For several decades, Woodward’s Department Store was a premier shopping destination in Port Alberni and, as many put it, a “landmark” in our community until its closure in the late 1980s.
By and large, this was a one-stop shop for the Valley residents who would buy their groceries and household items, order any piece of furniture, get films for their cameras and grab a quick bite in the cafeteria. A parcel pick-up area was always available and facilitated by the staff, who would load merchandise into the customers’ vehicles. If a customer didn’t want to cart their groceries to the car themselves, they could arrange to have them sent to parcel pickup, where shoppers could pull the car up and staff would load them into the vehicle. In addition, the store offered truck home deliveries for its shoppers.
Woodward’s provided employment to thousands of people, starting with its opening in 1948.
“I began working for Woodward’s Store in Port Alberni in 1962,” says Larry Brechin, who started on the food floor when it was downstairs in the basement of the store. Later, a separate food floor was built and he moved up there, working in the parcel pick-up area. “After that, I moved to the produce department and stayed there for the rest of my career with Woodward’s, which ended when the food floors were sold to Safeway Canada.”
His wife, Maureen, was also a store employee. The Brechins were involved with the Alberni District Historical Society evening “Remembering Woodward’s” in May of 2011.
“I worked in the Food Floor Office in Woodward’s Store from 1964 to 1966,” Maureen said. “The office was upstairs overlooking the food floor and I remember looking down on the floor on $1.49 days and seeing the line-ups for the tills going down the aisles to the back of the store.”
She addsed, “I always looked forward to my break, as that meant I could go down to the lunch counter for a toasted tea bun and tea or, in the summer, a piece of strawberry pie. The lunch counter was always busy and our children also have fond memories of the treats they got to enjoy down there.”
The history of this multi-shopping centre goes back to 1892, when Charles Woodward established his first store in Vancouver, and then officially incorporated it as Woodward’s Department Stores Ltd. in 1902. Edmonton opened its first Woodward’s Store in 1926 and by the late 1940s the company operated numerous stores in B.C. and Alberta.
Many former staff members have fond memories of their working days in the store.
“As an employee, I found that the company encouraged family participation and recognized all the major events in our lives like births, marriages, retirements, scholarships for our children, etc.,” said Larry. “The staff felt a sense of pride in making the store the best place to shop anywhere on the Island. From the comments I get from Valley residents, who to this day express how much they miss Woodward’s, I would say the employees accomplished that goal.”
Larry also adds that the store was a gathering place for the people of the Alberni Valley. Friday nights and Saturdays were busy and Christmas saw the store packed with shoppers.
“Everyone came uptown to see the wonderful Christmas displays in the windows and to meet friends and neighbors,” he said.
One of the big monthly events was the well-known $1.49 day (many remember the catchy advertising in the radio station). This was indeed “the talk of the town” as people from all corners of the city and beyond used to go to Woodward’s on the first Tuesday of the month to take advantage of the great deals offered by the produce and other departments. The Woodward’s food floor, with its full-service grocery area, had terrific buys for its customers.
“I think all of Port Alberni could be found in Woodward’s on $1.49 day!” said Maureen.
Many years have gone since the closing of our local Woodward’s, the one store that “had everything.” But fond memories of this popular retail giant are still in the minds of many in our community.