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Paddlewheel sailing away

Bay's iconic eatery being renovated, rebranded

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/2/2011 (3525 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Bay’s Paddlewheel Restaurant has been in business since 1954. While the sixth-floor eatery is in need of repairs, it has a loyal base of longtime customers.


The Bay’s Paddlewheel Restaurant has been in business since 1954. While the sixth-floor eatery is in need of repairs, it has a loyal base of longtime customers.

The downtown Bay store's Paddlewheel Restaurant will soon sail off into the sunset, taking with it the fond memories of patrons.

The Bay announced Wednesday it is partnering with Compass Group Canada and Oliver and Bonacini Restaurants to do extensive renovations and rebrand all 24 Bay store restaurants across the country.

"We view is as an amazing opportunity to build upon our foundation of delivering new and exciting brands to the Bay and taking dining and food service to an entirely new level for our customers," said president Bonnie Brooks in a news release.

The Bay didn't say when the Paddlewheel will close, but the first restaurant to change will be in the company's flagship Toronto Queen Street store in April.

On Wednesday, the Paddlewheel was filled with loyal lunchtime customers and the boat's wheel was turning. Many said they didn't want to see the restaurant run aground.



"It will be really missed," said Gail Brigham, as she sat with a colleague. "It's a legend... I bet every kid in Winnipeg has spent time here. I will miss it."

Brigham also has a family connection to the restaurant -- her dad and his brother installed the ceiling.

Anthony Kiendl remembers seeing Santa at the store's annual Breakfast with Santa -- which ran until 2009 -- and going to eat with his grandparents and parents.

"It's kind of sad," he said. "A lot of people still come here all the time. It's part of our history. I work downtown and I come here fairly often. It's convenient. It's affordable."

The restaurant is one of the few places where meal specials include a choice of beverage and dessert. Wednesday featured a "veal meal deal" for $7.69 with meat, choice of potato and vegetable, choice of beverage including coffee or pop, and choice of dessert including rice pudding or Jell-O. (The Paddlewheel's orange Jell-O was made somewhat infamous by inclusion in Guy Maddin's movie My Winnipeg.)

The restaurant is clearly due for a renovation.

There's a hole in one section of the ceiling, some of the floor tiles are broken and need replacing and the wall mural that depicts the view from The Forks to St. Boniface and south on the Red River is missing small sections.

The pool behind the boat's paddlewheel is filled with pennies, but not water -- probably because there also appears to be a hole there.

Bill Patterson said he has been coming to the Paddlewheel for decades, but that doesn't mean he would boycott a new eatery put in its place.

"I would try it," Patterson said. "I come back here all the time because of what they offer, not just because it's convenient. If it's fine, I'll come back."

The restaurant has a long history, but not as long as the store.

According to a spokeswoman for the city, while the downtown Bay store opened in 1926, the sixth-floor Paddlewheel Restaurant didn't set sail until 1954.

The downtown department store is on the city's inventory, meaning it is potentially historically significant, but has never been formally evaluated.

The city monitors demolition of buildings on the list, but there is no protection to prevent the interior or exterior from being changed.

The restaurant has connections with Winnipeg's local rock royalty.

Music historian John Einarson said Neil Young, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman and Fred Turner have all told him they used to frequent the Paddlewheel back in the 1960s.

"It was 'the' place to be on a Saturday," Einarson said.

"It was a cool mixing of the kids and the bands. It was a jumping place and it was jam-packed with kids. I don't know why -- the decor is the same. It wasn't like it was a cool place. But young people just gravitated to it."

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

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.

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