Jasper Avenue in Edmonton, with HBC store clearly marked, 1890
William Tomison of HBC founded Fort Edmonton in the fall of 1795 at the junction of the North Saskatchewan and Sturgeon Rivers, "virtually next door" to the North West Company (NWC) post Fort Augustus, which had been established only a few months earlier. Both companies wanted to capitalize on an area so rich in furs - particularly beaver - that one journal writer said "Women and Children kill them with sticks and hatchets." Tomison named the site Edmonton after an estate in England owned by HBC Deputy Governor, Sir James Winter Lake.
Initially both posts produced excellent returns; in 1797 alone 12,512 made beaver were traded at Fort Edmonton. But by 1800 the volume of furs traded started to drop and a shortage of firewood led both companies to relocate in 1802 to a river flat about 30 kilometres upstream that had been used as a camping and meeting place by the First Naitons for thousands of years. This area, now known as the Rossdale Flats in central Edmonton, was used until 1830 with one brief interruption. Between 1810 and 1813 sites located some 80 km downstream near the confluence of Wabamun Creek and the Saskatchewan were tried but finally abandoned. After the amalgamation of the HBC and NWC in 1821, the name Fort Augustus was abandoned and operations were centralized at Fort Edmonton.
HBC Edmonton store on Jasper Avenue, 1894
Fort Edmonton was selected as the district headquarters for the North Saskatchewan region. Under Chief Factor John Rowand it became one of the largest and most important posts in what would become Alberta. An administrative centre, warehouse and storage facility, it was also a place where trade and other goods were manufactured by tradesmen as well as a source of provisions for other posts. Fort Edmonton was a "meat " post: much of the pemmican and dried and fresh buffalo meat consumed by fur traders came from there. It also produced the York boats used to transport fur and trade goods to and from the Bay.
Floods in 1825 and 1830 damaged this fourth fort and it soon became apparent to Chief Factor Rowand that a higher site was needed. In 1830, the post was relocated a few hundred feet upstream and halfway up the bank - where the provincial Legislature now stands. HBC occupied the Fort until completion of the Legislature required the demolition of the last of its buildings in 1915.
By that time, however, HBC's focus was on the growing retail trade. The first HBC saleshop had opened in 1890, a year before the arrival of the railroad. In 1892 Edmonton was incorporated as a town with 400 people. By 1894 the free standing 1890 store was rebuilt at Jasper Avenue and 103rd Street. It consisted of a single retail floor with living quarters upstairs for the manager, his family and an assistant. In 1904 Edmonton became a city and in 1905 a brand new the three-storey brick store opened at the Jasper Avenue location - the same year that the growing city of over 7,000 became the capital of the new province of Alberta. The upper floor was used as offices and storage. In 1913 further construction added a fourth floor as well as a five-storey warehouse attached to the northwest corner along 103rd Street.
HBC Edmonton store at Jasper Avenue and 102nd Street, ca. 1940
In 1926, a one floor extension was added to the store which now spanned the entire frontage between 102nd Street and 103rd Street along Jasper Avenue. In 1939 the Company boldly invested $1,000,000 in its future in Edmonton. The new two level plus basement store covered the block along Jasper Avenue, opening on November 14, 1939. In 1948, more office and merchandising space was required, and a third floor was added. In 1956 the building expanded its three floors to the north on property that was previously a livery stable. Final size - an impressive 470,000 square feet.
In 1989 the Hudson's Bay Company sold the Edmonton store to Stewart Green Properties. The building underwent extensive renovations and HBC's leased portion became 118,000 square feet of selling space on the west side of the building with an "open mall" concept for the remainder of the area. The City of Edmonton designated the building as Class "A" on its historic resource building register at the time of the refit.
After almost a century of growth and expansion, the Bay store moved to the new Edmonton Centre in 1993, into space previously occupied by Woodward's. Woodward's had opened its first store in Edmonton in 1926. This store moved in the new Edmonton Centre upon its completion in 1974. When HBC took over Woodward's in 1993, the Edmonton Centre store was refitted and opened to the public as the Bay on August 11, 1993. In 1995, HBC announced it was closing the Jasper Avenue store and leaving the location it had occupied for the last 100 years.
In 2002 the Bay moved again, this time as part of the redevelopment of the Edmonton Centre and the Eaton Centre into the new Edmonton City Centre. Edmonton City Centre occupies four city blocks located between 100th & 103rd Street and 102nd & 103rd Avenue. In May, 2002 the Bay opened a new 178,000 square foot, two-level store anchoring the west end of the shopping centre, in premises formerly occupied by Eaton's. Meanwhile the Bay's former premises were redeveloped to house a 36,000 square foot Home Outfitters as well as several other retail outlets.