Woodward’s Impact on Edmonton

Woodward’s was a Western Canadian retail giant and I think it’s fair to say that Edmonton was a key part of its success. The company certainly had a large impact on Edmonton; it was involved in the creation of the Westmount (1955), Northgate (1965), Southgate (1970) and Edmonton Centre (1974) shopping malls.

Charles Woodward’s purchase of several lots at the northeast corner of 101 Street and 102 Avenue in 1921 caused excitement and speculation into whether he would soon open a store. According to the book The Woodwards, a family story of ventures and traditions, his sons had taken over the main company and Charles, who was in his late 60s, was looking for a new undertaking. He created a new company, C. Woodward (Edmonton) Ltd., and the first Woodward’s in Edmonton opened for business in October, 1926.

EAA-1-25 “C. Woodward Ltd.” 2009 The original Woodward’s which stood on the corner of 101 Street and 102 Avenue from 1926 to 1974. The TD Tower is located here today.

EAA-1-25 “C. Woodward Ltd.” 2009 The original Woodward’s which stood on the corner of 101 Street and 102 Avenue from 1926 to 1974. The TD Tower is located here today.

 

In the 1940s, Woodward’s had an annual Christmas tradition of teaming up with the Capitol Theatre to treat kids to a movie and a toy from Woodward’s Toyland. They also  held fashion shows and we have some great images from one in 1949.

EA-160-1920 “Woodward’s Christmas Display” ca. 1940

EA-160-1920 “Woodward’s Christmas Display” ca. 1940

 

Letterhead is one of my favorite things and I was happy to find some of Woodward’s. I’ve only included one page with the letterhead (below) but I also made a pdf of the whole document as well as the City’s reply. It’s interesting that they went into such detail about the non-food related items for sale that would contravene the proposed bylaw. The final bylaw, No. 1632, passed in August, 1954 and it did address Woodward’s concern by excluding departmental or chain stores.

The always thorny issue of store hours and Early Closing bylaws – RG-11, Series 1, Subseries 1.1, File 278

The always thorny issue of store hours and Early Closing bylaws – RG-11, Series 1, Subseries 1.1, File 278

According to the newspapers, there was some controversy around both Northgate and Southgate. Accusations suggested that Woodward’s was able to push the development permits through Council, against the advice of the Town Planner. There were clearly influences at various levels of government as Douglas Harker, in his book The Woodwards, notes that when Southgate was being developed the City hadn’t built roads to it yet but this changed after “an appeal to Premier Manning who promptly and personally legislated in Woodward’s favour.” It would be interesting to look into this further using the archival documents from that time.

One of my colleagues worked at the downtown Woodward’s in the late 1970s and shared some memories with me, everything from being greeted everyday outside the store by Pete Jamieson, Edmonton’s Unofficial Town Crier, to Mr. Woodward’s frequent visits to the store where he greeted staff by name. She said the Southgate store was Woodward’s busiest store for years. Former employees have fond memories of Woodward’s and still hold reunions; the latest in Edmonton was in 2012.

EA-207-412 “Downtown Edmonton – looking west from 99th Street” August 14, 1987 Woodward’s, to the right, is now Edmonton City Centre Mall and the location of CBC Edmonton

EA-207-412 “Downtown Edmonton – looking west from 99th Street” August 14, 1987 Woodward’s, to the right, is now Edmonton City Centre Mall and the location of CBC Edmonton

The 1980s economic downturn had a disastrous effect on Woodward’s and they did not adapt as well as the other big retailers. A January, 1993 Edmonton Journal article blamed this on the fact that the family stopped running the company but were still major shareholders, so “outsider” managers couldn’t be effective or flexible enough to make the big moves that had previously characterized the company.

In the early 1990s, there were attempts to downsize and innovate – to turn the company around – but it didn’t work out. After several bids to take over and much speculation, the Bay Company bought the remaining Woodward’s stores in 1993. Several locations in Edmonton closed and the rest became Zellers or Bay stores.

Do you have any memories of Woodward’s in Edmonton? Please share them with a comment if you do!

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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.
34 Comments
  1. Kerry Kleinbergen
    4 years ago

    $1.49 day made it possible for youngsters in the 70’s to buy stuff with their allowance! Thank you Woodwards! Some of my best memories are strolling through Westmount mall and visiting both woodwards and the woodwards food floor!

  2. Louise
    4 years ago

    $1.49 day! You had to get there early, to take advantage of the best bargains before things had been picked over too much. I have long arms which gave me a reach advantage, but my much smaller friend had a get technique which allowed her to elbow her way through the crowds to snatch up the prize. After a hard morning’s shopping we would celebrate with lunch in the restaurant by ordering Woodward’s famous shrimp sandwich in toasted cheese bread, then pick up some library books before going home. I still miss Woodward’s and there’s no longer a convenient library at Southgate Mall.

