By Devonna Edwards, Columnist
In 1953 Samuel Butler, president of Butler Brothers Limited, bought a large piece of property along Bayers Road for $27,000. Later he sold off a few lots, four acres to the Dominion Store for $105,000 and a corner lot to an oil company for $40,000. Butler Brothers Limited was a Real Estate and Construction Company who built the Bayers Road Shopping Centre, the first shopping mall in the city of Halifax.
In the Halifax Mail Star newspaper on April 14, 1953, there was an article about the re-subdivision of land owned by Samuel Butler at Scotvale Subdivision on Bayers Road for a large food market and shopping center.
The Dominion Store: In 1954 the Dominion Store on Bayers Road opened with much fanfare. Marilyn Bell, “Canada’s Swimming Sweetheart,” took two days off school to come to Halifax to be present at the opening of the Store. Marilyn Bell was born in Toronto, Ontario and lived for a time in Halifax, Nova Scotia before returning to Toronto in 1946. She was the first person ever to swim the thirty-two miles (51 km) distance across Lake Ontario in 1954 at the age of sixteen years old. She also swam across the English Channel and the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the Pacific coast.
The Dominion Store history started with one store in Toronto in 1919. The store was founded by American businessmen Robert Jackson and J. Pentland and by the end of 1919 they had a 20-store chain of which eighteen were acquired from rival Loblaws. That started a national chain of supermarkets in Canada called The Dominion of Canada, a year later they had sixty-one stores. During the Depression years Dominion lost both founders; Jackson went bankrupt, and Pentland was killed in an auto accident in 1933. Dominion leadership was not decided until 1939, when J. William Horsy became president, he then sold the Dominion Stores to Argus Corporation. Having stores in many provinces, smaller stores were consolidated from 574 to 195 stores by 1954. In the 1950s Dominion began to build large stores with airy ceilings and large glass fronts. Years later, the stores in the Nova Scotia were sold to the Oshawa Group and became IGA Stores, however after Sobeys purchased Oshawa Group in 1999, Loblaw took over IGA’s Atlantic Canada locations.
The former Dominion store at Bayers Road was demolished and today a new building called The Blue Ocean stands on the site.
The Bayers Road Shopping Centre: The shopping centre opened in 1956 after the Dominion Store was built, with just as much excitement. At the grand opening of the new Bayers Road strip mall, elephant rides were provided to the delight of the children. An elephant trainer equipped with a cane, guided the elephant on his walk about the shopping centre rocky grounds.
The new mall was a welcome shopping experience to all the locals who had to travel downtown Halifax to shop either on Gottingen Street or Barrington Street. Simpsons was the only department store close by. When the Bayers Road Shopping Centre opened it started with sixteen stores all constructed under one roof. It became one of the main shopping districts in Halifax and in the 1980s held ninety-one stores.
Bob Bowness Sporting Goods Store was a favourite shop for all sports minded people and Consumers Distributing was very popular with consumers. These are just a few of the many shops that once occupied the once bustling mall, gone but not forgotten.
In the 1990s, the mall changed ownership and the new owners tried to modernize it, giving their new complex a European taste and renamed it “The Village at Bayers Road”. The owners completely changed the concept of the once busy mall and failed miserably, causing its decline. In the early 2000’s the complex was sold to the Ramia family. They changed the complex from a shopping mall to business offices and added a stand-alone five storey office building in the parking lot and when the Zeller Store moved out, they built a 5-storey glass office tower, known as The CGI building.
Today Lawton’s Pharmacy is the only original store still there. The Bowlarama still remains with its entrance on Desmond Avenue. The mall is occupied mostly by Capital District Health Authority with Canadian Blood Service.
The Red Fox Tavern: The old-style tavern opened at the Bayers Road Shopping Centre in 1971. The pub was so popular on a Friday night that it was almost impossible to get a seat. While the ladies did their shopping, the men enjoyed a cold brew while waiting for them. The “Chicken Wing” trend and “Dave’s Sauce” had their beginning in that wonderful pub. Many will remember, “The Liars Table” occupied by fateful patrons who told delightful stories, some leaving the table with “longer noses.”
For further information: www.fairviewhistoricalsociety.ca