The overwhelming turnout surprised everyone. After all, no merchandise was on sale. It was the fourth store the company had built on the site since relocating their first store in 1893. So what compelled more than 20,000 men, women, and children - about a quarter of Edmonton's population at the time - to venture out on a chilly evening for the grand opening?
The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) opened the front doors of the third and final phase of the department store on November 14, 1939. The first visitors would have noticed the unique smooth lines of the building, complete with black Quebec granite on the lower storey, and buff Manitoba Tyndall limestone on the upper levels. Unique hand carvings over each entrance depicted scenes from the adventurous history of Canada's most famous trading company. Built by the Bennett and White Construction Company of Calgary for $1 million, the low three storey building is one of the few remaining examples of the Moderne style to survive in Edmonton. For the Winnipeg architects, Moody and Moore, the design revealed the new, machine age in architectural technology.
The HBC is the oldest incorporated joint-stock company in the English world and the oldest business institution in North America. The company played a major role in the development of western Canada and the growth of Edmonton. Opening its first fur trading post in the district in 1795, the HBC built its first store outside the fort on Jasper Avenue and 98 Street in 1890.
Guests rushed through the front door at the 1939 opening as if they were "entering the city's fairgrounds on a summer afternoon," reported the Edmonton Bulletin. Few people who joined the "clamor and pushing and laughter and good-humor" came to see the architecture, or even a new retail store. They came to be part of something much, much bigger - a community tradition.
Edmonton Historical Board 2006
Photo courtesy of the City of Edmonton Archives