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Ogilvy the grande dame of rue Sainte-Catherine

Groupe Beauchamp

WHEN AN ESTABLISHMENT REACHES THE VENERABLE AGE OF 145 YEARS, IT CAN BE CONSIDERED AN INSTITUTION ESPECIALLY WHEN IT HAS EVOLVED IN THE CHALLENGING FIELD OF RETAIL.

PHOTO: OGILVY

OGILVY

It was 1866 when James Angus Ogilvy quietly opened his store with one employee working behind the only counter. By the third move in 1912, still near Rue de la Montagne, the building was constructed on it’s current location on rue Ste-Catherine. Fifteen years later, financier Arthur J. Nesbitt, originally from Scotland, bought the store and put his 20-year-old son Laird at the helm. The young Nesbitt had a good business sense and the establishment quickly grew in popularity and was soon positioned ahead of its competitors. In 1928, Tudor Hall, an impressive oak panelled room on the fifth floor of the building, gained prominence as Montréal’s first music hall. It was known for its pipe organ. In 1931, from their adjacent broadcasting studio CFCF and CKAC, aired the first Montreal Orchestra broadcast across Canada.

In 1947, Nesbitt inaugurated a future holiday classic for Montrealers, suburbanites, and even tourists: their Christmas windows. The Mill in the forest consists of more than a hundred moving pieces featuring a menagerie of stuffed animals, hand­made in Germany by the Steiff Company. There are working bunnies, dancing bears and ducks, the three wise monkeys, and turning frogs delighting young and old alike. In 1950, another custom began that continues to this day: the strolling bagpiper who plays his instrument in the store between noon and one o’clock.

In 1987, Ogilvy underwent major renovations and introduced a new concept, the first of its kind in Canada, by bringing together independent boutiques under one roof. Each is distinguished by its own character while integrating the theme of the floor where it is located: fashion for women and men, jewellery, luggage, cosmetics, perfumes, shoes, and furs. Prestigious designers like Burberry, Christofle, Hugo Boss, Jaeger, Lacoste, Laurel, and Louis Vuitton are found there along with furniture and linens (Design Louis George), carpets (Nouraie), a florist (Gilchrist), stationary (Essence du Papier), chocolate (Godiva), and a restaurant.

Since last summer, the Selfridges Group, a company controlled by Galen Weston (owners of Weston Bread, Loblaws, and Holt Renfrew) is the new owners of Oglivy, the adventure will continue under the auspices of another successful business man. The ninth child in the family, who sold Christmas trees in his youth, will no doubt ensure the continuation of this institution with the famous Christmas windows, one of the wonderful traditions of the Grande Dame of Rue Sainte-Catherine.

Ogilvy, 1307 Sainte-Catherine West, Montréal, 514 842 7711

S.T. Dupont