July 2, 2020

Winnipeg
19° C, Clear

Full Forecast

WEATHER ALERT

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Opinion

Hotel of Dreams: Couple worked hard to breathe new life into storied Fort Garry

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/12/2013 (2392 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Fort Garry Hotel has had a lot of history -- the kind of history that suggests it could easily have been history long ago.

Even with its designation as a site-protected historical national treasure.

That's because over a period of what amounts to a century, the hotel has endured a succession of ownership tax arrears, bankruptcies and even a time when the city had the bailiffs lock the doors.

And the beauty on Broadway went cold and dark.

Yet, this week -- on the 100th anniversary of the day it opened as one of the pearls in a national necklace of castle-like railway hotels -- the grande dame of Winnipeg inns looked more elegant and prosperous than at almost any time in its long and storied life.

The occasion Wednesday evening was a period party in the spectacular seventh-floor ballrooms; a space that had once been despoiled by the rough trade of a casino a different owner gambled on being Las Vegas north. And lost everything.

On this night, though, it was as much a time to celebrate as it was to party for Richard Bel, Ida Albo and 400 invited guests.

They're the managing partners, the husband-and-wife team most responsible for there being a 100th anniversary celebration.

By way of adding an eye-popping extra, Ida imported a burlesque troop from Vancouver.

Richard Bel and Ida Albo have overcome tremendous hurdles to make the century-old Fort Garry Hotel a success, once again.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Richard Bel and Ida Albo have overcome tremendous hurdles to make the century-old Fort Garry Hotel a success, once again.

Risqué? Perhaps, but not as risky -- or daunting -- as the business partnership the two undertook at a time when the hotel was failing and falling apart. Yet, the little-known story of how Richard and Ida and their financing partners resurrected the Fort Garry's charm and rebuilt its reputation should be taught in every business school.

It started, accidentally, 20 years ago this month.

Gilles and Jean Laberge, a pair of Quebec businessmen with no interest in running a hotel, had reluctantly inherited the Fort Garry because of a bridge loan to the previous owner who ended up having to walk away.

About the same time, Richard and Ida were running a restaurant at The Forks, operating in a small kitchen -- and on an even smaller budget -- when the manager of the Fort Garry invited them to take a look at the hotel's huge kitchen. Then he invited them to use it for their restaurant catering if they would take over the hotel's food and beverage business.

They accepted, happily.

Not long after, the hotel's reluctant owners made them another offer. Gilles Laberge sat down with them.

"We'll be the financial partner, you'll be the operating partner and we'll give you half the title."

All they had to do was give the Laberges a $50,000 good-faith down payment.

"We didn't have any money," Ida says. The deal went ahead anyway.

"And that's how our partnership started," she says.

An invitation-only crowd celebrates the hotel's 100th anniversary on Wednesday.

MANUEL F SOUSA PHOTOGRAPHY

An invitation-only crowd celebrates the hotel's 100th anniversary on Wednesday.

The Leberges put up the money for upgrading the hotel, and Richard and Ida provided their brains, creativity and sweat equity. Plus their vision.

They would need all of that and more.

That first month on the job, January 1994, the hydro bill was more than the room revenue; $54,000 coming in from rooms, $57,000 going out for heat and light.

And that first year, Richard opened the door with a campaign: any room, any time for $59, breakfast included.

He had decided the Fort Garry was really a big bed and breakfast.

From the start, Richard, the former professor of economics, saw the hotel as "a building with gorgeous public space, wrapped up in beautiful facade and rooms sprinkled around it, and a big, beautiful kitchen."

What he also saw was a restaurant with rooms.

Eventually, they would take back the casino space, expand to even more local banquet facilities without equal next door at Fort Garry Place, and add a world-class spa.

But everything they do is world-class, and they travel the world to bring it home.

The city is blessed to have them, because there will never be another couple like them in these parts. Not in a 100 years.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us