Sunday, 6 February 2011

Elmwood’s Riverview Hotel (Part 2): A controversial place

Elmwood’s Riverview Hotel series:
Part 1: Winnipeg gains a suburb
Part 2: A controversial place
Part 3: A 'near holocaust'
Part 4: The life and death of Lena Huckan

Riverview Hotel, back right, ca. 1910
Archives of Manitoba Foote Collection item 2000

As the controversy over the granting of their liquor license simmered down, the Riverview Hotel offered their opponents something new to jump on.

On April 1, 1907 Swedish immigrant Karl Olsen, (sometimes referred to as William), was found dead in the basement of the Riverview Hotel. The coroner ruled it ‘death by misadventure’ and the case was closed. The Swedish community felt that the decision was made too mater-of-factly and the Presbyterian church members also wanted the a closer examination of the bar room-related death.

A.G. Campbell (source)

For a couple of weeks after the original inquest the two groups lobbied Attorney General Colin Campbell, (the man who allegedly promised voters that the community would remain dry), to have a new, more thorough inquest into the matter.
The Free Press also got on board, going so far as to directly blaming Campbell's earlier ‘breach of faith’ for the death.

While lobbying, the Swedish and Presbyterian communities spent time raising for a legal fund that the widow could draw on to have representation at the hearing, (she had none at the first).

Portage la Prairie Review (source)

On April 19th Campbell ordered that the body be exhumed for Provincial Coroner Dr. Gordon Bell. After a couple of weeks
of legal wrangling as to the validity of a second inquest, things got underway.

Testimony at the inquest established that Olsen was seen at 9:15 am drinking at the bar and later that morning he was seen lying on the basement floor at the foot of the stairs. People assumed that he was ‘sleeping it off’ but, in fact, Olsen was unconscious from head injuries.

It wasn’t until 5:30 pm - seven hours later - that someone decided all might not be right with poor Mr. Olsen ! A neighbor was asked to take Olsen home. While he and a staff memberwere assisting him off the premises some onlookers noticed that the man looked like he had ‘taken a beating’. That began the rumour that Olsen may have been assaulted.

Once at home, the neighbor went to find a doctor but it was too late. When he returned Mr. Olsen was dead.

Gordon Bell, provincial coroner, again ruled that Olsen died of 'misadventure' by falling down the basement stairs but at the second inquest singled out the hotelier and his staff for their lack of action. Noting that on numerous occasions over the course of the day hotel staff had to step over Mr. Olsen to retrieve things from basement, they were referred to as ‘callous and shameful’.

After the ruling matters turned to the Riverview's liquor license renewal. Thinking that the bad publicity from the inquest might help their cause, the Presbyterian Church held an
'indignation meeting' in May 1907. There, a resolution was passed condemning the sale of alcohol and that was presented at the licence hearing.

Ice racing ca. unknown (source)

Despite the Oleson incident, the community was warming up to the Hotel. Businesses, many newly opened or expanded, liked the increased trade that the streetcar line and hotel brought them. The hotel was used for some community meetings and acted as the unofficial headquarters for the new ice racing track set up oi the river every winter.

These groups opposed the indignation resolution at the licence hearing and the Riverview Hotel was granted a renewal.

Above: Manitoba Free Press Oct 19, 1909

In October 1909 a J.J. O'Connell leased the hotel from Holmes and the following month prchased it for $100,000. The O'Connell's were a family of hoteliers originally from Barrie Ontario. One brothers owned the Tecumseh Hotel on Main Street near Higgins and another the Globe Hotel at 146 Princess.

146 Princess, the Globe / Market / Drake
(image source) ad from June 1908 The Voice)

When J.J. O'Connell arrived in Winnipeg around 1904 he joined with his brother running the then re-named Market Hotel (it is now part of Red River College).

O'Connell undertook a multi-year, $15,000 renovation of the hotel that included the addition a 40' x 40' section and a top floor. The architect was C.S. Bridgeman). The expanded Riverview Hotel was ready just in time to take on some new competition as John Beaman built the LaSalle hotel just two doors down in 1914.

The Free Press questioned “
Is history to repeat itself in the matter of the second liquor license in Elmwood? The manner of granting the license to the Riverview Hotel in 1906 was one of the worst of the liquor license scandals.

There was some opposition from the same church groups but it was assumed, as the building was near completion when they made the application, that an understanding had already been reached.

The LaSalle got a license.

In 1915 the Riverview Hotel had another dead body to deal with.

Mr. George Lynn, about 38 years old of Poplar Avenue, had recently arrived with his wife from Toronto and found work as a marble cutter. The man was an ‘occasional’ visitor to the bar at the Riverview and on the evening of Saturday, December 4, 1915, he was found unconscious seated in the rotunda of the hotel. A doctor was called but it was too late – Mr. Lynn was dead.

Rather than the ‘callous and shameful’ way they acted toward Mr. Olsen, the new owner J.J. O’Connell told the Free Press in detail about Mr. Lynn’s treatment. He had recognized that Lynn was in a ‘weak condition’ (was that code for alcoholic ?) and “had given instruction that his employees should use great discretion- in serving, the man with liquor”. That afternoon, he said, Lynn was just served one drink by the bartender and then refused service after that.

An inquest was held and based on the evidence of the bar staff, the doctor and provincial coroner Gordon Bell, the jury found “that deceased had met his death from the effects of alcohol poisoning and that this was the unanimous verdict, no blame was being attached to anyone.” Free Press Dec 9, 1915).

Riverview Hotel decked out in Roblin posters ca. 1914
(source unknown)

The next couple of years appear to have been uneventful for O'Connell and the Riverview Hotel. That is, until the night of February 5, 1918.

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