Friday, July 17, 2009

288 Portage Avenue - Northstar Inn / Radisson Hotel

Updated April 2015
Project: Northstar Inn / Radisson Hotel (website)
288 Portage Avenue (map)
30 storeys (9 of them parking)

Cost: $8.5 million (est.)
Architect: Waisman Ross Blankstein Coop Gillmor Hanna (now Number Ten)

Contractor: Trident Construction

Top: Apr. 1967 design. Bottom: Feb. 1968 (Winnipeg Free Press)

In April 1967 Famous Players Limited announced the construction of a new high-rise hotel on the site of their old Lyceum Theatre and the neighbouring Stobbard Block. Its unique mix of hotel, parkade, indoor pool and main floor cinemas and shops was inspired by the North Star Inn in Minneaplois. 

The project fell under the management of a local company called Western Theatres Limited. It was 50 per cent owned by Famous Players with the other 50 per cent by the Miles family and ran many of the city's smaller, neighbourhood cinemas. 

Delays plagued the project. Originally projected to open in early 1969, demolition of the Lyceum did not start until May 1968. The rumour was that it was difficult to secure financing for the deal as a number of large hotel projects were rumoured or announced around that time, including Lakeview Square's Holiday Inn and the Winnipeg Inn at Portage and Main. (Famous Players / Western Theatres would also build the International Inn, now Victoria Inn, near the airport in 1969.)
U of M Libraries, Winnipeg Tribune Archive

During this delay, the plans were modified to add more floors. The ground and second floor floor would contain the elevator lobby, retail space and the entrance to two cinemas. Above that was a nine level parkade, then the twenty floor hotel containing nearly 200 hotel rooms.

Construction finally got underway in the summer of 1968 with a proposed opening of early 1970, Manitoba's centennial year.

March 3, 1970, Winnipeg Free Press

The first phase of the complex to open were the Northstar Cinemas on March 4, 1970 under the management of Bill Novak, formerly of the Metropolitan.

Cinema I contained 689 seats and Cinema II held 458. They could be accessed from a separate Portage Avenue entrance near the western edge of the building. The box office was on the main floor, after which customers took escalators down to the lobby and cinema entrances.

The highlight of an opening night which included media celebrities and entertainment, was Hello Dolly, starring Barbra Streisand and Walter Mattheau in Cinema I. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? opened Cinema II.

Next in line to open was the nine level parkade in October 1970 under the management of Kodiak Parking Services. The opening date had been delayed a number of times while waiting for the parkade's elevator to be installed.

May 4, 1971, Winnipeg Free Press

The hotel itself opened in stages. The first 100 or so rooms and most of the amenities came in April 1971 and the rest of the rooms throughout the summer. Newspaper reports indicated that there would be a formal grand opening in the fall.

The hotel's lobby and registration area was originally on the 12th floor. The 13th featured an enclosed swimming pool, a disco and restaurant, initially called the House of Lords with Charles Learner as executive chef. The complex also included a ten room convention centre.

A unique feature was that the Northstar created a passageway into the neighbouring Somerset Block, which then connected to a new skywalk that extended over Donald Street to Eaton's. A second skywalk that was to cross the street to the Sterling Building never materialized.

MacArthur (left) and Pavagadhi

It appears that the Northstar never had that offical opening in the fall. In fact, by that time Famous Players was searching for someone to take the hotel over. In November 1971 it was announced that they had reached a long term lease agreement with CP Hotels. CP, which left the Winnipeg market when the Royal Alex closed, took over on December 1, 1971. 

The hotel kept the same name but the changeover meant a change in management. CP brought in a new general manager, Peter G. MacArthur, who had nearly 25 years experience with the company, his previous posting was as executive general manager of the Royal York in Toronto. Mayur Pavagadhi, Famous Players' GM, remained on as hotel manager.

In 1973 Famous Player bought out the Miles family's interest in Western Theatres and their share of the Northstar Inn.

May 1977, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1976 - 77 the hotel underwent a $1 million renovation that included building a hotel lobby on the main floor, which took out most of the retail space. A new elevator was installed to exclusively serve the parkade. The removal of the upper lobby and ten-room conference centre allowed for another 65 rooms to be added, bringing the total to 265.

