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Hall-Marks The Spot: Winnipeg's Heritage in Christmas Movies

If you have been anywhere in Winnipeg in the past several years, you’ve likely seen a film crew at some point. They’re easy to spot: Long white trucks, maybe a trailer or two, set up along Winnipeg’s suburban streets or in a parking lot downtown. Manitoba’s film industry has taken off, bringing in millions of dollars (2.73 million in 2018/19, to be specific) and dozens of Hollywood stars.

There are incentives to come film in Winnipeg. Provincial tax credits make filming in Manitoba comparably cheaper than somewhere like Toronto, and both the natural and built environment prove to be considerable draws.

Winnipeg has a wide variety of building types going back 150 years, and the old-fashioned brick streets of the Exchange District can and have doubled for Chicago, New York, and even Texas. Homes along Wellington Crescent and Kingsway can work for your grand mansion needs. Even our more modernist structures and less-distinctive side streets are used for more contemporary films.

One particular genre of film has flourished in Winnipeg: the made-for-TV Christmas movie.

Both Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel produce an astounding amount of holiday movies each year, all themed around a variety of festive situations (candy cane factories, Christmas tree farms, historic inns, take your pick) but behind the fake snow and twinkling lights, though, you may find some familiar looking scenery. All in all, Hallmark and Lifetime have filmed a total of nine Christmas movies in Winnipeg in 2019 alone – and almost all of them rely, in one way or another, one Winnipeg’s built heritage.

Here's a handy list of some of the places you may have seen if you're watching holiday movies this year:

1. Albert Street

Albert Street is used for filming in the Exchange District a lot, and it's not hard to see why. Perfectly intact period structures give the area a sort of character that's difficult to replicate, and means Albert Street can be anything from New York City to a quaint Christmas town and, in fact, Albert Street manages to be both of those things in Hallmark's Merry & Bright.

Merry & Bright Candy Cane store replaces the entrance to SOGA Soaps in the Exchange District.
Source: Merry & Bright, Hallmark.
Merry & Bright takes place in the overly festive town of Britewell, Ohio, and the candy cane factory that acts as the movie's focal point uses the Mariaggi Hotel (231 McDermot) as a backdrop. The building, once an apartment complex turned luxury hotel in 1904, is now home to a variety of stores and restaurants.  The Mariaggi is a focal point of the movie, and we see the exterior of the building repeatedly throughout the film.

For much of the movie, Merry & Bright doesn't stray too far from the Mariaggi Hotel. Just a street away the movie transforms Albert Street into New York City, where the main characters discuss the future of the small-town candy cane company.

In Merry & Bright, this stretch of Albert Street becomes New York City (despite being only a street away from their other Exchange District filming location).
Source: Merry & Bright, Hallmark.

We see Albert Street, again, in Christmas At The Plaza. This time, the focus stays south of McDermot - and firmly on the Telegram Building (70 Albert Street). In Winnipeg the Telegram Building opened as a warehouse in 1889 but is mostly known for being the headquarters of the Winnipeg Telegram from 1901-1919. The building was added to the City of Winnipeg's historic resources list on July 14th, 1980. You'll spot it doubling as a toy store in NYC in Christmas at the Plaza.

Filming of Christmas at the Plaza on Albert Street.
Source: Christmas at the Plaza, Hallmark.

The scene in the actual film. Festive toys and trains are placed in the Telegram Building's window.
Source: Christmas at the Plaza, Hallmark.
Albert Street, and the Mariaggi Hotel, are due to appear in another film premiering sometime in the next year.

A New York taxi parked outside of Shawarma Khan, waiting for filming to begin. December, 2019.
Source: Sabrina Janke, Heritage Winnipeg.

Cabs lined up outside of the Marriagi Hotel.December, 2019.
Source: Sabrina Janke, Heritage Winnipeg.

2. 6 Ruskin Row

This historic 1910 mansion, built for publisher Charles Stovel, does double duty as two inns this year as Britewell Inn in Merry & Bright and as North Star Inn in Radio Christmas.
In Radio Christmas, 6 Ruskin Row is an inn in the town of Bethelehm Pennslyvania.
Source: Radio Christmas, Hallmark.

Britewell Inn, indirectly showing an excellent example of the repurposing of a singe family mansion.
Merry & Bright, Hallmark.

Architect Victor Horwood designed the classically inspired structure, which has 20 rooms.

6 Ruskin Row in real life, missing snow and the christmas decorations.
Source: MHS

3. Antiques & Funk (474 Main Street)

Main Street's quirky antiques store makes an appearance in Lifetime's No Time Like Christmas, as a vintage jewelry store staffed by Parks & Recreation's Jim O'Heir. Antiques & Funk opened as a photography studio and residence for photographer Simon Duffin and his family in 1881. The building was added to the City of Winnipeg's historic resources list on March 5th, 1984.

Protagonist Emma passes by Antiques & Funk. Across the Board is clearly visible in the background.
Source: No Time Like Christmas, Lifetime.

The interior of Antiques & Funk, looking more or less the same in the movie as it does in real life.
Source: No Time Like Christmas, Lifetime.
The exterior of Antiques & Funk, as seen in 2014.
Source: Ghosts of the Exchange: Remainders and Reminders

4. Trappist Monastery (100 rue des Ruines du Monastère)

The ruins of the old Trappist Monastery is located just outside of St. Nobert. Built in 1903-1904 for the Trappist Order from the Abbey of Bellefontaine in France, it was once a gorgeous Richardson Romanesque structure. A fire in the 1980s gutted most of the building, leaving only ruins behind. In 1990, despite so little of the Monastery remaining, the Province of Manitoba designated the ruins as a provincial historic site. Today, it's a lovely attraction and is used for plays, weddings, and more. In Always & Forever Christmas it's used for something a little more unusual: a Christmas pudding throwing contest (seriously).

