Waterloo Region Generations
A record of the people of Waterloo Region, Ontario.
Walter Philip Zeller

Walter Philip Zeller[1]

Male 1890 - Yes, date unknown

Personal Information    |    Media    |    Notes    |    Sources    |    Event Map    |    All    |    PDF

  • Name Walter Philip Zeller 
    Born 21 Oct 1890  Waterloo Twp., Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [2, 3, 4, 5, 6
    Christened 9 Sep 1891  Church Of New Jerusalem, Kitchener, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [6
    Gender Male 
    Business Zellers department store 
    • =
    Walter P. Zeller
    Walter P. Zeller
    History of Kitchener
    Occupation 1911  Kitchener, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [5
    Traveling Sales 
    Religion 1911  Kitchener, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [5
    Swedenborgian 
    Website 2007 
    Website 2007 
    wikipedia 
    Hall of Fame - Waterloo Region Bef 2012  , Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [7
    Interesting life story, business 
    Eby ID Number 00138-8394.5 
    Died Yes, date unknown 
    Person ID I1368  Generations
    Last Modified 29 Sep 2019 

    Father Philip Zeller,   b. 19 Sep 1863, Waterloo Twp., Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Mother Mary Riener,   b. 11 Apr 1864, Vienna, , Wien, Austria Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Married 24 Sep 1884  Kitchener, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [8, 9
    Family ID F449  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 21 Oct 1890 - Waterloo Twp., Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsChristened - 9 Sep 1891 - Church Of New Jerusalem, Kitchener, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - Traveling Sales - 1911 - Kitchener, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsReligion - Swedenborgian - 1911 - Kitchener, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsHall of Fame - Waterloo Region - Bef 2012 - , Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Photos
    Walter P. Zeller
    Walter P. Zeller
    from Waterloo Region Hall of Fame

  • Notes 
    • Walter P. Zeller

      Walter Zeller was hard-working, smart and above all, an optimist. He had to be. After all, who but an optimist would embark on a new retail enterprise in 1931, when the world was still pulling itself out of a depression? In a letter to associates over 20 years later, he explained his motivation: "It was my conviction that endowed with immense natural resources and a courageous and hard-working population, Canada was bound to emerge into a period of prosperity." He was right and Zellers Limited profited right along with the nation.
      The story of Walter Zeller and the formation of Zellers is a fairly straightforward one, but no less interesting for that. Walter Philip Zeller was born on October 21, 1890 on the farm in Waterloo County, Ontario that his great-grandfather had purchased shortly after arriving in Canada from Germany. He remained on the farm until his family moved to nearby Berlin (now Kitchener) where he attended high school and worked as a delivery boy. Realizing that he didn't want to move packages as a career he sampled a number of different positions over the next few years before he hit upon something he felt had great potential - retail.
      In 1912 he began working for the F.W. Woolworth Company as a stock boy but soon progressed to other positions. In 1914 he made the move to Kresge's, where he made less money but felt that he could learn more. His job entailed a move to the United States but he was back in Canada working for the Metropolitan chain of stores by 1923. In 1926 the Company moved him back to the States, this time as General Sales Manager for New York.

      Walter P. Zeller, n.d.

      By 1928, Walter Zeller was ready to come home to Canada and be his own boss. He opened his own group of four stores in Ontario, operating in London, St. Catherines, Fort William and Guelph. His success was quickly noticed and the American firm Schulte-United Ltd. promptly bought him out. The story is that they weren't interested in obtaining the Canadian real estate, but in getting their hands on Mr. Zeller. The depression of 1929-30 took its toll on the retail industry however and Schulte-United went bankrupt. Rather than viewing this as a set-back, Zeller saw an opportunity. He bought back Schulte-United's Canadian properties, now numbering 14, closed 3 of them, and in 1932, Zeller's Limited opened once again.

      What was the reason for the Company's success? As with most ventures, it was a combination of factors. Most important was Zeller's focus on popular-priced trade and an emphasis on bringing Fifth Avenue fashions to Main Street. Then there was choice of staff. Mr. Zeller had a knack for finding and keeping the best and the brightest, to the degree that Canadian Business Magazine commented on the attitude and ability of the staff from manager to sales clerk in an article in 1944. Walter Zeller himself attributed much of Zeller's success to his staff, stating that their morale was his company's best asset. While he may well have believed this, it seems obvious that he himself was the Company's greatest asset..

