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Question about the Dominion
Aug 14, 2015

Greg Agnew, who is a Heritage Winnipeg board member, called the other day with a question: “What do you know about the Dominion Hotel?”

I had to admit that I knew only a bit about the hotel and had mentioned it just briefly in past Heritage Highlights articles.

Agnew said he was doing an article about the Dominion Hotel for Heritage Winnipeg. I was of little help, but the query did pique my interest.

That’s often how I come to write some articles for the Heritage Highlights series which appears each week in the Real Estate News. Someone calls and asks something about an event, person or landmark from the province’s past that proves to be an interesting subject. In some instances, I know about the topic in question and in other instances my knowledge is sketchy or incomplete.

If I decide to write about an item from the past, I then engage in a round of research, which may take days, weeks or even more time to complete. Doing research can be a tedious and quite painstaking process — being as accurate as possible cannot be rushed. But occasionally, I can be caught up in little things, such as why dates or people may conflict in separate accounts and how can the conflicting information be reconciled? Filling in the blanks, so to speak. Sometimes, it’s a question that cannot be fully resolved, regardless of the time spent on the quest.

In other instances, I have ongoing files and when it seems to be the appropriate time — an anniversary, for example — I will write an article.

Only when I am satisfied that I’ve exhaustively researched the subject to my best ability will I sit down in front of the computer screen and keyboard and begin to write. 

In the case of Greg’s question, there wasn’t enough time to fully research the  hotel, but because I was interested, I decided to briefly delve into its history. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long to find some information. I decided to only spend a couple of hours to research the Dominion Hotel.

I had on-hand a September 4, 1882, Winnipeg Daily Sun article entitled, Our Hotels: Where over 3,000 of the City’s Population Find Homes. It should be noted that living in a hotel for an extended period of time was not uncommon during that era. The reasons for such stays were varied and might include a travelling salesman coming to town and having to remain for an extended period of time or an immigrant unable to find other accommodations. Even families had lengthy stays in the city’s hotels.

The Sun article listed the Dominion Hotel as being on Main Street. Although its address was not given, it was at 220 Main St. and beside the Winnipeg Hotel, which was located at 214 Main St. and built in 1881.

According to the Sun article, H.A. Fawcett was the proprietor and the hotel was a wooden structure with 22 bedrooms and possessed a large hall where another 21 beds had been set up. Its parlour was 12-by-14 feet, there was an 18-by-20-foot billiard room, the kitchen and pantry was 12-by-20 feet and the bar room was 18-by-20 feet.

In their book, Ten Years in Winnipeg: A Narration of the Principal Events in the History of the City of Winnipeg from Year A.D., 1870, to the Year A.D., 1879, Inclusive, Alexander Begg and Walter Nursey, who both resided in the city at the time, wrote that the hotel was built in 1873.

When I sought more information, I found an article in the May 3, 1877, Manitoba Free Press, which reported a fire had destroyed the hotel.

“A few minutes before two o’clock this morning, flames were discovered issuing from a building used as a stable in the rear of the Garry House (hotel). In a few minutes they communicated with an adjoining stable in rear of the Dominion Hotel, kept by Mr. Swayze, and the buildings and content being dry, were in a very short time entirely enveloped in flames.”

The flames, according to the article, were fanned by a west wind and reached the rear of the Dominion Hotel. Two streams of water from hoses were trained on the building, “but it was evident that all attempts to save the hotel would be unavailing ... The front part had been left standing, but was badly charred.”

The 50 boarders in the hotel had secured their baggage and made it safely outside.

For Swayze, the loss was particularly devastating as he had no insurance on the hotel.

“Those who remember the old Dominion Hotel, which was destroyed by fire in May last, would fail to recognize the building, which phoenix-like, has risen from its ashes,” reported the Free Press on April 20, 1878, “and to which adheres the old name — the Dominion. The new hotel is a neatly built frame structure, with forty feet front and running back sixty-five feet.”

The Free Press article gives a better description of the hotel than the Sun article three years afterward: “On the ground floor is a large hall, seven feet wide, to the right of which is the bar, a handsomely finished room, and on the left a public sitting room — both apartments being 24 x 15 feet. In rear is the dining hall, a spacious room 21 x 23 ft., and conveniently on hand are store-rooms, pantries, kitchen, etc., all of which are provided with the necessary conveniences. On the second floor is a comfortably furnished ladies’ sitting room, the remainder of the flat being devoted to bedrooms, of which there are twenty-three, some of them, set apart for the use of families ... On the third flat is a large dormitory in which are twenty-three beds, and which, when there is a rush of people — as is frequently the case in the city — will doubtless be largely taken advantage of by new-comers temporarily staying in the city. Altogether there is accommodation for about one hundred guests at the Dominion.”

The new proprietor, a Mr. Kahler, spent $10,000 on erecting the new establishment on Main Street.

In fact, there would be numerous proprietors until the hotel’s demise, including R.J. Dawson, who upgraded the Dominion in 1891. Brothers Oswald and Thomas Montgomery enlarged the Winnipeg Hotel by buying the Dominion in 1901.

Here’s where it becomes necessary to sweat the details, as there was another hotel with the same name. The May 19, 1904, Winnipeg Tribune reported that the Coronation Hotel, owned by E.F. Carrol and R. Spence, was being renovated and renamed the Dominion Hotel. The other Dominion was at 523 Main St., while the old Dominion was at 220 Main St. The renamed hotel had somewhat of a checkered history, with its numerous proprietors being often fined for offences under the provincial liquor act.

According to the May 23, 1916, Tribune, the Dominion Hotel closed and an announcement appeared on its door stating that it had been seized by bailiffs “for business tax, rent, electric light and other incidentals,” and a sale of the building and contents was also announced.

Thanks to Greg’s question, I now know a lot more about the old Dominion Hotel.