Wood Vallance Hardware Company was a dominant retail enterprise in Nelson, B.C. and region from 1904 until 1989

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by Sam McBride

For most of the twentieth century, the Wood Vallance Hardware Company Limited based in Nelson, British Columbia was a household name in the city, and reached out to customers throughout southeastern B.C. and worked with suppliers from as far west as Victoria, B.C. and east to Montreal, Quebec.

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1902 bill from Byers Hardware in Sandon, which operated until 1904 when Wood Vallance Hardware arrived and centralized hardware facilities in Nelson.  Image courtesy Ed Mannings.

The corporate story for Wood Vallance began with the company’s formation in 1849 in Hamilton, Ontario.  The story of Wood Vallance in the West Kootenay arose from the winding down of business of the predecessor company in the region, the H. Byers Hardware Company, which had hardware stores in the mining boom towns of Sandon, Kaslo and Nelson.

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Original Byers Hardware store in Nelson at Baker and Josephine streets.  Touchstone Archivess

G. Walter McBride, a London, Ontario native who gained extensive experience in the hardware was  business in St. Louis and later in Calgary and then Rossland, was chosen as receiver for the bankruptcy proceedings.  The business opportunity attracted the interest of the Wood Vallance Hardware Company Limited, which purchased the business from Hamilton Byers.  The new company would be an autonomous subsidiary of the Wood Vallance group which included substantial operations in Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver as well as Hamilton.

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Wood Vallance store in Nelson, about 1920s.  From McBride family collection.

In April 1904 the new Nelson-based Wood Vallance Company shut down the Sandon store, sold the Kaslo store, and expanded the premises of the former Byers store on Baker Street to be a prominent business in the field of industrial, commercial and household hardware, including sales of  mining and forestry supplies for the region.

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1906 bill for the Hume Hotel.  Owner J. Fred Hume was a major customer of Wood Vallance Hardware, and a close friend of R.L. McBride and Roy Sharp.  Image courtesy of Ed Mannings.

Walter McBride sold his Rossland store and came to work for Wood Vallance in Nelson as manager, with his nephew Roland Leigh McBride – who had gained experience working with hardware stores in Calgary, Rossland and Sandon – was appointed assistant to the manager.  Also working in the new business was Roy Sharp, who had worked at the Byers store in Nelson since 1901 and was given the job of driving a one-horse delivery wagon.  Also joining the staff were well-known Nelson businessman and sportsman Alf Jeffs, and Alex Leith, who came to Nelson from the Wood Vallance office in Hamilton to serve as secretary-treasurer of the new operation.

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float in Nelson parade, about 1930.  McBride Family Collection

R.L. McBride and Roy Sharp would continue as a team at Wood Vallance until they retired together in 1950 after 46 years of service.  Jeffs would work for 44 years until retiring in 1948.

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Thousands of products were in the 650-page Wood Vallance catalogue.  Touchstone Archives

Walter McBride was manager for 20 years before retiring in 1925, succeeded as manager and later president of the company by R.L. McBride.

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G.W. McBride, first Wood Vallance manager, died Oct. 13, 1925.  He was a half-brother of my great-grandfather Richard McBride of London, Ontario.  Touchstone Archives

Alex Leith worked for Wood Vallance in Nelson until his death in 1932 – one week before his retirement was scheduled to begin.  In 1919-1920 Leith and R.L. McBride were among the founders of the Nelson golf course,  and he would serve several years as President of the club and donate the Alex Leith Trophy which went to the Nelson club champion until the Ken McBride Memorial Trophy was established in 1945.

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The Wood Vallance Trophy in Kimberley was one of many sports-related sponsorships and donations over the years.  It continues to be awarded in annual tournaments. From Nelson Daily News, 1943.

In 1906 the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Ltd (also known as CM&S, and later as Cominco and then Teck) was incorporated.  This included the smelter in Trail and associated mines in West Kootenay as well as the huge Sullivan Mine orne Kimberley in the Sullivan Mine.  The CPR-owned company would eventually become the largest non-ferrous smelter in the world and a huge success, but in its early days its finances were shaky because of problems in processing the complex lead-zinc ore, as it had to be hand-sorted in a very inefficient assembly line.

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Wood Vallance long-service staff recognized in 1961 photo display.  Touchstone Archives.

