Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Woodbine Hotel at 466 Main Street

Article by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director. 


The west side of Main Street between McDermot and Bannatyne ca. 1880s. Dufferin Hotel, later the Woodbine, is shown by the arrow. Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
The Woodbine Hotel at 466 Main Street was built in 1878 as Dufferin Hall, a small hostel that was about 22 feet wide and approximately twice as long. The original building was a wood frame structure and unlike the the current structure, did not extend all the way to Albert Street. 

The scene along Main Street in the early 80s was filled with bars and saloons (the hotels that housed them stretched from the CPR Station on Higgins to what is now Union Station) and were accompanied by con artists, prostitution, and gamblers in large numbers. In 1881, there were 64 saloons flourishing along this Main Street strip, leading James Gray to later refer to the area as a "perpetually self-renewing quagmire" (James H. Gray Booze Macmillan of Canada (Toronto) 1972 p. 10).  

Bars became the focal point of social activity, making the sale of alcohol a very profitable business, bringing with it the familial and public consequences of drunkenness. These bars looked very little like the businesses we know today - there were no tables or chairs in these establishments, minimum decoration, and almost no concessions to comfort. Prairie saloons were designed for patrons that drank standing up, with only a footrail around the serving bar and spittoons placed strategically along the floor. These establishments were designed for the sole purpose of drinking to get drunk. 

The Woodbine Hotel shows as the dark brick between two lighter buildings ca. 1882. Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
Dufferin Hall would appear to have been exclusively used as a saloon, with no rooms available for customers to stay in. The hall was sold sometime in 1880 or 1881 and renamed the Woodbine, after a popular racetrack and large hotel in Toronto. The hope was that the familiar name would attract expatriates from eastern Canada.

In 1882, the Woodbine changed hands once again, this time sold to two of the city's top proprietors. James O'Connor and H.A. Chadwick owned and managed several successful Winnipeg hostelries, usually turning the businesses over quickly and at a handsome profit. From 1882 to 1883, O'Connor partnered with James Dimmick to manage the Woodbine, maintaining the bar, and possibly establishing a dining room in the hotel. 

Shortly thereafter, the hotel was purchased by Melville Wood, son of Manitoba's Chief Justice, who suffered the misfortune of having purchased the hotel at an inflated price and being forced to sell in a soft market. He continued on as proprietor of the Woodbine and may well have regained its ownership. 

The Woodbine Hotel, painted white, ca. 1884. Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
In 1884, the Woodbine announced that its boarding quarters and restaurant were under the management of a Mrs. Douglas. Oysters, popular as a status symbol in Winnipeg, were served as seasonal delicacies and a respectable restaurant and billiard room occupied the second floor. The saloon on the first floor was advertised as "the rendezvous of the leading businessmen" in 1886 (The City of Winnipeg Thompson and Bayer Winnipeg 1886 p. 153). 

Further improvements were made in 1889, when the restaurant was also re-established under the management of John Gurn. Shortly thereafter, Edward H. Hebb purchased the Woodbine and he would continue to own and operate it for the next 30 years. Initially, he worked in partnership with John Wilkes, who worked as a bartender in the hotel. The City of Winnipeg directory in 1896 listed the Woodbine as "Hebb and Wilkes, Saloon", demonstrating its contribution to Main Street at the time.

Sometime between the early 1880s and 1899, a light-coloured brick veneer was added to the facade and the two-storey structure was expanded back to open onto Albert Street. This would have required major restructuring of the hotel's interior, the remains of which could still be seen on some of the finishing when the City's Historical Report was completed in 1985. 

A dark brick veneer was applied to the hotel in the summer of 1899, with heavy limestone trim, a stone parapet, and a scrolled datestone displaying "1899" in the centre. Under the proprietorship of Hebb and his later partner, Denis Lennon, the Woodbine prospered with a saloon, billiards, and a restaurant, with private rooms on the second floor. 

W.J. Bulman, creator of the Bulman Brothers. Image courtesy of the MHS Memorable Manitobans website.

In the fall of 1904, a fire broke out in the printing shop of the Bulman Brothers, located along Bannatyne between Albert and Main. The gusting wind accompanied by the chemicals needed for the printing process fanned the fire to an inferno. The fire jumped Bannatyne to the Ashdown store where more flammable goods were stored. The resulting explosions roared back, igniting the roof of the Woodbine. The walls of the Bulman Block collapsed, and the building fell onto the roof of the hotel. No one died in the fire but damage to the area was extensive. 

