A moment in history: July 29, 1950

A moment in history: July 29, 1950

· The Pulse
By Scott Lilwall

On this day in 1950, the Army and Navy department store was opening on Whyte Avenue.

The department store was the newest addition to the business area south of the river at a time when dozens of new stores and shops were opening.

The long brick building, with its large display windows and stark black-and-white signage, was an instantly recognizable landmark. But it wasn't the first location of the discount department chain to open in the city — after the company was founded in 1919 in Vancouver's Gastown, owner Sam Cohen opened a second store in Regina, and then a third in Edmonton in 1928.

The store served an important niche in the area. It got the majority of its stock from army surplus or overstocks from other stores, and sold it at low prices. The Whyte Avenue location was popular for those in need of winter clothing or work gear, but without a lot of money to spend. It was also known for its annual shoe sales. The Army and Navy chain was the first in western Canada to have self-serve shoe departments, and its sales would often find hundreds of people packed into the store with many more lined up outside.

The Army and Navy chain started to hit harder times in the 21st century. A second Edmonton store, east of downtown in the GWG building, closed in 2003. In 2020, the company announced that it would close its five remaining stores, including the Whyte Avenue location.

While the brick building was shuttered in late 2020, it hasn't remained totally empty. The location has played host to a few seasonal events seeking shelter during the pandemic: the Edmonton Christmas Market spread a little cheer in the building last December, and this summer saw it host the Whyte Avenue Art Walk.

While the department store might be gone, there might be some new life coming to the building it left behind. There have been early plans for redevelopment on the corner of Whyte and 104th, which would include the site.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.