The Woodward’s building in Vancouver’s Gastown has a rich history. Opened in 1903 on the corner of West Hastings and Abbot, this retail store was instrumental in establishing this area of the city as the premiere shopping destination. Over the years, as the city grew, so did the Woodward’s building, at one time occupying 12 floors and supplying the city’s residents with everything they needed in a one-stop shop. I find it fascinating that this store started many of the aspects of the retail store that we now take for granted but at the time seemed controversial, such as the drug counter and food on shelves that customers could help themselves to! Can you imagine shopping for groceries by asking for them at a counter? I’d probably cause an uproar with requests for “semi-ripe avocados” and “firm but not too firm peaches”!
As for being a Vancouver landmark, the building does not shy away from this task. At one point a giant searchlight shone into the air and could be seen from as far away as Abbotsford and Mission but was removed during World War II due to the threat of an attack. The other hallmark which was erected in 1929 consisted of a giant red W atop a replica Eiffel Tower. This symbol still stands on the site after it was replicated and upgraded with LED lights.
The demise of the Woodward’s building and the subsequent neighbourhood is well recorded. Unfortunately for the company, the 1980’s recession hit it hard and they were never able to fully recover. After the company went bankrupt, the iconic building changed hands a few times and sat empty and dilapidated until the City of Vancouver bought it and devised a plan to incorporate social housing into the new development. The new site boasts social housing units, market housing, community spaces, retail stores, a daycare, civic offices, The National Film Board of Canada, and a new addition to Simon Fraser University’s downtown campus with the School of Contemporary Arts.
The oversized piece of artwork on display in the atrium is best appreciated in person as its grandeur and impression cannot be fully captured in a photograph. At 30′ x 50′ the image is mounted on glass and was completed in 2009 by Vancouver artist Stan Douglas. Picking out the details in the picture is an amusing activity which can be enjoyed by all, although the scene it depicts is somewhat violent in nature, albeit an important part of Canada’s Human Rights History.
The Woodward’s building is located at the corners of West Hastings and Abbot in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.