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.
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.
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