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Friday, 7 September 2012

The Sherbrook Inn - West Broadway's Bogeyman

Sherbrook Inn

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.

Cop Car

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.


One Man Committee said...

Good post!

I agree with your assessment that The Sherbrook is not the bogeyman it's made out to be, although what it was in the 1960s (a community gathering point with banquet rooms, a nice restaurant, quality accommodations for travellers) is a far cry from what it is now (basically a watering hole with a vendor and a pawn shop).

Compare the Sherbrook to another hotel near one of the city's hospitals - the Norwood. That place still has the pub and vendor but it is also a place you'd send your great aunt from Grande Prairie to stay a few nights while visiting, and it feels like it makes a generally positive contribution to the surroundings. The Sherbrook is not that old a building and I think that with a decent makeover it could once again become a true neighbourhood hub as opposed to a place to buy king cans and play VLTs.

(Incidentally, I remember hearing rumours that the basement has been flooded for years - any truth to that?)

Christian Cassidy said...

Good comparison with the Norwood. It could be something along those lines.

Yes, I was told by someone who worked there that the basement still even has standing water in it from when it first flooded that rises and falls. Perhaps that's why there's never been a fix up to the place - its fate might be sealed.

Anonymous said...

I have a great plan to create Sherbrook Inn T-shirts:
I bought a case of beer @ The Sherbrook Inn vendor...

... And lived!!!

John Dobbin said...

Mr. Christian: There was a murder in the lounge there if I recall in the 1980s. For years the moniker was Westmurder Hotel and is rumoured to be the reason that hotel was re-named Sherbrook Inn.

Did you find a story about the murder? I know the booze cans contributed to reputation continuing.

John Dobbin said...

I think the date was in 1984. There was a shotgun murder in the beverage room and later on a stabbing in the parking lot.

It was a very bad time for the area.

cherenkov said...

"I was told by someone who worked there that the basement still even has standing water in it from when it first flooded that rises and falls."

Just thinking out loud here ... how about a wave pool in the basement? New family destination!

Anonymous said...

I lived next door from 1990-1996, and I'm certain that there was at least one murder (a young woman) in the hotel during that time, and I think (but am less certain) that there was at least one more.

Christian Cassidy said...

Yes, I have heard that too - that there is standing water in the basement that rises in the spring. Cant imagine !

Xtoval said...

I remember it in the 1970s, when we would still recommend our out-of-town guests to stay there. My first bank account was in the TD where the pawn shop now is. I bought my first case of beer there, when I was 15 years old! I frequented the beverage room a lot in the summer of 1983 when I lived across the street, in the back of what is now Stella's. It was already pretty sketchy. I think what hurt the most was the loss of the bank branch. Lost its last anchor to the world of the secure and respectable. A Norwoodization of the place would be awesome, but so would a tear-down and replacement by a mixed-use, commercial, residential development.

Anonymous said...

I grew up two blocks west of the Westminster Hotel at the corner of Walnut and Westminster and even in its heyday from its opening through the mid 1970's and early 1980's  it was a problem for the neighborhood.  I can recall the groups of drunks walking home at closing damaging properties, having fights on the street and summoning the fire department to false alarms using call box at Walnut at Westminster.  My own family's experience included smashed windows on our house and car, urination on our house and constant vandalism of our fence and plantings in our yard.

One occasion I recall vividly occurred  in April of 1981, I was studying for an exam and like clockwork at 1:15 AM a wave of some 30 intoxicated punks were coming down Westminster.  When they reached our house they began tearing pickets from our fence and swinging them at one another.  I dialed 911 and the dispatcher seemed put out that I would bother to phone for a fight involving 30 people.  A few min later one, then two cruiser cars showed up.  The officers never left their cars, they flashed their lights, blipped their sirens and herded the punks further west along Westminster.  Our fence lost 75 pickets that night, some were left on the street to flatten the tires of cars that drove over them, others were thrown into yards or on the roof of the Payfair store that was kitty corner to our house.  I recovered 50 of the pickets, put them back up along with spares I had in the garage.  A few weeks later I repeated the process.  Eventually, I gave up and left the fence in a state of disrepair most of the year as I would only do repairs a couple times per year.

I left in 1991 and whenever I return to Winnipeg I make an effort to drive through the old neighborhood.  As one who experienced the Westminster hotel in all of its glory and now as an outside observer I would suggest leveling the place.  If a new hotel is built, it does not need a beverage room or a pawn shop.  If it does have a beer vendor it should open up onto Westminster or Sherbrook not into the alley.

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cobra007 said...

That standing water from when it first flooded is totally untrue. I should know i worked there for years and have been down there many times

Unknown said...

Fill it with the tweakers that have taken over the neighborhood, bar the doors, and Burn it down!