Saturday, February 5, 2011

450 Portage Avenue: The Paddlewheel Restaurant

Paddlewheel Restaurant
Paddlewheel Restaurant
Place: The Paddlewheel Restaurant
Location: 450 Portage Avenue, The Bay Downtown
Opened: October 29, 1954
Closed: January 24, 2013


Winnipeg Free Press, October 28, 1954

In 1954, the Bay's downtown flagship store, which
opened in 1926, began a two-year "pillar to post" refurbishment and building campaign.

Escalators replaced one of the two banks of elevators. To the south of the building, a new loading bay / warehouse space and multi-level parkade were added. This freed up space within the store that was put to new use, including a Rendez Vous lounge, a new women's clothing boutique and larger powder rooms.

The entire sixth floor, formerly storage, was transformed into retail space mainly for furniture and a new, expansive, family-friendly restaurant initially called the 
"Paddle Wheel Buffet", which opened on October 29, 1954.

This brought the number of in-house restaurants to three, the others being the café counter style Jolly Canuck in the basement) and the upscale Georgian Room on the fourth floor.

 November 16, 1954, Winnipeg Free Press

The restaurant's decor was nostalgia, bringing patrons back to the banks of the Red River to board one of the paddle wheel steamships that delivered people and supplies to the Red River colony prior to the arrival of the railway. It included faux storefronts, murals depicting a riverbank setting and, of course, a giant, turning paddle wheel.

Aside from the general eating area, the restaurant also had a "Gentlemen's Saloon" and for the women, the Crinoline Court. The gender-specific rooms could be rented for special lunches or social club meetings.

Bluegrass Week, 1971

In 1967, another store renovation saw the Georgian Room moved up to the fifth floor and the "Paddle Wheel Buffet" was renovated into the "Paddlewheel Restaurant" with a larger dining area.

This additional space meant that the restaurant could host entertainment.

Sometimes, it was by performers in town to promote their records
with a short set and autograph session, such as Jaye P. Morgan and The Banana Splits. Most of the time, though, it was local fare such as Fabulous George and his Zodiacs and The Chicken Flats String Band.

The Paddlewheel was a busy place during the store's many theme weeks, which ranged from A Salute to Britain, Bluegrass Week, Robbie Burns' Week and Metis Trading Days. Not only would bands and cultural groups perform there but special menus would be served up.

Another Paddlewheel feature through to the late 1970s were seasonal fashion shows and youth events put on by The Bay Student Council, which was made up of representatives from each Winnipeg high school.

Above: Santa's first breakfast at the Paddlewheel, 1968
Below: Santa's last breakfast at the Paddlewheel, 2010

The longest-running Padddlewheel tradition was 'Breakfast with Santa', which debuted in 1968 and ran until until Christmas 2010.

In February 2011, HBC announced that their in-house restaurants would go upscale with the introduction of Oliver and Bonacini restaurants. At the time, the Paddlewheel was said to be among those being renovated.

In early January 2012, however, it was announced the Paddlewheel would not be renovated and instead would close by the end of the month. Its final meal was served up on January 24, 2013.

These photos clipped from a 1954 ad show some of the workmen who built the original Paddle Wheel Buffet. No doubt some of their handiwork still exists.

The man credited with painting the original murals is Alf Wright, a commercial artist who worked for the Bay. He died two years later at the age of 54. A Free Press article written at the time of its closing, though, shows an image of John Waagenaar who was visiting because his grandfather painted the murals in "the 1970s".

Its likely with the restaurant's expansion in 1967 plus thirteen years of wear and tear, airborne particles from food preparation and tobacco smoke, that some or all of the murals had to be redone.

October 27, 1956, Winnipeg Free Press

 July 20, 1957, Winnipeg Free Press


My Flickr photo album of the Paddlewheel

Paddlewheel serves its last meal CBC News (Jan 2013)
Nostalgic patrons flocking to Paddlewheel Winnipeg Free Press (Jan 2013)

The Bay's Paddlewheel Restaurant to close CBC News (Jan 2013)
Paddlewheel set to close Winnipeg Free Press (Jan 2012) 
Partnership to Transform Restaurants (Feb 2011)
Paddlewheel Restaurant up for renovations Winnipeg Free Press (Feb 2011)
The Bay revamping in-store restaurants CBC News
Paddlewheel brand to stay downtown
Winnipeg Free Press (Feb 2011)

Related Posts: 
The Bay Parkade Winnipeg Downtown Places
The Bay Downtown Winnipeg Downtown Places

Zellers' 79 year run in Winnipeg West End Dumplings
The Bay Downtown's "Great Beacon" West End Dumplings
The Bay Downtown's missing elevator mural West End Dumplings

1 comment:

  1. I often met my grandmother there for lunch. Loved it and was sad to see it close. "These times, they are a changing"........