Thursday, August 16, 2007

One down, five more to go

At the end of this month, the fifty or so tenants of the Bell Hotel--many who are elderly, or suffer from mental disorders and addictions--will no longer be able to call the 101 year-old hostillery home; it will be closed. This is reported on page six of the August 14 issue of Grassroots News. (Story available in .pdf format.)

The booming economy of Winnipeg in particular and the exploitation of Western Canada in general gave reason for the impressive Bell Hotel to be built at the corner of Main and Henry in 1906, and to thrive through it's heyday of the 1910s, when a young Sam Bronfman of 60 Lily st owned it, and would famously carry guest's luggage to the hotel from the CPR station around the corner. It survived the curtailment of immigration in the 1920s, the Depression of the '30s, and the decline of railway use into the post World War II years, until the CPR discontinued passenger service entirely in 1978. By that time, the Bell had a new lease on life, thanks to Manitoba's draconian liquor regulations and gambling (VLT) racket, and thirty years of de-institutionizing policies. No longer were vulnerable people the responsibility of the provincial government, they were the responsibility of Main Street hoteliers who depended on liquor sales to pay the bills.

Unfortunately, operating a century-old building in need of repairs with money garnered from social assistance housing allowances, beer sales and slot machine revenue, is not exactly a sustainable enterprise, and so the number of single-room occupancy hotels of this sort are dwindling. Preceding the Bell, the St. Charles on Albert and the Patricia, Brunswick and Manor hotels at Main and Higgins recently were closed or demolished. At the end of the month, the number of S.R.O.s on "Winnipeg's Bowery" will be down to five: the Woodbine, the McLaren, the Occidental, the ManWin, and the Mount Royal.

So far, the NDP government has done little to address the living conditions of people who live in Main street hotels (even as they are "displaced" from their accomodations), such as raising shelter allowances for people on social assistance (to say nothing of getting out of, or reforming their liquor and gambling racket). But with another hotel-cum-government dumping ground about to close, they have one less excuse.



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