Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Heritage On Main: The Winnipeg Hotel at 214-216 Main Street

Article by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.   
Thank you to Greg Agnew, Heritage Winnipeg Board Member, for his assistance with images for this post.
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

The Winnipeg Hotel as it looks now. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Nomination Report.

The Winnipeg Hotel at 214-216 Main Street doesn't look like much now, but it is thought to be the oldest hotel still operating in Winnipeg, as well as the last brick-veneered wood frame commercial building left in the city. 

Brick-veneered wood frame commercial structures such as the Winnipeg Hotel have tended not to survive due to their inability to withstand heavy fire damage, the high insurance premiums associated with such buildings, their tendency to be replaced with more substantial structures, and the structural problems presented by the brick veneer. The Coronation Block on 238 King Street that housed the Shanghai Restaurant was another such building, demolished a few years ago. You can read a CBC News article, written just prior to the demolition, here

The Shanghai Restaurant in the now-demolished Coronation Block at 238 King Street.

The "Garry Saloon" was erected in the summer of 1873 as a two-storey wooden frame structure built in an L-shape with a false front. Operated by a James S. Wheeler, the saloon soon came to be known as the Garry House or Garry Hotel, likely named after the (Upper) Fort Garry from whom the land had been purchased

In the spring of 1881, Thomas Montgomery became Wheeler's partner, bringing with him the capital from a successful carriage-making business he had run on Fort Street with his brother, Christopher, since 1876. After Montgomery came on board, some $9000 was spent to transform the Garry into the three-storey, brick-veneer fronted Winnipeg Hotel

Thomas Montgomery. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society's Memorable Manitobans website.
The new Winnipeg Hotel featured fifty-seven rooms, a 70-foot iron-tube well, three parlours, a modernly furnished dining room, sample rooms for salesmen, and a well-stocked bar. The hotel received its first guests in September of 1881, just after the beginning of a boom in Winnipeg's economy created by the railway and the influx of settlers heading west that followed.

Buildings such as the Winnipeg Hotel, the Cauchon Block (Empire Hotel), and the never-completed Canada Pacific Hotel were built with the hope that Main Street's business district would continue to expand to the south. Unfortunately for them, this did not happen, leaving these businesses less successful than was originally hoped.

214-216 Main St. Winnipeg Hotel ca. 1903. Image courtesy of the Archives of Manitoba.

Wheeler and Montgomery ceased to be partners in April of 1883, leaving the business entirely to Montgomery, who later partnered with his brother Oswald in July of 1893. Oswald Montgomery had experience operating hotels in Rat Portage (now Kenora) and Glenboro, as well as other places. By this time, unspecified renovations had reduced the original fifty-seven rooms to forty-five. 

In the fall of 1895, the Winnipeg Hotel once again underwent renovations. This time the Montgomery brothers spent approximately $20,000 and hired architect Walter Chesterton to draw up the plans. Chesterton was to be responsible for numerous other buildings in the province, including the Vaughan Street Jail and Virden's St. Mary's Anglican Church.  

214-216 Main St. Winnipeg Hotel ca. 1933. Image courtesy of the Archives of Manitoba.
The renovations included a new facade, constructed chiefly of Twin Cities red brick and Battle River sandstone, English plate glass windows with stained and leaded transom lights on the ground floor. A galvanized iron cornice was added on the roof level while the wooden sides were covered with a brick veneer to match the facade.

These renovations were added to once again in 1901, when another $14,000 was spent on the place expand the hotel with a three storey addition at a right angle to the body of the hotel, extending it right to the back lane and increasing the capacity to eighty rooms.  Samuel Hooper designed these renovations and would go on to become Manitoba's first Provincial Architect, with projects such as the Seven Oaks Monument and the Winnipeg Carnegie Library (now the City of Winnipeg Archives) under his belt.

A more recent image of the back of 214 Main Street. Image courtesy of Greg Agnew.
From 1901-1902, hotel accommodations were at a premium in Winnipeg, so the Montgomerys purchased the former Dominion Hotel immediately to the north with hopes of expansion. The plan was to triple the size of the hotel with a five-storey addition on the Dominion as well as enlarging the Winnipeg Hotel to five storeys. 

These plans were never put into action however, likely because the brothers decided to put their efforts into the Queens Hotel, another of their properties, at the northeast corner of Notre Dame and Portage Avenue (part of what is now the approximate location of 201 Portage Avenue). 

214-216 Main Street, The Winnipeg Hotel ca. 1990. Image courtesy of Greg Agnew.

Shortly after the purchase of the Dominion, the Winnipeg Hotel was sold to Maurice Noakes, owner of the Imperial Hotel at Main Street and Alexander Avenue, in 1904 for $125,000. He soon sold the property the Bernhart Brothers of the Palace (Sutherland) Hotel, who in turn sold it to the former owners of Brandon's Beaubier Hotel "Matt" Matthews and "Dug" Hills.

After 1909, the Winnipeg Hotel saw a large number and variety of owners in rapid succession, along with many alterations including painting the facade white, likely done in the 1930s, the removal of the balcony over the front entrance, and the remodelling of the entrance in 1959. Over the years, the interior has also undergone renovation numerous times.     
A recent photo of the Winnipeg Hotel, courtesy of Greg Agnew.

Sources & Links 

"The Winnipeg Hotel: 214-216 Main Street Winnipeg, Manitoba". Report prepared by Randy R. Rostecki, Historic Resources Branch of Culture, Heritage and Recreation. November 1989. Print.

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  1. Excellent piece, please keep these endangered buildings in the publics eye!

  2. Nice Writing !!

    We all appreciate with your blog post. It has very informative information..


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