Have you ever heard of the Hudson’s Bay Company Reserve? I knew it existed but I didn’t realize just how much of an impact it had on Edmonton’s development. Basically, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) owned downtown Edmonton, from the bank of the North Saskatchewan River to present day 118 Avenue and between today’s 101 Street and 121 Street. While most of downtown south of 104 Avenue was sold off in the late 1800s and early 1910s, a large part of the Reserve remained empty until the 1950s. Most of Edmonton’s early development was along the edges of the Reserve, in today’s McCauley neighbourhood in the east and Oliver and Westmount in the west.
The City of Edmonton Archives recently teamed up with the City’s Artifacts Centre and Historian Laureate to put together a display on the HBC Reserve lands. The Archives has many documents relating to the development of the Reserve. For example, we have City records from 1912 that show excitement at the possibilities of starting fresh and “breaking away from the old gridiron street plan.” Like the downtown airport land today, it was seen as an opportunity to try new theories of urban living (although they didn’t use those terms of course).
Please stop by the Prince of Wales Armouries and have a look at the exhibit! We digitized several maps that show the extent of the Reserve over the years (it’s weird to see such a large empty space in the middle of the City) and they are also available in our online catalogue.
While 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 various incarnations of The Bay on Jasper Avenue. I picked my favourite images, but we have more online.
The earliest Bay store was of course within Fort Edmonton itself. In 1890 the company opened a store outside the Fort, located at present day 98 Street and Jasper Avenue. In 1894, they relocated to 103 Street and Jasper Avenue. There has been a Bay building there ever since, now it’s the University of Alberta’s Enterprise Square.
The current Jasper Avenue building was opened with much fanfare and enthusiasm in 1939. The newspapers described it as a thoroughly modern store with the latest designs in heating, windows and air circulation (we have the plans at the Archives). It cost $1 million to build, a huge figure in the 1930s. The building grew as Edmonton did, adding a third story and then doubling in size with an addition in 1954. It was designated a Municipal Historical Resource in 1989, although a bylaw was later passed to allow changes to the building to accommodate other businesses.
The Bay store was a downtown hub and its Christmas decorations were a popular attraction for years, particularly the window displays featuring miniature houses and mechanical mice.
By the 1990s however, downtown was in decline, partly because shoppers were heading to malls instead, and in 1993 a new Bay store opened in Edmonton Centre (now City Centre Mall). The Jasper Avenue store closed in 1995 and the building remained mostly empty for years.
The newspapers reflect a long and controversial debate over what should be done with the building. One side insisted that a major overhaul was necessary to make it suitable for modern retail while the other maintained that the building’s historical importance needed to be preserved. Eventually, a compromise was reached that would allow changes while preserving historic features like the exterior carvings and the Tyndall stone.
Then, in 2005, the University of Alberta bought the building with help from the City as well as the Provincial and Federal Governments. After extensive renovations (that preserved the exterior historical aspects of the lower two levels), Enterprise Square opened in 2008 and it has been a part of the downtown revival ever since.
Do you have any memories of the Bay on Jasper? Please share them!