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They’ve got the Windsor Hotel wrecking-ball blues

Rally set for Saturday to save storied downtown bar

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Fans of the blues plan to protest the rumoured sale and demolition of the storied Windsor Hotel downtown.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/01/2010 (4605 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Fans of the blues plan to protest the rumoured sale and demolition of the storied Windsor Hotel downtown.

Winnipeg blues singer Kathy Kennedy is organizing a rally for 2 p.m. Saturday in front of the 107-year-old Garry Street facility, which once played host to comedian Charlie Chaplin but is more famous as a home of live blues music.

Kennedy says she has heard from "an inside source" that the hotel was going to be levelled in favour of a parking lot.

RUTH.BONNEVILLE@FREEPRESS.MB.CA

"Somebody leaked the info who shouldn’t have, and that’s as far I can go," said Kennedy, who performed regularly in the hotel’s 192-seat beverage room until six months ago.

But the rumoured closing came as news Tuesday afternoon to the hotel’s lone employee on duty, bartender Gordon Dak, who said he had heard nothing of the sort.

Dak did not have a name or contact information for the hotel’s current owner, said to be a Calgarian. Hotel manager Russell Kozak could not be reached.

MIKE.APORIUS@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local blues legend Big Dave McLean played at the Windsor for 28 years.

No demolition permit has been requested for the Windsor, a city spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

But that could change tomorrow, according to Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell, who said an application was turned down in 2005 to have the building put on the city’s heritage conservation list. Nor does the three-storey grey-painted structure exist on the city’s inventory list of potential heritage buildings.

Veteran bluesman Big Dave McLean says he has heard that both the Windsor and Mitzi’s Restaurant on the corner of Garry and St. Mary Avenue were coming down to make way for a parkade to serve the proposed new police headquarters on the Canada Post site across Garry Street.

"The Windsor is not the blues club it used to be," said McLean, who stopped performing there two years ago after 28 years. The Jazz Winnipeg Festival stopped using it as a venue after 2008.

Mitzi’s is closed until Jan. 11, and the owner could not be reached. As to whether the city was interested in either Mitzi’s or the Windsor, spokeswoman Michelle Bailey said, "Unequivocally, N-O."

Winnipeg hotelier Boyd Newton, a co-owner of the Royal George in Transcona, confirmed on Tuesday that he and three partners, including former Windsor owner Rick Penner, had written a letter of intent to buy the Windsor for a figure "in excess of $1 million" but were turned down.

"Our intention was to run it the way it was in the old days," Newton said. "It’s unfortunate (if the Windsor goes). There are very few places left for live music."

Newton, who books live music into the Royal George, said the sale was being handled locally by commercial realtor Dennis Gervais. The asking price was $1.3 million.

A call to Gervais at the firm Colliers Pratt McGarry was not returned on Tuesday.

Veteran saxophonist Eli Herscovitch, who played the Windsor with Tim Butler’s band on New Year’s Eve, says he heard that night that the hotel was doomed.

"I tried taking a few photos for memory’s sake, but some little fellow with a sharp lip and a drooling attitude came over and rudely demanded I stop," Herscovitch said in an email.

"I guess no one had mentioned to him that I was supplying my personal equipment (mikes, stands and cables) because the house sound system had been allowed to deteriorate beyond repair. Even the soap dispenser in the men’s room was totally smashed."

Since the 1970s, after Penner bought it, the Windsor stage has been graced by almost every significant blues act in Canada and the U.S.

In 2004 Penner sold out to his partner Isak Leger, who in turn sold it in 2008. Since then management has leaned toward hip-hop music and even exotic dancers.

Arguably the 44-room hotel’s most famous guest was Chaplin, who stayed there as many as five times between 1911 and 1913. In those days it was called the La Claire after having been opened as a boarding house in 1903.

In 1913 Chaplin, then a vaudeville performer, used La Claire stationery to write a letter to his brother saying he was about to sign his first movie contract.

In 2001, a mural commemorating the Chaplin incident was painted on the hotel’s exterior north wall.

— With files from Bartley Kives

morley.walker@freepress.mb.ca

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