Updated: Sep 26
One of the most venerable and unique made-in-BC business names ceased to exist on March 22, 2018 after 103 years. The last Overwaitea Foods stores in BC — in Nakusp and Golden — switched over to the Save-On-Foods banner (also owned by Overwaitea Food Group).
Robert Campbell Kidd (1874-1932) founded the chain in cramped quarters in New Westminster in March 1915, calling his store Overwaitea in recognition of his practice of selling 18 ounces of tea for the price of a pound — “over-weight tea.”
Interestingly, the earliest reference I can find to “overwaitea” is actually in an ad in the Vancouver Daily World of Jan. 8, 1915 for the S.T. Wallace store at 44 West Hastings, also offering 18 ounces to the pound (pictured below). Wallace also advertised overweight coffee, but not overwait coffee.
At first I thought this showed the term and concept both predated Kidd and that he just capitalized on them. But Ron Shearer looked up the earliest ad for the store for me in the New Westminster British Columbian, seen below:
I was surprised to see Kidd had already trademarked the logo. A check of the Canadian Intellectual Property database reveals something else: he filed his application on Dec. 26, 1911 and it was approved on Jan. 23, 1912 — more than three years before he opened his store.
Might Kidd have already been selling teas by that name, stocked in S.T. Wallace’s store? I can’t find Kidd in the 1911 civic directory, but in 1912 he was listed as a travelling salesman, residing at 2164 Union in Vancouver (the same address listed on his trademark application). His employer was not given. That same year, he moved to 835 Broadway West. In 1913, he was listed as an agent, but again his employer was not named. In 1914, he was a travelling salesman for J&J Taylor, a manufacturer of safes. In 1915, he was first listed as a grocer.
In March 1918, Kidd sued Ralph and Margaret Calladine, proprietors of Calladine’s grocery store, alleging trademark infringement. Since at least the previous December they had been advertising “extra wait tea.” Kidd alleged the phrase was too similar to his. The Calladines stopped using it in their ads when the suit was filed. I can find no follow-ups, so I assume the matter was settled out of court.
A second Overwaitea store opened in Nanaimo in 1918 and a third and fourth in Penticton and Kelowna in 1922. By 1924, there were 11 Overwaiteas in BC. As of 1945, there were 36, by 1955 there were 47, and by 1968 there were 50.
In the latter year Jim Pattison bought the chain from Kidd’s children for about $8 million. At the time, the company owned 13 stores and leased 37. It also employed 800 people. But it didn’t have any stores in Vancouver, Victoria, or its birthplace of New Westminster.
The chain was down to 44 locations by 1975, although many of the remaining stores were greatly expanded. As of 2007 only 15 were left and at the start of 2018 there were still nine, all in the West Kootenay/Boundary and northern BC. The rest had already been converted to Save-On-Foods, a name introduced in 1982. (The company also owns several other brands, including PriceSmart Foods, Cooper’s Foods, and Urban Fare.)
At one time there were Overwaiteas in Nelson, Nakusp, New Denver, Salmo, Kaslo, Trail, and Grand Forks, plus Golden, Fernie, Sparwood, Revelstoke, Cranbrook, Kimberley, and Creston. The latter two became Save-On-Foods earlier this year.
Brian Piwek, president of Overwaitea Food Group from 1991-97, spent part of his childhood in Slocan and apprenticed as an assistant manager in Creston and Cranbrook. Darrell Jones, president since 2012, got his start bagging groceries in Cranbrook at age 16.
In time for the chain’s centennial, the company published The Overwaitea Story, which has lots of neat photos and ephemera, including two interior shots of the Creston location in the 1940s, but no specific information about the stores in our area. You can read the whole thing here: https://issuu.com/electraportfolio/docs/the_overwaitea_story
Here’s a rundown of the West Kootenay/Boundary stores and as many photos I could find showing the iconic teapot sign — which are being retained at some former Overwaitea locations, including Nakusp and Grand Forks. Images not otherwise credited are from my collection.
This store opened at 517 Baker St. in Nelson in 1925 with George Gatter as manager. It soon moved to a new building at 419 Baker (later renumbered 471 Baker), shown below. The Nelson Daily News of July 7, 1925 reported that this site was formerly the T. Crannage barber shop and Commerce cigar store. John Burns and Son had both the contract to tear down those building and to construct the new one, a one-storey concrete building with a “full glass front.”
In 1955, the company bought the Superior Motors garage at the northeast corner of Vernon and Ward streets and announced its intention to build a modern supermarket — Nelson’s third, after Liberty Foods on Vernon Street (now home to Social Room Interiors, among other business) and Safeway, which was already planning to move from Baker Street to a new shopping centre in Fairview.