In April 1980 Famous Players sold the theatre to Northstar Inn Ltd., a partnership of three financial institutions, including Great West Life. The recession of the 1980s was tough on hotels and the Northstar had an occupancy rate of around 50 per cent. In 1983 the owners contracted Delta Hotels to take over the name and management of the hotel starting that April. 

In 1998 the hotel was sold to a Vancouver-based investment trust. They spent a reported $7 million in renovations after which it was rebranded a Radisson Hotel. It was during this time that the cinemas disappeared. they were initially closed in 1999 but, it seems, Famous Players revived them in 2000 and they closed for a second, and final, time in 2001. They are still abandoned

In 2005 the Tribal Councils Investment Group purchased the property. 

In 2008 local hotel chain CanadInns purchased the hotel. Owner Leo Ledohowski told the Free Press that they had no immediate plans to make major changes and that the hotel would continue as a Radisson for the foreseeable future.


Northstar Inn TV commercial ca. 1980
U of M Winnipeg Building Index entry
Winnipeg Architecture Foundation entry
CanadInns Purchases Radisson Winnipeg Free Press (2008) 
New Hotel Added to CanadInns Family CanadInns (2008)

"We're almost open" ad from March 1970. It would still be more than a year!

Postcards, most likely after the 1976-77 renovations as many of these scenes appear in the 1980 television ad.

More postcard action!


  1. I have been trying to remember the name of the nightclub/bar that use to be located on the 12th flr of the old Northstar Inn. My best recollection is that it was called the Paradise Restaurant/Lounge. Is that close?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Originally it was the House of Lords very formal dining room on the 12th. And the Pool Room with a raised dance floor with squares of changing color floor tiles on the 13th. There was also a little coffee shop off the lobby that had the best french onion soup in the Universe!

    3. The Pool Room. It was on the 13th floor across from the hotels' swimming room. It Seated 140 people and always had a lineup to get in. Time Machine worked there 6 moths over the 2 years we were on the road.

    4. I said it was called the Pent House, but it was actually The Poolroom" There was a pool on the same floor, and yes I saw the Time Machine there!!

    5. Circa 1982, the 12th floor nightclub was called the Brass Perch. It had a tropics theme.

  2. It may have been the Peacock Lounge. That's another possibility.

  3. i recall a supperclub type lounge i think was called the stage door. i used to stay there while working for Eatons in the 70s. There was also a great restaurant on one of the upper floors that had huge purple chesterfields for seating. i can't recall the name but they had great food and harvey wall bangers.

    1. Stage Door and the Velvet Glove were at the Winnipeg Inn a couple of blocks east

  4. The Stage Door was in the Winnipeg Inn next to the Richardson Bldg. The lounge in the Northstar Inn was called "Step 33"on the pool floor. Which I believe was a 33 step climb from the 12th floor dining room and coffee shop. I've been an entertainer at both!

  5. Looking through the papers, in 1977 the clubs at the Northstar were Step 33 and the Silver Slipper. Dinner and dancing at the Selkirk Room and there was also a Polaris Room, but that seems to have been more banquet-y.

  6. I've done a major update to this entry about the Northstar Inn.

  7. I remember the Silver Slipper Lounge on the ground floor. It was a favourite spot of mine in the early 70’s. The regular house entertainer was a lovely lady named Audrey, she played the piano and sang, and often wore earrings that lit up.

  8. The restaurant was called Kennedy's, wasn't it? And the ground floor watering hole was called Puck McMurphy's Lively Libations.

  9. I remember it was called the Pool Room. My cousin taught me how to look cool smoking in the ladies washroom. Never forgot that place.

  10. I have some very fond memories of the Northstar Inn in the early 70's. While attending the U of M, I worked at Eaton's as as a stock boy for the 5th floor then as a sales clerk in the Main Floor Cameras (completely surrounded by the Cosmetic department - a young man's dream). In those days you could afford to go to university while working retail. The camera department was strategically situated next to the Donald Street doors, across from the Barbecue Restaurant (next to the Metropolitan Movie Theatre) that had the most fabulous cinnamon buns. With the skywalk (that had a coffee bar restaurant) the Northstar Inn was very handy to take a girl on a date to the Silver Slipper Lounge or the more upscale Pool Room on a Friday night after work. In 1972, two beautiful young ladies, who also worked at Eaton's, took me to the Pool Room for my 18th birthday. I had a very good time, but I don't remember much about that night :).