Wednesday, September 13, 2017

2311 McPhillips Street - Simpsons-Sears at Garden City Shopping Centre

© 2017, Christian Cassidy

Place: Sears at Garden City Shopping Centre
Address: 2311 McPhillips Street (Map)
Size: 100,000 square feet
Architect: unknown
Contractor: Baert Construction

In February 1969, Canadian retailer Simpsons-Sears announced an ambitious project: the construction of a $7 million dollar shopping mall on a 40-acre site on the northern edge of Greater Winnipeg in the city of West Kildonan.

The company wanted to to cash in on proposed residential development plans for the area that would add nearly ten thousand new households in the years to come.

Simpsons-Sears was a partnership between the Canadian and American retail chains created in 1952. It was formally dissolved in 1978, when HBC bought out Simpsons. (For more about the retailer.)

At the time of the Garden City announcement, the company billed itself as a "Canada's fastest growing retailer". They had 33 stores across the country, eight of them built in the previous three years.

The western end of the property, the most prominent side facing McPhillips Street, was reserved for the city's second Simpsons-Sears Store. It would be 100,000 square feet in size and designed so that an additional storey could be added at a future date. A Sears Auto Service Centre would stand nearby.

The store was built by Baert Construction. Its most notable features are the 30-foot wide concrete canopies that stand over each of its three entrances. Each weigh 30 tons and are faced with white quartz stone aggregate.

February 25, 1969, Winnipeg Free Press

The shopping centre idea was promising enough that Eaton's purchased ten acres at the eastern edge of the development for a store and parking area of its own to be built during the second phase of development.

In between the two anchors sites would be a 35-store enclosed mall developed and managed by Columbia Commonwealth Corporation of Toronto. It would feature: a Dominion grocery store, the largest in Western Canada at 25,000 square feet; Western Canada's first Shoppers Drug Mart; and a 750-seat Famous Players theatre.

It would all be surrounded by a 1,400 car parking lot.

Top: August 1, 1969, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: August 11, 1970, Winnipeg Free Press

On July 31, 1969, the first concrete was poured. The mayors of Winnipeg and West Kildonan, as well as company officials, were on hand for the ceremony.

It appears that construction went as planned and the shopping centre opened on August 12, 1970, very near the "mid 1970" target date set at the time of its announcement.

A lineup of its opening day tenants can be found in the map above.

The project was a success and between 1974 - 76 the second phase of construction took place. It was a a $7 million, 181,000 square foot expansion that doubled the size of the retail mall.

It coincided with a widening of Leila Avenue and other street redevelopment in the area.

New retailers included the much anticipated Eaton's store, a Beaver Lumber Centre and space for 20 other retailers and offices.

August 11, 1970, Winnipeg Free Press

Over the decades, hundreds of retailers and offices have called Garden City Shopping Centre home.

All of its prominent early merchants, though, have disappeared, including Beaver Lumber in 1995, Eaton's in 1998, Famous Players in 2010, and Shoppers Drug Mart.  Sears was the only one left.

The mall has undergone numerous upgrades and renovations over the years. the most recent, to be completed in 2018, was announced by owners RioCan  in 2016

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 the Garden City store, which is currently being liquidated.

To raise cash, Sears planned to sell the Garden City store to WCRE Investments for $5 million. After the deal was accepted, RioCan, owners of the mall, countered with a $6 million bid. The issue is currently before the courts.

The disappearance of the Sears name means not just the loss of a retailer, but its ties with the company that made the Garden City Shopping Centre a reality in the first place.


  1. Shoppers actually left the mall almost ten years ago moving west across McPhillips into the former Canadian Tire store.

  2. And the Canadian Tire store had moved to Garden City shortly prior to that, Partly covering the section of the mall where Eatons once was.

    Interesting that the current food court used to be the location of a Dominion Food Store.

    Wonder what the plans are for the Sears part of the mall.

    I'm assuming the Beaver Lumber was where the fitness place is currently.

    1. Yup. Beaver Lumber had double glass entrance doors facing sears. I think it turned into a pet store after and now a gym.

  3. Was that really the photo of the Garden City Eaton's? Looks like the Polo Park store to me...

    1. No. The Eatons at GC had the same "bay window" style canopy with the EATON'S" sign, which was demolished on the front when Cdn Tire moved in. That is a photo of the Polo park one.

  4. I remember the back entrance to Eatons had the electronics section to the left, and it was kinda dark in there, big tube tv's that weighed a ton, and I bought my tiny cassette/radio boom box from there during the late 90's when it was shutting down.

  5. Woolco was across the street at gc square. Woolco went down in 94 and woolco had the front doors underneath a giant canopy thing that was part of the exterior brick wall which was the same all the way to safeway at the east end. The giant w and woolco logo was on this brick wall section above the front 6 or 8 glass doors.
    Walmart moved into woolco and kept the exterior generally the same I believe.
    Then Walmart moved and home depot turned the former woolco walmaet building unrecognizable.
    Canadian tire was where the shoppers is on west side of Leila. It was small and had corrugated metal I believe at the top part of exterior front where it said Canadian tire.
    At gc mall itself, beaver lumber was where the pet store later was and I think now a gym. I am pretty sure beaver lumber also had doors to the mall cuz I bought a dyna charge rechargeable battery kit from there and there was confusion about it and the xp model. I was like 9 or 10 with my parents.
    Eatons was where Canadian tire is.....I can't remember the front of eatons facing Leila though.
    I miss those days and I think there was sears auto center on Leila in the gc mall lot near the corner of leila and mcphillips.
    There used to be an old 48ft drop style semi trailer dryvan parked by the fence behind Sears' loading docks on the south side of the mall. It was white and tires were sunken into the pavement. I think sears used it for storage.
    I can't remember eatons if it was single or double story.
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