Stories from the Archives

Glenbow's Archives hold thousands of stories of western Canadian lives and events. In November 2013, with the generous assistance of The Calgary Foundation, we invited retired Calgarians to explore some of our little-used research files and to prepare articles about what they discovered. This was a pilot project aimed at involving more people in the community telling community stories using Glenbow's resources.


Jenkins Groceteria: A Canadian First

Diana Ringstrom

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Jenkins' Groceteria, Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1950. (Glenbow Archives PA-2453-245)

As a youngster growing up in Calgary, there were two self serve grocery chain stores in Calgary. They were Safeway and Jenkins Groceteria. Besides these two chains were the local corner grocery stores scattered throughout the city and operatedby families. I was aware of Jenkins Groceteria, but of course wasn't aware of the background of this home-grown grocery chain and the man who was behind its' success. I have always been interested in how businesses get started, and what makes the entreprenerial people who devote their lives and sometimes their health to making them succeed. When Jenkins Groceteria was listed as a subject to be researched using the Glenbow Archives as a resource, I thought it would be interesting to research. I found Henry Marshall Jenkins to be a fascinating gentleman with great business acumen and a risk taker who took advantage of every opportunity offered to him, while at the same time keeping his integrity intact.

Nestled between the foothills and the great plains of Alberta, Calgary was incorporated as a city in 1894 with a population of 3900. From 1908 - 1912 with the aid of a boom in real estate, the population mushroomed to over 30,000 inhabitants. 1909 saw Calgary operating its first streetcar called the Beltline that ran from 17th Avenue West to 8th Avenue West. [1] It was in this era of optimism that the first automatic telephone system in North America was installed in the city of Calgary.

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enkins and Cornfoot store, Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1909. (Glenbow Archives PA-2453-434)

Thousands of miles away, in the province of Prince Edward Island, Henry Marshall Jenkins was working on his father's farm sacking potatoes in preparation for shipment to other parts of the country. Curious as to the destination of these sacks, he slipped a note with his return address into one of them. Months later, he received a reply from Calgary to say his note was received and that he should come to Calgary where there were great business opportunities in this bustling city.

Henry travelled to Calgary in 1908 on the special Harvester train to work in the wheat fields bringing in the crops. He went home in the fall, but in the spring he borrowed the ten dollar train fare from his older brother and set off once again for Calgary. The first job he could find when he arrived was cooking for some labourers in return for his own meals. A short while later he found employment in a grocery store owned by John Cornfoot. Borrowing money from his brother Robert, a grocer himself in Prince Edward Island, he bought a half ownership in Cornfoot's business. The store became Jenkins and Cornfoot Grocers. They operated their store with two clerks and two delivery men with horses and carts. Their average sales for the day was four hundred and twenty dollars.

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Henry M. Jenkins and Mrs. Jenkins, Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1912. (Glenbow Archives PA-2453-2)

Grocery stores were very labour intensive at that time.Food products such as eggs and butter came from the surrounding farms. Vinegar, biscuits, sugar and flour came in bulk, and had to be measured and packaged instore. This meant working long hours sometimes sixty or seventy hours a week preparing merchandise for sale to their customers.

In 1910 Henry Jenkins purchased Cornfoot's half of the partnership and the store became "Jenkins and Company". [2] That same year Jenkins was the proud owner of one of the first Model T Fords in Calgary and used it mainly for delivering groceries and soliciting new business.

The change in ownership saw Jenkins hire five salesmen equipped with a mail order catalogue to solicit business throughout the countryside. He extended credit to his customers and offered free home delivery. Jenkins kept up with the latest trends in the business and listened to the needs of his customers, continuing to introduce new products in his store. By 1912, sales had increased to $1200.00 a day, which allowed the purchase of a new cash register at a lofty price of $1400.00, not much more than one days receipts.

