Saturday, September 30, 2017

1515 Portage Avenue - Simpsons-Sears at Polo Park Shopping Centre

© 2017, Christian Cassidy

Sears at Polo Park Shopping Centre
Address: 1515 Portage Avenue (Map)
Size: 270,000 square feet
Architect: Green, Blankstein, Russell and Associates
Contractor: Commonwealth Construction Co.
Opened: May 6, 1959

Simpsons-Sears, now known as Sears Canada, was a partnership between the Canadian and American retail chains created in January 1953. It was dissolved in 1978 when HBC bought out Simpsons. (For more about Simpsons-Sears.)

The retailer had been searching for a Winnipeg store site since its inception and hired David Slater Ltd. to find them a 14-acre parcel of land that they could purchase. One of the few sites available along Portage Avenue was the Polo Park Race Track.

Slater approached the track's owners and after a year of negotiations reached a purchase agreement with the condition that the track could have two more racing seasons to find a new home.

The site was large enough that an adjoining 45-store shopping centre was also planned.
Top: Architect's drawings, May 5, 1959, Winnipeg Free Press

Construction began on the $5 million Simpsons-Sears store in fall 1957.

The building, designed by Green, Blankstein, Russell Associates and built by Commonwealth Construction Company, is clad in Tyndall stone. Its most unique feature was a 45-metre long abstract tile mural along its Portage Avenue facade that was designed by George Swinton of the University of Manitoba's School of Art. (Both have since been extensively altered by exterior renovations.)

The store featured 270,000 square feet of floor space over three levels. two were for retail and there is a basement warehouse area accessible by heated, covered ramps. There was also a service station, 8,000 square foot garden centre and two restaurants - the Manitoba Room on the second floor and Peggy Kellogg coffee house on the main floor.

It was all surrounded by 1,200 parking stalls.

The Simpsons-Sears store formally opened on May 6, 1959. On-hand were the retailer's top executives and Alderman A. E. Bennet representing mayor Stephen Juba.

The store was the fourteenth opened by the retailer and employed 600 people.

J. C. Paterson was the store’s first general manager. He had been responsible for opening stores in Hamilton and Kingston before being named the General Retail Sales Manager based in Toronto. In January 1959, he was dispatched to Winnipeg to oversee the store's development.

July 14, 1970, Winnipeg Tribune

Through the 2000s the fortunes of Sears Canada declined amid the changing retail industry. 

In June 2017, the retailer sought protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and announced that it would close 59 of its 127 stores and shed thousands of employees. This included Winnipeg's Garden City store but not locations at Polo Park, Kildonan Place and St.Vital Centre.

In September 2017 it was announced that another wave of store closures would inclue the Polo park location.

Simpsons-Sears at Garden City Shopping Centre
Polo Park opens to fanfare

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