Friday, 23 September 2016

Fort Street & Notre Dame

The Vendome Hotel

This week, the Vendome Hotel, located at 308 Fort Street, made it onto the agenda at City Hall to the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Development.   The recommendation was from the Historical Buildings and Resources Committee for this 118-year-old hotel to be added to the List of Historical Resources under the Historical Resources By-law 55/2014 with the following Character Defining Elements:

A.  Exterior:

1.  Four-storey brick building with a flat roof located on the west side of Fort Street, its main facade east onto Fort Street, its south facade partially hidden by neighbouring building, and its west and north facades facing the back lane; and

2.  The front (east) facade with ground floor openings with arched transoms with leaded glass, the upper floors with ornamental brickwork and windows in arches openings and flag pole.

B.  Interior:

1.  Wood finishes of the main (south) staircase including the handrail on the north side.

A 1898 advertisement for the Vendome Hotel
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report
Construction of this centenarian began in 1898, and the Vendome Hotel was completed at a cost of $14,000. The Vendome Hotel opened on December 17th.  It was expanded in 1902, using designs from Architect Henry Sandham Griffin, who also designed several other important Winnipeg buildings, including Fire Hall Number 1 in the Exchange District, which was demolished in the 1960s.

Portage Avenue had overtaken Main Street as the commercial hub of Winnipeg at the time the Vendome was built, making its location right of Portage Avenue very desirable. The Vendome had a very decorative exterior to catch the eye of people passing by. It had broad canopy marquees, towering vertical signs, and the kind of outdoor electric lighting that had been developed by theatres in the nineteenth century. The 1902 expansion altered the roofline, but did not make any significant changes to the exterior, although it has changed significantly over the century.

Colour post card, date unknown. View looking down on Portage Avenue
The black arrow points out the Vendome Hotel on Fort Street
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report
The Vendome Hotel offered a restaurant and bar on the main floor, along with its rooms on the upper floors. In the early 1910s it underwent interior remodelling, which brought running water to all rooms, and some rooms were even given private washrooms. There is evidence that there was once a wide main staircase that wound up the centre of the building, but the walls have now closed in that space.

The current main staircase in the Vendome Hotel
Although not the original, the railing is lovely and ornate
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report

The Vendome marketed itself as "one of the most homelike and quiet hotels in the downtown." The original owner of the hotel was David Murray. He came to Winnipeg with his wife and children from Ontario. It is unclear if opening the hotel is what drew the family to Winnipeg, or if he came for a different business first, and joined the hotel industry once he was settled in Winnipeg. When his sons grew up they joined their father working to manage the hotel.

The hotel was a frequent meeting place for the 90th Winnipeg Battalion, an Infantry Battalion from the First World War. The hotel also served as home for different lengths of time for some high profile guests, including Joe Hall, a major league hockey player, and Reginald Buller, a scientist who founded the Botany Department at the University of Manitoba.

Reginald Buller is considered one of the most eccentric men from the University of Manitoba's history
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report

Occasionally more unusual guests made their way into the hotel. A man who worked as a night clerk at the Vendome once found a bear cub wandering down the streets of downtown Winnipeg and brought the cub back to the hotel. Once safely at the hotel, the man fed the cub a bear's traditional diet of cheese, apples, milk, and beer. (We kid, of course as we do not recommend giving bears beer.)

In the 1950s, a company called Shea's Brewery purchased the hotel. Shea's was quickly taken over by a Canadian beer company, Labatt Breweries. It was common around this time period for breweries to own hotels.

The Vendome Hotel in the 1970s
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report

The St. Charles Hotel

Just across Portage Avenue, Fort Street turns into Notre Dame. At 235 Notre Dame, right at the corner of Albert Street, is another one of Winnipeg's historic hotels – The St. Charles Hotel. Unfortunately, the St. Charles Hotel is no longer open, and is sitting vacant.

The St. Charles Hotel
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report


The St. Charles Hotel was constructed in 1913, just over a decade after the Vendome Hotel was built. By 1913 Winnipeg had firmly established itself as the economic hub of the prairies, and the hotel was business was booming as people flocked to the city for business. 

1913 saw the economy in Winnipeg take a slight down turn. With many people looking for work, it was easy to find people to fill labour jobs. Because of this, the St. Charles hotel was built in just three months, at a cost of $122,000. 

