VISIT THE FORT GARRY HOTEL, A HISTORIC HOTEL IN WINNIPEG
Since 1913, this former Grand Trunk Pacific Railway hotel has stood as a symbol of Winnipeg's importance as a North American transportation hub and of the prairie city's affinity for old world elegance.
One of Winnipeg's most prestigious landmarks and a national historic site, The Fort Garry has enjoyed an unparalleled renaissance, winning new admirers and accolades from patrons.
One of the city's most recognizable structures and a national landmark, The Fort Garry has defined the
Winnipeg skyline for over 90 years. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway decided to build The Fort Garry in
1911 when it completed the link between its East and West lines. The site chosen on Broadway was just one block from the railway's Union Station.
The hotel is Winnipeg's best example of the chateau style of architecture which first found expression in the magnificent railway hotels built across Canada before 1930. By the 1950s, the chateau style, with its steep rooflines, expansive wall surfaces, turrets, ornately decorated windows, and lavish ornamentation, was internationally acknowledged as distinctly Canadian.
The Fort Garry's design reflects the Francois I style of hotel which became prevalent in the eastern United States at the turn-of-the-20th-century. Henry Hardenbergh initiated the fashion with his Hotel Manhattan in New York (1895-96) and perpetuated the trend with the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. (1900-01). The Plaza Hotel in New York (1906-07) was arguably his most successful effort in the genre.
In its general characteristics, The Fort Garry historic hotel in Winnipeg has more than a passing similarity to The Plaza, particularly to its Central Park elevation. Related features include: the classic base, shaft, and capital divisions of the skyscraper; flat facades with slightly projecting, four-bay end pavilions; an arcade of large, segmented windows below a prominent cornice; and, the composition of the steeply sloped roofs.
Initially, the new hotel was to be called The Selkirk, but was instead named The Fort Garry after Upper Fort Garry, which once stood at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. Today, the gate, which was the northern entrance to the fort, is all that remains. It stands in a little park just east of the hotel.
Architects Ross and MacFarlane of Montreal modeled their original plans for the hotel after Ottawa's Chateau Laurier. Plans called for a 10-story structure, but two storeys were added during construction. The hotel rose majestically to a height of 192 feet and held 340 rooms, each with a private bathroom. The building has a steel frame, sheeted in Indian buff limestone, and a two-storey, grey granite base with large, segmental windows. The base area housed the public areas of the hotel including the lobby, dining room and lounge. The next six storeys’, which featured oriel windows in four, long strips, held the hotel rooms and suites. On the seventh and eighth storeys were the Crystal Ballroom and Concert Ballroom, whose large windows repeated the design of those on the ground floor. The configuration of this historic hotel in Winnipeg remains much the same today.
The Fort Garry's elegance and beauty becomes most apparent after climbing the grand exterior staircase and entering the main lobby through the impressive front doors. The 44 by 66 foot lobby conveys a sense of gracious living with its Napoleon grey marble floor inlaid with Belgian black marble, the high-beamed ceilings, heavy Corinthian piers supporting the overlooking mezzanine gallery, Caen stone walls, and glittering chandelier.
Another point of interest in the lobby is the brass mailbox beside the elevators. It is original to the hotel, as are the mail chutes on each floor into which guests could drop their letters. When the chute was cleaned a few years ago, several letters, which had been mailed many years earlier, were found lodged inside.
Manitoba and Canadian cresting is evident in the bronze railing on the mezzanine, which overlooks the lobby. These crests depict the shield of the Province of Manitoba and the Canadian emblem. Originally, the mezzanine was used mainly as a lounge and gentlemen's writing space, but now features smaller, banquet rooms.
Although the hotel has undergone several changes over the years, many of the rooms remain much as they were when the hotel first opened. The Main Dining Room, to the right off the main lobby, is now called the Provencher Room and used for large receptions, banquets and Winnipeg weddings. One of the largest rooms in the hotel, this 43-foot-wide room extends the length of the building. Artificial stone reaches two stories from the base course of Botticino marble. The ceiling is divided into panels with ornamental relief depicting the pinecone, laurel tulip and other features representative of Canadian life. Large windows draped in heavy curtains, antique bronze chandeliers and appliqués wall fixtures provide the lighting. The room is done in soft colors and the ornamental relief highlighted with gold, creating an overall impression of quiet dignity and refinement.
