HBC Calgary store, 1884
The North West Mounted Police - the forerunner of today's RCMP - founded what would become the city of Calgary in 1875 at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers. The settlement's name, which means "clear running water", was the suggestion of Colonel James F. Macleod of the NWMP, after his ancestral home on the isle of Mull in Scotland.
A Hudson's Bay Company post opened the following year. The post consisted of three buildings: a store, a residence for the manager and a cabin for the aboriginal interpreter. The new post was small and was supplied from Edmonton House, which had been established in 1795. But in 1881 the decision was made to route the transcontinental railway through the area, the first in a series of key events in the growth of the fledgling community. Two years later the railway had arrived and the Elbow had been bridged. As a result the heart of the town was effectively relocated to the west bank of the Elbow. In recognition of this reality a new single storey frame HBC store measuring 35' x 100' opened its first store in 1884 on the northwest corner of 8th Avenue and Centre Street (Stephen). It was directly across from its main rival, U.S.-based I.G. Baker Company. This first HBC location was occupied until 1891. Meanwhile the original HBC post, on the east side of the river, was converted to use as a warehouse. Significantly, Chief Factor Richard Hardisty had by then already been relocated to Calgary from Edmonton, an indication of the Company's assessment of Calgary's growing importance.
HBC Klondike gold rush era advertisement
In 1881 the Marquess of Lorne, Governor-General of Canada, had visited Calgary and been impressed by the quality of the grazing lands. Soon afterwards changes to the leasing regulations kick-started the ranching industry. As a railhead Calgary was perfectly positioned to serve as the major transshipment point for the growing cattle industry. The discovery of gold in the Klondike in 1896 provided a further impetus to the development of both the town and of HBC. Despite inherent hardships an overland route into the Yukon did emerge, and Calgary became the primary outfitting centre for those following it. The growth of the local economy during these years was such that the little frame store was soon unable to meet the needs of the community.
In 1891 the Company bought out the Canadian assets of I.G. Baker. In Calgary this allowed HBC to acquire their former rival's premises while the existing site was rebuilt. The new two-storey sandstone building had a footprint of 50' x 80' and had its grand opening on Tuesday September 29, 1891. As the city grew, the business grew, and additions were made to the building in 1895. By 1903 further expansion resulted in frontage along Centre Street measuring a full 130 feet.
By 1912 the HBC store was not large enough to meet the needs of the fast growing city. Richard Burbidge's 1909 report on the state of HBC's fledgling retail operations recommended modernization and expansion of the western stores. By 1910 a number of suitable parcels of land had already been purchased in various cities to accommodate new stores as necessity arose. The Calgary site at the corner of 7th Avenue SW and 1st Street would be the first of the modern HBC stores to be built.
HBC Calgary downtown store, 1917
The new Calgary store was opened by Alberta's Lieutenant Governor on Monday, August 18, 1913. A full six storeys in height it was the largest building in the city at that time. The steel and concrete building was covered in cream-coloured terra cotta outside and was actually designed to be able to support an additional four floors for future expansion. An advertisement in the City Directory for 1913 extolled the virtues of the outstanding new store which had "over five acres of floor space, and a staff of 500 to best serve the masses and classes of Calgary and the West". The new emporium boasted 40 departments, 790 electric lamps, 70 telephones with three operators, 18 wagons and drays, seven motorized delivery vans, a rooftop playground for the children and the famous Elizabethan Restaurant on the sixth floor. Everyone loved to eat here and the menu was impressive, its offerings ranging from boiled pigs' feet at 30 cents, to half a broiled lobster at 50 cents. Although the population then stood at about 75,000, the store was seen a huge symbol of confidence in the city's bright future. This confidence was not misplaced; by 1914 oil had been discovered in the Turner Valley, only 30 miles distant.
As the city continued to grow more room was needed. In 1929 the store expanded to 8th Avenue. In May, 1930 the Calgary Herald reported the opening of a beautiful colonnade, 380' long, consisting of polished granite columns illuminated by 17 bronze lanterns, which protected window shoppers from the elements. This colonnade was the highlight of an expansion that saw the store grow to occupy the full city block. A further addition west on 8th Avenue in 1955 brought the store to its present size. At the same time, the parkade and skywalk were built on 7th Avenue and 2nd Street, the site of the Company's old parking lot. The extension of the parkade to 6th Avenue began in 1961.