© 2022, Christian Cassidy
Winnipeg's Carleton Club existed for almost a century at two different addresses in the downtown. It wasn't as old, prestigious, or expensive to join, as the Manitoba Club and its history is not that well documented.
Here's a look back at the Carleton Club...
Manitoba's Carleton Club was established as the Commercial Club in January 1901. "The object of the club is social and friendly" read its initial articles of incorporation.
There were 25 initial investors who put up $1,000 each to form the club. They included: Mayor John Arbuthnot, the lumber merchant who was also Winnipeg’s mayor at the time; Elisha F. Hutchings, president of Great West Saddlery; Charles H. Cordingley, manager of George Velie Co. Ltd., a wholesale liquor business; Edward Nicholson, wholesale merchant Donald R. Dingwall, president of Dingwall Jewellers H. William Hutchinson, president of Fairchild Co. Ltd. farm machinery; Frank G. Walsh, district superintendent of Bell Telephones; and Arthur Stewart, manager of the Central Canada Loan and Savings Company.
The club was similar, but not as exclusive or expensive to join, as the Manitoba Club which meant that it attracted another layer of businessmen such as senior managers, bank executives, architects, general managers, and medium-sized business owners. It was a space where they could gather, socialize, and cut business deals.
The Commercial Club's original clubhouse was a red sandstone building located at 306-308 Main street. A former bank office that had recently been vacated by the CPR executive offices. Graeme George was the club manager.
The main floor held offices and a reception room described in one paper as having, "rich curtains, beautiful paintings and artistic fresco work on the walls and ceiling." The second floor contained a dining hall and the third floor a billiard room, smoking room, and reading room.
In June 1901, around 300 members and their wives attended the building's formal opening dinner.
The club appears to have been a success. Aside from its day-to-day use, the club hosted numerous banquets featuring speakers such as government or railway officials, and played host to visiting delegations from business clubs from other cities who were in Winnipeg to tour its industries.
In late 1904, the Commercial Club began an extensive renovation of its club. Work was almost done in January 1905 when a major fire struck the building site. Insurance covered most of the damage and the renovations started over.
The clubhouse reopened in late April 1905 after what ended up being $70,000 in work.
The general layout of the building stayed the same. Additions included a ladies' reception room and ladies' dining room on the second floor and a new fourth floor consisting of a "summer apartment" that opened onto a roof garden.
Another expansion came in December 1929 when the club bought out one of its neighbouring buildings, likely the one to the right in the above photo, for $30,000. It joined the upper floors to create expanded dining and recreational areas and continued to rent the main floor out to retail tenants.
The shift from Commercial Club to Carleton Club began around 1909 but the application to formally change its corporate name did not come until January 1911.
There was no explanation in the daily papers for the name change. It was likely to differentiate itself from the (North West) Commercial Travellers Club which began operation in 1907 and to give itself a more exclusive sounding name. (The Carlton Club - without an "e" - was, and is, one of London's most exclusive members-only clubs and even local papers at the time carried stories about meetings and events that happened there.)
The Carleton Club carried on at this address until 1974 when this block of Main Street from Portage to Graham avenues was expropriated and demolished by the city to make way for the new Trizec / Winnipeg Square development.
Like several of the businesses along the block, the club formally objected to the expropriation at a city hearing. It argued that as a businessman's club its location near Portage and Main was vital to its operations and that a relocation could cause it to "suffer serious and possibly irredeemable damage".
The club lost its fight but it was reported at the time to have been offered around $1.3 million for its property. A newspaper article from 1976 noted that the final arrangements for the settlement had not yet been completed.
The Carleton Club found another piece of land on Fort Street right across from the Winnipeg Square development and the club took up temporary quarters above the ANAVETS hall on Garry Street.
It turned to Smith Carter Architects to design a new clubhouse that would be nothing like its previous Victorian-era home.
The 37,000 square foot building, (about 7,000 square feet larger than the old one), contained four levels connected by a free-standing circular staircase and elevators.
The basement was set aside for athletics with a gym, health centre, four regulation-sized squash courts, a sauna, and steam rooms. The main floor contained administrative offices, the upper portion of the squash courts and a lounge. The second floor was mainly food service with the kitchen, main dining room, a bar, and banquet room. The top floor contained a games room with billiards tables and private function rooms that were furnished with items from the old building.
