used in his years running the shop but not his father.
The sweat room at the back has both large, goose irons and small, sad irons weighing from one kilogram to eighteen. The stove is original to the shop and has an inverted top to hold three irons. When one iron was taken off the stove, another was put back in its place to heat. On the shelf is a hat block for reshaping a hat after cleaning, plus a flutter or crimper for ironing tiny pleats into fabric. The sewing machine in the sweat room was used to sew leather. It was made in Oldham, England, in 1876.