  3. Janice MacDonald
    4 years ago

    Woodwards was the best department store. They stood by their wares and for their customers.
    One year, I was going to be on TV, and our television, a B&W portable, went on the fritz. My mother took it in to Woodwards to see if they could repair it in time.
    They said it would take more than the week, leaving her without a television in time to see me. The salesman said they would send a “loaner” TV, and when the Woodwards van brought the TV, they had sent a colour television for my mom to watch that week.
    Woodwards turned 100 the same year as my grandma, and my mother took some of the lovely booklets they’d printed and used them in a collage for my grandmother’s party. She outlived the store, lasting till she was 102.
    I still miss Woodwards.

  4. Lorri Dickson
    4 years ago

    Woodwards was my favorite department store ever. I still miss it!

  5. […] I love this post from Elizabeth Walker, the City’s digital archivist, on the impact of Woodward’s on Edmonton. […]

  6. RKM
    4 years ago

    I was a kid when Woodward’s was around but we often frequented the $1.49 days and the “World of Food” located at the Southgate location. There was the first automated orange juice squeezer I had ever seen! And also, who could forget the Cookie Club! :)

  7. Adrian Frey
    4 years ago

    I recall going to Woodward’s at Southgate with my Grandmother. She’d buy me a chocolate malt (like a Frosty at Wendy’s) from the little lunch counter right by the escalator.

    I also remember the Food Floor there – which must now be the Safeway – and that would have to make the current Sears the site of the Woodward’s?

  8. Amy Hui
    4 years ago

    In 1974. I was a U of Alberta student. My school mates and I used to take the bus to downtown Woodward store for grocery shopping and then took a cab back to Hub.
    We loved our weekly Woodward trip.

  9. Brian Luhoway
    4 years ago

    Woodwards had the best Christmas display located on the 5th floor. Each year they would turn a corner of the toy section into a winter wonderland with all kinds of mechanical and static displays of Santa’s workshop and friends. It was great. The detail was great. I really miss this kind of Christmas Spirit.

  10. Christopher Spencer
    4 years ago

    Hi Elizabeth. Woodward’s was also the original anchor tenant for Millwoods Town Centre. Public art at the mall includes a bronze statue by Robin Bell, which depicts Charles Woodward astride Peppy San, his old cutting horse.

  11. Keith Spencer
    4 years ago

    Liz, Wonderful article: I have many fond Woodward’s memories… But you have left out the most important thing of all: for years, Woodwards sponsored the Edmonton Eskimo Knothole Gang. I’ve accumulated a fair bit of Woodward’s nostalgia. Still waiting for another $1.49 day to come along… Keith

  12. Elizabeth Walker
    4 years ago

    Thank you everyone for sharing your memories!

    I didn’t find anything on the Cookie Club in the Archives but we do have a clippings file on the Knothole Gang. We also have pictures of the statue in Mill Woods Town Centre Mall:

    https://archivesphotos.edmonton.ca/Presto/search/SearchResults.aspx?q=RUEtNTk2LTM0NSBPUiBFQS01OTYtMzQ2

    Thanks again :)

  13. Jesse
    4 years ago

    Does anybody know what grocery store it was that had conveyor belts behind the cashiers that carried groceries down a floor below (maybe for delivery to one’s car or something)? I only have the vaguest memory of it, since I was just a really young kid, but for some reason I still think of it sometimes and have a really strong, nice association with that particular grocery store. I’m guessing it’s Woodward’s, but actually have no idea… Heck, I may have just imagined it wrong, since I was so young, but it’s a really strong mental image.

  14. Elizabeth Walker
    4 years ago

    Hi Jesse,
    I asked my co-worker who worked for the downtown Woodward’s and she remembers the conveyor belt. It went from the cashiers at the food floor down under 102A Avenue and up to parcel pickup in the parkade. The staff would then load the groceries for customers who pulled through the parkade. Apparently, the parcel pick up staff would also ride the conveyor belts, though it was a tight squeeze (eep).
    I wonder if any other Woodward’s had conveyor belts like this?

  15. Lucille MacPherson
    3 years ago

    I have 8MM film pictures taken of downtown Edmonton in 1960 –they included pictures of Woodwards at Christmas and The City Hall Creche scene. I was a new resident here. Anyone I have spoken to over the years always says how sorry they were to see Woodwards leave.
    Working next door in the TD Tower, our coffee breaks always were spent in Woodwards coffee shop eating those wonderful Baking powder biscuits from their bakery.

  16. J BIONDI
    3 years ago

    Does anyone remember a Jack Craven from an Edmonton Store? I believe he was a controller downtown. He died in the 1985.