Both the Bulman and Ashdown buildings had to be demolished and the Woodbine and what became Birts' Saddlery (then the Dufferin Block) were heavily damaged. Bulman's was never rebuilt, nor was the space ever redeveloped, leaving the open space that is now the parking lot at the corner of Bannatyne and Albert.

The fire damage provided an opportunity for Hebb and Lennon to expand their establishment. They rebuilt the damaged interior and added a third storey to the back of the hotel, designed by Architect J.H. Cadham. For some unknown reason, the third storey ended about thirty feet from the front of the building, creating a step-back that lasted until 1923. Another fire in 1923 again provided the new owners with an opportunity for renovation, this time extending the third floor all the way to Main Street and reworking the front facade under the supervision of Architect E.W. Crayson. 

The facade was reduced to two bays of double windows on the upper floors and a storefront entrance on the ground floor. Three brick piers framed the windows beneath a copper painted cornice. The modern, heavily windowed front was enabled by a steel skeleton to support it. Prism and plate glass, some set in copper, trimmed the the doors and windows of the facade.

With nearly 100 hotels within a three-quarter mile radius of the CPR Station, the bars began to attract the interest of a growing and powerful lobby of prohibitionists. The Manitoba Prohibition Act came into effect on June 1, 1916, effectively eliminating all public and most private drinking establishments in the province. Prohibition measures were put in place by many provinces around that time, with prohibition being included in the War Measures Act of 1918.  

Interior of the Woodbine ca. 1920. Image courtesy of the Western Canada Pictorial Index, 1287-38544 and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
Many of Winnipeg's hotels had relied solely on their bars as a source of revenue and were devastated by the new laws. Larger hotels, along with the smaller hotels that had diversified earlier, managed to survive. The front of the Woodbine was converted into a "temperance bar", serving soft drinks, coffee, and a special prohibition concoction known as temperance beer. The MHS website explains that this beer had a maximum of 2.5% alcohol, the legal limit set by the federal government of the day.  

The long and narrow shape of the Woodbine made it perfect for adaptive reuse. A barbershop was established in part of the front along with the temperance bar. Eight of the finest Brunswick billiard tables were purchased and installed into what had been an elongated bar. Two bowling alleys were opened on the Albert Street side of the building, with one on the first floor and the second occupying the basement. It is unlikely, based on city reports of the time, that the building continued to function as a hotel, focusing instead on its recreational activities. Prohibition lasted in Winnipeg until 1927. 

Bootlegging liquor was also fairly common for small prairie hotels during prohibition, a necessity to avoid bankruptcy. When the inevitably got caught, the breweries would pay the fines in order to keep the hotels going and selling their product. By the end of prohibition, many hotels had been taken over by breweries in payment for their debts. The Woodbine was owned by Shea's, Winnipeg's largest brewery, by the time they were in turn bought out by Labatt's. When the City Report was completed in 1985, the owner had purchased the Woodbine from Labatt's in 1965, when they were forced by law to sell their hotel buildings. 

An undated photo of the Albert Street facade. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Planning Department and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
When the bars reopened in 1927, the hotel was once again renovated, bringing the Woodbine to its 1985 basic layout and appearance. The storefront on the Albert Street entrance probably dates from 1927 or the early 1930s. When the City Report was completed in 1985, the staircases had been moved at least twice but the early detailing had survived. Pressed tin ceilings were also on all three floors as well as the basement. The heavy stone and concrete foundations are likely part of one of the earlier renovations. 

The post-prohibition laws once again required an uncomfortable and male-only atmosphere, with women only being permitted into the Woodbine as of March 1985. At that time, the Albert Street side had been converted into retail space, with the front once again serving as a small bar. Tables and chairs and shuffleboard tables had been added. 


In 2016, the retail space on Albert Street is now occupied by Across the Board, a game cafe specializing in soup and sandwich fare. 

Sources & Links

City of Winnipeg Historical Report - Long
City of Winnipeg Historical Report - Short
Manitoba Historical Society Website - 466 Main Street
Virtual Heritage Winnipeg Website - 466 Main Street 

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2 comments:

  1. Very thorough and informative, though with one small error: Bulman Brothers DID rebuild on the site of the fire at Albert and Bannatyne, and photos as late as the 1950s show the rebuilt building there, as do the Fire Atlases. It was demolished in 1964.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Eurydice - thank you for letting me know! Would you happen to have a source for that information so that I can let the City know about the error in their report?
      Thanks,
      Laura

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