Tuesday, December 14, 2021

1763 Henderson Highway - Toro's Driving Range / Nor-Villa Motor Hotel

© 2021, Christian Cassidy

Place: Nor-Villa Motor Hotel (website)
1763 Henderson Highway (map)

This year is the Nor-Villa Motor Hotel's 50 anniversary, though urban development on the site goes back more than a decade earlier to a driving range and drive-in restaurant.

December 24, 1955, The New Canadian

The earliest mention of this address in Winnipeg newspapers comes in 1956 as home to Toru Nakamura's Duffer's Paradise Driving Range.

Born in Japan, Nakamura first appears in Winnipeg street directories in 1943 living at lot 27 Riel Avenue in St. Vital with his wife, Kenae (or Kenaye). The couple would go on to have seven sons and four daughters.

Nakamura's listed occupation in 1943 was 'poultry farmer' and by 1950 was a chicken sexer at Hambly Hatchery.

Golf was Nakamura's passion and he played out of Rossmere Country Club. Around 1955, the family moved to 1766 Henderson Highway where he opened Duffer's Paradise Driving Range next door at number 1760 while still working as a chicken sexer by day. The only other sizeable driving range listed in the Winnipeg area at the time was Thomas Valtri's Pembina Driving Range on Pembina Highway.

Nakamura's driving range moved across the street to 1763 Henderson Highway in 1957.

May 13, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

The business did well and in 1961 Nakmura changed the name to Toro's Driving Range and established a drive-in restaurant on site. In 1964, the club house / drive-in was expanded and and classified ads in 1968 show the restaurant business for lease.

With Nakamura working at the business full time, he was able to further pursue golf as an amateur out of Rossmere Country club. He was a regular fixture on Manitoba's amateur golf tournament scene from the late 1950s through the 1970s and went to Japan as an ambassador of a Canadian PGA Pro-Am team in 1977.

Danny Hunter, formerly the assistant golf pro at Rossmere, moved to Toro's in 1970 as the part-time pro.

January 21, 1977, The New Canadian

The 1970 golf season was the last for Toro's at the Henderson Highway site as Nakamura sold the land for a new motor hotel development, (more about that below.)

Toro's Driving Range reappeared again in 1973 as Toro's Golf Centre at Highway 59 and Springfield Road until that land was expropriated by the city in late 1976 to become part of the 100-acre Kilcona Park featuring Harbourview Golf Course.

Nakamura then purchased land in on Inkster Boulevard and Sturgeon Road in the R.M. of Rosser and in March 1978 applied for a conditional use zoning change to operate a driving range.

Eddie Dearden, the Winnipeg Tribune's golf columnist, noted on May 14, 1979 that "Toro Nakamura is back in the driving range business" with  Toro's Golf Centre having opened the previous week. Nakamura told him, "It's not quite ready, but I'm open" with 25 tee boxes available. The following season, he said, the centre would feature putting greens and be landscaped with 50 trees.

August 27, 1979, Winnipeg Free Press

Sadly, there would be no next season for Nakamura. He died on August 22, 1979 in a tractor accident at the golf centre at the age of 64.

Toro's closed for the season after his death but was back he following year and advertised sporadically in the newspaper classifieds until 1996. It is unclear who owned it.

The origins of the Nor-Villa Motor Hotel began with a failed motor hotel application further south on Henderson Highway by Mike Chernichan and his Miken Motor Hotel Company Ltd.

Chernichan was was a long-time entrepreneur. As a young man he owned and operated a sawmill operation at Red Lake, Ontario. He married Mary Buchko in 1943 and the couple got into the hotel business starting in Oak Point, then the Ridge Hotel in Langruth, the Churchill Hotel in Churchill, and in Balmertown, Ontario.

In the late 1960s the Chernichans turned their attention to the R.M. of North Kildonan.

January 13, 1970, Winnipeg Tribune

In November 1969, Miken applied to the rapidly developing municipality for a permit to construct the Nor-Villa Motor Hotel. It was to be a three-storey, 24-unit motel on a 2.5-acre site on Litz Street at Whellams Lane.

The site was adjacent to John Pritchard Junior High School, which led to five delegations speaking in opposition at the liquor licence hearing in January 1970. It appears that the license was not granted and the motor hotel deal was scuttled.

Also in January and February 1970, the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission was advertising an application from the Micken Motor Hotel Co. for a restaurant, banquet, cabaret, and beer vendor license at the site "commonly known and described as Toro’s Drive-Inn, 1763 Henderson Highway”.  The last notice, (it had to be published three times in the paper), ran on February 7th and it appears there was no opposition and no hearing was held.

