Hudson Bay Company 1926 Store Opening in Winnipeg
Hudson Bay Company-
HBC has a long history in Winnipeg and the surrounding area: starting with Upper Fort Garry, continuing on with a saleshop at York and Main, and right up to the building of HBC’s last major department store on Portage, which is still in operation today.
For more than 30 years, Upper Fort Garry was the nucleus of the City of Winnipeg — the centre for business, government, and education — but in 1882, the fort was sold and demolished. The main gate of the settlement was left intact, and remains as an historical landmark in Fort Garry Park. It was presented by Hudson’s Bay Company to the City of Winnipeg in 1900.
In 1881, the city’s first HBC retail store was completed at the corner of Main Street and York Avenue.
On September 25, 1925, work commenced at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.
The general contractors supervised over 1,000 workers year-round to have the basement, mezzanine, and first three floors ready to open by the following autumn. It took 300 men, 120 teams of horses, 20 trucks, and two steam shovels to excavate 150,000 tons of earth to lay the foundation of the store; 151 concrete pillars were driven by hand down 52 feet to bedrock to support the building; and two million feet of lumber, 100,000 tons of concrete, and 125,000 cubic feet of Tyndall limestone (which is native to Manitoba and put $400,000 into the local economy) went into the construction. At the time, the structure was the largest reinforced concrete building in Canada, with a gross area of over six hectares of floor space. This massive new Hudson’s Bay Company store was the latest addition to the Company’s chain of 11 department stores that spanned the country from Winnipeg to the Pacific. On November 18, 1926, the new store opened for business on the main, second, and third floors, while work continued on the upper floors.
On opening day, promptly at 9:00 a.m., George F. Galt, member of Hudson’s Bay Company’s Canadian Committee, inserted a golden key into the lock of the central Portage Avenue entrance, and led a crowd that marched down the aisle 12 abreast for nearly an hour before its pace somewhat slowed. Two thousand staff members provided 50,000 customers with excellent customer service.
The Winnipeg store had every conceivable amenity for its day: a beauty parlour, public telephones, a post office, and a library. Later additions would include an auditorium with its own orchestra and, in 1930, the very first of a series of aerial navigation beacons installed in western Canada. At 200 feet in height, the beacon could be seen up to 100 miles away. It was first lit March 3, 1930 — Beacon Day — the day of the inaugural airmail flight from Winnipeg to Calgary.
The downtown Winnipeg HBC store has operated a number of restaurants since its opening, including the Jolly Canuck café in the basement, the Georgian Room, which opened in August of 1926, and the beloved Paddlewheel, which opened on October 29, 1954 and was closed in January 2013. Throughout the 1970s, HBC offered a few spaces to third parties for subletting purposes. For instance, on November 8, 1971, the Manitoba Liquor Control Board opened an outlet on the mezzanine floor of the store. This was the first liquor outlet in a department store in Canada. In 1975, HBC sublet premises in the store for use as an in-store CIBC branch. The bank left the premises three years later in October 1978.
Extensive renovations to the building were made in 1986 and 1987. HBC invested $4 million to update the first, second, and third floors, $200,000 on the sixth floor, and a further $700,000 on the basement and fourth floor. In 2010, HBC converted the basement of the downtown Winnipeg building into a Zellers store, which was closed in March 2013. The downtown Winnipeg HBC store is still in operation, although it now occupies only two floors of the building.
Historic Sites of Manitoba: Hudson’s Bay Company Building (450 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg)
Constructed as the flagship store for the Hudson’s Bay Company in western Canada, this six-storey building at the junction of Memorial Boulevard and Portage Avenue in downtown Winnipeg was erected by the firm of Carter-Halls–Aldinger between 1925 and 1926. It opened on 18 November 1926.