Tag Archives: Frank Mariaggi

The Mariaggi- A Hotel With A History

Frank Mariaggi was born in Corsica in 1847. He came to Manitoba in 1870 with the troops sent here by Canada’s first prime minister.  Sir John A. MacDonald wanted to assert federal authority because the Metis led by Louis Riel were trying to set up a provisional government. 

Frank liked it in Manitoba and decided to stay.  He married a woman from Gimli, and began to dabble in real estate. In 1903 he opened a hotel named after himself in the Alexander Block which had been constructed by two Winnipeg lawyers at the corner of Winnipeg’s Albert and McDermot streets. 

The hotel was very elegant. It had both single rooms and suites. The suites had their own bathrooms, fancy furniture and steam heat. They were decorated with velvet carpets, thick drapes, oak chairs covered in leather, brass beds and oriental couches. An enclosed horse-drawn carriage picked up wealthy guests from the Canadian Pacific Railroad Station. Meals were served at all hours.

There were separate dining rooms for men and women and Frank himself was the chef. He had a farm on the city outskirts where he raised vegetables, poultry and Jersey cows so he’d have fresh produce for his menu items.  You had to pay extra for meals at the Mariaggi Hotel, but they were worth it. Most other hotels at the time included meals in their nightly rate. The Mariaggi boasted an oyster bar, a Turkish bath and a sparkling fountain. 

The Grotto made the Mariaggi the toast of the town. There were four small dining rooms and a bar in the hotel basement. Sand and mortar were knotted on the walls and at the centre was a pool with goldfish. The whole concept was intriguing and just a bit risqué and drew in patrons in droves. The Mariaggi was also a favorite watering hole for Winnipeg newspaper reporters. Interestingly today the Free Press Cafe is located in the same building that once housed the original Mariaggi Hotel. 

Frank Mariaggi was an innovative man and a successful one. He made a fortune in land dealings in Winnipeg and Port Arthur and then moved back to Corsica in 1908. He purchased his father’s estate and restored it and was named the mayor of the local village. He died in 1918. 

Today there is a new Mariaggi Hotel in the very same building where the old one was located. During Winnipeg’s Doors Open event last month I took a tour.

Owner Don Laluk told us the hotel is a theme hotel. Each room is decorated to look like a certain part of the world– Morocco, Japan, Rome, India, Hawaii, Bali and the Caribbean. The rooms rent from $245 a night to $600 a night. Each room is completely different. Although 80% of the hotel’s clients are Winnipeg people looking for a unique experience they also have guests from Europe and from all over North America. 

In February 2012 CBC News reported that the Mariaggi had won a Trip Advisor award for being one of the ten most romantic hotels in the world.  Although that certainly sounds promising, the sixteen comments posted beneath the news item resoundingly denounced the Mariaggi for many things including poor service, poor ventilation, paper-thin walls, pushy staff and having to pay extra to have the Jacuzzi filled.

However on the Trip Advisor site there are 147 reviews and virtually all of them are positive. So I guess you have to visit the hotel and find out for yourself. All the rooms have hot tubs, big screen TV’s and fireplaces. Meal service and spa service is available at an extra cost.

I had walked by the Mariaggi Hotel many times and wondered what it was like inside. I’m glad the Doors Open Winnipeg event afforded me a peek at the interior. 

Now that I’ve seen the hotel, I don’t really need to stay there. My curiosity has been satisfied.  The old photos displayed on the walls inside the hotel which I spotted on my tour, inspired me to do some research about the Mariaggi’s history and it was interesting to learn about Frank Mariaggi and the first Mariaggi Hotel. 

If you enjoyed this blog post you might want to read………

Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe

Winnipeg’ Millenium Centre- Haunted by Ghosts

We’re Living in a Piece of History

Information for this article came from………

A 1984 Winnipeg Historical Buildings Report

Virtual Heritage Winnipeg

The Manitoba Historical Society

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Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe

  “I recognize that man behind us”, I whisper to my husband as we slip into our seats on the sunny patio of the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe on Mc Dermot Avenue. “It’s columnist Dan Lett“, my husband Dave tells me. It’s clear Mr. Lett is using the news cafe as a site for a lunch hour interview. “Should I know that person with him? Is he someone famous?” I ask before we head to the restaurant counter to order our meals.The cafe is obviously a popular spot.There is hardly a chair free inside and we scan the crowd for other people we might know.  A journalist appears to be writing news copy at a table near the stage and I spot internationally recognized graphic artist, writer and design consultant Robert L. Peters at one of the tables. 

      Half the fun of eating at Canada’s first official news cafe is looking for media people who may be dining or working there. Wait a minute—I’m a media person myself. Although it has been eight years since I gave up my column in the Winnipeg Free Press to move to Hong Kong I’ve continued writing weekly for The Carillon, a southeastern Manitoba newspaper and today I’m having lunch with a fellow Carillon staffer—Terry Frey, the paper’s award-winning sports writer. Terry and his wife Audrey, also happen to be good friends of ours, and we haven’t seen them since last year when we made our annual visit to Manitoba from Hong Kong. They suggest we meet at the news cafe, within walking distance of our new home in the Exchange District.  One of the things we chat about is the change in ownership of The Carillon in February, when FP Canadian newspapers, the same company that owns the Free Press, bought Derksen Printers in Steinbach which publishes The Carillon.

The news cafe offers free copies of several Winnipeg publications and as you can see from Dave’s full arms he’s taken advantage of the opportunity to avail himself of the print material provided on the racks at the front of the restaurant.

This isn’t the first time the historic Albert or Alexandra Block has held a restaurant.  According to a Winnipeg Historical Buildings  report a Mr. Frank Mariaggi from Corsica opened a restaurant in the same spot in 1902, serving fine Italian food.  He had a farm just outside of Winnipeg where he grew the vegetables for his eating establishment. He also kept chickens and Jersey cows to supply the necessary dairy and poultry. The restaurant became very popular because it featured a Grotto in the basement with four cave-like dining rooms and a bar. In 1908 Mr. Mariaggi sold the restaurant and the luxury hotel he had also opened in the building, and moved back to Corsica. 

Apparently the building has almost the same appearance today as it did in 1901 when it was built by investors James and William Tupper, two Winnipeg corporate lawyers, who just happened to be the sons of Charles Tupper, Father of Confederation and a Canadian Prime Minister. William became Manitoba’s Lieutenant Governor in 1934. The building featured the same salmon colored brick in 1901. It came from Kettle River in northeastern Manitoba. 

But exciting as it may be to see your favorite Free Press columnist at a restaurant, and interesting as it may be to know you are dining in one of Winnipeg’s oldest buildings, the reason you go to a cafe is to eat and the Free Press News Cafe does not disappoint in this regard.  I had the vegetable tostado mentioned in Marion Warhaft’s recent review and a creamy, spicy broccoli-curry soup. 

My fellow diners, who each ordered one of the sandwiches featured on the menu agreed Marion had not been off the mark when she awarded the restaurant four stars.  

We live just a five minute walk away from the News Cafe and I know we will be back. What next? I’d like to try the breakfast menu and I notice tonight the cafe is hosting a poetry slam.  Sounds like fun!

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