by George Siamandas
It was in early September of 1911 that construction began on this outstanding Winnipeg landmark. The Fort Garry Hotel was built as a railway hotel for the predecessor of the Canadian National Railways – the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Originally it was to be called the Selkirk. Designed as a French Chateau, it was constructed by George Fuller who had also built the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa and the Hotel McDonald in Edmonton. Along with the CPR’s old Royal Alexandra, which was demolished in 1977, the Fort Garry enjoyed the business and patronage of Canada’s and Winnipeg’s most distinguished citizens. Travellers arriving at the CN Station could take the underground tunnel running under Broadway Ave. connecting to the hotel by means of an electric car.
The interior was decorated and furnished in Louis the XIV. The Palm Room which was restored in the summer of 1994 was originally a reading room. Politicians who liked to dine at the Fort Garry would be called from their evening dinner by chimes that were synchronized with the clock at the Manitoba Legislature to return to the House. The Fort Garry had its own laundry, its own printing press, water tower, and heating plant.
Over the decades famous personalities who enjoyed the hospitality and comforts of this hotel included: Nelson Eddy, Rudy Vallee, Nat King Cole, Victor Borge, Basil Rathbone, Charles Boyer, Lawrence Olivier, Joan Crawford, Liberace, Mantovani, Arthur Fiedler, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Jack Dempsey, Jean Belliveau, Bobby Hull, Field Marshall Montgomery,prime Ministers including Lester Pearson, and the voice of Snow White; Maria Costa.
The Railway sold it in the early 1980s and it was purchased by the Perrin family. It was one of the first buildings to be given historic protection by the city in 1980. The Perrins subsequently fought the listing. The case went to Court and was decided in favour of the city. In 1986 the hotel was renovated by the Quebec Malefant family who succeeded in attracting the Crystal Casino to the ballrooms. In the last few years Winnipeggers Ida Albo and Rick Bell have breathed new life into the Fort Garry with a renovation of the main floor areas back to their original condition. They have also restored the Indiana limestone facade.