With the departure of a couple of franchises and the arrival of new ones, the retail scene in Edmonton has been on my mind lately. I decided to look through the City of Edmonton Archives to see what I could learn about some Edmonton stores over the years, looking at everything from the big chains to the homegrown businesses.
The first business I thought of was a homegrown store that I’ve come across many times in my research for these posts – Johnstone Walker Limited, “Edmonton’s Own Store.” I featured one of their advertisements in the Winter Fun blog.
William Johnstone Walker (no relation) arrived in Edmonton in 1885 and soon became friends with John McDougall who urged Walker to join him in the retail business. McDougall even arranged for the purchase of the first merchandise for the fledgling store which, as the railroad had not yet reached Edmonton, came overland by wagon. From the beginning, the focus was on high quality merchandise. The original store was on 98 Avenue, north of Jasper. In 1892, Walker relocated to Jasper Avenue and called his store Manchester House as the majority of his goods came from Manchester, England.
Cecil Sutherland was hired in 1896 and two years later, at just 19, he was appointed manager. Walker’s health had been poor for years and in 1902 he retired and left the store in Sutherland’s charge. Sutherland managed the company for many years and, even after his son, Sydney, took over as manager, stayed involved with the store until well into his 80s. There were many long term employees who were often mentioned in the stores’ promotions. The company had anniversary sales and the big dates were marked with events and newspaper stories, culminating in a 1961 booklet for their 75th anniversary. In the booklet, 10 employees are featured with employment ranging from 25 to 49 years.
The Johnstone Walker store was a feature of Jasper Avenue for decades; there are several photographs of it in our online catalogue. At one point there were five locations, including one in Calgary. The Jasper Avenue store was closed in 1979 and the company focused on their “suburban stores” at Boonie Doon, Westmount and Southgate.
A February 21, 1983 article has Sydney Sutherland stating that all the stores except the Bonnie Doon location were closing. I found it a strange article with Sutherland saying the stores were doing fine but he was tired and wasn’t interested in running them anymore. A June 25, 1983 feature story on three long time employees states that the company itself was going out of business and that all the locations were closing. The 1980s were a difficult economic time in Edmonton and the end seems to have come suddenly and fairly quietly. Do you have any memories of the final days of the Johnstone Walker stores? Please share them, and any other memories you may have.
I’ll be writing on other Edmonton businesses, is there one you would like to see featured? Let me know by commenting on this post and I’ll see what I can find. Or, you’re always welcome to stop by the Archives and we’ll get you started with your own research!