HBC Saskatoon store ca. 1930
On March 29th, 1922, Hudson's Bay Company announced the purchase of the business and premises of the J.F. Cairns Limited Department Store in Saskatoon. In a ceremony on April 15th, J.F Cairns himself handed over the keys to the new store Manager, John. S. Smith. The store immediately closed for two weeks of stock-taking and redecorating during which time the popular grocery department remained operational, handling telephone orders. The entire Cairns staff transferred to the HBC payroll as part of the acquisition.
Born in Lawrenceville, Quebec in 1870, J.F. Cairns had arrived in Saskatoon in 1902, opening the city's first flour mill that same year. One of the city's earliest merchants, he operated a bakery and grocery before expanding into retail. In 1903 he became the first Secretary of the Saskatoon Board of Trade, and he subsequently became a city alderman. A noted sportsman, J.F. Cairns field was opened in 1913.
As early as 1918 Cairns had indicated he might be willing to sell to HBC. Later reports say that ill health prompted this approach. At that time HBC was in the midst of a major urban expansion program, which had begun in earnest with the opening of the new Calgary and Edmonton stores in 1913. In November, 1921 the Canadian Advisory Committee reported to the Governor and Committee in London:
During the past few years the question has come up at different times as to the desirability of the Company opening a representative retail establishment somewhere in the Province of Saskatchewan. As the Board is aware that Province is the most populous of the three Prairie Provinces and from an agricultural standpoint the most developed and productive. The question as to where the Company might establish a retail operation in that Province has been discussed several times and Regina, Moose Jaw and Saskatoon in turn were considered. The consensus of opinion is that were the Company to establish Saskatoon would be the best point of the three.
Hbc Saskatoon store 1968
The availability of the established Cairns business in Saskatoon on favourable terms ($350,000) made expansion into that city an attractive proposition. So it was that in 1922 the former Cairns property became the 11th store in HBC's retail chain, and the 5th of the six large urban stores to open.
Unlike the other downtown stores, where HBC acquired property and built new, the Saskatoon store came ready-made. Located at 205 Second Avenue North, at the corner of 23rd Street and only a block from City Hall - where "every street car in the city passes the store" - it was already the "premier department store in Saskatchewan". Opened in 1913, it stood an impressive five storeys, had a full basement, and enclosed 90,255 square feet. Built by G.H. Archibald and Company, it was constructed of fireproof steel and concrete, with a frontage of pressed brick, and was considered the finest building in the city, with elevators and a sprinkler system that was state of the art in fire suppression technology.
The new HBC store opened for business May 1st, just in time for HBC's anniversary. In anticipation of Opening Day crowds HBC had laid on an extra 100 sales associates to supplement the 125 already on staff. But it still wasn't enough: the numbers of customers was so great that many were not able to be served. Existing one-day retail sales records for the city of Saskatoon were smashed.
A clever promotion ensured that Opening Day would not go unnoticed. HBC chartered all the trams in the city for the whole day - from 8:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. - then invited the entire city to "ride free with HBC". At the time the population of Saskatoon was approximately 25,000 but records indicated 24,987 riders took the tram that day. This story was picked up by the newswires and carried across the country.
On Saturday, October 14th, 1922 the store reached another milestone when the new Imperial Restaurant opened on the 4th floor. Richly decorated in Chippendale style in a colour scheme of French grey, Belgian blue and old rose, the Imperial Restaurant brought a new quality of fine dining to Saskatoon. One section of the space could be curtained off for private functions. Chef Mr. Lear, formerly of the Ranchmen's Club in Calgary, presided. One of the restaurant's earliest functions was a banquet in honour of newly elected Premier Charles Avery Dunning, which saw 500 sit down to dinner.
On January 22, 1958, Hudson's Bay Company announced that a new store was to be built on the existing site. In March of that same year, the Nicholson Building was torn down to allow space for parking on its north side. On June 16, 1960, with Phase 2 complete, an official opening was held. The new Bay store was three stories high, with 157,000 square feet of retail selling space, and was built at a cost of $3,000,000 (with provision for an additional two floors).
Construction of the new 485 space, six level parkade began across the street on July 2, 1966. In October, 1966, the fourth floor addition and skywalk construction began. In July, 1967, the parkade was opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony by the Mayor. The parkade was built at a cost of $1,500,000 and had provision for one additional level, for a total of 700 spaces. By September 26, 1967, the fourth floor and skywalk were completed and officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony by Mayor S. Buckwold. The new HBC store was four stories high, with 200,000 square feet of retail selling space.
With the sale of Eaton's to Sears in 1999, the retail landscape across the country began to change. HBC acquired several former Eaton's properties, including both Regina and Saskatoon, with a view to relocating the Bay stores in both cities. The new Bay store, located in Midtown Plaza at 201 First Avenue South, opened May 2, 2000, one of seven "innovative suburban format" Bay stores launched that same day, the Company's 330th anniversary.