Hudson's Bay Company Building

Significant in size and history, the Hudson’s Bay Building is a rare surviving representative of local Moderne architecture.

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) Building encompasses an entire city block between 102 Street and 103 Street on the north side of Jasper Avenue. Its complete size is 430,000 square feet including the fourth floor, added in 2007. In 1967 the then 360,000 square foot structure was assessed by the City for tax purposes at $3,226,820, the city’s most valuable piece of private real estate at the time. Built in 1939, this building replaced two HBC store predecessors on the same location going back to 1893. The current structure was built in four stages with Moody & Moore architects of Winnipeg, Manitoba designing the foundational portion of the building and with J.R. McIntyre as the contractor. Moody & Moore were instrumental in introducing the International Style to Prairie architecture, and the HBC retained them to build department stores in Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, as well as other locations. As such Edmonton’s HBC Building was designed in a Moderne architectural style with a flat roof and streamlined façades mirroring the emerging age of technology. The imposing two-storey structure, with a full basement and small penthouse third floor, had minimal setback along the entire city block. Composed of Manitoba Tyndall limestone, the HBC Building had subtle glass-block windows interspersed horizontally on the second floor set in stainless steel frames. Bold horizontal strips of black granite delineated the second storey from the ground floor which had little fenestration among the black granite panels that ran its length. The large display windows that were present were contained in stainless steel frames with low bulkheads, each sheltered when needed by retractable canvas awnings in stainless steel casings. Above the stainless steel door entryways, projecting Tyndall limestone panels featured large scale and prominent hand-carved historical figures, each flanked by black granite panels running from the street to the aluminum capping at the roof level. The angled southwest corner featured the multi-coloured HBC emblem and an inscription accentuated by horizontal speed lines on either side. Of the six carvings, two portray the Company’s coat of arms; one is of the ship the ‘Nonsuch’ - the first vessel to carry over Company employees to North America; the others portray a fur trader, a York boat, and a settler. These figures, states the Company’s magazine The Beaver in 1939, “recall the epic of western pioneering in which the Company played so important a part.”

The City of Edmonton is integrally linked to the growth of the HBC, the oldest joint-stock company in the English world, and oldest business institution in North America. The Company established a series of five fur trading posts in or close to Edmonton’s current boundaries beginning in 1795. The first HBC store outside the walls of the final Fort Edmonton was erected near the present day 98 Street and Jasper Avenue in 1890. This was rebuilt two years later from a design by George Creeford Brown at the current location of 103 Street and Jasper Avenue. It was a wooden building with a single retail floor and living quarters on the upper storey. In 1904, the Company replaced the wooden store with a three-storey brick building designed by J. Woodman, using the upper floor for offices and storage space. This building was expanded to four floors by 1913, with a six-storey warehouse attached behind along 103 Street. In 1926 the HBC extended its store the entire length of the frontage on Jasper Avenue between 102 Street and 103 Street with a one-storey addition attached to the first brick building on the east. The 1904 structure and its additions was torn down in 1938 to make way for the current building. Constructed at a cost of an extraordinary one million dollars, the new building opened on November 14, 1939. Twenty thousand people - one-fifth of the entire population of Edmonton at the time - passed through its doors over the course of two hours on opening night, a testament to the Company’s importance and presence in the life of the city.

The second phase of construction on this building was a third floor added by the Bennett and White Construction Company in 1948. This addition allowed for more room for offices and merchandising space and included a feature multi-paned window crowning the southwest corner frontispiece. Eleven years later the HBC expanded this building again, northward this time onto property that was once its livery stable. This three-storey, third phase of the building was designed by Moody & Moore, working with local associates Dewar Stevenson & Stanley, and constructed by C.H. Whitham. Drastic changes in Edmonton’s central core and the construction of shopping malls in suburban areas however, drew customers away from the Jasper Avenue HBC store. In 1989 the building was both designated a Municipal Historic Resource and sold to Stewart Green Properties who renovated the building and leased a 118,000 square foot portion on the west side back to the HBC. The remaining space became an open mall. The HBC moved to Edmonton Centre in 1993; two years later they closed the Jasper Avenue store altogether after occupying that location for over 100 years.

The final development of this building did not occur for another twenty years. Over the ensuing two decades many ideas for the structure were considered and debated about, with much public opinion weighing into the sometimes heated conversation. Eventually the building was purchased by the University of Alberta who retained Stantec architect John Webster to redesign the building for use as a downtown campus and research marketing facility. Webster added a curtain glass fourth floor above the historic structure, notably allowing light right through to a central atrium on the ground floor. He also cut large windows into the third storey of the building, using the cut-out portions as design features within the building. This major overhaul modernized the building while still maintaining its historical value.

Details

Type

Commercial

Designation Status

Municipal Historic Resource

Neighbourhood

Downtown

Year Built

1939

Architectural Styles

Moderne

Character Defining Elements

Three storeys or more , Stainless steel doors , Black granite structure , Tyndall limestone structure , Hand-carvings , Multi block windows , Decorative insets , Square footprint , Glass block , Speedlines , Flat roof

Gallery

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