The other major room on the main floor-and perhaps the most beautiful in the hotel-is the oval-shaped Palm Lounge, situated at the back of the lobby. Forty-four feet in diameter, the Palm Room, as it was originally known, features a wall of windows on its south side. A large, antique lighting fixture is suspended from the ceiling's centre dome, which is the focal point of the room. Originally this room was used by guests to receive and entertain visitors, to write letters or to have afternoon tea, while relaxing on comfortable chairs and chesterfields. The Palm Room was considered one of the finest public rooms in any hotel on the continent.
An interesting feature of the original design was a Musician's Gallery, situated between the Palm Room and the Main Dining Room. The music would be played some distance away from the diners and guests so that it did not interfere with their conversations, yet still added to their enjoyment.
The original cafe has undergone many changes over the years. What was once The Factor's Table Dining Room is now the Broadway Room. Originally 45-feet-square, the room extended two stories in height. The walls had a four-foot, marble wainscot with a great fret running between the pilaster caps. The ceiling had three large panels finished in gold and cream with inverted electroliers suspended by a series of chains finished in antique silver. Today the space features a beautiful, neo-classical decor, with an annex suitable for small receptions.
The bar was situated at the left rear of the lobby, but has since been converted to house the gift shop and deli and hotel administration offices. With its massive ceiling beams, heavy oak furniture, stained glass windows, Swedish iron lighting fixtures attached to heavy chains, and carvings of ancient Bacchanalian gods and goddesses, the 43- by 50- foot bar was designed to appeal to its male clientele. Its deep red coloring exuded richness and good taste.
On the seventh floor are the Crystal Ballroom and Concert Hall, situated on opposite sides of the building and linked by an arched loggia and gallery. The Concert Hall is warm and inviting. It makes extensive use of 14-foot-high, oak paneling topped with a rough plaster. Large ceiling beams, large leaded-glass windows, 10 chandeliers--each with 24 lights suspended from the ceiling with Dutch fittings of antique brass-and an 18- by 23- foot concert stage contribute to the elegance of this room. The Crystal Ballroom is tastefully styled with wainscot three-and-one-half-feet high below the Caen stone wall. The wall is topped by a decorative frieze of blue field with patterned displays depicting life in the province. The 40- by 80-foot space is lit with large, crystal ceiling fixtures and wall brackets finished in old gold. The large windows, embellished with stained glass, each feature the likeness of two prominent musicians.
Perhaps, this area of the hotel most exemplifies the many changes that have taken place over the years, including the conversion of the Crystal Ballroom and the Concert Hall into a casino. During the 1990s, the sounds of dining and dancing were replaced by the clacking spin of roulette wheels and the clank of slot machines. At the beginning of 2000, the casino moved out of the hotel and the seventh floor and its ballrooms were historically restored to reflect their original grandeur and returned to their original use.
At one time, the hotel was self-contained thanks to its own heating plant, laundry, bakery, butcher shop, valets and source of artesian well water. It even had its own printing press in one of the tower rooms, where all menus and other notices for the hotel were produced. The press was so heavy and large that the room had to be built around it after it was hoisted into place. The printing press remains in place to this day, but is now accessible only via a doorway on the roof or by a 10th-floor iron ladder.
In the past, the castle-like hotel was also home to many people, including long-time residents Dr. Mckenty and Mrs. Marjorie Eaton. As well, chambermaids lived in the hotel in small rooms on the upper floor. Because their workplace was also their home, a strong bond formed among the employees. While they were actually employees of the railway that owned the hotel, the staff did not consider themselves as such.
Many famous people were guests at the hotel in its earlier years including Nelson Eddy, Harry Belafonte, Charles Laughton, Lawrence Olivier, Liberace, Arthur Fiedler, Louis Armstrong, Gordie Howe, and Lester Pearson. Perhaps the most famous guests were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who stayed at the hotel during their 1939 visit to Canada. These high-profile guests were testimony to the hotel's high quality of service and enhanced its esteem in the eyes of the public.
Today, following extensive renovations, The Fort Garry has renewed its reputation for quality and service and re-established its place among Canada's grand hotels, offering an ambiance unequaled by many of its peers and more modern counterparts. To many people, The Fort Garry Hotel, Spa & Conference Centre is more than an elegant hotel. It is an architectural icon and a vibrant, enduring piece of Winnipeg history.