A year after the North West Mounted Police created a settlement at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers and named it Calgary in 1875, the Hudson’s Bay Company set up shop and has been here ever since.
The history of the Hudson’s Bay extends well before those first buildings were constructed in Calgary. In May of 1670, Prince Rupert, cousin of King Charles II granted the lands of the Hudson Bay watershed to a “Company of Adventurers” including Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medard Chouart, Sieur des Groseilliers. The two adventures were the first Europeans to delved into the forest belt of the north, negotiate treaties with the Cree, explore the upper reaches of the Mississippi and Missouri and establish a durable trading pattern, which resulted in the creation of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).
According to hbc.com, the first Calgary 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 supplied from Edmonton House, which had been established in 1795.”
In 1881 when the transcontinental railway was routed through Calgary, the heart of the town moved to the west bank of the Elbow River. The HBC moved with it constructing a larger single-storey store located on the corner of 8th Avenue and Centre Street.
“It was directly across from its main rival, U.S based I.G. Baker Company,” explained hbc.com. “The 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.”
As the fur trade began to decline in popularity as the 1800’s came to an end, the Deed of Surrender between HBC and Canada in 1869 saw the company yield its sovereignty over its traditional territories to the newly formed country and the historic trading post became one of the most synonymous names in retail. In order to keep up with a continually evolving society and on the advice from an HBC director from Harrods department store in London, England, the HBC began a modernizing program, which included Canada’s original six department stores in Calgary, Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Calgary was the first of these “modern” stores to be built on the corner of 7th Avenue and First Street.
Opening on Aug. 18, 1913, the sixstorey building was the tallest in the city at the time.
“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 kids and the famous Elizabethan Restaurant on the sixth floor,” said hbc.com. “Although the population then stood at about 75,000, the store was seen as a huge symbol of confidence in the city’s bright future.”