The Fort Garry Hotel
One of most iconic buildings in Winnipeg is the Fort Garry Hotel, one of Canada’s grand railway châteaus, a legacy of a bygone era. Built in 1913 by the notable Canadian architect firm Ross and Macdonald, the Fort Garry is an architectural gem and was designated a National Historic Site in 1981. It had always been my dream to stay here, so when I got to stay not once, but twice at the Fort Garry Hotel during my month-long trip through Manitoba, I was in heaven!
My room on the first night was beautifully charming in a vintage way. While it was smaller than what you might expect at a more contemporary hotel, the rooms are only part of the experience of staying here. Most would argue that t’s the public spaces that make the Fort Garry remarkable. The lobby, with its grandiose chandelier, exotic floral bouquets, and Manitoba-inspired crests makes a good first impression. And the Palm Lounge? I felt like I was stepping into the ballroom on the Titanic…
Whether sipping an Old Fashioned or enjoying the live music, the Palm Lounge is the quintessential way to acquaint yourself with the Fort Garry past, specifically its ghost tales, of which there are many. Ask your server for a print-out of the stories, and you’ll soon learn why the second floor is notoriously haunted.
In the morning I would wake up to the Fort Garry’s complimentary coffee and tea service, which was brought to my door each morning by the carafe, complete with biscotti and newspaper. After coffee, I’d head downstairs to the Broadway Room for their buffet breakfast, offering a made-to-order omelette bar, as well as a selection of tasty treats, including my favourite pain au chocolat.
On my second night at the Fort Garry Hotel, my room was two floors higher, but effectively the same room with subtle differences. It was cozy and a great place to end my time
Hamam 101 at Ten Spa
At the very top of the Fort Garry is the renowned Ten Spa, best known for their Hamam treatment – a luxurious take on an authentic Turkish bathhouse where even the most jaded of spa goers can be lathered and massaged into bliss. You know it’s good when even the men rave about Ten Spa. On my first stay, I got to experience it for myself!
First off, I’ll admit that I didn’t realize that the Hamam was effectively a Turkish bathhouse. You can imagine my surprise when I showed up and was instructed to disrobe and put on pestemal wrap, which is a fancy word for “tea towel”. Men wear it around their waists, women wear it around their bodies, except they’re really short, so we’re also given disposable panties to wear so we don’t accidentally flash anyone. “Oh, it looks like we don’t have any more left”, I was told of the undergarments. “Instead, you can wear two.” and I was handed another tea towel.
Having never fully mastered the towel wrap, I was petrified of losing both my tea towels at any given time. I put on my bathrobe overtop as instructed, and entered into the lounge, which I immediately discovered was coed. Another surprise for yours truly.
In the lounge people were wearing bathrobes while reading, snacking on figs, and awaiting their treatments. “Robyn? Hi, I’ll be your attendant.” My attendant was a charming, gorgeous blonde. As I stood up out of my seat, he called another guest, the handsome young man sitting next to me, and led us both into a warm, intimate, white tiled room, together.
“You two don’t probably don’t know each other.” our attendant said. We shook our heads in awkward, nervous agreement. Our attendant began serving us mint tea and Turkish delight, and explained that with the Hamam treatment, they always have two people experiencing it at the same time. Since we were two of the only singletons in the spa, we were an obvious pair. “Dear God”, I thought. “I’ll let you two finish your tea, and then I’ll come and get you” our attendant said.
I was sitting in my bathrobe, glancing over awkwardly at my newly acquired companion, he doing the same. We introduced ourselves, both newbies at the Hamam, both in Winnipeg because of work.
Before we could get too comfortable, our attendant came back and told us to remove our bathrobes and invited us to have a warm shower, one at a time. Preying for my modesty I’d no doubt soon lose, I daintily removed my bathrobe in the presence of my companion, and was shocked to discover that the tea towels were not on the floor.
With our bathrobes discarded, we exited the tea room and entered the Hamam together, a scene unlike anything I had witnessed. Dark and steamy, it was inherently exotic. The white marble and cerulean tiles was a feast for the senses; the fountains perpetually overflowing, a sea of pestemel-clad attendants working their magic; a ceiling of black, embedded with stars.
With my attendant’s arm for support, I stepped into the shower and rinsed myself with water, my tea towels clinging to my body. I was then directed to sit at an Arabic steam chamber and administered my limbs with a salt rub. From there, I was led to a warmed marble slab. Lying down, my attendant gently rinsed me with bowls of warm water and massaged my scalp and feet. It was blissful.
Next, I was then led into a private room with my attendant who then strategically moved my tea towels around to a full body gommage and olive oil wash, including a hair shampoo. It is rare to share the intimate experience of bathing with a stranger, or better yet, when a stranger baths you. Yet in this context, it was sublime.
Following the treatment, I adorned once again my bathrobe. My tea towels had done their job all along. My attendant led me into the quiet lounge and served me Aryan, a salty yogurt beverage. We said adieu, and I was left to rest and stay as long as I wished.
A big thanks to the Fort Garry Hotel and Spa Ten for these two quintessential Winnipeg experiences.
Wow, that sounds amazing! I want to go! When I went in Turkey I was allowed to keep my bathers on, this sounds quite risque! And a lot more luxurious but no less special.
Great story. I caught myself smiling while you described your spa experience. Very funny.
I read/viewed each of your Manitoba tour stories. The Fort Garry was the last that I read. The stories and pictures were very enjoyable. I’m from Manitoba and I feel privileged to have been able to visit Churchill and York Factory. Very few people visit either location, especially York, so you are certainly a member of a very exclusive adventurers club.
Glad to have stumbled on your web page. Best of luck on your future endeavours.