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Posted: June 26, 2022

Winnipeg’s castle of opulence retains its grandeur

Roadtrippin’ at Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg, Manitoba

The Fort Garry Hotel has stood grandly overlooking the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, and Upper Fort Garry, for 109 years. (Please see videos located below.)

Opened in 1913 by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, after a two-year build, it was called Winnipeg’s “new castle of opulence” and greeted travellers disembarking from Union Station, kitty corner to the hotel, situated across broad Main Street on elm tree-canopied Broadway Avenue.

Today, the Fort Garry Hotel & Spa, Ascend Collection, is a mix of contemporary style and old world elegance complete with stone, copper and brass, and widely considered one of Winnipeg’s finest examples of the chateau style architecture, such as many railway hotels built in Canada before 1930.

“The dramatic setting characteristic of Chateau-style railway hotels was achieved here by erecting a 13-storey structure that dominated the flat, prairie landscape, and by placing the main reception rooms on the seventh floor to provide a commanding view of the city,” stated Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, March 8, 1980.

The building is one of Winnipeg’s great landmarks, one that is held in memories of every city resident; evidenced by this author’s own fond recall of it. I grew up in south St. Vital, the south centre of Winnipeg. Countless bus rides up St. Mary’s Road, which turns into Main Street at the Red River Bridge at St. Boniface, always had me straining to look up at the grand old site, which while not seeming as large anymore has retained all of its original grandeur.

The foyer and mezzanine of the hotel still impress a sense of class and awe in those who step within and the rest of the building, especially the conference and meeting rooms on the 7th floor, ooze early 20th century hob-knobbery and comfort that lured such luminaries as Queen Elizabeth II’s mom and dad, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (in 1939), to take respite at it over the past 109 years, along with the likes of Gordie Howe, Lester B. Pearson, Laurence Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Charles Laughton, Nelson Eddy, Harry Belafonte, Nelson Eddy, Liberace and Arthur Fiedler.



The hotel has had its share of up and downs over the years, from a fire in 1971, a closure in 1987 as new ownership refurbished the building and another closure in 2013 for another update to the National Historic Landmark. Another small upgrade was completed in the main floor restaurant/lounge in 2021.

Today, the hotel, spa and conference centre is a fully modern facility, offering excellent and quick access to many downtown amenities, including The Forks and Human Rights Museum, about one block to the east.

This feature was compiled over two stays at the hotel between September 2021 and May 2022. We were treated to a tour of the hotel by a Front Office Manager Jennifer Lord, which included a stop into Room 202, the hotel’s ‘haunted room.’ Every great old hotel has at least one ghost story!

The basics of the tragic tale involve a young couple who arrived at the Fort Garry for their honeymoon.

One morning, the husband popped out to find some medicine for his ailing wife. While doing so, he was struck and killed by a carriage out front of the hotel.

After his bride learned of his fate, she reportedly hung herself in the closet and lingers in the hotel to this day. Some guests have reported seeing a woman in a cloak standing at the foot of their bed, or crying at a table in the (former) lounge.

Jennifer, who graciously provided us with the tour, shared a story about the grand piano located on the Mezzanine.

She and a fellow worker were manning the front desk in the foyer one evening and heard the piano begin playing.

There is usually a lock keeping people from accessing the keys and the two workers first assumed someone had left the piano unlocked. They contacted a maintenance worker to check on the lock and he reported back that it was indeed locked. Yet, somehow someone managed to tickle the keys.

Contemplating the shimmering, cavernous foyer and mezzanine, quiet and empty, and hearing a piano begin playing left a lasting impression on us.

As did the beautifully comfortable beds; a big reason we returned to the Fort in May.

The central location also can’t be beat if you need to get around the city.

And coming from British Columbia, we found the hotel rates completely agreeable. Essentially, for what you would pay for a box-style chain hotel room in B.C. or Alberta, you get to wander down hallways 100-years tramped, with 10-foot ceilings and bump into ghosts, the famous and those from far afield.

Have a quick look at the area around and near the hotel.

See our first grand Canadian hotel feature: Exploring the grandeur of Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Photos/videos by Ian Cobb and Carrie Schafer




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