16 vintage photos of Vancouver department stores

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Jenni Sheppard Oct 24, 2016 12:25 pm 2,227

The recent frenzy over the opening of the new Tsawwassen Mills mall in Delta got us thinking – what did Vancouver’s shopping options used to look like?

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And after a bit of digging in the archives, we’ve managed to unearth some great snapshots of what department stores used to be like in Vancouver.

It’s all a far cry from the endless parking lots and sleek megastores we’re used to today.

But if you’re looking for a glimpse of a simpler time for shoppers, check out the photos below for a snapshot of what Vancouver’s department stores – including Woodward’s, Spencer’s, and Hudson’s Bay – used to look like.

Woodward’s

Woodward’s opened at the corner of Main and Georgia streets in 1892, but later moved to the corner Hastings and Abbott streets in 1902.

For 100 years, it was a central shopping destination in Vancouver, until it was bought out by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1992.

The Bay quickly closed it, but the Woodward’s building still stands today, and houses a mix of stores, offices and homes.

Inside Woodwards grocery department in Vancouver in 1904 (Woodward's Stores Limited)

Inside Woodwards grocery department in Vancouver in 1904 (Woodward’s Stores Limited)

Inside the Woodward's mens' clothing department in 1905 (Woodward's Stores Limited)

Inside the Woodward’s mens’ clothing department in 1905 (Woodward’s Stores Limited)

Inside the fruit department of Woodward's Department Store in 1905 (Woodward's Stores Limited)

Inside the fruit department of Woodward’s Department Store in 1905 (Woodward’s Stores Limited)

Inside the ladies department at Woodward's Department Store in 1910 (Woodward's Stores Limited)

Inside the ladies department at Woodward’s Department Store in 1910 (Woodward’s Stores Limited)

A cigar concession stand inside Woodward's Department Store in the 1920s (Woodward's Stores Limited)

A cigar concession stand inside Woodward’s Department Store in the 1920s (Woodward’s Stores Limited)

The Woodward's Department Store building in 1924 (Woodward's Stores Limited)

The Woodward’s Department Store building in 1924 (Woodward’s Stores Limited)

Spencer’s

Spencer’s opened on Hastings Street in 1907 and was extremely successful, expanding to fill almost an entire block over the years.

The Vancouver department store remained there, part of a bigger chain, until 1948 when it was bought by Eaton’s.

Eaton’s closed in 1972. Today, you’ll know the Spencer’s building as the Harbour Centre.

Poster exhibition and merchandise display in Spencer's Department Store in 1931 (Stuart Thomson)

Poster exhibition and merchandise display in Spencer’s Department Store in 1931 (Stuart Thomson)

Poster exhibition in Spencer's Department Store in 1931 (Stuart Thomson)

Poster exhibition in Spencer’s Department Store in 1931 (Stuart Thomson)

Spencer's Department Store hair salon in the 1930s (Leonard Frank Photos/David Spencer Limited)

Spencer’s Department Store hair salon in the 1930s (Leonard Frank Photos/David Spencer Limited)

Spencer's Department Store decorated for visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 (Vancouver Committee for the Reception of their Majesties)

Spencer’s Department Store decorated for visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 (Vancouver Committee for the Reception of their Majesties)

A saleswoman speaking to a customer at Spencer's Department Store in 1944 (Donn Williams)

A saleswoman speaking to a customer at Spencer’s Department Store in 1944 (Donn Williams)

Hudson’s Bay

The Hudson’s Bay building we all know and love at Georgia and Granville was built in 1927, although the company had actually been in Vancouver since 1887.

The store, built in cream terra cotta with Corinthian columns, has undergone numerous expansions since then and was finally completed in 1949.

Unlike Woodward’s and Spencer’s, the Bay has stood the test of time so far, now filling an entire city block, an icon of Canadian retail.

The carpet department at Hudson's Bay in 1931 (Stuart Thomson/HBC)

The carpet department at Hudson’s Bay in 1931 (Stuart Thomson/HBC)

The jewellery department in Hudson's Bay in 1931 (Stuart Thomson/HBC)

The jewellery department in Hudson’s Bay in 1931 (Stuart Thomson/HBC)

The china department at Hudson's Bay in 1931 (Stuart Thomson/HBC)

The china department at Hudson’s Bay in 1931 (Stuart Thomson/HBC)

Models in period costumes display 'Community Plate' in the china and silverware department at Hudson's Bay in 1932 (Stuart Thomson/HBC)

Models in period costumes display ‘Community Plate’ in the china and silverware department at Hudson’s Bay in 1932 (Stuart Thomson/HBC)

Crowds in the food department of Hudson's Bay in 1932 (Stuart Thomson/HBC)

Crowds in the food department of Hudson’s Bay in 1932 (Stuart Thomson/HBC)


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Jenni Sheppard
Senior Staff Writer at Daily Hive, the evolution of Vancity Buzz. Happy Vancouverite. Traveller, snowboarder, foodie, film fan, feminist, geek, cheesemaker, curler. Have a story to tell? Email [email protected]

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