W.R. Brock and Co. Ltd, 8th Avenue and 2nd Street SW, ca. 1912?
Postcards from the Past, PC 219
This most beautiful building was the Calgary home of W.R. Brock Company Ltd. It was a western branch of an established Toronto firm, owned by William Rees Brock, a native of Eramosa Township and brother to the founder of Great-West Insurance, Jeffry Brock.
When this building was erected, in 1905/06, it was out in the boonies. The location had been decided by the company’s traveler, W.H. Berkinshaw, who liked the prospects in Calgary so much that he made a deal with W.R. Brock. Brock wanted to open the western branch of the store in Winnipeg, but Berkinshaw, promised the manager-ship of the western branch, championed Calgary and so this beautiful building was built on the corner of 8th Avenue and 2nd Street W. According to Elsie Morrison (Calgary, 1875-1950), the only other business out that way was a livery stable. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, as the 1906 map shows a number of businesses in the area, including Frontier Livery, but also including R.C. Thomas’s businesses, a tailor and a ladies shop as well as a drug store.
W.R. Brock was a dry goods supplier who specialized in carpets, woolens, tailors’ trimmings and fabrics, men’s furnishings, women’s clothing, including dainties, and ran a mail order business. By 1912, the business was doing so well a third storey was added, overseen by William Stanley Bates. The plans and specifications are in the Glenbow Archives.
The building was very much on the cutting edge of design. It had a sprinkler system and a commercial alarm hooked into the fire department (Morrison reports that in 1950 it was still No. 1 on the Fire Department’s alarm list). This may have something to do with the fire in the business district of Toronto in 1904 that consumed many businesses, Brock’s among them (even though that building, too, had a fire sprinkler system). It also boasted the first concrete sidewalk and passenger elevator.
When the Great War started, the company saw its share of men enlist. You can view the Honour Roll online. One of the Calgary men who enlisted was Edwin Lyle Berkinshaw, the son of W.H. Berkinshaw. He died in the Ypres Salient in 1916.
W.R. Brock and Co. lasted on the Calgary site until 1952. At that time the listings in the Henderson’s Directories change to Robinson, Little and Company, another dry goods store. It appears that the building was demolished some time before 1956 (or was it just reclad, as suggested by one of our readers, see comment below) and in 1957 the Empire Building is shown as occupying the spot. A restaurant called Bennett’s was on the main floor of the building. I have been unable to find out exactly what happened to the Brock business. For a time the building was occupied by a company called Robinson, Little and Co. which traded in the same kinds of goods as W.R. Brock. A little more research and I'm sure I'll turn up something.
Interior, W.R. Brock Company Limited, Calgary, ca 1913
Postcards from the Past, PC 901