1834 In spring 1834, William Samuel Henderson, a young Irish merchant, arrives in Quebec City with a shipment of caps and hats. The merchandise sells out quickly and Henderson, in 1837, sets up shop in the city. First known as William Ashton & Co., Henderson renames the shop after himself.
1860 Henderson eventually sells the business to his brother. By the 1860s, the Buade Street store in Upper Town has become a well-known local landmark. Partners in the business have come and gone, and the store is now known as Renfrew & Marcou. The retailer shows some flair for merchandising, hanging furs in its store windows to attract the attention of passersby. John Holt, in 1867, buys out Henderson’s remaining interest.
1883 As ownership changes, so, too, does the name. By the time the Fathers of Confederation sign on the dotted line in 1867, the business has become G.R. Renfrew & Co. In 1883, admirers of Sir John A. Macdonald decide he deserves a more stylish coat — one fit for the country’s first prime minister. They purchase it from G.R. Renfrew in Quebec City. Macdonald wears the new overcoat when he has his portrait taken at an Ottawa photographer’s studio.
1886 Queen Victoria inspects the company’s display at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London and purchases a fur muff and several other items. So impressed is Victoria that she issues a Royal Warrant appointing G.R. Renfrew & Co. as Furriers in Ordinary to Her Majesty. This would mark the beginning of a succession of royal endorsements issued by members of the British royal family that would include Queen Alexandra, King George V and the Prince of Wales, who would later abdicate the throne and become the Duke of Windsor. RELATED STORY: Holt Renfrew's History Book >>
1890 The company begins issuing illustrated mail-order catalogues of its merchandise with instructions for consumers on how to properly measure themselves to ensure a well-fitting garment.
1897 Now located in Toronto as well as Quebec City, the company joins the British Empire in celebrating the Diamond Jubilee marking Queen Victoria’s 60th anniversary on the throne. The retailer displays the flag commemorating the event, and on the reverse of the flag is stamped “G.R. Renfrew Toronto,” still legible today. George Richard Renfrew dies that year. His son, Allen E. Renfrew, becomes a junior partner.
1909 By the turn of the century, the company has become Holt, Renfrew & Co. In 1909, a joint stock structure is adopted and it becomes a “limited” company.
1919 Allen E. Renfrew is named president. Upon his death, Renfrew would be succeeded by Senator Lome Webster.
1910 Holt Renfrew establishes its first store in Montreal on St. Catherine Street. In Winnipeg, that same year, it sets up shop near Canada’s “coldest street corner,” Portage and Main. And it relocates its Toronto store to a larger site at the corner of Yonge and Adelaide streets.
1915 John H. Holt dies in Quebec City.
1925 The Holt Renfrew catalogue, a mainstay of the fashionably dressed woman, touts the “thoroughly new styles” of the flapper era and “unusually stylish models” of its latest lines.
1930s Holt remains headquartered at Quebec City until the late Thirties, when the head office is moved to Montreal. In the meantime, the Quebec City store on Buade Street in Upper Town continues to attract lots of attention — with a little help from the Holt Renfrew dog team.
1937 Holt Renfrew celebrates 100 years with the opening of a store at Sherway Gardens in downtown Montreal. The streamlined Art Deco building designed by architects Ross and Macdonald is meant to convey luxury and good taste.
1942 Beginning in 1942, Holt Renfrew opens stores in Ottawa, Hamilton (1945), Edmonton (1950) and Calgary and London (1953). Units in Hamilton and London subsequently close, but Holt Renfrew’s expansion across Canada continues for the next two decades.
1947 Christian Dior’s feminine “New Look” is all the rage, and Holt Renfrew signs a contract to sell Dior couture in Canada. The same year, Princess Elizabeth marries Prince Philip in Westminster Abbey. Canada’s official wedding gift is a fur coat, designed by Holt Renfrew. Alvin J. Walker, Holt’s president, flies to London to carry samples and take measurements for the future monarch.
1950 In the postwar years, Walker heads the retailer’s couture buying team, taking regular trips to the leading fashion houses in Paris, New York, London, Rome, Brussels, Madrid, Florence and Milan in search of the latest in fashion. After Walker retires, his son-in-law, Leonard Shavick, becomes president.
1955 Holt Renfrew becomes the exclusive retailer of Dior in Canada, hosting the designer, who shows his latest styles at the new Bloor Street store in Toronto with its facade of blue glass and metal. The designer, who flies models from Paris and New York to Toronto for the show, says, “Canadians should not be envious of any other country when it comes to fashion,” according to the Globe and Mail, Oct. 28, 1955.
1960 Miss Renfrew, a clothing line for the young, working woman on a budget who nonetheless wants to dress fashionably, is introduced. The ready-to-wear line is featured in Miss Renfrew departments in all of the retailer’s stores. Holt Renfrew is bought in 1965 by New York-based CIT Financial and resold in 1972 to West Coast retail chain Carter Hawley Hale.
1970 Holt provides a runway for such up-and-coming designers as Marc Bohan, Christian Dior’s creative assistant. Bohan in 1970 is Holt Renfrew’s guest of honor as the retailer celebrates its two-decades-long association with the House of Dior.
1975 Holt Renfrew sets up shop in Vancouver with a store on Granville Street at the Pacific Centre. The opening is kicked off with an ad campaign, “H.R. in Vancouver.”
1978 Sophia Loren takes some time out from making the movie “Angela” to do some shopping at Holt in Montreal. Along with her is Christian Dior designer Frédéric Castet, while Holt Renfrew president Leonard Shavick plays host.
1979 Holt Renfrew unveils its new flagship at 50 Bloor Street West in Toronto. With almost 100,000 square feet, it becomes a retail landmark along Canada’s premier fashion strip.
1986 W. Galen Weston and family acquire Holt Renfrew. Weston and his wife, Hilary, hire retail designer Naomi Leff to oversee a wave of renovations and store openings. New designers and exclusive brands are introduced. Giorgio Armani and Yves Saint Laurent unveil boutiques at the Toronto flagship and Montreal branch.
1992 In January, Holt names three executives to high posts. Hilary Weston becomes deputy chairman, Michael J.B. Brickell, vice chairman and ceo, and Joel Rath, president and chief operating officer.
1997 The retailer says it will boost selling space by 25 percent with the downtown Toronto, Montreal and Calgary stores all undergoing expansions, and a major makeover for the Holt at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto. Chanel opens a boutique in Montreal, and Hermès unveils an in-store shop in Vancouver.
1999 Andrew R. Jennings is tapped as president and managing director, with the aim of making Holt “one of the world’s great fashion and lifestyle stores.”
2002 Holt’s “Viva Italia” promotion, a 40-day festival of fashion, design and performing arts from the Mediterranean peninsula, is held at the Bloor Street flagship, attracting Sophia Loren, Roberto Cavalli and Laudomia Pucci — not to mention a fleet of Vespas.
2003 In February, the retailer hires Club Monaco founder Joseph Mimran to head its private-label business. In March, Holt challenges 20 designers, including Marc Jacobs, Rebecca Taylor, Diane von Furstenberg and Barbara Bui, to custom design a jacket that epitomizes the spirit of contemporary fashion.