Friday, September 9, 2011

287 Garry Street - The Garrick Hotel

© 2011, Christian Cassidy
Place: Mount Royal Hotel / Wellington Hotel / Garrick Hotel
Address: 287 Garry Street (Map)
Opened: November 7, 1907
Architect: Smith and Bruce
Cost: $60,000
Rooms: Approximately 45

Olivio and Annie Biollo ca 1907 (Source)

The Biollo brothers were an enterprising bunch. Olivio came to Winnipeg from Italy in 1902 and encouraged brothers Angelo and Santi to join him. Within a couple of years the trio had built a beautiful joint family home on College Avenue, opened two Portage Avenue caf
és, and started a construction company.

The province released a list of new liquor permit zones for Winnipeg in 1906 which included a strip along Garry Street near Portage. Olivio purchased the lot at 287 Garry, less than a block from one of their Portage Avenue cafés, on which to build a new hotel.

November 21, 1907, Winnipeg Free Press

They hired Smith and Bruce to design the $60,000 Mount Royal Hotel and construction began in the spring of 1907. The five-storey building had only 12 rooms, each with its own bathroom and sitting area, and was meant to cater to families or groups of up to four people. (Bathrooms meant just a bath - each floor had a shared lavatory.)

It also featured an electric elevator, a banquet area, a large kitchen, and steam heating throughout.

As construction was nearing completion, Oliver Biollo went to get the liquor permit and found that the rules had changed. The province blamed a typographical error for the inclusion of that block of Garry Street in a liquor zone, though the map version showed it being part of one.

Biollo protested and had the support of some of the neighbouring businesses who wanted the increased traffic from a hotel on their section of the street. He even managed to get a face-to-face meting with Premier Roblin. All to no avail.

It is likely the failed liquor permit application was more than a "typo". Liquor permits were often used by the ruling political party as a way to reward their supporters and punish opposition supporters. Rodmond Roblin's Conservative government was especially adept at using and abusing the process. (I explore this issue more in my post about Elmwood's Riverview Hotel. That hotel was being built in what everyone believed to be a temperance zone, only to get a liquor license issued days before the doors opened.)

 Top: Nov. 7, 1907. Manitoba Free Press
Middle: May 13, 1908, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: Jan 8, 1909, The Voice

The Mount Royal was forced to open as a "dry hotel" on November 7, 1907. Without the ability to sell liquor, Biollo could not make a go of it. The building was seized months later by creditors, led by former mayor, lumber magnate, and staunch Conservative, John Arbuthnot.

The seized hotel was leased to the owners of the Leclaire, (now Windsor), Hotel, who were constructing a new hotel called the Wellington right next door to the Mount Royal.
It seems odd that two groups would make the same, costly mistake about liquor zones, but the Leclaire group, led by John Eggo, said that they were fine with operating as a temperance hotel. The Wellington opened in May 1908.

A few months later, Eggo applied for a liquor permit for his new hotel and on December 8, 1908, just months after the Mount Royal was seized, the board of liquor license commissioners approved the license.
Top: Garry Street in 1912. The Wellington and Free Press on right (source)
Bottom: January 14, 1909, Manitoba Free Press

The Free Press pounced. Not only were they an opponent of the Roblin government and against more liberal liquor regulations, they also had an inside scoop on the permit application.

The Free Press building was located at the south-east corner of Portage Avenue and Garry Street and shared the back lane with the hotel. Due to their location, they were one of the businesses that had to give consent for the Wellington's liquor permit. The newspaper had refused due to there already being enough watering holes in the downtown area.

In a January 14, 1909 story the paper reported that its management had “representations of various kinds seeking to induce the Free Press to reconsider its refusal.” This included the hotel's owners, creditors representing the former Mount Royal Hotel and even some claiming to represent the liquor licensing board's wishes. They held firm on their position.

The paper called the granting of the permit a "...political job done in a hole-and-corner manner" (Free Press, Jan 16, 1909). A reporter tracked down Olivio Biollo who said that he lost everything, including his other business interests to creditors, and felt and "grossly wronged" (Free Press, Jan 14, 1909).

The matter of the Wellington Hotel licence was even mentioned in the 1909 response from the Speech from the Throne when opposition leader Charles Mickle said: “Surely if there were ever a case where a licence should have been refused, this was one. The commissioners were remiss in their duty when they granted this licence.” (February 9, 1909, Winnipeg Tribune.)

Top: John Arbuthnot (Source
Bottom: June 12, 1909, Manitoba Free Press

In June 1909, Biolo's former hotel was sold off, at two-thirds the cost to build it, to settle his debts with Arbuthnot.

The City of Winnipeg's Historic Buildings report for the Biollo home at 494 College Avenue, (since removed from the internet), notes that John Arbuthnot was once an owner of the home which suggests he likely got that in the settlement as well. 

Having lost everything, Olivio Biollo left Winnipeg for Rivers, Manitoba with his wife and children in 1910. The following year they went to Alberta.

Biollo died in Edmonton in 1963. (Read more about their life in Alberta, check out this link and this one.)

