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The Bay Downtown: Part Two

After over a decade of delays, the Bay Downtown was finally getting underway. In 1925, the Hudson's Bay Company announce they would begin construction within two years, and open the building within three. But after years and years of setbacks and delays, the company was tired of waiting, and had a change of heart. They began construction that very same year.
Construction begins on 450 Portage. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba

Mayor Ralph Webb strongly encouraged HBC to use Tyndall stone, a type of limestone native to Manitoba. The use of Tyndall stone had come up earlier in the long process, and the company had declined. But after speaking with Mayor Webb this time around, they agreed to use Tyndall limestone on the exterior of the building. The use of Tyndall stone put $400, 000 into the local economy.
Building the foundation of the store involved 300 men, 120 teams of horses, 20 trucks and two steam shovels to remove 150,000 tons of earth. One hundred and fifty-one concrete pillars were driven by hand down 52 feet to bedrock to support the store. Two million feet of lumber, 100,000 tons of concrete, and 125,000 cubic feet of Tyndal stone went into the building of the new store. The structure was the largest reinforced concrete building in Canada at the time, with a gross area of fifteen acres of floor space.
Construction of 450 Portage fully underway. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba

On November 18, 1926, 16 years after The Hudson’s Bay Company first began looking for the perfect spot to build, the store finally opened. People lined up for blocks to get a chance to see inside the store. 50, 000 people went through the store on that first day. Mayor Webb made the first recorded purchases at the store. He bought a bracelet for his wife, and a tie for his son.
The entire store wasn’t ready for the grand opening. Only the main, second, and third floors were accessible. Work continued on the fourth, fifth, and sixth floors for several months.
An upscale restaurant called the Georgian Room opened on the fifth floor in August of opening year. There were two other cafeterias in the building. One was known as the Calendar Room, and the basement cafeteria was knows as the Jolly Canuck Restaurant. Years later in 1954, the Paddlewheel Restaurant opened on the sixth floor, and was arguably the most successful and most iconic of the restaurants in The Bay downtown.
Colour Post Card of the Hudson's Bay Building. Photo Courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society.

Renovations were done on the building in 1986 and 1987 that cost almost as much as the original building. Four million dollars was spent on the main, second and third floors, and $200,000 on the sixth floor. In 1987 approximately $700,000 was spent for a modest face-lift on the fourth floor and basement.

In 2010, Zellers moved into the basement of the store, only to liquidate in 2013. It was the last Zeller’s store in Canada to close. The famous Paddlewheel Restaurant that opened in the building’s sixth floor closed its doors in 2013. Just this year in 2016, the store closed its fourth floor.

Add for The Paddlewheel in the Winnipeg Free Press in 1954, the year the restaurant opened. Photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press Archives
Right now, no one can see the future of The Bay downtown. It is still unknown how the building will be redeveloped when and if The Bay vacates the building. It’s even unknown if retail will still be a part of its usage after redevelopment. At over 600, 000 square feet, it’s an excessive amount of space for most retailers.
We can’t see its future, but we can all see its past. The journey from the decision to build a store to the height of the store’s popularity was a long, bumpy Winnipeg road. Now, we wait to see how the new chapter in the story of this building will be written.
Written by Laura Wiens, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp. 
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director. 


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