      Descriptions of Walter Zeller frequently include the following adjectives: energetic, forthright, magnetic. His drive in life was once likened to that of a man on an escalator who is impatient to get to the top: rather than waiting to be carried to his destination, he still takes the steps 2 at a time. With all of this energy, he was frequently seen in the stores and always had time for those who worked for him. He wrote letters to associates and Christmas messages each year. In 1942 his message included a heart-felt tribute to "four of the gallant company of Zeller's Employees on Active Service" who had died, naming each of them. This must have been especially poignant as both of his sons were at the time enlisted in the war effort, with one already serving overseas.
      Despite the active role he took in his business, he also had time for others. During the war he was Director-at-large of the National War Savings Committee and also served as a special advisor to the Chairman of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board. He was also heavily involved with the YMCA, serving as their Montreal Director, and with the Kiwanis Club, which he served as Montreal President and Governor of the Quebec-Ontario-Maritimes District.

      With all of these responsibilities, Zeller also had time for his family. He married Nettie Lewis in 1912 and together they had 2 sons, C. Edward, named for Walter's brother, and Warren.
      In accordance with Company policy Walter Zeller retired in 1955 at the age of 65. He died in 1957 and was buried in Montreal where Zellers head offices were located and where he had been living for some time. His influence remains however, especially in the region of his birth. There is a memorial window in the Church of the Good Shepherd in Kitchener, Ontario dedicated to him and in 2000, the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest coin, worth $2 during the Oktoberfest festivities, bore his likeness. And, of course, his name still graces stores and shopping bags all over Canada.

      __________________________________


      From the Wall of Fame website

      Walter P. Zeller, who became the founder of a great chain of stores, Zeller's Ltd., began his career as a delivery boy, sweeping floors and washing windows. His pioneer grandfather settled on a farm near Breslau, in 1831. The family's great interest in the pioneers of this County led the Zeller Family Foundation to provide funds to assist in the development of Doon Pioneer Village.
      Zeller's personal success with Zeller's Ltd., came after a period of training with other department stores.

      He gave generously of his time in an executive capacity to a large number of community, provincial and national enterprises, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis Club, the Canadian Osteopathic Aid Society, the Shawbridge Boys' Farm and Training School and the YMCA. He also served as Executive Assistant to the Minister of National War Services and Chairman of the National War Savings Campaign

  • Sources 
    1. [S10] Book - Vol II A Biographical History of Waterloo Township and other townships of the county : being a history of the early settlers and their descendants, mostly all of Pennsylvania Dutch origin..., 693.

    2. [S177] Census - ON, Waterloo - 1901, Waterloo (South/Sud) g-6 Page 7.

    3. [S86] Census - ON, Waterloo, Waterloo South - 1901, Waterloo (South/Sud) G-6 Page 7.

    4. [S177] Census - ON, Waterloo - 1901, ON WATERLOO (South/Sud) (#122) Subdistrict: Waterloo (South/Sud) g-6 Page 7.

    5. [S340] Census - ON, Waterloo, Berlin - 1911, Div. 24 Pg. 8.

    6. [S2] Church Records - ON, Waterloo, Kitchener - Church of the New Jerusalem (Swedenborgian).
      Walter b. 31 Oct 1890, bapt. 9 Sep 1891 s/o Philip and Maria Zeller

    7. [S220] Waterloo Region Hall of Fame Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.

    8. [S2] Church Records - ON, Waterloo, Kitchener - Church of the New Jerusalem (Swedenborgian).
      Name: Phillip Zoeller Age: 21 res: Breslau Place of Birth: Breslau Names of Parents: Jacob Zoeller & Cathar. Schiedel Name: Maria An. Riener Age: 20 res: Breslau Place of Birth: Wiena, Ostria Names of Parents: Mathias Riener & Maria Nowak Name: Cirus Schiedel res: Waterloo Name: Aaron Witmer res: Preston Date of Marriage: Sept. 24, 1884

    9. [S2573] aaaaWaterloo Township South 1891, Sect. 2 Page 6.