Monday, January 9, 2012

235 Notre Dame Ave - St. Charles Hotel

St. Charles Hotel
Place: The St. Charles Hotel
Address: 235 Notre Dame Avenue (Map)
Opened: August 1, 1913
Architect: Carter, Halls and Aldinger
Cost: $122,000

Notre Dame and Albert, 1912 and 1913 November 29, 1913, Manitoba Free Press

Despite being a stone's throw from Portage and Main, the corner of Notre Dame and Albert didn't see much spillover from the frantic pace of downtown development that took place in the early 1900s.

In 1912, the corner still consisted of aging, single-storey, wooden structures.

That changed in 1913 with the St. Charles, Lindsay Building, Electric Railway Chambers and Royal Albert Arms Hotel all opening within months of each other.

St. Charles Hotel Opening
July 30, 1913, Manitoba Free Press

The St. Charles Hotel was built in 1913 for well-known hotelier Charles (Charley) M. McCarrey, the owner of the St. Regis and Inter Ocean Hotel.

The hotel's official opening took place on August 1, 1913, but was rushed into service a few days before that.

On July 28 - 30, 1913, the city hosted what many considered its most important conference to-date: the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges, which brought together officials and developers from across North America. The two largest delegations were from Minneapolis and Chicago and the St. Charles was slated to house 150 of them.

Carter Halls Aldinger Co., who acted as both the architects and the builders, had crews working through the night to get the hotel ready in time to meet the deadline.
Less than a year later, October 1, 1914, another prominent hotelier, George Skinner, took possession of the St. Charles.

October 15, 1914, Winnipeg Free Press

While McCarrey seemed to concentrate more on being a quality hotel, the British-raised Skinner had a flair for the entertainment side of things. He told the Tribune in 1928:

"Winnipeg should take advantage of is position to develop this cosmopolitan character as one of its choicest assets. Along with this, I hope to see a keener appreciation for the lighter side of life - for mental and physical recreation in a good play and the theatre party that follows."

Using the tagline "In the Heart of Everything", he turned the hotel's restaurant into a source of late night entertainment, featuring its own orchestra.

Due to the hours and its location, the St. Charles was said to be the hotel of choice for performers at the nearby Orphium Theatre, where acts like Milton Berle, the Marx Brothers once performed. (Today, most old theatres boast of hosting top acts but the Orpheum was the one that actually delivered, thanks to being part of Keith Orpheum's entertainment empire, which included RKO Radio and RKO pictures.)

The entertainment attracted performers from other theatres after their shows and the evenings became an attraction in themselves.

During World War I, the Friday night soirees were often turned into fundraisers for groups like the Red Cross and Kiwanis Club. Acts would drop in to perform number or two to help the cause.

Empire Grill at the St. Charles (source)

In 1928, Skinner extensively renovated the hotel's basement into the Tudor-inspired Empire Grill, based on the luxurious dining rooms seen in European hotels.The restaurant, and later the conference rooms, the Rose Room and Blue Room, were the scene of thousands of banquets, social club meetings and wedding receptions receptions well into the 1950s.

December 7, 1963, Winnipeg Free Press

At some point in the late 1920s or early 1930s the owner of the hotel became the St. Charles Hotel Company, the majority shareholder being J. J. Gray. He was also the proprietor of the McLaren Hotel and the Kenricia in Kenora.

In 1947, the hotel was sold to
Rothstein Investments, controlled by the Rothstein family.

In late 1963, the 60-room hotel was purchased by Donald Stefanyk, whose family had run the Empire Hotel. They modernized the place into what was expected of a 1960s downtown hotel.

ca. 1965 ad

Gone was the Empire Grill in favour of a lounge called Big Al's Gas House. The Kodiak Beverage Room was added. The coffee shop and a banquet room remained.

July 20, 1967, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1967, a new owner took over.

Harry Katz continued the renovations which included adding the white stone tile and modern, backlit signage to the facade.

In the early 1970s the basement was renovated to hold a discotheque which by 1976 was called Wellington's. The punk music club closed in 1989 after the death of Harry's son Abe, who ran the club for a number of years. In the mid 1990s the space was briefly The Crypt.

From 1984 to 1990 the Hotel was re-branded The Market Inn.

November 13, 2004, Winnipeg Free Press

Around the year 2000 Harry Katz was gone from the scene.

The St. Charles experienced an increasing amount of crime, fires and the occasional closure due to health violations. These came to a head in 2004 when the hotel, by then without a functioning restaurant or bar, was closed for good citing a list of health and safety concerns.

In 2005, it was purchased by St. Charles Enterprises and the following year a plan was unveiled to renovate it into a boutique hotel. An application was made to tear down the neighbouring Albert Street block in 2006 to provide additional parking but it was rejected. Other applications in 2008 and 2010 were also rejected.

In April 2011 the owner announced that the development plan now included a multi-storey addition to the existing hotel.

St. Charles Hotel, Winnipeg

Since that time, however, plans for the building have stalled.

In January 2012, the owner appeared before the Committee on Downtown Development, Heritage and Riverbank Management Regular Meeting to appeal a Derelict Building Order issued by the City. (He had a previous order in 2010.) The result was a 30 day postponement for him to put together a detailed development plan to prove to the city that work is ongoing.

After a series of delays, in May 2013 the city put in motion a process by which it could take over the derelict building and sell it to new developers or have it demolished.

UPDATE: February 2014: The owner of the hotel is now challenging the city's historic listing of the building with the hopes of having it removed and the building demolished.

My St. Charles Hotel photo album at Flickr
St. Charles Hotel Heritage Winnipeg
St. Charles Hotel Historic Building Report
Powerpoint Presentation by developer of St. Charles project

More Images:

 St. Charles Hotel

Interior photos from July 2013:

St. Charles Hotel, Winnipeg

St. Charles Hotel, Winnipeg

St. Charles Hotel, Winnipeg


  1. There were actually people living in that Hotel as recently as mid 2008. It was arguably the scariest place I have ever wondered into. Dimly lit, the elevators reeked of urine with gang graffiti smeared on it's walls. I dropped off an item for an acquaintance, and got the hell out of the hotel.

  2. I know for a fact, because I dealt with him, that Harry still owned the place in 1998.

    There was also a 90's rebirth of Wellington's. If there hadn't been the Weakerthans wouldn't have been able to write a song about it. Wildly popular house music night, bands on weekends. Drug trade during mid-week dj night resulted in place being targeted by police/licensing. Shut it down.

    Upstairs at that time was still a great beverage room. Harry didn't run the classiest joint, but it really went downhill after he stopped running the joint. Funny character, had a million tales about the place. Downstairs was kept almost as a shrine to his son.

    1. Harry owned the place up until 2001/2002, I believe it was closed due to health code violations in around 2003-2005 with the rumours surrounding the special permit he applied for and a health inspector went in.

  3. I used to go to the bar there in 1996 to 1998. It was a bit of a scary place. I remember an older Asian fellow behind the bar.

  4. Marushka was scary. Rumoured to have man's hands from a concentration camp, she was apparently rescued by Harry and taken to Canada where she was sole housekeeping, Sunday security for all the medical welfare residents. They're used to be some local guy named Bill who ventured into perogies as his call to fame and he would go "Hey, Marushka" into the camera at the end, just to taunt her. What became of Harry? And Marushka, for that matter?

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