The Hudson’s Bay Company turns 344 today, and it continues to make history. It made news when it bought American luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue, and it made further headlines by announcing its first two Canadian Saks locations. In its 345th year, Hudson’s Bay will make further news with its planned store improvements, as well as further new store announcements.
Founded on May 2nd, 1670, The Hudson’s Bay Company is North America’s oldest commercial corporation, as well as the world’s oldest continually operating trading company. Its story began with the fur trade, and in many ways its history parallels that of Canada’s. In its early years, Hudson’s Bay was the world’s largest land owner, occupying about 15% of North America in an area called ‘Rupert’s Land’. It established trading posts throughout the empire, negotiating fur deals with local aboriginal populations.
When the fur trade declined, it became a mercantile business for Western Canadian settlers. Its first ‘sales store’ opened in 1857 in Fort Langley, BC, and others soon followed. As the company matured into the early 1900’s, flagship department stores opened in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.
Between the 1960’s and the 1990’s, the company grew by absorbing and re-branding several Canadian department stores including Morgan’s, Woodward’s, Simpson’s, and others. Until recently, Zellers and Field’s also operated under Hudson’s Bay’s umbrella (three Zellers locations remain, selling surplus Bay merchandise). In 1991, Simpson’s Downtown Toronto store became Hudson’s Bay’s flagship, occupying about 850,000 square feet as well as an adjacent office tower.
Currently, its Canadian operations include 90 Hudson’s Bay department stores, three Zellers stores, one outlet store, and its chain of home stores called Home Outfitters. In the United States, The it owns upscale department store Lord & Taylor and, last summer, it made history when it bought Saks Fifth Avenue.
Saks’s first Canadian store will be in Toronto, and not where initially intended. Saks originally planned a massive Canadian flagship at Toronto’s iconic Yonge and Bloor intersection, replacing Hudson’s Bay’s bunker-like, windowless, low-ceiling, 344,000 square foot store. In January, Cadillac Fairview enticed Saks southward by offering Hudson’s Bay $650 million for its Queen Street flagship and adjacent office tower. Occupying 150,000 square feet within the Queen Street Hudson’s Bay, Canada’s flagship Saks will be 2 km south and about half the size of its initially conceptualized flagship. It opens next year.
Saks’ second Canadian store opens a year later, in 130,000 square feet of Sherway Garden’s former 225,000 square foot Sears. Both Downtown Toronto and Sherway’s Saks will have a first for the company: 25,000 square foot food halls modelled on those at London’s Harrod’s. It’s no coincidence that Saks’ new CEO, Marigay McKee, was Chief Merchant at Harrod’s before being hired away by Saks.
In its 345th year, The Hudson’s Bay Company will continue making headlines. Store renovations continue under an initiative spearheaded by former president, Bonnie Brooks.TopShop shop-in-stores continue to open, and a 20,000 square foot Kleinfeld Bridal opened yesterday at the Toronto flagship. Rumours of a new Halifax Hudson’s Bay store persist, and the company continues to negotiate Canadian Saks stores, as well as up to 25 Off 5th by Saks Fifth Avenue outlets. Up to eight Canadian Saks stores are eventually expected in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre, and possibly in Calgary.