Historic Sites of Manitoba: Queen’s Hotel / Montgomery Block / Bank of Toronto Building / Toronto-Dominion Bank Building (215 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg)
Nearly dating as far back as Winnipeg’s founding, this northeast corner of Portage Avenue and Notre Dame Avenue was the site of the Queen’s Hotel for a lengthy span of time. Its presence on this corner began in 1879, constructed by the local firm of Hugh Sutherland & Brothers at a cost of $11,500. Work on the three-storey structure began following a successful tendering in late July of that year. Once furnished and stocked at a further cost of $8,500, the establishment boasted 50 bedrooms, three parlors, a billiard room, and the longest bar in Western Canada. Its first owners were James O’Connor and Thomas H. “Tom” Brown, who declared their establishment “the only first class hotel west of St. Paul [Minnesota]!” Opened for functions by early October 1879, it was opened officially on 1 January 1880, when it was declared that “the institution has been gorgeously fitted up from top to bottom and will no doubt make good its claim as one of the leading hostels of the north west.” On account of a fateful typographic error, the establishment holds the distinction of being the first motel in Winnipeg.
It was on this location that the Winnipeg Curling Club announced, in 1880, their lifetime membership fee of $50. In the early years, the bar room floor was covered with six inches of sawdust to absorb spilled beverages. Later proprietors included William Mackenzie and Donald D. Mann (who later established the Canadian Northern Railway Company), along with Montreal financiers James Ross and Herbert S. Holt. The management was renowned for its generosity to the guests and staff. On the 1882 departure of two well-liked bartenders, Mike Shelley and Billy Gaetz, they were each treated to a grand farewell and a gold watch.
By March 1904, the site (which had 135 feet of frontage on Portage Avenue and 126 feet on Notre Dame Avenue) had been considered for the new Post Office Building but was sold at a cost of $174,000 to brothers Oswald Montgomery and Thomas Montgomery, who took possession on 1 May 1904. It was the largest real estate deal in the city to that time. The Montgomery Brothers, recent owners of the Winnipeg Hotel, set about overhauling and improving the establishment, investing over $75,000 over the next 13 months. The modernized and expanded building re-opened in early July 1905. All three floors and basement were redone, with the revamped hotel featuring imported limestone throughout the main level, and upper levels receiving stone trimmings and white bricks. Rooms were renovated with private baths and porcelain tubs. The main floor dining room featured stain glass windows and electric fixtures. The 100-foot span of an in-house barber shop was said to be the longest in the Dominion. The brothers reportedly turned down a $320,000 offer for the hotel in May 1905.
Less than three years later, the building’s interior was overhauled under the direction of local painter and decorator Vigor Rho. The walls were adorned with large panel oil paintings of local landscapes, including Elm Park, the road to the picnic grounds, the old Fort Garry, Indian Camps along the Red River, Winnipeg Beach, garden scenes, wild river falls, fishing and lumbering scenes. Electric chandeliers, generous use of gold leaf, ceiling relief of floral bouquet were all installed, with the hotel’s rotunda outfitted in marbles, granites, and a dark green sea granite base, to contrast with the Sienna and red-veined granite of the relief panels and pale Venetian marble. Managers included Frederick William Sprado and Cyrus Young Gregory.
This period of glory faded during the First World War and the hotel was closed in 1916 due to financial issues under the Manitoba Temperance Act. Hopes of it reopening were dashed and the space was converted to commercial and professional use, with early occupants including Liggett’s (formerly the Gordon-Mitchell’s Drug Company owned by John Cram Gordon and W. J. Mitchell) and the Monarch Clothes Shop. Referred to as the Old Queen’s Hotel for the first few years, the building was re-branded the Montgomery Block around 1923, which persisted until it was demolished. The site was home to The Phoenix Club from around 1932 to 1948 and was later owned by the National Trust Company.
On 6 October 1945, the Bank of Toronto (which had a branch nearby on Main Street) announced that it had purchased the property as the site for its new Winnipeg Branch and Regional Headquarters. Demolition of the Montgomery Block began on 14 October 1950. Its six-storey replacement, based on designs of architects George William Northwood and Cyril William Upton Chivers, in association with W. R. L. Blackwell and Craig of Toronto, faced the corner of Portage and Notre Dame. Frontage measured 115 feet on Portage, 80 feet along Notre Dame, and 100 feet deep. Built of limestone, granite, and steel at a cost of around $1.5 million, the building’s main level interior was decorated with Italian Travertine marble. In 1955, following the merger of the Bank of Toronto and the Dominion Bank, it became the Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank).