The view down Notre Dame in 1914, one year after the completion of the St. Charles Hotel
Photo from the Heritage Winnipeg Archives

One year after its completion, in 1914, George Skinner bought the St. Charles Hotel. Skinner had already been involved with the Manitoba hotel business for a number of years. He worked for the Manitoba Hotel until it burned down, and later became a partner in the Mariaggi Hotel located at McDermot and Albert Street. Skinner managed the St. Charles Hotel for over 15 years, then sold it in 1933. 

The building has a stone basement and reinforced concrete, with a dark tapestry brick facing, set against white limestone trim. The trim is used extensively in vertical bands between alternate window sets on the upper two storeys; pedimented window heads on the second floor; horizontal belts and a bracketed cornice; and on the parapet. The fa├žade is rounded at the Albert Street/Notre Dame Avenue corner and topped by a carved stone panel that once carried the hotel’s name. 

The Argyle Building

The Argyle Building, located at 224 Notre Dame was also on the agenda of the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Development.   They also concurred with the recommendation from the Historical Buildings and Resources Committee to add the Argyle Block to the List of Historical Resources under the Historical Resources By-law 55/2014 with the following Character-Defining Elements:

A.  Exterior:

1.  Four-storey brick and stone building with flat roof located mid-block on the south side of Notre Dame Avenue, its main facades north onto Notre  Dame Avenue and south onto Garry Street and its east and west facades hidden by neighbouring buildings;
2.  The Notre Dame facade with its upper floors divided into two bays by single and paired brick pilasters with carved stone heads and bases, rectilinear window openings with stone sills and heads on the second and third floors and arched openings on the fourth floor topped by arched brickwork and large metal bracket-like keystones, a complete metal entablature engraved with the word "ARGYLE" and a heavy overhanging cornice;
3.  The Garry Street facade with its upper storeys divided into three bays, the east bay holding doors for the open metal fire escape, the other bays with paired windows, rectilinear on the second and third floors and arched on the fourth floor, oversized keystones, a complete metal entablature engraved with the word 'ARGYLE' and a heavy overhanging cornice; and
4.  Light wells in the west wall.

B.  Interior:

1.  The third and fourth floors with side hallways with doors and transoms, glass/wood fire escapes vestibules, suites, common bathrooms, murphy beds and decorative wood finishes. 

The building can also be entered from the other side, where its address is 333 Garry Street. It is named for the company that built it, the Argyle Land Company and they developed and sold land in Winnipeg. One of their first developments was called Argyle Gardens, it existed in the west end area. The company was based out of a couple other buildings before building the Argyle Building, which they built in 1908. 

The Argyle building in present day. This is its Notre Dame Street Entrance
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report
Like the St. Charles Hotel, the Argyle Building was completed within a handful on months, and it went up years before the St. Charles Hotel. Its record breaking construction speed made headlines, and crowds of people gathered on the streets to watch the construction. The Winnipeg Tribune published an article that said: "(The building's) smart red appearance will be a distinct addition to Garry Street."

The building was occupied not just by the Argyle Land Company, but some floors were rented to other commercial tenants, and the upper floors were built as residential units. 

Present day Argyle Building, the Garry Street Entrance
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report

Argyle sold their one-year-old building to Frank Lindsay in 1909, but continued to occupy it and continued to sell land, until 1911 when their company became plagued by scandal. They eventually relocated to an office in the McIntyre Block located on Main Street in 1916.

On July 29, 1920, the Argyle Building caught on fire. Three firemen were injured, and one person died. It was thought that the man who died may have started the fire by accident after falling asleep with a cigarette, but no cause was officially ruled. The building caught on fire again a second time in 1926, but thankfully there was no casualties. 

The view down Notre Dame in 1928
Photo from the Heritage Winnipeg Archives
Other historic buildings nearby include the Christie Block, a retail block located at 245 Notre Dame, and the Oxford Hotel at 216 Notre Dame, right next to the Argyle block. We are pleased at the recommendation for the Vendome Hotel and the Argyle Building to be added to the List of Historical Resources, so it can join its fellow buildings from the pre-WW1 era and be protected from demolition. 

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