Place: The Winnipeg Hotel
Address: 214 Main Street
Constructed: 1873, 1881, 1895, 1901
Architects: Unknown, Walter Chesterton, Samuel Hooper
Address: 214 Main Street
Constructed: 1873, 1881, 1895, 1901
Architects: Unknown, Walter Chesterton, Samuel Hooper
HBC Reserve (MHS)
On November 19, 1869 the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) signed a Deed of Surrender with the Dominion Government in which they agreed to turned over most of their vast land holdings in exchange for £300,000. The HBC, however, was not about to fade away.
Under the terms of the Deed, they were allowed to retain certain pieces of land, such as their forts and land immediately surrounding them. The HBC kept Upper Fort Garry and a large reserve of land that roughly comprised of the Assiniboine River in the south to Portage Avenue in the north, and from what is now Main Street west to Osborne Street and beyond.
The HBC laid out an alternative downtown, with avenues such as Broadway and York crossed with narrower streets that they would eventually sell as pricey residential and commercial lots.
Top: Main Street looking south, 1873 (Virtual Heritage Winnipeg)One of the earliest streets they subdivided was the stretch of road we now call Main Street south, though their name for it was Garry Street.
One of these lots was purchased by James S. Wheeler, proprietor of the California Hotel. In the summer of 1873 he constructed the Garry Saloon, receiving his liquor permit on November 1st - one week before the city was incorporated.
An early licence renewal, April 25, 1876
In late 1875 the building was expanded “with a prospective view of obtaining a hotel license” which was granted at the Winnipeg city council meeting of November 29th. The name of the business was changed to Garry House / Garry Hotel and James Kehler was hired as its manager.
In March 1877 the city's licence inspector described the hotel this way:
”I find this hotel has seven bedrooms, with a bedstead and bedding and washstand in each room; one dining room, one kitchen, one bar-room, all properly furnished; no sitting room, it having been converted into a workshop since the licence was granted to James S. Wheeler.”
Winnipeg Daily Sun, October 4, 1881
Montgomery was born in Lanark, Ontario in 1851 and involved in the family's carriage building business. In 1876 he came to Winnipeg with some of his brothers to open a factory and they also invested in hotels and real estate.
Bottom: Panorama of South Main Street, 1881 (Peel's)
According to city’s Historic Buildings Committee report and any newspaper mentions that I can find, the original saloon was not demolished, just added to. That would meant that the "bones" of the main floor of the building go back to that original 1873 structure, making it the oldest commercial building left in the city.
The Winnipeg Hotel's main floor contained the offices, a kitchen, bar and dining room that held about 50 people. The second floor held three parlours at the front with bedrooms at the back. The third floor was all bedrooms, making for 54 in total.
July 14, 1893, Winnipeg Tribune
In 1893 Thomas' brother, Oswald, joined him as a business partner. With the new injection of capital, the two began planning additional renovations and expansions.
January 12, 1902, Winnipeg Tribune
In 1895 architect Walter Chesterton was hired to carry carry out a $20,000 upgrade that included a new facade and the addition of a stone foundation. His work converted what had been a utilitarian, saloon-hotel into a more cosmopolitan looking structure that better fit the city that had grown up around it.
The new brick facade included sandstone trim, columns and an oval opening above the front doorway with a canary balcony. Other features included a decorative iron cornice and stained glass detail.
In 1901, a further four-storey addition was added to the rear of the building, which brought its capacity from 54 rooms to 80. The architect of that addition, Samuel Hooper, went on to become Manitoba's first provincial architect, with a long list of iconic buildings to his credit.
January 2, 1900, Winnipeg Tribune
The Winnipeg Hotel served as comfortable, middle class hotel, initially away from the hustle and bustle of the main commercial district of the city.
The 1895 Henderson Directory shows that its longer term residents had occupations like steam fitters, upholsterers, construction workers and cab drivers. Its hotel guests were a steady stream of travelling salesmen, real estate agents and people visiting town from elsewhere in Manitoba to conduct business or attend appointments.
The Winnipeg Hotel also had a great sporting history. Through the 1890s it was the meeting space for the city's cricket league and various lacrosse teams
On September 28, 1892 it was the site of the reorganization meeting of the 90th Battalion rugby football club into the Osborne Football Club which, in turn was the founding member of the Manitoba Rugby Football Union, a forerunner to the CFL.
In 1903 the Montgomery brothers went on an extended trip to New York City to inspect its hotels. They came back with a plan to further expand the Winnipeg onto the neighbouring site, which contained the Dominion Hotel, which they had bought two years earlier.
The expansion was expected to cost $60,000 to $80,000 and would have doubled the size of the hotel. it included the addition of cloak rooms, a billiards room and expanded restaurant. Elevators would take guests to the upper floors which would contain 70 or 80 new rooms.
The Montgomery's plan did not materialize, however. In 1904 they sold the Winnipeg for $125,000 and purchased the much larger Queen's Hotel at Main Street and Notre Dame Avenue.
The Winnipeg Hotel then went through a quick succession of owners.
The first was Maurice Nokes. He had run Maurice’s restaurant at Market Avenue and Main Street for a number of years and was the one-time owner of the Imperial Hotel.
In 1906 it was Joseph Bernhardt, a local businessman who was amassing a chain of local hotels. In the space of a year or two he purchased the Imperial, Windsor and Winnipeg Hotels, then started construction on what would become the Bell Hotel. Bernhardt overextended his finances and had to sell off his properties, including the half-built Bell.
