File:Woodwards building Vancouver demolition 2.jpg

woodward's by mommybuttons.

Above: mommybuttons / angel b. woodward’s (2006)

Woodwards W by Cam in Van.

Above: Cam in Van. Woodwards W (2006).

File:Vancouver Woodward's 2005.jpg

In the end, it all comes down to that gigantic W. How nice it is to finally see it lit up and revolving once more.

The “new” Woodward’s incorporates only the 1903 corner building into the site’s redevelopment. And, the W used to stand so much taller on that shaft!


“Dollar forty-nine day, Tuesday!”

“Dollar forty-nine day, Woodward’s!

Pur laine Vancouverites will remember that omnipresent radio jingle calling all shoppers to the empire that Charles Woodward built.

Many fans of the “old” Woodward’s seem to have particularly fond memories of Woodward’s food floor (see below), or its Xmas window displays:

My first job was selling electronics at the flagship store on West Hastings. Here’s a vintage video “highlighting” the amazing features of Woodward’s house brand, Transonic (is that a rip-off of a name or what?):

Here’s the Big Blow Up (there’s lots more on YouTube if you’re into controlled demolitions) …

… and the years of frustration as the ginormous building lay empty. Here’s a look at Woodward’s, the squat (2002):

And then, finally, some action. The Big W was removed …

… and, enticed by slick marketing, the “new” Woodward’s began to arise on the footprint of this once dominant anchor on the Downtown Eastside:

… and finally, the W was returned:

The Big W was relit once again on 15 January 2010, marking the opening of the “new” Woodward’s:

Some things come full circle. If you’re a Woodward’s fan, you can now live in a swank condo where Woodward’s once was and buy your Woodward’s brand peanut butter at the “Woodward’s Food Floor by Nester’s Market” down on the ground floor:

SqueakyMarmot, Woodward’s Food Floor 10 (2009)

That Jimmy Pattison is an interesting retailer. How many store brands does he now control? Here’s the list (from Wikipedia):

Overwaitea Foods

Save-On Foods

Coopers Foods

Price-Smart Foods

Urban Fare

Buy-Low Foods

Nester’s Markets

Last week, two major retail anchors opened for business. One, the latest addition to Vancouver billionaire Jimmy Pattison’s stable, is a food store with luxury products such as glistening slabs of Ahi tuna. The second is a London Drugs supermarket that sells everything from Aspirin to $3,700 LCD television sets.

Both stores were enticed by subsidies; they won’t pay municipal taxes at Woodward’s for the next 10 years and their rental rates are rock bottom. That is a price the City of Vancouver and the development’s principals were willing to pay for the strong retail presence.

– “Vancouver downtown east side slowly crawls toward gentrification” Brian Hutchinson in Vancouver, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009 National Post

Here’s that peanut butter:

VANCOUVER — Starting in 1919 until it shut its doors in 1993, an integral part of Woodward’s Department Store was its food floor. And now, carrying on the tradition and in homage to its predecessor, Nesters Market will open its 10th store in the new Woodward’s building on Dec. 8, calling it Woodward’s Food Floor by Nesters Market… Read the full article at

But, back to the sad fate of Charles Woodward’s once-mighty retail empire:

The Woodward's building in Vancouver's downtown east-side when it opened in 1903. The building is being transformed into a modern mixed-use facility meant to improve one of the city's most poverty stricken areas.

archival photo of Woodard's building

Charles Woodward, ca. 1910


Giant W on top of Woodward's store, Vancouver, 1927

Charles Woodward built a western Canadian retail empire. The day it all ended in 1993 sealed the fate of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES).

Woodward was a pioneer.

Woodward’s department stores were innovative, introducing a self-serve food floor and its famous 95-cent days in 1919 ($1.49-day in 1951).

– Canadian Museum of Civilization: Before e-Commerce

After the Second World War, he sensed that the zeitgeist was moving towards suburban shopping and he decided that Woodward’s would be the anchor at Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver, Canada’s first shopping center.

Park Royal opened in September, 1950 as an open-air mall and “Woodward’s was right there as one of the original developers and tenants. The following excerpt, from Woodward’s Beacon of July 1949, describes the project:”

As has been announced in the local papers, a large shopping centre is planned in West Vancouver, and again our store leads the way in being the first downtown department store to have a branch department store in the suburbs. The store planned in our neighbouring community is in every sense one of the most modern structures of its kind.

The original Park Royal, just after it opened in 1950.

Perhaps all of those suburban shoppers were one reason why the lure of the gigantic flagship was not enough to entice bodies to the DTES any more by the early 1990s.

My family used to make regular trips to the New Westminster store, another relic from the mid-century (above). It had a cool rooftop parking deck complete with conveyor belt for its parcel pick up depot. Those “1.49 Days!” always induced my mom to “head on down” to the New West store and stock up.

Reading the many BBs about people’s perceptions and memories of Woodward’s, I get the feeling that this was a company that actually cared about the welfare of its employees.

The Beacon was the company’s employee newsletter, building solidarity amongst Woodwardites in Western Canada:

Cover of 1950 Woodward's Beacon featuring the opening of Park Royal Shopping Centre in Vancouver, British ColumbiaCover of 1949 Woodward's Beacon featuring a new mall project

Cover of a 1949 Woodward’s Beacon featuring a new mall project

Cover of a 1950 Woodward’s Beacon featuring the opening of Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver




Finally, here’s a social history video by GVTV that targets the memories of a few who lived the Woodwardian life. (It also includes that unforgettable “Dollar forty-nine Day” jingle; once it’s in your head it’ll stay there):

Video and screenshots from GVTV

Dollar forty-nine? That’s still the magic price for me. It will always be associated with my memories of the empire Charles Woodward built. It was fun while it lasted.

And that giant W, lit once again, brings back fond memories of it all. The decision to refurbish the W might be the smartest “heritage” preservation that the City of Vancouver has ever made.