Friday, 21 May 2010

Big 4 and Buhler - separated at birth ?!

University Of Winnipeg
Back in March when the exterior walls began to go up on the new U of W Buhler Centre at Colony and Portage my first thought was: Big 4 !

For those of you too young to remember, Big 4 Sales was the discount department store that took over Ashdown's, (most recently the Crocus Building), from 1958 to 1992.

Big 4 made special effort to cater to new immigrants. When they first arrived in Winnipeg my parents were sent off to Big 4 to get their first load of winter clothes and we were pretty much regulars for that first decade for linens, fabric, back to school shopping and such. Big 4 was where we could go 'as is' versus Eaton's when we had to dress up !

Above source: Heritage Winnipeg

To my young mind it was a fascinating place full of different languages and colours of people. I also remember the nice old owners who would walk around the store and sometimes give out little candies. I remember once that one of them let me pick out a little plastic toy from a tub at the counter. He told me he wanted me to have it because he was Jewish and there was a big holiday coming up the following night. I had to ask my Mom what was 'Jewish' was on the car ride home.

U of W Buhler Centre
When I first moved out I went to Big 4 to stock up on my linens and towels but, of course, it wasn't the same place as when I was a child.

Big 4 Sales closed in 1992. As for the building, it did a brief stint as a chain discount store before finally closing down and sitting dormant for a few years. Eventually the stucco facade with the slit windows was removed and it was restored to something closer to it's original Ashdown's state.

When I saw the Buhler design, though, I wondered if the architect, consciously or subconsciously, had their own childhood memories of Big 4 ?!

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