Charles Woodward’s move West
The Woodward’s story is bold and dynamic. It’s a true story of a store built on pillars of tenacity, honesty, industriousness and highest ethics.
The vision that created Woodward’s Department Stores Ltd. was a dream of an innovator and true pioneer in the retail industry and Western Canada, Charles Woodward.
He worked long hours, cut expenses to a minimum, and built his name, as an honest merchant who sold good quality merchandise for low prices—“The Best for Less” was his motto.
Charles Woodward, the founder of Woodward Stores, was born in 1852, and went to school near Sheffield, Ontario. His mother was Welsh, His father who was English, was a farmer. His first jobs were on the family farm, and at 21 he had his own acreage. However, he decided that merchandising was his bent.
A local merchant trained him and paid him $200. per year, for which he did all the chores, though he was not allowed to serve behind the counter. Then he acquired his own store at Manitowaning on Manitoulin Island, Lake Huron, where he dealt mainly with First Nations people. Later he tried shipping cattle to Manitoba, but this was not a successful venture. So he went back to merchandising and soon was operating at Gore Bay where he dealt mostly in timber, dressed hogs and poultry, the other at Thessalon where he became a leading citizen and was the local magistrate.
In 1890 the Thessalon store burned down, and as there was practically no insurance, Charles Woodward, age 39, decided to go West. He went first by himself and concluded that Vancouver, population 13,800, was the town of the future, so he bought a corner lot at Harris Street and Westminster Avenue, (now Main and Georgia Streets).
Then he returned to Thessalon and in January of 1892 came back to Vancouver with his eight children, ranging in age from one to 16 years. His wife was too ill to travel, and came out later.
By March 1992, he was doing business in a small frame building on a 57-foot lot.
In July of the same year his wife died. In fact during his first nine months in Vancouver he buried three of his family. He worked hard, and his first real break came with the Klondike Gold Rush when he was able to sell snow shoes, sleighs, and dog harnesses to the miners. From then on his store never looked back. In 1904 he moved to Abbott and Hastings Street. At first he was in partnership with other directors, but later bought control. He was so successful that in 1912 he decided to retire to England and buy a farm in Kent. However, he got no further than California where he purchased a ranch.
When the First World War came, his eldest son, the late Hon. W.C. Woodward, enlisted and went overseas, so Charles Woodward returned to the store and continued as President.
He was always civic-minded and made strong efforts to have the upper part of False Creek drained for a park and playground for the east end of Vancouver.
In 1927 he became an M.L.A., and 10 years later died, a man of great vision and courage.