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Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Castle of College Avenue (Part 2): The Biollos' Fall.

The Castle of College Avenue Series:
Part 1: The Biollo Family
Part 2: The Biollos' Fall
Part 3: Rabbi Cantor and Beyond

The Castle
The Castle, 494 College Avenue, ca. 1907 and now ! 

The Biollo brothers quickly climbed the ladder of success in their new country. By 1906 they had a number of business interests on the go and all lived together in their fine, new home on College Avenue. The following year, however, things quickly unraveled.

In the spring of 1907 brother Angelo lost three of his children in a single week due to scarlet fever. The, their latest business venture, the Mont Royal (now Garrick) Hotel, hit a major obstacle.

Olivio and Annie Biollo ca. 1907 (Source)

When the Biollo brothers, with Olivio as the lead partner, began construction on Mount Royal Hotel in 1906 it was with the assumption that it would be in a liquor license zone. earlier that year the province released a map of the new zones and they included that stretch of Garry Street. 

When the building was in the final phase of construction, Olivio went to pick up the permit, only to be told that he couldn't have one. He was told by the liquor commission that the copy of the act that the map was based on contained a typographical error and that section of Garry Street should not be included. Biollo protested and, despite support from some neighbouring businesses and even a face-to-face meeting with Premier Roblin, the permit was not granted.

November 7, 1907. Manitoba Free Press

The Mount Royal was forced to open as a "dry hotel" on November 7, 1907 but without the ability to sell liquor could not make a go of it. The building was seized months later by creditors, led by former mayor, lumber magnate and staunch Conservative John Arbuthnot.

It is likely the failed liquor permit application was more than a "typo".  At that time, liquor permits were often used by the ruling political party as a way to reward their supporters and punish opposition supporters. Rodmond Roblin's Conservative government was especially adept at using and abusing the process. (I explore this issue more in my post about Elmwood's Riverview Hotel. In 1906 that hotel was being built in what was believed to be a temperance zone only to get a liquor license issued days before the doors opened.)

Top: May 13, 1908, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: The Voice. January 8, 1909

The seized hotel was leased to the owners of the Leclaire (now Windsor) Hotel, who were constructing a new hotel called the Wellington right next door to the Mount Royal. It seems odd that two groups would make the same, costly mistake but when approached, the Leclaire group claimed that they were fine operating the Wellington as a temperance hotel. The Wellington opened in May 1908.

After a few months, though, the owners, headed by John Eggo applied for a liquor permit for the new hotel. On December 8, 1908, just months after the Mount Royal was seized, the board of liquor license commissioners met to approve a single item: a liquor license for the Wellington Hotel !
Top: Garry St. 1912. Wellington Hotel, Free Press on right (source)
Bottom: January 14, 1909, Manitoba Free Press

The Free Press pounced. Not only were they an opponent of the Roblin government and against more liberal liquor regulations, they also had an inside scoop on the permit application.

At the time, the Free Press building was located at the south-east corner of Portage Avenue and Garry Street, they shared the back lane with the hotel. Due to their location, they were one the businesses who had to give consent for a liquor permit to be granted to the Wellington. The newspaper refused, saying that there were already enough watering holes in the downtown area.

In a January 14, 1909 story, they reported that they had “representations of various kinds seeking to induce the Free Press to reconsider its refusal.” This included the hotel's owners, creditors representing the former Mount Royal Hotel and even some claiming to represent the liquor licencing board's wishes. Still, they held firm on their position.

They called the granting of the permit a "...political job done in a hole-and-corner manner" (Free Press, Jan 16, 1909) and tracked down Olivio Biollo who said that he lost everything, including his other business interests to creditors felt and "grossly wronged" (Free Press, Jan 14, 1909).

The matter of the Wellington Hotel licence also came up in debate on the 1909 Speech from the Throne when opposition leader Charles Mickle said: “Surely if there were ever a case where a licence should have been refused, this was one. The commissioners were remiss in their duty when they granted this licence.” (February 9, 1909, Winnipeg Tribune.)

Top: John Arbuthnot (Source
Bottom: June 12, 1909, Manitoba Free Press

For Biollo, none of this made any difference. In June 1909 his hotel was sold off, at two-thirds the cost to build it, to settle his debts with Arbuthnot. The City of Winnipeg's Historic Buildings report  for 494 College Avenue, (since removed from the internet), noted that Arbuthnot was a one-time owner of the home, so he likely seized it as well. 

Having lost everything, Olivio Biollo and his wife and children, left Winnipeg for Rivers, Manitoba in 1910. The following year, they went to Alberta. He died in Edmonton in 1963. (read more about their life in Alberta here.)

The Castle of College Avenue Series
- Part 1: The Biollo Family
- Part 2: The Biollos' Fall
- Part 3: Rabbi Cantor and Beyond

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