Historic Sites of Manitoba: Cauchon Block / Assiniboine Block / Empire Hotel (171-181 Main Street, Winnipeg)

Link to:
Photos & Coordinates | Sources

Formerly located at the southeast corner of Main Street and York Avenue in Winnipeg, this four-storey L-shaped brick and pressed-metal facade building, measuring 156 feet of frontage along Main Street, 120 feet of frontage along York Avenue, and with a depth of 80 feet, was designed by local architect Louis Arsene Désy and built in 1882, with construction overseen by contractor John Ennis. Some of the subcontractors included Bronnet and Cassan (brickwork), Vulcan Iron Works Company (pressed-metal facade), Linklater and Deslauriers (gas and steam fittings), and Thomas, Benoit and Company (bricks), for owner and Manitoba’s first francophone Lieutenant Governor Joseph-Edouard Cauchon at a cost of about $130,000.

In its original configuration, the building contained eight retail spaces on the main floor while the upper three floors contained offices. In 1884, economic slowdown forced the ailing Cauchon, who was living in the block, to mortgage the property to a Québec-based company who chose to convert the upper storey office space into residential apartments and, because of the local housing shortage, the block got its first tenant in October 1884 to become the city’s first apartment block.

On the 17 December 1895, a fire caused over thirty thousand dollars of damage. It completely destroyed the north-east wing of the block. The following year, the fire damage was repaired and a new two-storey brick addition, measuring 48 feet by 52 feet, replaced the north-east wing. Alterations to the rest of the block, to convert the entire building to apartments, were designed by local architect Charles Henry Wheeler, with the subcontractors being John Shaw & Company (brickwork, carpentry, plastering), Plaxton & Company (plumbing and hot water heating), and John McKechnie (elevators and fire escape). The work was completed at a total cost of about $31,000. The structure was renamed to the Assiniboine Block later that year.

In 1904, the building was purchased by brothers Archibald McLaren, John McLaren, and Alexander McLaren. They commissioned local architect brothers Alexander D. Melville and William N. Melville to design the conversion of the block into a new luxurious hotel. Construction commenced in late 1904. The work was completed by subcontractors that included D. C. McKay & Company (carpenters), Sloan & Brown (painting and decorating), Gate & Company (plumbing), Frederick Hinds and Mitchell, and John Saul (masonry), Kennedy & Company (plastering), Douglas and Company (tinsmiths), and the Winnipeg Elevator Company (elevators) and was completed in yearly 1905 at a cost of about $50,000. The new hotel opened officially on the 2 February 1905.

The new Empire Hotel featured a large rotunda, measuring 50 feet by 50 feet, and a barroom measuring 30 feet by 50 feet. A spacious dining room, measuring 50 feet by 50 feet, was one of the largest in the city. It featured thirteen stained glass windows and had a seating capacity of about 150 to 200 people, a kitchen measuring 20 feet by 50 feet that featured ovens specifically designed for plain and fancy bread, a barbershop, a reading room, a committee room, and a check room fitted with the Montfort System of checking coats and baggage. The upper three floors contained hotel rooms to accommodate 175 to 200 people.

In 1974, Great West Life Assurance Company purchased the building and an adjoining lot. After a feasibility study found the building too costly to renovate, parts of its unique metal facade were removed and the rest was demolished in 1982. The facade was reconstructed in the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre. For this, the St. Boniface Historical Society and Corbett Cibinel Architects were given a Heritage Winnipeg Conservation Award in 2000.

Photos & Coordinates

Cauchon Block

Cauchon Block (1882)
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg - Hotels - Empire #1

Assiniboine Block

Assiniboine Block (circa 1903)
Source: An Illustrated Souvenir of Winnipeg

Postcard view of the Empire Hotel

Postcard view of the Empire Hotel (circa 1912)
Source: Rob McInnes

Postcard view of the Empire Hotel

Postcard view of the Empire Hotel (no date)
Source: Gordon Goldsborough, 2014-0247

Empire Hotel

Empire Hotel (August 1958)
Source: ASC16523, John Warkentin fonds, York University

Facade of the Empire Hotel in the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre

Facade of the Empire Hotel in the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre (March 2017)
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

Site Coordinates (lat/long): N49.89012, W97.13498
denoted by symbol on the map above

See also:

Memorable Manitobans: Louis Arsene Desy (1856-1924)

Memorable Manitobans: Joseph Edouard Cauchon (1816-1885)

Memorable Manitobans: Charles Henry Wheeler (1838-1917)

Memorable Manitobans: Archibald McLaren (1856-1918)

Memorable Manitobans: John Angus McLaren (1860-1912)

Memorable Manitobans: Alexander Stewart “Ike” McLaren (1866-1921)

Memorable Manitobans: Alexander D. Melville (1873-1949)

Memorable Manitobans: Frederick “Fred” Hinds (1864-1935)

Memorable Manitobans: John Saul (1840-1928)

The Early History of the Cauchon Block, Later the Empire Hotel by Randy Rostecki
Manitoba Pageant, Volume 21, Number 3, Spring 1976

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Abandoned Manitoba

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Manitoba Plaques for Persons, Events and Sites of National Historic Significance

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Provincially Designated Historic Sites

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Municipally Designated Historic Sites

Some Old Winnipeg Buildings by Randy Rostecki
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 29, 1972-1973 Season

Sources:

“To contractors,” Manitoba Free Press, 12 April 1882, page 5.

“Cauchon’s Block,” Manitoba Free Press, 16 June 1882, page 7.

“City and provincial,” Manitoba Free Press, 9 September 1882, page 7.

“Lt. Gov. Cauchon’s fine block,” Manitoba Free Press, 9 September 1882, page 8.

“Cauchon’s block,” Manitoba Free Press, 30 December 1882, page 3.

“Starting statement,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 December 1895, page 1.

“The Cauchon Block fire,” Manitoba Free Press, 18 December 1895, page 6.

“The Cauchon Building,” Manitoba Free Press, 4 January 1896, page 6.

“The Cauchon Block; Mr. Wheeler preparing plans for remodelling the block into apartments,” Winnipeg Tribune, 23 January 1896, page 5.

“The Cauchon Block,” Manitoba Free Press, 27 February 1896, page 8.

“Cauchon restored. Contracts let to rebuilding and improve the Cauchon Block,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 March 1896, page 1.

City of Winnipeg Building Permit 1264/1904, City of Winnipeg Archives.

“Handsome new Empire Hotel,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 October 1904, page 6.

“Empire Hotel is completed,” Winnipeg Tribune, 31 January 1905, page 2.

“McLaren bros. new hotel,” Manitoba Free Press, 2 February 1905, page 14.

“Winnipeg’s new hotel, the Empire, ranks among Canada’s finest hostelries,” Manitoba Free Press, 4 February 1905, page 9.

“Winnipeg’s big south end hotel,” Manitoba Free Press, 30 October 1905, page 44.

Winnipeg Fire Insurance Map #2, August 1906, Library and Archives Canada.

Winnipeg fire insurance map, #125 December 1955, City of Winnipeg Archives.

Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.

Empire Hotel Facade Remnants, Manitoba Historic Resources Branch.

Glines House / Tremblay Apartments (55 Hargrave Street), City of Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee, July 1989.

Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1800-1950 by Robert G. Hill, Toronto.

We thank Rob McInnes for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough and Jordan Makichuk.

Page revised: 8 January 2024

Historic Sites of Manitoba

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