Museum Musings: Craig Brothers

Bill Smiley Archives. The Craig Brothers float in the 1955 Prince Albert Exhibition Parade.

Friends recently dropped by the house for a visit and to toast the New Year.  It wasn’t long before we were reminiscing about the way things were when we were younger (for once it wasn’t me who led the conversation in that direction, but I was quite content to follow along).  We were soon talking about how Central Avenue, and how the stores in the downtown reigned supreme; how we would line up outside Adam’s Book Store and Eagle Stationery, waiting to be allowed inside to by our school supplies, about attending movies at the Strand and Orpheum Theatres, or stopping at Central Fruit and Candy Kitchen for treats.

We men remembered the staff of the menswear stores (the Stag Shop, Miller’s, and Matheson’s), while the women recalled their mothers shopping for clothing at Aaron’s, Savard’s, the CB, and Craig Brothers (usually referred to just simply as Craigs’).  They recalled how the women would get dressed up when they went out, particularly to meetings – a new dress or two-piece suit, gloves, hats, and handbags.  We remembered how Jack Matheson would frown about men who, wearing a sports jacket or suit, would fail to finish it off properly with a tie.  We were definitely more formal in those days.

Matheson’s, now with a third-generation owner, is the only one of those businesses which is still in operation, and still in a downtown location.  The women do not, however, have the pleasure which we men have.

What became clear, as we talked, was not so much about the loss of the women’s stores, but rather they wanted to know background of the businesses.  So, in answer to that question I thought that I could at least provide some background on Craig Brothers.

J.A.M. Craig and his brother, W.C. Craig, opened their first store at Vermillion, Alberta, in 1905. They then opened their second store in Turtleford, Saskatchewan, in 1923, followed by a third store in North Battleford in 1927, before opening Craig Brothers at 905 Central Avenue, Prince Albert, in 1935.

Bill Smiley Archives
Craig’s Dept Store – 907 Central – May 21, 1968.

As president of Craig Brothers, J.A.M. Craig moved to the largest community, Prince Albert.  He became actively involved in local organisations, including becoming the president of the Prince Albert Board of Trade, a director of the Prince Albert Agricultural Society, and a member of both the Rotary and Keewatin clubs.

Craig attributed the success of the company to two things:  a trained, efficient, and courteous staff, and honesty in its relationships which resulted in the establishment of confidence of the public wherever the firm operated.

Craig Brothers grew to be one of the largest, independently owned public firms in Western Canada and, as such, had the advantage of volume buying, not on credit but with cash.  In fact, the firm was instrumental in the formation in 1923 of one of Western Canada’s large wholesale firms which was organised for the benefit of independent merchants.  J.A.M. Craig was one of the original directors of this organisation, remaining in that capacity through the 1930s.

Bill Smiley Archives
John Craig – Sept. 17, 1976.

By 1939, the local firm had expanded, and in November of that year expended $3,000 (approximately $65,000 in today’s money) to enlarge the store and modernise it.  This work included a 40 foot by 50 foot addition to the rear of the store (approximately 12 ½ by 15 metres), which included the ladies’ ready-to-wear department on the main floor, and the children’s wear and shoe departments in the basement.  The removal of a partition on the main floor also allowed an increase in the size of the men’s wear department.  Throughout the store day-light fluorescent lighting was installed to brighten each floor.  A new design for the front of the store, in a modern and sophisticated manner, changed the entrance and display windows which fronted onto Central Avenue.  The latter made “window shopping” much easier.

In addition to the clothing departments previously mentioned, Craig Brothers store carried household goods including towels, sheets and pillow cases, blankets, drapes and curtains, as well as yard goods for those who wished to sew their own clothing.

The store also had a mail-order department.

J.A.M. Craig was still visiting the store on a daily basis into his 90s, even after management of the store had fallen into the hands of a new manager.  I have to admit that he reminded me of television’s Mr. Grace from Are You Being Served, a show based on the store Simpson’s of Piccadilly in London, although he would walk to the store rather than being driven in a limousine by a chauffeur.

Craig Brothers is no longer with us, although it continues in the memories of many, and of course, you can still see the name Craig’s in the entryway mosaic leading into the former store.