Crowds get ready to throw pudding in the monastery.
Source: Always and Forever Christmas, Hallmark
The Trappist Monastery, without the film crew and Christmas decorations.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough, MHS.

5. Pantages Theatre (180 Market Avenue)

The Pantages Theatre is remarkably easy to spot when it's used in film. Its' entrance is distinctive, a remnant of vaudeville days that have long passed. In No Time Like Christmas, the Pantages Theatre becomes the focal point of the movie as an unnamed historic venue that hosts an annual Christmas show.

The exterior of the Pantages Theatre, which plays a crucial role in the story of No Time Like Christmas. You can see the City of Winnipeg's building plaque on the left side.
Source: No Time Like Christmas, Lifetime.

No Time Like Christmas spends a lot of time in the theatre, exploring the lobby, auditorium and backstage areas. Much of the building is unchanged from its 1913 opening date. The building's owner was vaudeville magnate Alexander Pantages, who owned and operated over 75 theatres at his peak in the mid-1910s. Today, Winnipeg's Pantages Theatre is one of only a handful that remain.

The ropes backstage at the Pantages Theatre. Some of the original rope-rigging remains from the theatres vaudeville days.
Source: No Time Like Christmas, Lifetime.

Crowds gather to audition in the lobby, which was designed to look more opulent than a typical vaudeville house.
Source: No Time Like Christmas, Lifetime.

Vaudeville brought big name stars like Harry Houdini, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, and Charlie Chaplin to Winnipeg - and some would grace the stage of the Pantages Theatre. Remarkably well preserved, the building was designated by the City of Winnipeg in 1981, became a National Historic Site in 1985, and became a Provincial Heritage Site in 2004.

The final performance in the movie takes place in front of a full house.
Source: No Time Like Christmas, Lifetime.

6. Red River College (160 Princess Street)

Red River College appears more than Albert Street this year in a variety of Christmas movie productions. Once five separate buildings (The Benson, Bawlf, and Harris blocks and Grain Exchange I and II) it is now home to Red River College's Roblin Campus in the Exchange District.

Red River College in 2006.
Source: Historic Resources Branch, Manitoba Culture, Heritage, Tourism and Sport, 2006.

A multi-day Christmas festival takes place outside of Red River College in No Time Like Christmas, which is set in Vermont.
Source: Lifetime.
Red River College in The Christmas Club.
Source: The Christmas Club, Hallmark.

The building's brightly painted facades fit the Christmas town aesthetic of the Hallmark and Lifetime movies. Restoration of these structures was quite the process, though. Just 20 years ago the block was largely vacant and the buildings stood in rough shape. Thanks to funding from the City of Winnipeg and the efforts of Heritage Winnipeg and Red River College there is a vibrant student space downtown that also happens to look fantastically festive when covered in candy canes.

Nutcrackers are replaced with candy canes in Christmas Love Song.
Source: Our Christmas Love Song, Hallmark.
This time, we actually go inside Red River College - where the seating area for students has been replaced by a candy store.
Source: Our Christmas Love Song, Hallmark.

7. Manitoba Legislature (450 Broadway)

Manitoba's ornate legislature is one of the finest government structures in the country, and is full of luxurious materials and elaborate decorations. It is also a distinctive landmark in the city. Though, in Two Turtle Doves, you don't see the Golden Boy or the sphinxes above the doorway, and the Legislature is home to corporate offices.

Above the room of the Black Pool Star in the Manitoba Legislature.
Source: Two Turtle Doves, Hallmark.
The Legislature is a point of interest for tourists, in part due to stories of masonic influence in the architecture. The structure was added to the Province of Manitoba's historical buildings list in 1989.

A corporate business meeting takes place in a side room of the Manitoba Legislature.
Source: Two Turtle Doves, Hallmark.

8. Ted Motyka's Dance Studio (460 Main Street)

Ted Motyka's Dance Studio is turned, unsurprisingly, into a dance studio in The Christmas Club. Ted Motyka's operates out of the banking hall of the former Royal Bank of Canada headquarters on Main Street. Like other 1907 banks, marble abounds in the interior. The building was designated by the city of Winnipeg on September 2 1997.

The interior of Ted Motkya's Dance Studio
Source: The Christmas Club, Hallmark.
The exterior of the former Royal Bank of Canada Building, now home to Ted Motyka's Dance Studio.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

This is hardly an exhaustive list - the film industry in Manitoba shot in 29 communities and not every location is as immediately identifiable as Albert Street. Still - it's always a delight to recognize Winnipeg behind the veneer of candy canes and fake snow. Movies are filmed in Winnipeg almost year round, and the majority are not Christmas-oriented. This past year, we have also seen Sean Penn and Bob Odenkirk in town filming big name productions. If you're ever curious about what's going on in town, you can check out ACTRA's guide to movies filming in Winnipeg.

Have a happy holiday season from all of us at Heritage Winnipeg! We'll be back in the new year with our annual preservation awards, exciting blogs, and more!


Written by Sabrina Janke on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg.

Manitoba Film and Music Annual Report 2018/19
Manitoba Historical Society: Mariaggi Hotel
Manitoba Historical Society: Telegram Building
Manitoba Historical Society: Trappist Monastery
Canada's Historic Places: Red River College Princess Campus
Manitoba Historical Society: Pantages Theatre
City of Winnipeg Historic Resources Committee: 474 Main Street (Duffin Block)
Manitoba Historical Society: Crescentwood Tour
Hallmark Movies: Our Christmas Love Song, Merry & Bright, The Christmas Club, Christmas at the PlazaTwo Turtle Doves 
Lifetime Movies: No Time Like Christmas, Radio Christmas
Always & Forever Christmas



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