UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The construction of buildings and histories: Hudson’s Bay Company department stores, 1912-26 Monteyne, David P.


Between 1913 and 1926, the aged British commercial institution, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), built four monumental department stores across Western Canada in Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg. In this thesis extensive archival research on the buildings and the HBC's architectural policies is analyzed within the contexts of Canadian social history, and of Company business history. The HBC was making new advances into the department store field, and the stores were clad in a standardized style intended to create a particular image of the Company in contrast to its competitors. Popular in Britain at the time, this Edwardian Classicism emphasized the HBC's history as the official representative of the British Empire across the hinterlands, a history largely defunct by the turn of the century. The opulent style also helped to establish the stores as key cultural institutions and as palaces of consumption. After World War One the HBC also began to stress its specific historical role in the Canadian fur trade and the settlemehtof the nation, through the use of various other architectural features such as the display windows, art galleries and museums set up inside the new stores, and by the historical sites of Company buildings. The competition between historical themes -British Imperial and Canadian frontierist- evidenced in the HBC department stores were tied to social factors. Demographic changes and nationalist sentiment after WWI forced the HBC to recognize Canada's particular pluralist society, and to mediate its image as a purely British organization. Many staff members and customers had no ties to the Company or the Empire, so the HBC invented a tradition that the public could relate to and participate in. The codification of a representational strategy was complicated by the differing agendas of the Company's London Board and its Canadian management. The study of architectural issues such as urban context, style, and building use establishes how the modern HBC employed history through modes of representation in the built environment, to justify its claims to the loyalty of a diverse population of workers and customers.

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