When Walmart set its sights on the Canadian market

Walmart had gone shopping for some Canadian stores so that it could draw shoppers to those same Canadian stores.

In January 1994, U.S. retailer announced deal to buy 120 Canadian Woolco stores

From 1994: Walmart is coming to Canada

30 years ago
Duration 2:23
Featured VideoCBC's Prime Time News covers the news that Walmart will be coming to Canada.

Walmart had gone on a shopping spree so that it could, in turn, draw in shoppers.

On Jan. 14, 1994, news broke that the U.S. retailer had bought 120 Canadian Woolco stores, which it would convert to Walmart stores.

And while it's hard to imagine now, CBC had to tell its viewers what Walmart was, as there weren't yet any locations on this side of the border.

"Walmart is a powerful chain that sells everything from soup to shoes," Prime Time News anchor Pamela Wallin told viewers that night.

"It offers consumers lower prices and often drives competitors right out of business."

A rising star?

Walmart's purchase of 120 Woolco stores in Canada meant the U.S. retailing giant had a path into the market on this side of the border. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

Reporter Kas Roussy provided Prime Time viewers with some background on the retailing giant that would be headed north in the months ahead.

(At the time, the store's name was usually spelled Wal-Mart, but CBC has written it as Walmart since 2014.) 

"Walmart's star has risen rapidly among American consumers, making it the number-one retailer in the world," Roussy explained.

Retail analyst Wendy Evans predicted Canadian consumers would welcome the chance to shop at Walmart.

"The impact for consumers is going to be excellent," said Evans.

A more competitive marketplace

Walmart acquired 120 Canadian Woolco stores in a deal announced on Jan. 14, 1994. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

But the markets made clear that day that investors had a less optimistic outlook for the Canadian retailers that would soon be competing with Walmart.

"Shares in Hudson's Bay and Zellers fell," said Roussy.

Roussy said that in the United States, many small and independent shops had been forced out of business, as a result of having to compete with Walmart.

While the Walmart deal was subject to approval from regulators, Roussy said that if it did, the retailer's presence in Canada "will change shopping forever."

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