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HISTORY OF MERCHANTS CORNER
1871 Merchants Corner is located on Indigenous ancestral lands, on Treaty One Territory and the heartland of the Metis people. Treaty One was signed in 1871.
1913 Robert and Sarah Steinman immigrated from Latvia to Canada in 1899 after their marriage in March of that year. Robert established Steinman's Hardware store and the success of it enabled him to hire Winnipeg architect Max Blanksteinin 1913 to design the three-storey Steinman Block at 541-543 Selkirk Avenue.
1914 Steinman also owned the building next to the store: 547 Selkirk Avenue (which is part of the land of present-day Merchants Corner). This was one of six authorized Gramophone Company dealerships in Winnipeg. The shop specialized in record players, radios and phonographs.
The store, R. Steiman Hardware and Furniture, opened in 1914 selling hardware on the main floor, furniture on the second floor and warehouse space on the third.
1926 The hall became a vital community gathering place, especially for the Ukrainian and Jewish communities. Over the decades, it hosted countless socials, political speeches, club meetings, union events, dance classes and dramatic productions.
1925 In the mid-1920s Steiman converted most of the warehouse level into Steiman's Hall, which had a separate entrance off of Andrews Street. The Steiman Hall portion of the building usually had a small retailer on the main floor, such as a deli or tailor, and offices on the second floor that usually featured Jewish doctors and dentists. The hall was also home to the dance studio of Vasil Avramenko, who is considered the "father" of Ukrainian Dance in North America.
1934 The Depression (1929-1930s) took its toll on the hardware merchant. Unable to sustain such a large store, Steinman decided to convert it into a hotel. In November 1933, a $5,000 building permit was issued for the building's redevelopment. The store's main floor retail space was pared down to create a lobby, dining room and beer parlour, and the upper floors became 40 hotel rooms. The Merchant's Hotel opened the week of January 11, 1934. Most of the guests were working class labourers.
1935 Steinman Hardware store went bankrupt in 1935 and a new retailer was found for the space. Steiman then turned all of his attention to the hotel, undertaking an extensive interior renovation in 1938-39. The Steimans were involved with many Jewish organizations and often used the Merchants as a meeting space or fundraising venue for their events. It was also a starting point for many Jewish settlers and visitors to the city.
1947 In 1947 the Steimans sold the hotel to John Konosky, the hotel manager. Konosky was born in Ukraine but raised in Silver, Manitoba where he married wife Mary. They first entered the hotel business in places like Gladstone, Riverton and Transcona before moving to Winnipeg to manage the Merchants Hotel. Konosky was passionate about Ukrainian country music and recorded many albums as a member of the Primrose Trio.
1964 In 1957 the hotel was sold to business partners Ben Zelcovich and Menashe Mandel. Mandel went on to build the Balmoral Hotel at the corner of Balmoral and Notre Dame. Merchants Hotel then came under the ownership of Manitoba Hotel Association President Robert Cipryk in 1961-1972.
1972 Merchants Hotel comes under new ownership in 1972 when Cipryk sold it to his business partner George Proust. Proust renovated the hotel, including the beverage room, and brought in live bands nightly. Proust ran the hotel until 1980. North End neighbourhood economic and social conditions deteriorated in the 1970s and 1980s. As poverty and associated violence and crime increased, the Merchants Hotel reflected these challenges and realities.
By the late 1990s, Merchants Hotel was so notorious that community members began calling for the city to purchase the hotel and close it down. Ross Kennedy, a co-owner of the Balmoral Hotel and Headingley Inn, bought the Merchants Hotel in 1980 for a reported $600,000. Kennedy maintained that shutting down the hotel would not deal with the larger issues that led to violence in the neighbourhood.
2006 The final owner of the Merchants Hotel was Jim Major, who took over on January 1, 2006. By this time, calls to shut down the hotel were more frequent and, though there was opposition at his liquor permit hearing, the bar was granted a new lease. The community rallied and focused their efforts on revitalizing the neighbourhood, with Merchants Hotel identified as a cornerstone for renewal.
2011 In late 2011 the province asked the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation (UWCRC) to produce a building condition report, business plan and to gauge interest among area social agencies and community groups about the redevelopment of the site. A coalition of 20 Selkirk Avenue area social service agencies signed on to explore the redevelopment. In April 2012 the province paid $1.3 million for the hotel and four vacant lots to the north which were transferred to the coalition.
2012 Together the North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC), UWCRC, University of Winnipeg Urban and Inner-City Studies Program (UWUIC) and community members developed a new vision for 541 Selkirk: Merchants Corner. The building was to become a satellite university campus for the UWUIC program, classrooms, office and community programming space for other organizations, a retail location, and affordable housing.
A new, 17-unit affordable housing apartment complex would be built on the vacant lot south of the building (located at 540 Pritchard Avenue). While the work was underway in early May 2017, it sustained an arson fire.
2018 Opened in 2018, Merchants Corner is an educational, student housing, and retail complex featuring 30 units of affordable housing. It is an education, housing and community gathering hub hosting the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Inner-City Studies, CEDA-Pathways to Education program, and Perfect Place Social Enterprise Cafe.
2019-present Merchants Corner continues to grow and transition from a capital project to fully operational organization. Our mission is to be a gathering place for education, housing and intergenerational connection.
2020 Indigenous owned and operated Perfect Place Cafe open their doors inside Merchants Corner. The menu features comfort food and the best bannock!
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