Johnstone Walker Limited, “Edmonton’s Own Store”

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.

EA-160-1585 “Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Celebrations” 1897

EA-160-1585 “Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Celebrations” 1897

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.

EA-462-13 “Johnstone Walker Ladies in Delivery Truck” c. 1916

EA-462-13 “Johnstone Walker Ladies in Delivery Truck” c. 1916

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.

EA-530-1 “Johnstone Walker Store” c. 1950 The location of this store isn't recorded but I think it may be the one at Bonnie Doon. Please comment if you know where this is.

EA-530-1 “Johnstone Walker Store” c. 1950 The location of this store isn’t recorded but I think it may be the one at Bonnie Doon. Please comment if you know where this is.

MS-478 Johnstone Walker fonds - coupons for Indestructible Fountain Pens, guaranteed for 5 years. There is only a partial date on the coupon, Saturday, November 19. From a perpetual calendar I know that Saturday fell on November 19th in 1910, 1921, 1927 and 1938. Which year do you think this is from?

MS-478 Johnstone Walker fonds – coupons for Indestructible Fountain Pens, guaranteed for 5 years. There is only a partial date on the coupon, Saturday, November 19. From a perpetual calendar I know that Saturday fell on November 19th in 1910, 1921, 1927 and 1938. Which year do you think this is from?

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!

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About the Author
Elizabeth Walker
Elizabeth has a Masters of Archival Studies from UBC and she’s been the City’s digital archivist since September 2010. She’s passionate about outreach and increasing engagement between the Archives and the community.
25 Comments
  1. JonnyB
    4 years ago

    I have only the foggiest memories of Johnstone Walker, but those memories were at Westmount, and honestly I believe the picture you’re unsure of (EA530-1) is Westmount, not Capilano. (Westmount does not presently resemble its original incarnation at all.) First, it matches my memory perfectly (except the spruce tree was more than double the height), and second, the shadows cast rightward at a high angle, meaning this photo was likely taken around noon, and we’re looking at the Eastern face of a building. Westmount’s face was indeed Easterly, while Capilano faced North.

    Furthermore, the date on that photograph cannot be 1950, as Westmount was the first mall built in Edmonton (and possibly the second in Canada) but it was not opened until 1955. I couldn’t really guess the correct date other than ’55 or later, unless we dig up a correctly dated photo of the mall that shows the height of the spruce tree. Perhaps the lack of cracks in the pavement indicate the age, or they merely indicate recent re-paving…

    I have no memory of actually being in any location of JW however, but I do wish we still had a true Edmonton’s Own Store.

  2. 4 years ago

    Highland is an Edmonton family moving company that is celebrating 75 years in business this year. They started as a single truck delivery company that has expanded to become one of the largest moving companies in Canada.
    Don Kachur, President, began operating put of his parents garage on 96 st and 103a-ave, just behind the army and navy store.
    Today, highland operates the largest fleet in Alberta and moves people around the world.

  3. Monica I.
    4 years ago

    What’s interesting is the company name is misspelled on the men’s pen body, but correct on the cap/clip.

    The price might be a clue as well – that would be quite a sum in any of those years. Perhaps the newspaper archives/morgues have ads to compare to? Eatons catalogues? Patents?

    Researching the fountain pen company might give you the date if you can source the pen in a catalogue… You might do well to speak with the folks at Stylus – they are so very friendly and knowledgeable.

    This article on fountain pens seems to have interesting information, not specifically of these pens, but generally. http://kamakurapens.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=2107

    Similar ad found in 1928 Syracuse NY Journal! http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2017/Syracuse%20NY%20Journal/Syracuse%20NY%20Journal%201929/Syracuse%20NY%20Journal%201929%20-%201168.pdf

    Have at it!

  4. Monica I.
    4 years ago

    Apologies – the coupon says Oct. 5, 1929, the pens are fancier, and prices higher than the Edmonton Ad, so it might seem that 1927 or earlier could be valid dates.

