Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Castle of College Avenue (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 ! (Click for sources)

The Biollo brothers quickly climbed the ladder of success in their new hometown. 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 on them.

In the spring of 1907 brother Angelo lost three of his children in a single week due to scarlet fever.

The ongoing construction of the Mount Royal (today known as the Garrick) Hotel then hit a major, fatal obstacle.

Olivio and Annie Biollo ca. 1907 (Source)

When the Biollo brothers, with Olivio as the lead, began building the Mount Royal (now Garrick) Hotel in 1906 it was with the assumption that it would be in a liquor license zone. They were wrong.

New liquor regulations and temperance zones were drawn up for the entire city in 1906. The map of the downtown area showed that the Mount Royal site was inside a liquor zone but the lengthy written description of the boundaries contained a typographical error that actually cut the zone back one block. This left the Mount Royal in a temperance zone. Despite pleas to the provincial government, a petition by neighbouring business owners and even a face to face meeting between Olivio Biollo and the Premier, no exception was granted.

The Biollos could not make a go of the hotel without a liquor license and within weeks of its November 1907 opening creditors seized it.

Politics may have been at play as well.
Post-1906 the issuing of liquor licenses and drawing up of liquor zone boundaries were political plums used by Rodmond Roblin's Conservative government. I talk about the issue 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.

Garrick Hotel
The Wellington (left) and Mount Royal. In 1907 they merged as the Wellington.

It was not just the Biollos who were building a hotel on Garry Street. Right next door the Leclaire (now Windsor) Hotel ownership group were building the Wellington Hotel. When creditors seized the Mount Royal it was leased to the Leclaire group and they operated both buildings under the Wellington Hotel name.

June 12, 1908, The Voice

It seems odd that two groups would make the same, costly mistake.
The Leclaire group initially claimed that they were fine operating the Wellington as a temperance hotel but on December 8, 1908, just months after the Mount Royal was seized, the board of license commissioners met to approve a single item: a liquor license for the Wellington Hotel !

January 14, 1909, Manitoba Free Press

The Free Press, an opponent of liberal liquor laws, picked up the matter. They said that the commission had no right to 'break the law' by granting a license in a temperance zone, typo or not. They called it a "...political job done in a hole-and-corner manner" (Free Press, Jan 16, 1909) and tracked down Olivio Biollo who said that he felt "grossly wronged" (Free Press, Jan 14, 1909).

Debate filled the pages for a few weeks but, ultimately, it made no difference.

John Arbuthnot (Source)

To add fuel to the fire, the creditor fighting Olivio Biollo was John Arbuthnot, the building materials and lumber yard magnate (and one-time mayor of Winnipeg). He was a staunch conservative. Arbuthnot was after Biollo for construction material costs related to the Mount Royal, (and likely The Castle as well).

June 12, 1909 Winnipeg Free Press

Arbuthnot won the decision and the seized hotel was sold off for about two thirds of what it cost to construct. This left Biollo still on the hook so he had to sell his interest in the Venetian Café on Portage Avenue. There is no mention of The Castle on College Avenue but a few months later the Biollos disappear from the house.

I cannot find a record of who bought the properties but the city's historic buildings committee report for both the Mount Royal (Garrick) Hotel and The Castle claim John Arbuthnot as the owner, though he clearly wasn't involved with either property until after they were built and the lawsuit was won. Perhaps he purchased the hotel and house for a song before selling them off again ?

Back at square one Olivio Biollo packed up and left Winnipeg for Rivers Manitoba in 1910. After a year there it was on to Alberta. You can pick up on the Alberta side of his story here.

Part 3 coming soon !

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