Address: 450 Portage Avenue at Memorial Map
Opened: November 18, 1926
Cost: $5 million
Architect: Barott and Blackader
Technically speaking, The Hudson's Bay Company is downtown Winnipeg ! In 1826 Upper Fort Garry was established at what is now Main Street and Assiniboine Avenue and the lands around it were HBC reserves.
180-188 Main St. ca. 1900: (source)In 1880-81 the HBC left the confines of Upper Fort Garry to build their first traditional department store at 180 Main Street at York Avenue, (for photos of the interior). Over time, though, the retail centre of Winnipeg established itself along Portage Avenue. That, and the need for larger premises, sent HBC on the hunt for a new location in the early 1920s.
At the same time, the city was looking to create a mall, (now called Memorial Boulevard), that extended from Portage Avenue to the Legislature. The plan for the boulevard was that of city planner and Veterans' advocate Leo Warde.
The city, province and HBC all owned vacant land in the area around the proposed mall, but none had parcel large enough to do what they wanted, so they began negotiating. At the July 31, 1925 city council meeting a series of land swaps and zoning changes were approved. The result was that the HBC had a piece of land large enough for a new flagship store and the city had the right of way for the mall. Mayor Webb sent a telegram to Warde, who was in hospital at Winnipeg Beach, with the good news:
"Congratulations to you, old boy. City council today passed bylaws covering Warde plan for Memorial Boulevard and the Hudson's Bay are going to build. Best wishes for a speedy recovery and return to the job".Winnipeg Free Press Aug 1, 1925
May 3, 1926, from store archives
The sod-turning ceremony took place on September 7, 1925 and hundreds of workers started on the foundation.
The building materials used are almost entirely from Manitoba. The steel girders were rolled in Selkirk, the stone facade quarried at Tyndall, the plaster made at Gypsumville, the furnaces built in Selkirk and the sheet metal for the roofing from St. Boniface. Even the paints and varnishes chosen were form St. Boniface. Numerous local companies provided brick and concrete and the two-million linear feet of timber was from Manitoba forests.
August 9, 1926, Manitoba Free Press
The pace of construction was incredible. Fourteen months after the sod turning the building was ready for shoppers. The HBC claimed that it was a Canadian speed record for a building of that size, over fifteen acres of floor space. It was also done with no serious injuries or deaths to the builders.
The store began moving equipment and stock to the new premises in early November. On Saturday, November 12th, the old department store had its final day of business and three days later the new store opened. Three days later that, the official ceremony was held.
At 9:00 a.m. George Galt, chairman of the board of the HBC, turned a gold key in the lock of the Portage Avenue doors. Present were Mayor Webb and an assortment of HBC dignitaries from across the country.
Once inside, the Mayor presented a bouquet of flowers to Mrs. W. H. Cook, wife of the store's general manager. Webb also recorded the first sale in the store when he wandered over to a counter to purchase a green tie for his son and another counter for a novelty bracelet for his daughter.
The Mall ca. 1928 (source)
People turned out by the thousands to get a glimpse. A Free Press story noted that: "It seemed as if the whole city were outside the doors ready to swarm in and take the new store and all It represents to its heart." By lunchtime over 50,000 people had passed through the doors. The store's full compliment of 2,000 employees and two two paddy wagons full of police officers were on-hand to ensure crowd control.
There were a number of unique features found in the store. The "fool proof" electric elevators, for instance, were the first of their design to be used in Canada. There were originally two banks, each with a giant mural above them. When escalator service was eventually extended beyond the second floor in the 1940s, one bank was removed to allow for more sales floor space.
The sub-basement was a “subterranean hive of activity” with its own furnaces and generators. It also had its own fire protection system with a 100,000 gallon water reservoir. (Apparently a "secret tunnel" as well !)
Winnipeg Evening Tribune, May 25 1939
For decades, the Bay Downtown was a focal point of downtown Winnipeg. When the flight to the suburbs began after World War II, the store underwent a multi-million dollar redevelopment that saw the addition of the Paddle Wheel Buffet, a new loading bay and a multi-level parkade to compete with the suburban shopping malls.
The changing retial landscape caught up with Portage Avenue in 1999 when its other anchor department store, Eaton's, closed. In 2005 HBC began working with Shindico to find partners to occupy the upper four storeys of the building while The Bay would lease back the first two floors and basement level. That plan went nowhere.
In March 2010 the retailer announced the start of a redevelopment of the store that would see the top three floors close and the addition of discount retailer Zellers, another HBC owned company, to the basement level. (The Zellers store closed in 2012.)
UPDATES for 2010:
Zellers to move into Bay basement Winnipeg Free Press Mar 20, 2010
Changes underway at The Bay CBC Jul 8, 2010
Zellers unwraps new store in Downtown Winnipeg HBC Nov 29, 2010
Zellers' grand opening on December 3, 2010
UPDATES for 2011:
Changes announced to The Bay restaurants, a renovation and re-branding
Paddlewheel sailing away Winnipeg Free Press, Feb. 2011
UPDATES for 2013:
Original HBC Flagship Store may Close Soon Retail Insider Jan 10, 2013
Paddlewheel serves up its last meal CBC Jan 24, 2013
Diamond in the Rough Winnipeg Free Press Feb 3, 2013
Our History (Winnipeg Store) HBC.com
A new store for an old company MB Archives
Hudson's Bay Co. Museum Collection Manitoba Museum
450 Portage Avenue U of M Winnipeg Building Index
Hudson's Bay Company In Depth CBC News
My other Bay Downtown posts
450 Portage Avenue Winnipeg Downtown Places
The Bay Parkade Winnipeg Downtown Places
The Paddlewheel Restaurant Winnipeg Downtown Places
Zellers' 79-year run in Winnipeg West End Dumplings
The Bay Downtown's missing elevator mural West End Dumplings
The Bay Downtown's giant beacon West End Dumplings
More Photos (interior shots taken with permission of store management):
Original store clock
South second storey detail
Elevator Lobby detail
Elevator lobby mural detail
East entrance detail
Main floor window well detail
Photos of Zellers upgrade:
More interior shots here.