At the time construction began on November 13, 1975, the estimated cost of the new building was $2.6 million. Trident Construction was the contractor.
The new Carleton Club opened its doors on March 18, 1977.
Clifford Lecuyer, a senior partner in the accounting firm Price Waterhouse, was the club's president from the time it closed the old facility and reopened din the new one. In April 1977, a new president was elected to start the club's new era. George LaFrance was general manager of the Lafarge Cement subsidiary called McCurdy.
It was during this time that one of the few mentions of the club's membership and dues made the papers.
There were 550 members at the old club and at the new one the number would likely be capped at 750. It was felt that the health centre and racquet courts would drive the increase. (According to a 1978 newspaper article, the membership was nearly 800.)
The club required a buy-in of around $600 plus annual dues. The old dues were $350 which were set to rise to $420 in 1977. (By contrast, a 1979 newspaper article stated that the Manitoba Club required a $500 entry fee with a $675 annual fee.)
The club also became a banquet facility for hire and hosted numerous lunches and business presentations open to non-members. This included the Icelandic Festival's banquet to honour the president of Iceland in 1979 and an Eaton's fashion show featuring its Calvin Klein collection in October 1980.
Membership would quickly become a problem on two fronts for the Carleton Club.
One was that it did not allow women to join, though women could come in if escorted by a member.
Despite an early 1980s Manitoba Human Rights Commission ruling about gender discrimination at establishments, clubs and beverage rooms that were men's only had this clause grandfathered into their liquor permits. The issue came up from time to time, such as when a number of city councillors boycotted the welcome to Winnipeg dinner for new chief commissioner Richard Frost held at the Carleton Club in 1989.
Eventually, the tide shifted and in October 1991 the club's membership voted in favour of allowing women as members.
The first woman to join the Carleton Club was Sherri Walsh, a 30-year-old litigation lawyer whose office was located across the street. She said her membership wasn't to make a point about equality, it was just that the club was a convenient place to take clients for lunch or
The building had washrooms for men and women on the upper floors but there were no women's washrooms or change room in the athletic club in the basement.
The Manitoba Club voted around the same time to do the same and welcomed its first four female members in January 1992.
Another hit to the membership was the economy.
In the early 1980s a recession began that caused many companies, including banks and law firms, to cut back drastically on the perqs they offered to employees. (One bank had twelve memberships for senior executives which it cut down to four.)
For those who held personal memberships, a federal tax change that decade meant that dues were no longer tax deductible.
The membership crisis impacted many clubs, especially those with an athletic theme like the Carleton Club, Winnipeg Squash Club, and the Winter Club. Some had to turn to hiring membership directors or renting out their facilities to the public for banquets or other special events to bring in additional revenue.
In the case of the Carleton Club, as the recession receded its membership did not rebound. Newspaper stories from various years indicated that it went from a high of over 750 members in 1978 to around 500 in 1991 (when annual dues were $1,215), down to about 350 in 1995.
Club president Fred Florence had to hand over the keys to the club to its mortgage holder, Astra Credit Union, on July 28, 1995. The building's contents were auctioned off in March 1996.
Hall-of-famer Charlie Ives was wooed away from the Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club to be the pro at the Carleton Club's new squash courts.
Robert Shankland, Victoria Cross recipient and one of the Pine Street Boys, was manager of the club for a few years in the 1930-s. He had been the assistant manager at the St. Charles Country Club.
Other presidents included: Garnet Coulter (1929), John McEachern (1931), J. W. Speirs (1938), L. F. Borrowman (1940), Robert Glass (1947), Roy Haller (1948), C. H. Scott (1951), A. B. Pitcairn (1968), Harry Baxter (1970), Clifford S. Lecuyer (ca. 1974 -1977), J. Paul Marion (1979), , Murray Dickson (1991), Larry Watson (1992). Also: Fred O'Malley, Arthur W. Dowse, Thjomas Payntz, P. D. McKinnon, , , , Gilbert Alexander Muir, Norman Hurley, Bob Swanlund,
280 Fort Street - Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
280 Fort Street - Winnipeg Downtown Places