Following completion of an adjacent 33-storey office tower known as the TD Centre, opened on 14 June 1990, plans called for demolition of the Toronto-Dominion Bank building and the erection of a 20- to 25-storey “sister” tower. Plans for the second tower never came to fruition but demolition of the bank building nevertheless began on 31 October 1990 and was completed within three months. The site is now an outdoor plaza adjacent to the office tower (known in succession as the CanWest Place, CanWest Global Place, and 201 Portage).
Photos & Coordinates
McPhillips Insurance Plans of the City of Winnipeg, Province of Manitoba, 1880, Block No. 11, Library and Archives Canada.
Insurance Plan of the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Volume 1, August 1906, Sheet No. 5, Library and Archives Canada.
“The new front of the Queen’s Hotel [...],” Manitoba Daily Free Press, 29 September 1874, page 3.
“City and Provincial [O’Connor & Brown’s hotel], Manitoba Daily Free Press, 30 July 1979, page 1.
“Honors to Ald. Conklin,” Manitoba Daily Free Press, 7 October 1879, page 4.
“The Queens Hotel,” Manitoba Daily Free Press, 8 March 1880, page 1.
“Fire paves the way,” Manitoba Daily Free Press, 27 May 1892, page 6.
“Queen’s Hotel,” Winnipeg Daily Tribune, 21 July 1898, page 3.
“Another proposed P.O. site,” Manitoba Free Press, 19 March 1904, page 18.
“Highest price for Winnipeg realty,” Manitoba Free Press, 31 March 1904, page 1.
“Queen’s Hotel changes hands,” Winnipeg Tribune, 31 March 1904, page 9.
“Offered 320,000 for Queen’s Hotel,” Winnipeg Tribune, 10 May 1905, page 10.
“The Queens Hotel,” Winnipeg Tribune, 16 December 1905, page 22.
“The Queen’s Hotel,” Winnipeg Tribune, 21 December 1907, page 40.
“Record prices,” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 August 1905, page 1.
“New Queen’s is now open,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 July 1905, page 5.
“The Queen’s Hotel,” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 April 1905, page 3.
“Big price for Portage site,” Winnipeg Tribune, 10 March 1906, page 1.
“The renovated Queen’s Hotel,” Manitoba Free Press, 10 September 1908, page 2.
“Gordon-Mitchell to open another Winnipeg store,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 October 1916, page 35.
“Financial troubles close Queen’s Hotel,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 May 1916, page 5.
“The Macdonald Act,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 April 1916, page 10.
“May re-open Queen’s Hotel bar next week,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 May 1916, page 9.
“Thank you,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 February 1917, page 13.
“Coming!” Manitoba Free Press, 25 August 1919, page 22.
“Overcoat day Saturday,” Manitoba Free Press, 1 December 1927, page 20.
“National Trust still owns Montgomery Block,” Manitoba Free Press, 7 December 1929, page 47.
“The Oldtimer talks,” by G. C. Porter, Winnipeg Tribune, 14 January 1939, page 37.
“Bank Block to replace landmark,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 August 1948, page 1.
“Bank asks tenders on new building,” Winnipeg Free Press, 28 August 1948, page 3.
“New bank to replace old block,” Winnipeg Free Press, 14 October 1950, page 1.
“Colorful 80’s recalled as landmark eased,” Winnipeg Free Press, 14 October 1950, page 1.
“Landmark,” Winnipeg Free Press, 14 October 1950, page 12.
“The door to friendly service [The Toronto - Dominion Bank], Winnipeg Free Press, 8 February 1955, page 2.
“Getting on in the new Chicago,” Winnipeg Free Press, 2 June 1985, page 6.
“Developers say growth, office demand key to next tower,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 June 1990, page 21.
“Westbound right turn prohibited on Portage Avenue at Notre Dame Avenue,” Winnipeg Free Press, 13 October 1990, page 10.
“Aspers ‘jazzing up’ Portage and Main,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 October 2005.
Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.
This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 12 August 2019