Below: November 24, 1915, Winnipeg Tribune

ad ca. 1913 (source)

The owners of the Wellington made a deal to lease the Mount Royal and operated the two hotels as one under the Wellington name.

The Wellington was sold to J. A. Wolfe for $60,000 in 1910 who leased it to well-known hotel manager Patrick Grogan. Grogan left in 1912 to co-manage the newly opened Royal Albert Hotel.

The Wellington Hotel Grill, a high-end restaurant, opened on the main  floor in 1913 under manager
Edward W. Hanna. Around 1915 he purchased the entire hotel and wooed Grogan back to manage it.

In March 1916 Manitobans voted in favour of prohibition and the hotel business was dealt a major blow. Weeks later, Hanna was arrested for selling liquor on the premises. He tried to appeal, but was fined $200 in.

Bailiffs seized the hotel in June 1916 for non-payment of its mortgage. It was one of around 10 hotels to go under in the first weeks of prohibition.
Hanna then left Winnipeg to farm at Indian Head, SK.

January 22, 1918, Winnipeg Tribune

In late July 1916 the hotel was sold to new, unnamed owners who kept a low profile. A single-sentence classified ad from time to time was the only sign of that it was still in business - that and the headlines. Through the late teens and twenties, over multiple owners, it gained quite a notorious reputation.

In January 1918, police broke up a drug ring operating from the hotel. Sixteen people were arrested, eleven of them at the Wellington Hotel. Police seized from room 54 more than a dozen boxes containing morphine, cocaine, and opium.

September 30, 1921, Winnipeg Tribune

In September 1921 there were more issues at the Wellington.

A small article in the Tribune notes that in a woman was arrested at the hotel for "keeping a disorderly house", a nice expression for running a brothel. She pleaded not guilty and I could find no follow-up articles about the incident.

Days later, three provincial liquor inspectors entered the hotel's "dry bar" and found two patrons with what appeared to be glasses of liquor. Before the inspectors could grab the glasses, two bar staff and Joe Allen, the proprietor, confronted them. A brawl ensued which ended in the barmen and two inspectors being charged with assault. The owner faced liquor-related charges.

Later that year Fernald Blevier was owner of the hotel. In February 1922 he was arrested for selling liquor on the premises and fined $350.

That was final straw for The Wellington Hotel. In May 1922 bailiffs seized it and sold off the contents.

June 6, 1922. Winnipeg Free Press

In June 1922 a "new" hotel surfaced on the site.

It appears that the former Mount Royal was separated from the Wellington. It was redecorated and re-branded the Garrick Hotel under proprietor William T. Gray who appears to have been new to the hotel industry.

July 30, 1923, Winnipeg Tribune

The hotel's run of short-term proprietors continued when Gray was killed in July 1923. He and the son of a friend were travelling on the St. Francois Xavier Road when his car hit the ditch and flipped, pinning both men under the car.

The hotel was then run by Joshua Gray, (a relative ?), who also ran the Wolseley Hotel.

The Garrick was raided a number of times for liquor and drug violations. The largest came on August 2, 1924 when inspectors entered the bar to find 50 people there and at least four people serving alcohol. The place was shut down and "large quantities" of stored whisky and other liquor was confiscated.

The bar manager and Joshua Gray were both sentenced to three months in jail by Justice Sir Hugh John Macdonald.

December 17, 1927, Winnipeg Tribune

Mrs. Etta Carson then leased the hotel and went on to purchase it for $85,000 in 1927. She announced that she would spend $10,000 to renovated the building but it appears that she did not get around to them.

The Depression began soon after Carson took over and devastated the hotel and bar industry.

Dozens of establishments went under. As their biggest creditor was usually a brewery, a number of local breweries found themselves in possession of hotels as owners walked away from their businesses. In the case of the Garrick, it became property of Shea's Brewery in 1934.

Downtown Neon

Ad circa 1934

Most breweries were not happy owning hotels. Shea's, which ended up with a handful, made the best of it by investing money in them and waiting for better days. For the Garrick, this meant new windows, doors, and mechanical systems. It also purchased the iconic neon sign that still hangs out front. 

E. J. Ryall, a hotel owner from Carman and president of the Manitoba Hotel Association from 1930 - 35, acted as manager of the Garrick during the Shea years.

Around 1940 the hotel was sold to a consortium called Garrick Hotel Ltd. Joseph Erzinger began managing the hotel in the early 1950s and in 1965 he and wife Hazel bought it and ran it until their retirement in 1968. 

There were some notable long term staffers of the Garrick. John Ernest Brown was the front desk clerk from 1940 - 1960. William ‘Bert’ Smith tended bar there for four decades ending in the late 1960s.

From about 1981 to 2002, The Garrick was owned by Roger and John Marion. In 2008, purchased by Gary Birstein who renovated the building and bar, for a time offering a "bring your own vinyl" night.


287 Garry Street (Overview) Historic Buildings Committee
287 Garry Street Winnipeg Building Index
For more on the Biollos and their businesses.
For more on Winnipeg's single room occupancy hotels

 Above: November 13, 1913. Manitoba Free Press


  1. Any idea what the current state of the interior is?

  2. No, none. I have been to the lounge once or twice but never upstairs.