Around 1910 CM&S was short of funds, and about to go under because no one would offer them credit.  The one supplier that gave them credit was the Nelson-based Wood Vallance Hardware Company.  This help was greatly appreciated by CM&S, and the start of an extraordinary, mutually beneficial, unofficial relationship between the two companies. Tom Lymbery writes about it in his book “Tom’s Gray Creek: A Kootenay Lake Memoir, Part Two”.  The remarkable connection lasted until the 1980s.

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Wood Vallance share certificate. Touchstone Archives.

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December 1949 Wood Vallance staff photo and identification.  Touchstone Archives.

In addition to using Wood Vallance as a supplier, Cominco would contract Wood Vallance to handle part of its Purchasing function, for industrial supplies like rails and steel.   As part of the enduring strong relationship, manager and president R.L. McBride would travel from Nelson to Trail every Thursday to meet CM&S executives and staff about purchasing requirements.

By the 1920s Cominco had developed differential flotation processing technology that made the Sullivan mine profitable, and they expanded by leaps and bounds, with Wood Vallance growing along with them.

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Nelson Daily News June 8, 1972.  Touchstone Archives.

Tom Lymbery noted that “Wood Vallance gave us excellent service, and the range of stock was amazing”.

“These days we would need at least 20 suppliers to obtain the stock we were receiving in our weekly shipments from Wood Vallance,” Lymbery wrote, recalling decades of Wood Vallance business with his family at the Gray Creek Store.

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A corporate change in 1963 enabled purchase of shares by employees.  Touchstone Archives.

Of the original 1904 staff, Alf Jeffs retired in 1948 and died in 1950.  R.L. McBride and Roy Sharp retired together in 1950.

Sharp died in 1953 and McBride in 1959.  Lifelong friends as well as work colleagues, they and family members are buried with memorial stones side-by-side in Nelson Memorial Park.

By the 1980s the business world had changed, and the stewards of the company agreed that it should wind down as a corporation, with final pay-outs to employees and final dividends for shareholders.

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1972 long-service staff photo display.  Touchstone Archives.

Subsequently, the name Wood Vallance has been used for storefronts, but the corporate entity of the past is long gone.  In retrospect, Wood Vallance had a significant role in Nelson’s transition from a boom-and-bust mining town to a regional centre of commerce and administration.

List of Wood Vallance shareholders in 1972. Touchstone Archives.

The two-page corporate history below was written during the World War Two years, with the final section added as an update towards the company’s 75th anniversary in 1979.

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first page of 2-page Wood Vallance corporate history

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second page of 2-page corporate history

 

Experimenting with photo scenes with friends in pioneer Nelson, BC

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by Sam McBride

My paternal grandmother Winnifred Foote was a camera buff who enjoyed experimenting with photography with friends in the early 1900s in Nelson, BC.

Here are some pics in various settings and posings of her friends Roy Sharp, Emily Wilkinson, Dr. Wilmott Steed and Elizabeth Lillie.  The year was likely between 1908 and 1910.  You can imagine that at some point in the afternoon the subjects of the photos told Winnie that enough was enough.

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Roy and Emily Sharp at left.  Wilmott and Elizabeth Steed at right.  All of these photos were taken by Winnie Foote, and are part of the Foote-McBride Collection.

On September 5, 1911 Roy and Wilmott were ushers at the wedding of my grandfather R. Leigh McBride and Eva Hume, who was Winnie’s best friend.  A year later, on September 11, 1912, Roy and Emily married.  Just a week later, on September 18, 1912, Wilmott and Elizabeth married.  Tragically, Eva Hume McBride died due to childbirth complications on November 23, 1912.  Two years later, on December 23, 1914, Winnifred and R. Leigh McBride married.

march 29 2017 scans0018The three couples would remain close friends in Nelson for life.  Their children would be childhood playmates, as the Sharps and Steeds were both just a few houses away from the McBride house at 708 Hoover Street, where Winnie took numerous photos of Dawn Sharp as well as Graham, Jack and Edna Steed bicycling and playing with young Leigh and Ken McBride.

march 29 2017 scans0014Roy was a close colleague of R.L. McBride at the Wood Vallance Hardware Company for almost 50 years, and is best known in local history as the Father of the Nelson Midsummer Curling Bonspiel, which was a huge event when I was growing up in Nelson.  Wilmott was the first of several generations of Nelson dentists.   Details of the lives of R.L. and Win McBride are in previous postings in this blog.  The stories of the Steed and Sharp couples are summarized in their obituaries published in the Nelson Daily News.

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