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Interior view of H.M. Jenkins' grocery store, Calgary, Alberta, 1911. (Glenbow Archives NA-4501-3)

Jenkins and Company kept growing along with the city of Calgary. When one of its main competitors closed its five stores, more business came his way. With the advent of World War 1 there was a great shortage of labour throughout the country as Canadians enlisted in the Armed Forces. At the time there were very few women in the workforce. [3] To solve his labour problem Henry broke with tradition and hired two female sales clerks to fill the positions vacated by the men.

In 1917, Jenkins heard of a new merchandising innovation by Walter Manson. Jenkins travelled to Seattle to meet with Manson and examine his revolutionary idea. Manson explained with his new method of merchandising, called "Groceteria", the customer is given a wire basket upon entering the store. The customer then goes through the store selecting groceries. When the shopping is done, the customer takes the basket to the front of the store and pays a cashier for the goods. Credit is no longer extended, eliminating the need for bookkeeping, and free home delivery is superfluous.

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Interior view of Jenkins' Groceteria, Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1918. (Glenbow Archives NA-4501-4)

Jenkins was enthusiastic about Manson's system, thinking it would help him with his labour problem until the men returned from the war. He bought the copyright to the name "Groceteria" from Manson for $100.00. On returning to Calgary, he implemented the system in his store renaming it "Groceteria". With this new method of merchandising, he was able to reduce prices drastically. His customer base grew even more with the lower prices he could offer.In 1918 Jenkins applied to the Dominion government for a charter giving him the sole right to use the name "Groceteria". Jenkins was granted the charter making him the first retail self-serve grocer in Canada. He incorporated his business under the name "Groceteria Stores Company". His second location was named "Groceteria #1", while his first store became "Groceteria #2".

By 1924, Jenkins owned seven groceterias, named and numbered accordingly. By 1928 he had expanded to seventeen groceterias in Calgary. [4] During this period of expansion, two brothers from his family of nineteen siblings came to Calgary to offer their help and support. Brother Arthur managed store #3 from 1920 to 1924, until brother Chrystie took over as managerfrom 1925 to the 1940's.

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Jenkins Groceteria Mail Order Catalogue, 1927. (Glenbow Archives M-6494-18-71-1927-cover and pg-14-15)

With the acquisition of a bakery, a candy company and a fruit company Jenkins established his own store brand calling it "Gold Rule". Internationally renowned home economist Dorothy Rimmer was hired to give a series of cooking lessons promoting products carried by the Jenkins groceterias.

At the time, wholesaler, Louie Petrie Co.received most of its business from Jenkins. In an effort to avert Jenkins from dealing directly with suppliers, the wholesaler offered to turn over its enterprise to Jenkinsin return for shares in the Jenkins stores. Jenkins agreed to this proposal and restructured his company, renaming it "Jenkins Groceteria Ltd.".

At the eleventh hour, the vendors of Louie Petrie Co. demanded a guaranteed dividend on their Jenkins shares, which was never part of the original agreement. [5] Jenkins contacted his friend Patrick Burns who agreed to give the vendors a personal covenant and pay a dividend on the shares if Jenkins Groceteria Ltd. was unable to. In return for this favour from Burns, Jenkins agreed to sell only Burns meat products in his stores for the next ten years.

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Henry M. Jenkins, Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1930. (Glenbow Archives NA-265-12)

Jenkins Groceteria Ltd. paid dividends to their shareholders throughout the Depression and never had to ask Patrick Burns to exercise his personal covenant. For ten years Jenkins kept his word and sold only Burns meat products in his stores according to their verbal agreement.

By law, Jenkins had the sole right to the name "Groceteria". This was challenged by the T.Eaton Co. when it opened a grocery department calling it"Eatons Groceteria". Jenkins fought the action in civil court and won the case against Eatons. Eatons then appealed to the Supreme Court of Alberta.Again, Jenkins won. Eatons final move was to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Fearing bankruptcy, Jenkins didn't contest this move by his powerful opponent, allowing Eatons to continue to use "Groceteria" for its grocery departments.