It is likely that Miken Motor Hotel Co. was planning one motor hotel with two separate sites, perhaps thinking that splitting off the banquet facilities and beer vendor to a Henderson Highway location would make the liquor licence application next to the school more palatable to residents. 

With the liquor licence granted, the motor hotel project also moved to the 1763 Henderson Highway site.

How large the driving range property was in relation to the hotel's eventual site lot is not clear.

Active Builders Ltd. ran classified ads in 1971 and 1972 for the sale / development of a "commercial site for any future shopping centre, 12 1/2 acres, 600 ft frontage from new hotel to McIvor Avenue." This, of course, would become McIvor Mall. Given that this is the same time period that the hotel was under development, it could have been hived off from the driving range property.

Chernican Drive, east of the hotel off Edkar Crescent, was most likely part of the driveing range / hotel's original property. It was sold off for development in 1984.

Unlike other hoteliers, Mikan did not appear to have teased people with "coming soon" or grand opening ads for his new venture in the daily papers. This makes it unclear when exactly the hotel slipped into existence. It is likely that the complex opened in stages.

Classified ads began appearing in the Free Press on August 31, 1971 seeking dining room servers and a night janitor. Ads for a beverage room called the Bison Room, a cocktail lounge, and the banquet facilities began to run in December. The first couple of events noted in newspapers for taking place at the Nor-Villa, both wedding anniversary banquets, were also held in December.

Ads mentioning the hotel, with its 24 modern rooms featuring colour TV and a full bath with shower, began to appear in weekly rural papers at the beginning of February 1972 and in Winnipeg papers in March 1972.

The municipality was undergoing an urban development boom just a year before joining the city of Winnipeg under Unicity. Other projects underway in 1971include: Donwood School; a 65-townhouse development between Springfield Road and Donwood Drive along Raleigh Street; River East Plaza mall; Riverside Plaza apartments at 1660 Henderson; plus other Edison Development apartment blocks along Henderson and the newly-created Valhalla Drive.

The hotel likely would have been a welcome addition in North Kildonan which was underserved by hotels and banquet facilities. The circa 1951 Curtis Gordon Hotel would have been the closest place to stay or host an event.

September 20, 1978, Winnipeg Tribune

The Nor-Villa soon began hosting the types of events one would expect at community hotel.

In its first few months of operation, service groups like the Toastmasters met there and small conferences, such as that of the Manitoba Professional Firefighters Association, were held. Numerous birthday parties, anniversary celebrations and wedding receptions also took place.

The Selkirk constituency associations of both the federal Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties met at the hotel. Speakers in the early 1970s included provincial Liberal leader Izzy Asper, former federal Liberal cabinet minister Paul Hellyer (just months after crossing the floor to join the PCs), premier Ed Schryer, a young provincial PC leadership candidate named Sterling Lyon, and federal Liberal defense minister James Richardson.

A fundraising banquet for a new East St. Paul Arena was held in June 1974 with Bobby Hull and
Winnipeg's Mr. Baseball, Eddie Cass, advertised as speakers.

The Nor-Villa's bar was one of the first in the city to go with electronic music in 1978 when the MLCC lifted its requirements that cabarets must have live bands.

The Chernichans ran the Nor-Villa until their retirement in 1984. Mike died on November 26, 1998 at the age of 79. Mary died on June 07, 2013 at the age of 90.

June 1, 1985, Winnipeg Free Press

It is unclear who the Chernichans sold the hotel to. It was likely a corporate entity, not an individual.

The new owners made numerous renovations to the building which likely included the expansion to the front of the building to add lobby and restaurant space.

The bar was redecorated and reopened on June 1, 1985 as M.T. Mugs Graffitti Club. The restaurant closed for a month-long refurbishment in June 1985. Through the mid and late-1980s the hotel's banquet facility advertised regularly in the Free Press.

April 21, 1992, Winnipeg Free Press

A restaurant has always been part of the Nor-Villa Motor hotel. In its earliest years the unnamed eatery advertised breakfast and lunch specials with Sunday smorgs on special occasions like Mother's Day.

The space was renovated (and likely expanded) in 1985. It was renovated again in 1992 and reopened as Bromley's Restaurant.

The restaurant was called Parry's Restaurant after chef Thomas Parry in the 2010s. He left in 2015 to become the executive executive chef at Larter's at St. Andrews.

Oddly, the Nor-Villa's website refers to its restaurant as both Bromley's and Parry's.

The current owner of the Nor-Villa is Gilbert Gauthier who also owns the Blondie's Car Wash chain.
this information), but this 2005 patio permit hearing notice from the city of Winnipeg shows Gauthier speaking in favour of the application.  This 2006 application for a billiard hall license shows the owner as Gauthier Ventures Ltd.

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