  5. Elizabeth Walker
    4 years ago

    Thank you JonnyB, for this thoughtful and detailed reply. You’ve given me much to think about! Are you able to come to the Archives? Maybe you could help us hunt for photographs of the mall to help date this one :)

  6. Elizabeth Walker
    4 years ago

    Interesting! I’ve seen Highland’s trucks around (the ones with the guy playing bagpipes right?) but I didn’t realize it was a homegrown company. Thanks for posting, I’ll see what I can find at the Archives about them.

  7. Elizabeth Walker
    4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this ad and the sources for further research!

  8. Louisa R
    4 years ago

    My Grandfather, William Bristow, worked at Johnstone Walker from the time they emigrated from England, in 1954 (? I think?) until he retired, first at the downtown one and then the Bonnie Doon store until it closed. He started as a tailor, which was what he did in England, and then worked his way up to being a purchaser for I think the men’s and boy’s departments. I can remember my brother and I walking from my grandparents’ house on 71 avenue to the mall to see him at the store. He very much enjoyed working for JW and I wish I could remember more of the stories he told. I still have two JW coats that my Grandmother used to own.

  9. Pat R (Nee Bristow)
    4 years ago

    William Bristow started at JW in 1952. I (his daughter) worked for JW on a couple of special sales, once as a wrapper at Christmas time in 1958 and later serving beans etc at a “sidewalk sale” in the Bonnie Doon parking lot.

  10. 4 years ago

    The Store is Bonnie Doon, the Westmeount store was much different having been designed by Peter Hemmingway, yes related to the author of the same name. At the time we had The Downtown store on 2nd and Jasper and we had the Bonnie Doon store, notice the mall design is open to the weather the next step would be to close in the malls to facilitate shopping. Westmount was a very upscale store with a tri level design and done in circular counters, old beams and a boutique coffee shop for tea and cake! we closed down in 1982 after selling the corner of 2nd and jasper because the 100 year lease ran out. Funny I remember Bill Bristow mentioned above very well . If anyone has a Logo of JW the one with the ox cart I would love to have a copy or picture of it. thanks

  11. 4 years ago

    Willy, I didn’t find very much on this topic unfortunately. We do have a clippings file with a 1991 article with Don Kachur telling the story of how the company started as Jim’s Express because Peter Kachur’s first truck still had the previous owner’s name on it.

    I also found something on a Pete Kachur from the 1930s but I’m not sure if it’s the same person. Please contact the Archives at cms.archives@edmonton.ca if you’d like to look into it with me.

  12. 4 years ago

    Thank you everyone for sharing your memories!

    Richard, I remember seeing the logo but, as I wasn’t planning on using it, I didn’t note where I saw it. It might have been in a newspaper clipping but we also have some textual documents. Please contact the Archives at cms.archives@edmonton.ca to make a research request and we can look into it further for you.

  13. Judy P
    4 years ago

    I pulled out a Johnstone Walker box which has held my christening gown all these years (form 1961). I remember the store in Edmonton, particularly Westmount but I know when I was younger my mother shopped the Bonnie Doon location. I think the picture is Bonnie Doon but cannot specify exactly why. If I recall correctly the Westmount location had a lovely stairway entry. One could get clothing and even fabric from there among other things. That’s all I can really remember but fond memories are included. Thank you so much for your post, Elizabeth.

  14. […] working on the exhibit I was thinking of my blogs on Edmonton stores – companies don’t get much older than the HBC. So, I thought I’d write a bit about the […]

  15. Darrell Bateman
    4 years ago

    Bonnie Doon was the first suburban Johnstone-Walker store as pictured followed by Westmount that was built when the mall enclosed in the late 1960’s. The store opened a location in Southgate in 1970 midway between The Bay and Woodward’s facing the centre court fountains and also had a store in Calgary at the foot of the Calgary (then Husky Tower) that opened at the same time the tower was completed.

