In my latest Winnipeg Downtown Places post I take a look at the history of the Sherbrook Inn.
Whether you're a patron or not, if you've lived in West Broadway the Sherbrook Inn has been part of your life. As the neighbourhood's only beer vendor, and for a long time one of its few drinking holes, its been both a handy service and a thorn in the side for residents.
For a decade I lived a couple of blocks away from the Sherbrook and did stop in once or twice a month. Despite a vendor that resembles, and smells like, a medieval dungeon, it's not much different than any other 1960s motor hotel. Cheap beer, the standard small town hotel decor and a wall of VLTs with people sat like a row of garden gnomes for hours at a time. I can even recall a DJ and dance floor going on Friday and Saturday nights !
In my many visits I never felt unsafe inside. The couple of times something security-related began, like a raised voice or someone wearing colours, security personnel were on it. I recall once standing up too fast and the weight of my parka pulled the back of my chair over. I had two security people over asking if everything was alright, making sure I wasn't about to start something.
The hotel's bad reputation appears to be more perception than reality. While researching the history of the place, even I was surprised to find that just a handful of serious crimes occurred on the property in its nearly 50 year history.
In 1987, the midst of the neighbourhood's darkest days, there was a series of stabbings in the vicinity that newspaper reports associated with the hotel but were actually due to a nearby booze can. Barry Mullin, the Free Press ombudsman, concluded that the association was unjust: "We blew it. The Sherbrook Inn deserves an apology." (Winnipeg Free Press, November 27, 1987, p.2.)
Winnipeg Free Press, Dec 13, 1996, p.1
It's not the only thing the Free Press got wrong about the area. In the late 1990s they playfully dubbed West Broadway "Murder's Half Acre" after erroneously attributing an entire police district's murder count to this one small area. The moniker stained the neighbourhood's reputation for more than a decade. (There was no apology for that one.)
April 10, 1995, Winnipeg Free Press
A 1995 survey of 1,500 area residents found that 52% felt that the Sherbrook Inn was the neighbourhood's unsafest place. The local community police sargent said "(The owner) has gone to great lengths to work with us. We don't have any major concerns. I don't think there's any reason in the world to single it out." (April 10, 1995, Winnipeg Free Press.)
ca. 1970 and 1990
Though the perception of the hotel may have been worse than it actually was, if you fast forward to today's West Broadway you have to wonder if its not time for the Sherbrook to up its game. The area has been rejuvenating for a decade now but the Sherbrook hasn't changed at all.
When it opened in in 1965 as the Westminster Motor Hotel it was a typical neighbourhood inn. The restaurant served steak, ribs and had a Sunday smorg. There was no gaudily signed pawn shop - it was a TD Bank branch. Patrons could enjoy the rooftop pool over the commercial section (now closed) and the meeting / banquet rooms in the basement, (also closed after being flooded out years ago), did a brisk business.
It's not likely that the hotel could ever get back to its former glory but more attention to the grounds around it, (like lighting the parking lot), a new vendor area and a better use of the commercial space out front could go a long way to help it fit in with the new West Broadway.