For those unaccustomed to such technology, the Nelson Daily News explained how a check-out till worked: “New to Nelson retailing will be special check-out fixtures. Customers deposit their purchases on a large turn table which, at the touch of an operator’s foot on a pedal switch, moves the good to weighing and wrapping position. For shoppers in a hurry, the system combines speed and efficiency.”
The new store at 503 Vernon St. burned on July 19, 1972, causing $125,000 in damage (the equivalent of $770,350 today). Six onlookers either volunteered or were conscripted to help fight the fire. The Nelson and District Credit Union subsequently built its new headquarters on the site.
Nelson was without an Overwaitea for the next eight years, but it became an anchor tenant in the new Chahko Mika Mall in 1980. In September 2000, the company announced the store would close as of Jan. 15, 2001 along with others in Prince Rupert, Sparwood, Saanich, and two in Nanaimo. Overwaitea said the stores were operating in the red. The United Food and Commercial Workers union, however, claimed it was in response to failed contract negotiations.
After several weeks of further talks, the company granted the stores a reprieve after employees voted to accept a provincial mediator’s recommendations. Following a $4 million renovation, the Nelson store became Save-On-Foods in October 2001. I’m not sure what the original location at 471 Baker was used for immediately after Overwaitea moved out, but it eventually became home to a series of printers: Leno-Whimster, McLaughlins, and currently Hall Printing, as well as the Potorium, a cannabis dispensary.
One other bit of trivia: according to the Nelson and District Credit Union website, Nelson’s first ATM was installed in the 1980s, not at a bank or credit union, but outside Overwaitea.
Above: An ad from the Nelson Daily News’ Historical Pictorial edition of 1982. The store hours were then 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. It was closed on Sunday. Today Save-On-Foods is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.
Overwaitea came to town in 1929, setting up shop on Slocan Ave. (today’s 4th St.) across from the Leland Hotel, in a building that was formerly Eugene Leveque’s pool hall and barber shop (pictured below).
The company bought the building, which was unusual, Milton Parent notes in Bugles on Broadway, p. 106, because they preferred to rent.
“[R.C.] Kidd’s philosophy was that the employees should be shareholders and staff should be kept small in order to keep them busy at all times, thereby not giving them time to think about forming a union,” Parent wrote. “Reyden and Maxwell were hired to refurbish the interior while an awning, signs, cases and a large stock was sent in from Vancouver.”
Ernie Oxenham was the first manager and recalled the store’s beginnings in the Arrow Lakes News of Oct. 10, 1979:
The company shipped in a carload of flour and feed and one of groceries. Most of our supplies came in large quantities and we weighed them out. Our creamery butter came from Vernon in 56 pound solid blocks and we cut it with a wire, making the exact 16 ounce weight on our scales. In the summer it was so soft we had to put it in an ice box overnight, and in the winter we had to keep it near the stove for a few hours to soften it enough to cut.
Our tea came in big chests and our coffee beans in 100 pound sacks. We ground the coffee as we sold it. We had an electric grinder, but we had to use a hand grinder when the power was off. George Horsely served us with his power plant but in the winter the ice often blocked the water flow which powered the plant.
The store was renovated for the company’s 25th anniversary in 1940. (I don’t know if there are Overwaitea collectors, but a silver tea tray marking that anniversary recently appeared on eBay. The only other memorabilia for sale consists of ball caps and toy trucks from the 1980s onward. An original teapot sign must be worth something, though.)
In Bugles on Broadway, Les Baird described the store as it was when he worked there in 1942.
There wasn’t much room in the front. Half the building was feed. Piled right up to the ceiling … The cheese came in big round wooden boxes. We had to tear the cloth off and then cut it with a wire … We actually traded [coffee] with [Ralph] Islip sometimes because he had Nabob. This way people could get both kinds at both stores. I had to slice bacon, especially for Mrs. Harrison who wanted it just so and cut with a knife.
Because of rationing, we made up bags of sugar into half, one, two, four, five, and ten pound bags. Coupons were used. But a lot of people would trade between themselves, like sugar for meat. We had no fresh meat.
Above: Manager Ernie Oxenham is seen the first Overwaitea location in Nakusp, which opened in 1929. The building stood until November 2019.
(Arrow Lakes Historical Society)
Oxenham eventually became frustrated with Overwaitea’s refusal to expand the store and threatened to start his own if they didn’t find a larger space. He made good on this in 1946 by purchasing a building opposite and a little north of Overwaitea (where CIBC is now). Overwaitea surrendered: they moved into Oxenham’s building and kept him on as manager. A meat market was added in 1949.
