The story of The Northern, and a northern family
The Northern holds a place in the foundation of the Northern region of British Columbia. Not only is the store a recognized cornerstone of Prince George, it's a landmark. Opened in 1919, only four years after the City of Prince George was incorporated, Alex Moffat and partner Frank Whitmore bought out the Northern Lumber Company and renamed it the now famous "The Northern".
During the 1920s, most of Alex and Frank's customers were loggers, prospectors, and homesteaders arrivingto settle the region. With such a diverse clientele, Alex and Frank
established an inventory of building, farming, and in-home supplies which is still honoured to this day. When the store first opened, there was so much growth in the region that a second location was opened up in the Wells area in the mid-20s.
A varied and large inventory helped The Northern survive the Great Depression in the 30s, along with the help of a small gold rush in the Cariboo during that time. Business didn't exactly boom during this economic dry spell, but the store developed a reputation for customer service above and beyond what other stores could offer. From cashing pay cheques to extending credit, The
Northern etched out a unique position in the economic development of the region, and the Province.
Despite a fire in the main store on Boxing Day 1933, The Northern managed to grow and evolve when other businesses faltered. In fact, growth was strong enough to require a move to a new location at Third Avenue and George Street (1934), then another to Third Avenue and Quebec Street two years later.
The 40s were also a challenge. The Second World War had a mixed effect on The Northern. Troops and work crews stationed in Prince George kept the store hopping, but both locations felt the strain of heavy taxes imposed by the Government's War Effort. When the war finally ended, Alex and Frank sold the Wells location and began construction on a new building adjacent to the store's operational location. Moving to the corner of Third Avenue and Brunswick Street would turn out to be a huge success: The Northern occupies 1386 Third Avenue to this day.
By 1946, Frank Whitmore had sold his share of the business to Alex Moffat, who arranged for his son Harold and the company's Secretary-Treasurer, Thompson Ogg, to take on a partnership role. As the years passed, The Northern became more and more a family business. By 1949, Alex's sons (Donn, Gilbert [Corky], Earl, John and Keith) were partners along with another employee named Hilliard Clare. Eventually, The Northern included all the Moffat children; in 1951, Betty, Alice and Joyce (Alex's daughters) became equal partners. Just a short four years later, Alex
chose to retire, leaving The Northern in the capable hands of his children.
The Northern continued to expand under the direction of the next generation of Moffats. In 1956, the top-floor apartments were vacated and renovated to accommodate the evolving and growing
business. A customer parking lot was paved in 1957, the first paved lot in Prince George. When Alex passed away in 1963, his son Harold became company president.
Under Harold's direction, The Northern expanded further with the purchase of the neighbouring Five & Dime store in 1965. And growth continued. It was during the 70s that Harold opened AMCO, a subsidiary wholesale company, a few blocks away on Queensway Avenue. To this day, both AMCO and the Northern Appliance Centre are located there.
Harold's political ambitions ultimately placed him in the office of Mayor of Prince George from 1970
to 1979, so his brothers took over much of business at The Northern and the sister companies. Harold spent his mornings at the store, his afternoons at City Hall, and his evenings raising his beloved Standardbred horses.
A model of family business, The Northern has been passed on from one generation of Moffats to the next. When Harold eventually retired, that tradition was upheld. The business continued to thrive under the leadership of his son, Ted, who managed the store until the age of 73.
Today, The Northern continues along its successful path under the direction of a fourth generation of Moffats. The Northern is now managed by Ted’s daughter, Kelly, while his son Dan manages the Outdoors Department. Additional members of the Moffat clan have established careers within the family business, upholding the friendly values set forward by the older generation. Amongst many longtime staff, one notable employee and former partner is Hilliard Clare, who started at The Northern in 1945. Mr. Clare holds the position of Secretary-Treasurer, and provides a prominent and active role in operations.