In November 1908 Matt Matthews and Douglas Mills, hoteliers from Brandon, became the new owners. There was some ownership stability in the 19-teens under Peter Moyer, until he sold up in 1921.
J. M. Kingston
It appears that the next long term owners of the Winnipeg Hotel, the Kingstons, did not come until 1931.Joseph M. Kingston, wife Winnifred and children James and Sheilagh, came to the city in 1930 after owning hotels in Morden and Souris. In 1931 they purchased the Winnipeg.
Sadly, Joseph's time in Winnipeg was not a very happy one.
In 1932 his wife was injured in a car accident. She convalesced at their home on Mayfair Avenue for two years before dying. He remarried in the early 1940s.
Both of his children served in World War II. His son was a bombardier who contracted pleurisy while overseas in 1943 and was sent home for a long recuperation at Deer Lodge Hospital. He returned to work, a job, in Houston, Texas, but returned and died of compilations in 1947.
August 28, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune
Three months prior to his son's death, Joseph was the victim of one of the city's largest holdups.
He withdrew $25,000 from the Royal Bank at Carlton and Portage to cash payroll cheques for the CNR employees across the street who frequented his hotel on paydays. When he returned to his car, three or four men were waiting for him. He struggled, was knocked unconscious and the money was stolen.
In 1948 sold the Winnipeg Hotel and returned to Morden where he bought a hotel, and hopefully had a more peaceful life.
Leo and Oliver Menard of Fisher Branch then ran the hotel until at least the mid 1950s.
July 8, 1960, Winnipeg Free Press
In 1960 the hotel was purchased by William "Bill" Bauming, a farmer, grain buyer and elevator operator from Roblin, Manitoba. He came to Winnipeg with his family, wife Olga and two sons, around 1950.
Bauming dabbled in real estate and the hotel industry before purchasing the Winnipeg Hotel. His first act was to modernize the establishment.
Post World War II, the fortunes of downtown and its single room occupancy (SRO) hotels began to decline as people began to frequent the new "motor hotels" and high rise hotels that sprang up around the city and its suburbs. Gone were formal dining rooms in favour of expanded beverage rooms, the number of daily rental rooms shrank and live bands were offered.
The Winnipeg Hotel's expanded beverage room, christened the Redboine Room, opened in June 1960.
An early 2000s for sale ad indicates other changes to the building that were made during Bauming's time:
"It is complete with 44 rental rooms each with a sink and 8 of which have baths, 9 public washrooms, a small restaurant which is leased and a beverage room. The building is fully sprinklered, has aluminum-encased windows and is heated by a steam boiler which was installed in approximately 1982. Parking at the rear accommodates 15 vehicles."
February 22, 1985, Winnipeg Free Press
The clientele of the SROs also changed. This can be seen at the Winnipeg Hotel in the pages of the Winnipeg Free Press. Through the late 1950s and 60s, retirees, many of them former railway employees, died off and were replaced by a younger clientele, a number of whom got in trouble with the law.
The Winnipeg Hotel's most surprising brush with crime is likely the 1985 arrest of the owners and nine women on charges of allegedly "keeping a common bawdy house." Police said it stemmed from an investigation in August and September 1984, when the women were observed regularly using the rooms for their customers, (source: Winnipeg Free Press February 22, 1985, page 1.)
One of the women challenged the law in court. Her lawyer, Mary Jane Bennett, argued that if prostitution is legal, then charging someone for practicing it was unconstitutional, (source: Winnipeg Free Press January 13, 1987, page 3.) The court upheld the law and the case made its way to the Manitoba Court of Appeal and, finally, the Supreme Court of Canada. In May 1990 it ruled that the country's laws around solicitation and prostitution were legal and the charges could stand, (source: Winnipeg Free Press June 1, 1990.)
What eventually happened to the eleven people originally charged in 1987 does not appear to have received follow-up new coverage.
Circa 1991, (Warkentin Collection, York University)
Another interesting side note is that it appears the Dominion Hotel, which the Montgomery Brothers purchased in 1902 for an expansion that never happened, remained part of the property. That made the Baumings the landlords, though not the operators, of the Blue Note Cafe which called it home from 1983 to 1993.
Bill Bauming died in 2002 and his son, Mervin, continued to own the Winnipeg Hotel, along with the former Dominion Hotel site and the Macdonald Block, until they were sold to Wayne Towns around 2009. If Bauming felt any sentimentality towards the place his family owned for nearly half a century, he didn't let on at a recent hearing about its fate, (see above.)
Towns was the former owner the Royal Albert Hotel and the Collective Cabaret / Die Maschine on Osborne Street and would later go on to purchase the Windsor Hotel in 2010, possibly saving it from closure.
If anyone thought that his interest might mean a revival of the Redboine Room, that was not the case. Towns told the Winnipeg Free Press in 2012 that he had an offer to purchase the three sites but declined to sell, saying that the thought that the value of the land would continue to increase.
In 2015, the Winnipeg Hotel and Macdonald Block, which both had heritage status under the old Heritage Buildings Bylaw, were being transferred to the new List of Historical Resources. That brought out Towns as well as George Landes, owner of the neighbouring Fortune Block, also being transferred, to oppose the move.
They claimed that there was a developer interested in building a hotel on the site but he would not proceed if the heritage listing was kept. On January 12, 2016, the city's Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development upheld the heritage status of the three buildings. It still has to be approved by Winnipeg city council.
214 Main Street Historic Buildings Committee Report
My photo album of the Winnipeg Hotel
Agenda - January 12, 2016 Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development