Above: Nov. 11 ceremony at cenotaph, ca. 1940s. This was the second Overwaitea location in Nakusp, across the street and up the block from the first. (Milton Parent fonds via Enid Shelling/Arrow Lakes Historical Society 2014.003.1481)
In May 1955, construction began to turn the store into a supermarket. The store moved to its current site at 510 Broadway in 1971 and was enlarged in the mid-1980s.
Above: Overwaitea Foods float, July 1st parade, Nakusp Recreation Park, 1981. (Denis Stanley/Arrow Lakes Historical Society 2014.018.1222)
Above: Overwaitea Foods is seen in its third Nakusp location in the early 1980s. The building would soon be expanded to encompass the parking lot seen at right. The parking lot moved across 6th Ave. SW. (Judy Adams/Arrow Lakes Historical Society 2015.012.237)
Above: Overwaitea as it looked in 2018, a few weeks before becoming Save-On-Foods.
When the changeover to Save-On-Foods happened, the Arrow Lakes Historical Society received the capital O from the sign and one of the three-dimensional teapot signs (pictured below). The Nakusp museum received the other teapot. They have been replaced on the store with two-dimensional signs that don’t look nearly as nice.
Overwaitea has probably been more important to Nakusp than any other town on this list, based on its longevity and the fact that it is the only supermarket in town. It was the fourth-oldest business in Nakusp after the Leland Hotel (1892), CIBC (1909), and Arrow Lakes News (1922).
The original Overwaitea location went through several incarnations after the store moved out: it was a laundry and dry cleaners from 1946 to 1980, then mostly vacant until 1993. It was the Chickadee Cafe and book store from 1993-96; a cafe and kitchen supply store from 1996-99; and Sandy’s New and Used until 2007.
At that point it appeared the building would be demolished to make way for a condo development. However, the worldwide economic downturn put those plans on hold, so the old Overwaitea — which BC Assessment dates to 1900, although this may be off a bit — stood for another decade. More recently it was the Happy Buddha Boutique.
But on Nov. 21, 2019 the building was finally, sadly demolished. Too bad. I think an Overwaitea museum would have looked good there.
Above: The old Overwaitea on 4th St. in Nakusp is seen in 2008.
Above: By 2018, the building hadn’t changed much.
Above: The now-empty lot where the building stood is seen in August 2020.
The Kaslo Overwaitea was first listed in the civic directory in 1931 with Joseph Addison as manager. Subsequent managers included J. Muir, E.A. Amos, and Neil L. Smith.
The store had at least two locations: in the 1940s it was at 347 Front Street in what’s now the Bluebelle Bistro (seen below). This building was originally the Club Saloon.
Mary Hetherington, who ran the Musicland Theatre in Kaslo and Starlight Drive-In on the North Shore with husband Tom, worked at Overwaitea just out of high school in the early 1940s.
By 1965, Overwaitea moved further up the street on the same side to where Buddy’s Front Street Pizza is now. It closed sometime after 1973.
Above: Front Street in Kaslo, looking west, 1965.
The original Overwaitea in Grand Forks opened around 1932, apparently at 337 Market Ave., and closed two years later. This building is presently Thistle Pot Gifts. (It’s also believed to be the oldest building on the street — BC Assessment gives its construction date as 1897.)
In 1950, Overwaitea opened a “modern groceteria” in the Davis Block, at the corner of what was then Bridge and Second streets and is now Market Avenue and Second. In 1955, it moved down a few doors to 254 Market Ave., the former site of City Grocery (seen below). Bill Strachan was manager. This location is now Select Office Products. Competition was immediately next door in the form of IGA and the Cash Groceteria. (Thanks to Dawsha Hunt for correcting me on this point — her parents owned the Cash Groceteria.)
In August 1957, the Grand Forks Gazette reported “Fast, successful action by volunteer firemen contained a serious fire at Overwaitea Ltd. and prevented it spreading to adjoining frame buildings.”
Above: Fire strikes Overwaitea in Grand Forks in August 1957. (Boundary Museum Society)
Street names in Grand Forks changed in 1963. The phone book that year listed Overwaitea at 396 SE 1st Ave., which is also Market Avenue (thanks to Sue Adrain at the Boundary Archives for straightening me out on this).
A new store was built in the spring of 1964 at 335 NE Central Ave. Unfortunately, the beautiful old Boundary hospital, built in 1913, was demolished to make way for the parking lot.
