Since 1913, the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg has been an indelible local landmark and symbol of luxury, glamour, and celebrity. One of the legendary grand railway hotels of Canada, the Fort Garry Hotel has welcomed illustrious guests ranging from Golden Age icons like Louis Armstrong and Laurence Olivier to modern celebrities like Robin Williams and Keanu Reeves. 

However, its most famous guests may have been King George VI and Queen Elizabeth who stayed at the hotel during their royal visit in 1939

Originally called The Selkirik,” the Fort Garry is not only one of the most famous luxury hotels in Canada, but it occupies an interesting place in the history of Winnipeg and Western Canada as a whole. As one of the grand railway hotels of Canada, it represents the influence of the railway in the early 20th century as it united the disparate regions of Canada not just economically, but socially and culturally. 

A lasting reminder of this crucial time in Canada, the Fort Garry Hotel not only bore witness to a tumultuous century in the history of Winnipeg, Manitoba, but played a critical role in it. 

Fort Garry Architecture

The Grand Railway Hotels of Canada: An Architectural Legacy

The tallest building in the city when it was built, the Fort Garry joined the ranks of grand railway hotels like the Royal York in Toronto and the Windsor Hotel in Montreal that served politicians, executives and celebrities who travelled across the country in style. 

Its strategic location minutes from the railway station, made it an ideal resting place for luxury travellers touring Canada. In fact, there was a tunnel connecting the hotel to the train station for many years, though it’s no longer in service. 

These railway hotels, most of which were built by the railway companies themselves, were designed to be extravagant, larger-than-life edifices, and architects strived to make each more lavish and ostentatious than the last. Built to evoke European castles with steep roof lines, ornate windows, towers and turrets, this uniquely Canadian form of architecture became known as the chateau- or chateauesque style. 

While there were similarly luxurious grand railway hotels in the US, the chateauesque style was largely unique to Canada and became popularized as more and more grand railways hotels bearing the style sprouted up along the burgeoning railway system. 

Ross and Macdonald, the Montreal-based architectural firm behind the Fort Garry Hotel, were key to the development the chateauesque style and were responsible for no less than four grand railway hotels in Canada. 

Fort Garry Hotel Mystery

The Mystery of the Fort Garry Hotel’s Room 202

The Fort Garry Hotel’s history isn’t filled with just glamour and celebrity, it also has a darkness. For decades, myths and rumours have swirled about the Fort Garry Hotel’s room 202: supposedly the most haunted hotel room in Canada. 

According to local legend, a newlywed couple had been staying at the hotel when the wife complained of a headache and asked her husband to fetch her medication. However, he never returned to hotel, dying in a traffic accident along the way. When the bride heard the news, she was overtaken by grief and took her own life in the closet of Room 202

Since then, countless guests and staff have reported ghostly apparitions like disembodied voices, bleeding walls, and a variety of strange sounds both in Room 202 and throughout the hotel. 

There have countless records made by those who encountered inexplicable phenomena in the Fort Garry’s room 202, but the most surprising witness might be former MP Brenda Chamberlain, who reported a ghostly encounter during her stay in Room 202 in 2000

According to the Guelph-Wellington MP, she awoke twice in the middle of the night due to the sensation of someone crawling into bed next her. However, when she turned to look, there was no one there. Other guests have reported being visited by a woman in a white ball gown, a crying woman in the lounge, and a robed woman wandering the halls. Some have even awoken to find shadowy figures lurking above their beds… 

Fort Garry Hotel Building

Winnipeg: the Crown Jewel of Canada?”

The Fort Garry’s construction came at a unique time in the city’s history. The largest metropolis in Western Canada at the time, Winnipeg was known as the Gateway to the West” due to its position as an important hub along the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. 

The city’s explosive economic and population growth in the latter half of the 19th century led to it becoming the third-largest city in the country by 1913, and for a time it seemed as though Winnipeg was poised to become one of the crown jewels of the British Empire. 

However, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and labour unrest culminating in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 curtailed the city’s growing ambitions. By the time the Great Depression and World War II rolled around, western cities like Calgary and Regina had begun to catch up to Winnipeg, while Vancouver eclipsed it in size. 

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Ambitious construction projects like the Fort Garry Hotel and Winnipeg Legislative Building remain as lasting reminders of that period at the turn-of-the-century when Winnipeg seemed poised to take over the world. 

The Past and Future of the Fort Garry Hotel

After a century of offering luxury and fine service to visitors to Winnipeg, the Fort Garry Hotel is still going strong. The hotel recently underwent a renovation that modernized some of its amenities while preserving its famous old-world elegance. Its modern conveniences include the onsite health centre, Ten Spa, featuring a Turkish hammam, as well as a public yoga studio, and fresh, organic cuisine. 

Whatever the future has in store for Winnipeg, the Fort Garry is sure to be a lasting reminder of its illustrious past, as well as its limitless potential. 

Special thanks to the staff at the Fort Garry Hotel for their suggestions.

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