Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Heritage Rehabilitation Combating Homelessness: The Bell Hotel at 662 Main Street

Article by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.     
Thank you to CentreVenture Development Corp. for their assistance in researching this post. 
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

The Bell Hotel at 662 Main Street ca. 2015. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

History of the Bell Hotel

Looking north from the roof of City Hall ca. 1895. Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
Early development on the west side of Main Street between present-day Henry and Higgins mostly consisted of low-density residential and commercial structures. With the establishment of the CPR in Point Douglas in 1881-1882, this began to change, bringing the construction of numerous hotels, bars, restaurants, and retail shops to cater to the needs of the CPR's passengers and employees.

The majority of the new development was concentrated around the CPR Station, then located between Higgins and Point Douglas Avenue. Theatres and vaudeville houses also appeared along Main Street by the turn of the century, providing cheap entertainment for newcomers.

Front (east) facade of 662 Main Street ca. 1967. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
The Bell Hotel was built in 1906 and was for a time considered to be one of Winnipeg's finest small hotels, bringing with it a decade of unbridled growth and prosperity for the city. Construction of the four-storey building cost $50,000, and was built by contractors Derochers and Company according to the design by Daniel Smith. Made up of solid brick resting on a stone foundation, the building's exterior was finished in 1906, with the interior completed through the winter months of 1907.

Ornamental tin ceiling in the basement ca. 2007. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.


Built in the tradition of hotels in the early 20th century, the building has a tin ceiling and carved wood finishes in the basement, suggesting a public use for the area. By the 1920s, the ground floor included a beer parlour. As train travel declined, so did the demand for Main Street hotels.

"Beer Parlor [sic], Bell Hotel," 1928. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report and reproduced from The Hotel News, Volume 1 No. 4 [March 1928] p. 15.
By the 1980s, the Bell Hotel had become last-resort housing for many of its tenants, becoming notorious for its housing conditions and criminal activity. Many of its tenants suffered from mental health and addiction issues, with the main floor beverage room only perpetuating these problems.

Front desk ca. 2007. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
Many changes were made to the interior layout throughout the years and by 2000, the main floor held a large beverage room to the rear, a diner in the southeast corner, and an office/front desk to the north. The upper floors were divided into 75 one-room suites. Most suites had a sink, with some including washrooms. Tenant washrooms were also available along the central hall, with stairs at either end.

Third floor suite ca. 2007. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.


Fourth floor hallway ca. 2007. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

Faced with many bylaw infractions and required upgrades, the hotel was listed for sale in the summer of 2007.

Cafe at 662 Main Street ca. 2007. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

The Bell Hotel Supportive Housing Project



In September of 2007, CentreVenture purchased the Bell Hotel from then-owner Don Marshall. The building had deteriorated considerably since its 1906 construction and was sitting vacant. The building was redeveloped into 42 self-contained units of affordable, permanent housing for individuals who have experience homelessness.

The Bell Hotel front and east facades ca. 2007. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.



662 Main Street front facade ca. 2015. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
The building has undergone extensive renovations; the front facade is a mixture of original and altered space, with the exterior stone having been stuccoed at an unknown date. The main floor has been reworked and a south window converted into a door/window combination. The neon sign has been moved from its original central location to the north end of the building.

Ground floor meeting room ca. 2015. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

Each unit has its own washroom and kitchenette, with laundry facilities on each floor. Six of the 42 units are wheelchair accessible. A community kitchen, cultural room, dining room, staff kitchen, lobby/sitting area, security/concierge desk, and offices all occupy the main floor.

Ground floor cafe, Lunch Bell Bistro, ca. 2015. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
CentreVenture secured the capital funding from the Government of Canada, Province of Manitoba, and the City of Winnipeg. The project's architect was BIOS Architecture, with project management provided by Red Lake Construction Co. Ltd. The total budget of the redevelopment was approximately $6 million. Construction began in 2009 and took approximately two years to complete.

South facade ca. 2015. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
The Bell Hotel's mandate is to address the issue of homelessness in Winnipeg and work with those individuals to help them achieve stable housing and integrate into the community. A "Housing First" approach is used to manage the project, which prioritizes permanent housing for individuals who are homeless and may have mental health issues. Also known as "rapid re-housing", the strategy moves homeless individuals immediately from the street or a homeless shelter into their own apartments.

The Bell Hotel west and north facades ca. 2015. Image courtesy of M. Peterson and City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

This strategy is used successfully in other cities throughout North America and research has demonstrated that homeless people with mental health and/or addiction issues are more likely to show improvement if they have access to safe, secure housing. Support services are provided by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (clinical services) and the Main Street Project (on-site support services).

Links

March 23, 2010 - Bell to become homeless haven (Winnipeg Free Press)
July 17, 2011 - 662 Main Street - The Bell Hotel (Winnipeg Downtown Places)
Oct. 2, 2012 - Bell Hotel houses the homeless (Winnipeg Health Region)
March 8, 2014 - Homeless to stable: The Bell Hotel's housing first model (Winnipeg Free Press)  
April 29, 2014 - FEATURE: From Housing to Hope at the Bell Hotel (CJOB)


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