Above: The old Overwaitea in Grand Forks looks rather forlorn in 1981. (Boundary Museum Society)
In 1980, Overwaitea rolled out plans for a new supermarket nearby, two and a quarter times larger than its existing one. But it took until 1983 for the $2.5 million development to get underway. The old store, on the western edge of the property, was torn down after the new one opened in 1985. The current address is 441 Central. In 2012, it was rumored the store would be rebranded as Cooper’s Foods, but it didn’t happen. Instead, earlier this year it was converted into a Save-On-Foods.
Above: Overwaitea in Grand Forks with Observation Mountain behind it.
(Google Street View)
This store at 118 4th Street opened around 1948. R.F. Ungaro was listed as manager in the 1953 civic directory.
Above: Salmo as seen in the 1960s, with Overwaitea on the left and the Salmo Hotel and Hotel Maladon on the right. The former was home to the Vogue Cafe and the latter to the Holiday Cafe. (Ellis Anderson photo)
In Salmo Stories, p. 258, William S. Stringer writes:
Dad [William A. Stringer] operated the meat market in the same building as Overwaitea Foods (where Skyway Hardware is today) until 1972, when Overwaitea shut its doors and, with the closure of the Canex and Reeves MacDonald mines and the Louisiana Pacific sawmill, the economy of the Salmo area plummeted. The meat market then shared the building with Skyway Hardware (then owned and operated by Bill Taylor) until the spring of 1973, when Dad closed the meat market and started a new career with Cominco ... At 15 I worked for Overwaitea Foods as a box boy, stocking shelves, unloading freight trucks and carrying out groceries.
An obituary for Norman Strandberg, who died in 2008, notes he “started delivering groceries for Salmo Overwaitea on his bike at age 14 [ca. 1948]. He worked his way up to manager and managed stores in Kaslo, Golden, Parksville and French Creek.”
I hardly know anything about this store except its location, and then only thanks to a photograph: it was in the Clever block on 6th Street, built in 1903 by butcher Herman Clever to replace a building that burned on the same spot that year.
Judging from the civic directories and phone books I have handy, Overwaitea opened between 1950 and 1953 and closed between 1960 and 1962. In 1953, the manager was G. Browell.
This impressive building underwent restoration in 1983 and still stands as a private residence.
Like Grand Forks, Trail had two different Overwaiteas, and in fact the first one in West Kootenay. We know it was in business as of early 1924 thanks to a mention in the Nanaimo Daily News of Feb. 28, 1924. This item also revealed Cranbrook had a store by then, although I am not sure which came first. The Trail store was not listed in the 1923, 1924, or 1925 civic directories.
But according to the late Paul Trussell’s memoir, it “operated across from the Meakin Hotel,” which would put it at the southeast corner of Cedar and Spokane, where the Trail Mercantile was built in 1930. (It became Eaton’s in 1953; the building is still standing.) Trussell said Overwaitea’s manager was a Mr. Jordan, who left in 1924 to join the grocery department of the Trail Mercantile (I don’t see him listed in the civic directory either). The Trail Overwaitea closed by 1928.
I didn’t know the location of the later Overwaitea in Trail either until the late Randy Glover told me. It was first listed in the phone book in 1963 at 1236 Bay Ave. (Currently the site of Mills Office Productivity, and formerly Hall’s Basics.) Gary K. Heppel was the manager at the time. It closed in 1972, around the same time as the Salmo store.
Doug Fox provided some more information about the building. His father rented one of the offices upstairs for his Fox Dental Lab from 1963 or 1964 until the mid-1960s.
The building was owned by Annie D’Aquino and Charlie Catalano. Mrs. D’Aquino was a widow who lived in one of the second floor suites and was really quite a sweetheart. As a teenager, I was the lab gofer, and occasionally got sent downstairs to buy coffee for the coffee maker.
Hall’s Printing, later Hall’s Basics (my brother-in-law, Terry Campeau and his business partner, Mel Simister), bought the building in ’78 and moved their print shop into the basement. At that time, the Ferraro family was operating a bakery on the main floor, but they moved out when the building changed hands. Hall’s rented the main floor to Fields department store. After Fields, the store housed a sporting goods store, then a video outlet. They moved the Hall’s Basics retail store into the main floor in 1999.
I have not been able to find a picture of Overwaitea in Trail in either incarnation.
— With thanks to Doug Fox, Sue Adrain, and Kyle Kusch
Updated on May 4, 2018 with new information about Robert Kidd’s trademarking of Overwaitea; on Nov. 14, 2018 with details about the trademark infringement suit he filed; on Dec. 9, 2018 with details about the Trail store; on Feb. 19, 2019 with details of the location of the first Grand Forks store; on Aug. 4, 2020 with the sad demolition of the first Nakusp store; on Feb. 5, 2021 with the location of the first Trail store; and on April 18, 2022 with more about the first Nelson store.