Originally planned as a 10-story structure, the hotel was set to be named The Selkirk. However before it was completed, Montreal architects George A. Ross and David H. MacFarlane added another two floors, making it one of the most monumental hotels in Western Canada. The name was also changed to The Fort Garry Hotel because of its close proximity to Upper Fort Garry.
The Fort Garry Hotel is the sole surviving remnant in Winnipeg from the era of grand railway hotels built for the Canadian Northern Railway. Constructed between 1911 and 1913, the hotel is Manitoba’s only example of the Château architectural style and is modeled after the Château Laurier in Ottawa. It combines French Gothic qualities, but is distinctly Canadian with its exterior facades and expansive wall surfaces made of smooth-cut Indiana limestone. The building features rich detailing, especially the decorative stonework at the cornice, balcony balustrades atop the bay windows, a copper roof and a rounded stone turret topped by a polygonal roof.
The Château style building rose to the height of 192 feet and 12 stories that originally held 340 rooms, the lobby and dining room, the Crystal Ballroom and Concert Ballroom.
The Fort Garry Hotel was built and operated by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway until the formation and takeover by Canadian National in 1918.
The Fort Garry Hotel strongly resembles The Plaza in New York City including the classic base, shaft, and capital divisions of the skyscraper; flat facades with slightly projecting, four-bay end pavilions; an arcade of large, segmented windows below a prominent cornice, and the composition of the steeply sloped roofs.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stayed at The Fort Garry Hotel on Dominion Day, July 1, 1923 during a speaking tour, accompanied by his wife, Lady Jean and their three children. His schedule included press interviews, luncheons, psychic services and a lecture.
Over the decades dozens of other famous personalities enjoyed the hospitality of the hotel, including Nelson Eddy, Rudy Vallee, Nat King Cole, Victor Borge, Basil Rathbone, Charles Boyer, Lawrence Olivier, Joan Crawford, Liberace, Mantovani, Arthur Fiedler, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Arm- strong, Benny Goodman, Jack Dempsey, Jean Belliveau, Bobby Hull, Field Mar- shall Montgomery, several prime ministers including Lester Pearson and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
In 1924, a system of radio stations was developed for CN passengers and anybody who could pick up the signal. Programming included music, news, stock market reports, children’s travel tales, and hockey. Station CNRW operated on The Fort Garry Hotel’s seventh floor, where the “acoustic properties lend themselves splendidly to microphone transmission.”
On Dec. 7, 1971, the hotel’s seventh floor between the two ballrooms was the scene of a fire. It was quickly contained and all 95 hotel guests got out safely including Jack and Olive Brooks from Swan River, who landed on the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press the next day. Although fire and water damage to the top three floors was heavy, the first three floors of the hotel remained open while renovations took place.
The Fort Garry Hotel is listed as a National Historic Site in both Canada and Manitoba.