NEW YEAR’S EVE IN WINNIPEG


NEW YEAR’S EVE IN WINNIPEG
“A night out on the town circa 1913”

By George Siamandas

In Winnipeg’s hey day: 1913, the two top places to celebrate would have been the Fort Garry Hotel and the Royal Alexandra. The Fort Garry Hotel had just opened that December. The Royal Alexandra had seven years experience under its belt had just reopened after a major upgrading. But many other hotels competed for these events. The St. Charles for example promoted an evening complete with dinner for $1.00. Dinner and dancing were also available Saturday and Wednesday evenings for $1.00 at the Royal Alex.. If you preferred Saturday afternoon tea, sandwiches and other treats it cost only 40 cents at the Royal Alexandra.

DANCING
The Coliseum opened just in time for the holiday season December 16, 1912. It was Winnipeg’s first hall exclusively designed for dancing. It was located on Fort which became Winnipeg’s early auto district and which still has a couple of bars. Five hundred couples swayed to AF Demkler’s 12 piece band. Dancing was from 8:30 to 12:30 pm and lessons were available at 7:00 pm. It became the Alhambra Dance Hall in 1918 but closed down in the mid 1920s

FORT GARRY HOTEL
The Fort Garry had just opened for the Christmas Season in 1913 and it was the CN’s answer to the luxury railway hotel. The first grand event was the Victorian Order of Nurses Ball. Sir Rodmond Roblin and Mayor Deacon attended along with all the pillars of Winnipeg society. The completion of the Grand Trunk Pacific’s Hotel Fort Garry, (originally to be called the Selkirk), was described as a milestone for Winnipeg in progress from a pioneering community. Newspapers carried detailed descriptions of which lady was there and what she wore to this grand event. In the 1970s and 1980s the Fort Garry was an uncertain future but has been revived to its original elegance.

THE ROYAL ALEXANDRA
The Royal Alex opened in 1906 and was considered the CPR’s finest at the time. In anticipation of the Fort Garry’s opening the Royal Alexandra was expanded and made even more lavish about 1910. With 450 rooms and luxurious finishes it was the show piece of the city. Royalty like Kind Edward VIII stayed there. A woman writing in the 1967 Free Press about having once lived at the Royal Alex as a young girl in the 1920s, remembers going into the vice regal suite after he had stayed, and laying on the bed before it was made up by the chambermaids. All the top players that appeared at Pantages or the Orpheum Theatre stayed at the Royal Alex. And when the President to CPR came to stay every employee wore white gloves. For decades the Royal Alex was the social centre of Winnipeg with a huge rotunda and large dining rooms. Murals told the story for Manitoba and the Royal suite rented for $1,000 a night.

THE LAST NEW YEAR’S EVE EVENT AT THE ROYAL ALEX
But the dancing finally stopped. The Royal Alexandra Hotel closed on Dec 31 1967 and its last event that evening was the wedding of Sandra Gross and Jim Linton the head of Winnipeg Hydro. Winnipeg’s old jewel of a hotel was demolished in 1971. Located in the toughest part of town, the CPR sold off the station and the Royal Alex site has remained a green piece of land.

In small irony to the CPR railway that supplanted the aboriginal way of life, the native community now owns the station that epitomized the forces that ended the old nomadic life of the Indians. And all around the CPR Station, aboriginals have started to recover and reform the city that once displaced them.

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