The historic Fort Garry Hotel is on the market for the first time since 1993 — but a former owner won’t be bidding on it.
John Perrin, whose family lost the hotel in a seizure and tax sale in the 1980s and who has been fighting in the decades since to restore his family name and to get compensation for their loss, had a simple answer when asked if he would look at buying the hotel.
"Nah, we’ve had our hotel experience" was all Perrin would say about that possibility on Monday.
But Perrin said the news that the owners are selling the hotel, with national Realtor Cushman and Wakefield saying the ballpark price was "somewhere in the $40 millions," didn’t reopen a wound.
"It opens old wounds, but the wounds have never closed," Perrin said.
"It just reminds me of the potential that was taken away from us — and we also owned the land that Fort Garry Place is on.
"We were really screwed."
The hotel was constructed by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and opened its doors in 1913. The hotel was later taken over by CN Rail when it took over the Grand Trunk Railway and CN Rail owned it until the Perrin family purchased it in 1979 and then lost it in the tax sale in 1987.
The tax problem arose when the hotel received its first tax bill in 1980 — when it was owned by CN Rail, it paid the city a grant in lieu of taxes as a Crown corporation.
Perrin said the hotel assessment was 9,700 per cent higher than it should have been, leading to a tax bill of $280,000 on a building the family had paid $100,000 for.
But when the Perrins went to appeal the next year’s assessment, they couldn’t. Not only had the province passed Bill 100, freezing the 1980 assessment for both the 1981 and 1982 tax years, but the City of Winnipeg became the only municipality in the province to take away the right of property owners to appeal assessments.
And while the Supreme Court eventually overturned the city’s decision, by then it was too late — the hotel had already been seized and sold in a tax sale.
Quebec hotelier Raymond Malenfant was the successful buyer and he operated the hotel until selling it to Ida Albo and Rick Bel in 1993.
Albo did not respond to an interview request.
Meanwhile, Perrin’s latest attempt to seek redress and compensation, by getting the province’s ombudsman involved, concluded with the same answer he has received through the administrations of five premiers and five mayors since the hotel was seized from his family.
"They keep saying this was reviewed by the courts, but the problem is the assessment never was — that has been our biggest problem all along."
But, overall, Perrin still wishes the current owners luck in getting the price they are seeking for the hotel.
"It’s a commercial transaction," he said. "They are entitled to get what they can get and good for them.
"But it reminds me of the potential and what we lost."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Monday, October 7, 2019 at 10:01 PM CDT: Adds photo