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Portage Hotel


One of Portages most memorable characters was Henry (Harry) Stephens, born at Guelph, Ontario on March 11, 1865 to James and Susan Stephens. He was educated at the county schools of Ontario. He began a farming career in Ontario and then came west in 1889, working as a millwright at Lake of the Woods Milling Company until 1898 when he moved to Manitoba. He operated Stephens Brick Company between 1899 and about 1908 and served as Western Vice-President of the Canadian Brickmakers Association. During the First World War he farmed 1100 acres and later ran a dairy farm and raised thoroughbred Holstein cattle. He developed a variety of sweet clover and was the proprietor of the Hotel Portage. On March 24,1896 he married Lillian C. Porter of Winnipeg and they had seven children. He passed away on December 27, 1934.

Let’s take a walk through the fabulous Hotel Portage as it looked on opening day in 1906. It was constructed in 1905 at a cost of $50,000. As we walk in we are struck by the large roomy office and foyer. The office is on the left and on the right is a spacious writing and reading room. Sitting there in front of a crackling birch fire is a handsome marble writing table. Trips in 1906 were major expeditions so spending an hour or so sending letters and post cards were de rigueur for any traveler! The huge collection of cards in the Kate Newman collection attests that she and her friends sent each other cards even if they just went to Cartwright! To the right a wide stair led to the well-lighted basement with its smooth cement floor, (this instead of the more common earthen floor). In the southwest corner is the engine room where a mammoth 190 horsepower boiler generates the steam to keep those 50 bedrooms warm on the coldest January night! Just across the hall is the cold storage room for meats. I was down the maid’s staircase to it countless times with Grade A hinds of beef. Nearby was the wine cellar. That maid’s staircase ascends up to each floor for

discreet room service!

Next to the wine cellar is the large laundry room where all the hotels laundry was washed and then hung to dry on lines in the long central corridor before it was mangled (pressed flat). The front of the basement was taken up with the sample rooms and merchants could enter directly from the street through a little staircase under the main front steps. This little entry was ripped out when the front veranda disappeared. On the west side of the main basement hall was a sloping ramp for the baggage that was arriving by coach from the station. The coach and horses were housed in the barn to the rear and as well there was ample room for the guest's horses.

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