  16. Elizabeth
    4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your memories Judy. We have some photographs of an amazing staircase in the Westmount store, leading up to a fancy coffee shop. I wonder if it’s the one you remember? We have a copy available in our card catalogue in the Archives but we don’t have a digital copy online yet. Are you able to come to the Archives? http://www.edmonton.ca/archives

    Darrell thanks for the detailed information!

  17. Shawna
    4 years ago

    I believe that the other two people who posted about the store in the picture being the at the Bonnie Doon Mall are correct.

    The store was a classy store, and had a sailboat in it and a photographer, who would take your picture in front of the sailboat. My parents took my sister and brother there often and I have pictures of myself and my dad standing in front of the sailboat.

    I do have a tailor’s lint brush, made of wood, with horse and boar bristles. The embossed printing on the top of the brush says “W.Johnstone-Walker & Co. 263-257 Jasper Ave. Edmonton”. Its in beautiful shape for its age.

    The store moved to 101 Street and 102 Avenue on the corner where Holt Renfrew is currently. It was a beautiful store. I felt bad when they closed it.

  18. Dewey McMahon
    3 years ago

    I remember as a kid the store had the only X Ray for shoe fitting. You placed your foot and shoe into the opening and pushed a button and looked through a viewing port and saw your foot in the shoe.
    This would never be allowed today.

  19. Terrie Dalgliesh (Mrs)
    2 years ago

    My boss in the provincial government, Legislative Building, always gave me a gift certificate for Johnstone-Walker store…as he lived near the Westmount location. He also gave me a recipe book for Fondue which was popular around the late 1960s,,,,,,the store did face east and you entered from inside the mall and it was spacious…I think I remember they used the color blue maybe for their bags…..
    Sorry it closed.

  20. Diane
    2 years ago

    The Westmount store was brick faced on the east side of the mall. With the mortar squishing over the lower brick. I have very fond memories shopping at Johnstone Walkers with my Grandmother and playing bride walking down the staircase.

  21. Annlee Arntzen
    1 year ago

    The Johnstone Walker store at Westmount was built on the east side of the mall with the front door facing west into the mall, while the mall was still an open air mall. It was built within about a year of the mall being covered over. The bricks did have the squished out mortar and the windows were very dark smoked glass. The fabric department was in the door and to the left. The men’s department was at the back of the store on the lower level which had a staircase going down from both sides of the store, I believe. The grand wooden staircase went to the floor above the men’s department. There was a circular cafe/coffee shop/restaurant with black swivel club-style chairs. There was a circular concrete fireplace in the centre of the restaurant.

    Did Johnstone Walker move into the Walkrite store on the east side of 101 street just south of 102 avenue, after it left the S/E corner of Jasper and 102 street?

  22. Elizabeth
    1 year ago

    Hello Annlee,

    Yes, they did move into the Walkrite location. I found a newspaper clipping from August 1, 1973 stating that the Walkrite had closed and that Johnstone Walker would be relocating there. It was at 10169 101 Street.

  23. Valerie Johnson
    1 year ago

    I remember shopping with my mom and grandma at the Bonnie Doon location, which was also 3 levels like a split level. I didn’t realize it was a home grown store. Last thing I bought at JW was in 1974 was a midi winter jacket for $45 dollars, veery well made with even a champ between the lining and the coat, which was pretty remarkable for that time

  24. Cathy Block
    12 months ago

    I came across this article while trying to do a bit of research about Westmount Shopping Centre. I’m a lifelong Edmontonian and remember Johnstone Walker very well indeed, both downtown (a happening place to shop when I was in Junior High) It was (or seemed to me at the time) to be quite a tony store. When I had a part-time job in high school, I purchased a matched set of shoes and purse at the Westmount location. I can still see that set in my mind’s eye. It seemed so luxurious and grown up!

  25. lyndsay houghton
    4 months ago

    I found a lovely ladies Johnson Walker fur coat and am wondering if anyone knows what I should expect the cost/value of this to be?

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