  17. CJ Morgan
    3 years ago

    Better than the 5th floor Edmonton Centre toyland, I remember the old 2nd floor toyland. Walking up the steps…I believe they darkened the top at Christmas time for effect, then walking through all the puffs of cotton. The guy standing in the plexiglass booth who would demo any toy that was there.

  18. Gerhardt
    3 years ago

    The conveyor belts you’re referring to were in all of the Woodwards Food Floors as far as I recall. We used to frequent Edmonton Centre, Northgate and Southgate and they all had them. With 3 kids, my Mom loved the parcel pick up! I was always amazed by them especially downtown one as a child. The “enchanted forest ” Christmas display downtown was also my favorite. I have 2 little kids now and I hope to find some special things like that for them. Wish I could go back in time and take them to Woodwards for Christmas shopping like my parents did!

  19. Tim Beauchamp
    3 years ago

    I worked part time at Woodwards Northgate store (in appliances and electronics stockroom) while in high school and NAIT, before the redevelopment. I still have my name badges.

    I could see that things were getting difficult when they started selling off (or closing) the various divisions, like the auto centre and gas bar and then the food floor.

    I have fond memories of working there before moving on to my career.

  20. Katie Pearse
    3 years ago

    What a wonderful article! My favourite memories are of the Flinstone’s vending machine (I always wanted the ET keychain) and the perogies that were all warm and ready to eat from the deli. Am I making this up? I was very very very young! And I sure remember the restaurant, I’d always have the hot dog, my mom would have the shrimp sandwich.

  21. Laurette
    3 years ago

    Katie Pearse, i remember that Shrimp sandwich, It was on this toasted Cheese bread. OMG it was fantastic. My mouth is watering now….

  22. Zenovia
    2 years ago

    I remember buying a plastic sleigh and reindeer and plastic christmas candle as a present for my Mom. They had a special place where you could go as a kid to “buy” gifts for Christmas and it cost me .15 cents. Then my Mom would take me for lunch at the restaurant in Northgate. We would sit by the window and look out over the mall, eating sandwiches made on toasted “cheese bread”. How I miss Woodwards. My Mom is gone now (2015) and unfortunately, I finally had to get rid of the sleigh and reindeer as it was old and broken. The memories are forever though.

  23. Karen
    2 years ago

    Many memories of shopping at the food floor and getting a malt when I lived in Riverdale. When my daughter was a baby if she had to nurse we’d go and sit on a recliner in the furniture store, often while having a snack. Nobody complained. Once an older lady came up and told me it was wonderful that young women now were nursing in public when they wanted to. This was a generation ago.

  24. Brent
    2 years ago

    Great story, with one error. The coloured picture says “The original Woodward’s which stood on the corner of 101 Street and 102 Avenue from 1926 to 1974.”
    That’s not how the store looked originally. Woodward’s added the top two floors several years after the store opened.
    This link from Facebook should show how Woodward’s looked in 1935:
    https://scontent-sea1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xfp1/v/t1.0-9/12366489_10156286283635464_729760704650740066_n.jpg?oh=81d2f74f152fa4712213722d25e86f4a&oe=571FAF62

  25. RFM
    2 years ago

    I remember how the street and avenue converged, Woodwards, Eatons, Rexall Drug Store (maybe) and the ‘Medical Arts Building’. The traffic lights were co-ordinated to that the pedestrians all crossed at the same time, in all directions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen pedestrians crossing diagonally since then.

    The totem pole outside Woodwards Westmount, cheesy though it may look (or did look), was The Real Thing. If Jonaitis & Glass’ “The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History” didn’t have such a crappy index, I would be able to tell you who the pole was, and who he learned from. It was probably the first commercial commission outside of BC or Alaska.

  26. Jen van Ginhoven
    2 years ago

    I have very fond memories of the downtown Edmonton store! As a very young child ( I was born in 1951) I would accompany my mother to Woodwards for our weekly food shop. We would take the number 4,and the number one ETS bus. Our grocery shopping ended with a soft ice cream cone located on the food floor. My mum did’nt drive so the groceries were devilered to the house. Other memories that stand out were visiting fabrics and notions department. My mother sewed everything, and consequently I remember what seemed like long periods of time in that area! Visiting Santa was awesome and remember the Santa badge! $1.49 was alsoabig hit! Royal Albert cups and saucers sold for $1.49! We used to buy those huge bottles of egg cream shampoo and cream rinse. Many years later, in the eighties I used to but African Violet’s at $1:49 day. My friends used to comment how beautiful they were. The truth us, I would throw them out when they got ugly, then simply replaced them with more $1.49 plants! Our shopping trips in downtown Edmonton always stared st Woodwards, moved up 101St to Walkrite, on to Jasper Ave. we then made a right turn on Jasper to stop at the Bay. Another right turn brought us back down 102 st to Silk-o-Lina and then on to Eatons. It was a ritual! My mother disliked Eatons…..we were immgrants struggling to get established. She purchased a washing machine (used) that was over priced. Our landlord (Atlas Construction) was horrified. He marched my mother back to Eatons and was able to get some money refunded. “That would never have happened at Woodwards” she said.