In 1928 "Safeway", a large American grocery chain, moved to Calgary. Their representatives approached Jenkins with an offer to buy his stores. Jenkins refused to sell, and according to his son Ron, said to his wife "they'll have to catch me first". [6] He realized in order to survive, he would have to expand. He phased out his mail order business, and in quick succession opened stores in Hanna, Banff, Olds, Lacombe, Didsbury, High River, and Nanton. By 1933, he had added additional stores in Calgary as well as in the rural towns of Vulcan, Claresholm and Nanton.

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Billboard by Hook Signs Ltd. advertising Jenkins' Groceteria, Calgary, Alberta, ca. 1941-1950. Telephone orders were discontinued in 1952 when the grocery chain changed to "cash and carry". (Glenbow Archives PD-191-2-16)

Throughout this period of expansion, Jenkins was supported by his brother Robert who became a junior partner and assistant manager of Jenkins Ltd. until Robert's death in 1939.

From his modest beginning in 1909, Henry Jenkins established himself as an extremely savvy businessman.In 1911 the "Merchants and Manufacturers of Record" wrote about Jenkins and Co.: "the business was established three years ago, and carries a complete line of staples and fancy groceries", "The business is of a retail character covering the city and vicinity requiring eight employees and two delivery wagons to handle the large local trade which it enjoys." Mr. Jenkins is a "thoroughly enterprising citizen". [7] Henry Jenkins died in March 1945 at the age of sixty four. In thirty-six years, he acquired candy, fruit and bakery businesses, a large wholesale company and thirty-eight grocery stores throughout Calgary and Alberta. He successfully guided his enterprises with determination and hard work, and introduced to Canadians a new way of grocery shopping that is still in use today.

Footnotes

[1]
Beryl Clark, "Sack of Potatoes was Signpost to Success," Calgary Herald, Glenbow Archives, Jenkins Groceteria Ltd. fonds (M-6494-39-42)
[2]
Elsie C. Morrison and P.N.R.Morrison, Calgary 1875 - 1950: The Story of Calgary - 75th Anniversary, Calgary Publishing Company, 1950, pp 98 - 100.
[3]
Ibid.
[4]
Henry Klassen, "A Business History of Alberta" in City Makers: After the Frontier, ed. by Max Foran and Sheilagh Jameson, Historical Society of Alberta, Chinook Country Chapter, 1987, pp 315 - 317.
[5]
Ronald Jenkins interview by Charles Ursenbach, September 1975, Glenbow Archives, Charles Ursenbach fonds (M-7203-71)
[6]
Ibid.
[7]
Calgary, Sunny Alberta: The Industrial Prodigy of the Great West, Calgary: Jennings Publishing, 1911. (Glenbow Library)

References

Cormier, Ray et al Inglewood and Ramsay: Cradle of Calgary, 1975 Calgary Public Library Local History Collection

Henderson's Directory: Calgary 1920, 1925, 1933, 1934

Inglewood and Ramsay News, 1951. (Calgary Public Library)

Peach, Jack: Thanks for the Memories, Calgary, 1994

"The Gold'n Rule", Souvenir issue, 1951. Glenbow Archives, Jenkins Groceteria Ltd. fonds (M-6494-36)

About the author

After growing up in Calgary, I left the city in 1957. When I returned to Calgary in 1984, I discovered the city of my youth had grown up while I was away. I received my Diploma in Library Technology from Red River College in Winnipeg and worked in libraries from stints in junior high schools to government and eventually to corporate libraries. I started volunteering in the Library and Archives of the Glenbow Museum many years ago, dealing mainly with their extensive collection of newspaper clippings. One very interesting project was classifying the old Albertan clippings for the newspaper files. I have been an active member of the Historical Society of Alberta for the past ten years. I heard about the Stories from the Archives project while volunteering in the Glenbow Library. The Jenkins Groceteria story was one of the suggested topics for research. Jenkins Groceteria no longer existed when I returned to Calgary and I was interested in finding out what happened to this company that once was such a large part of the Calgary scene.

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