    I remained a faithful Woodwards shopper for many years…..I’m sorry Woodwards is gone…

  27. Robert Reed
    9 months ago

    I started working at Woodward’s Food Floor when i was 18, 1982. I recall i was searching for work at a very bad time as the recession was deep and work was scarce.
    I started part time in October that year and worked as much as they could give me. I recall the conveyor very well as it was often a cause of major panic when it jammed and all the parcel tubs would fall off and we would run through the receipts and replace anything broken or damaged with out a major delay on the pick up end or we would get there parcel delivered to them via cab..
    I was so grateful to be working as i moved to Edmonton from central BC and knew very few people, got to know some great people and made many friends over the years. In 84 i believe i wen up to Cosmetics as the men’s bar manager, a first for Woodward’s having a man selling in what was to become the men’s fragrance counter. was there till they closed the store and was with the HBC company for three years then moved onto other retail and then moved off to Vancouver in 2005, see the grand old lady in gas town often and have such fond memories of what she stood for for 100 years serving western Canada.

  28. Heather Breen
    7 months ago

    I remember that I worked at the CN tower for the city and we got an hour and 15 minutes for lunch. I would go to Woodward for a chocolate malt (my favorite) and then walk around watching people. Once I noticed a woman trying on a real nice fur coat but when she went to look at herself in the mirror she just kept going. When she got to the front door she would have escaped, but couldn’t because I put up such a fuss. Oh she was so upset with me because no one was paying attention to her and she would have gotten away if it wasn’t for me. Woodward hired me as a floor walker after that – one hour a day during the week for three wonderful years. It was like a family there and we all got along well. I am sorry to hear that Woodward closed – it was a great store.

  29. Laurel Deedrick-Mayne
    7 months ago

    My mother worked at the glove counter for many years during the war and afterwards, while my dad was in university. She told me how the old store used to have pneumatic tubes to send the money in.

    In about 1979 I went to work at Woodward’s Westmount perfume counter and drugstore section. I recall being paid in cash. I believe it was Saturdays and our pay would be in envelopes with our name on them.

    $1.49 was the best. Oh, how I wish such an event still existed. I loved the big bottles of bubble bath.

    Everything at Woodwards was such high quality and we were very well trained, putting in a day or two of compulsory training at the practise store. We were taught basic communication and customer relation skills, hygiene and how to use a cash register, how to serve customers with respect and represent the company with pride.

    Wonderful memories of bygone days. Oh my, this makes me sound old. I even mention Woodwards in my novel, A Wake For The Dreamland…a wee tribute.

  30. Dave Morgan
    6 months ago

    Woodwards in Edmonton was a big contributor to many memories as a kid during the 60’s and 70’s. Both my grandmothers worked for them 1 in ladies fashions and 1 in administration. Really enjoyed the snack bar at Westmount after being dragged along for Saturday grocery shopping. Can’t beat the sausage roll and a malt. Became a member of the Knothole gang, and got regular end zone tickets to the Eskimos for 25 cents. My father was even a lucky recipient of a scholarship which helped him through medical school. This company was a big part of the community and it certainly was a sad day when the doors finally closed.

  31. Glen
    6 months ago

    I remember that the downtown Woodwards Store had a special section just for cubs and boy scouts, there were uniforms and patches and all the various things you needed to be a Scout. No other store in the City offered that service. My mom worked there part time for years. She is in her 80s and once every month she gets together with co-workers even though its been years since any of them worked for Woodwards. It was considered the best of the department stores so everyone was sad to see it go.

  32. Tom
    5 months ago

    I am so glad I am not the only one who remembers the sausage rolls at Westmount!

  33. Lori Giles
    4 months ago

    So many memories! I remember going grocery shopping at the Westmount Woodwards on Thursday nights when my dad would get paid and he and mom would treat us all to a malt every week. As I got older, my mom started working at the downtown location in Housewares and since I went to Ross Sheppard High, my friends and I would go for coffee at the Westmount location during our spare periods off schools. It got so the waitress (or server as they’re now called) didn’t even have to take our order! She would have the check written out and on the table when we arrived! I miss Woodwards – and Zeller’s.

  34. Garry Scheuerman
    2 months ago

    I still love my 22 piece jewlers tool set that I bought at Westmount, and my two head battery operated philips shaver that I bought at the down town store for $8 an some cents. I have used that shaver for about 40 years. There were lots of great things about Woodwards.

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