"The business club that survived
the depression, fails in Winnipeg's cruel 1990s"
By George Siamandas
The Carleton Club was one of those early businessmen's clubs and was established in 1901. For the first decade of its life it was called the Commercial Club. It got its start when a man called Charles Henry Newton donated a building on Main St. for a $1, which he had taken back in a mortgage foreclosure. The Carleton club would reside at this 308 Main St. location for the next 75 years.
It failed once in the 1930s during the depression, and the city took back the building in a tax sale. But later, the club which continued its operations on a rental basis with the city, became financially strong enough to buy the building back after WW2.
People joined to find others to do business with. And being near Portage and Main it had always been conveniently located. As you would expect, it had old dark wood panelling, the big dining room and the big soft leather armchairs.
In the mid 1970s, its old building on Main St. was expropriated by the city for the Trizec development at the south west corner of Portage and Main. In 1977 the club reopened its doors at a new facility on Fort Street and began a new era. And it was well attended with 900 at one time.
The Carleton was always the junior club to the Manitoba Club. It was not as old or prestigious. It attracted middle managers and during the 1980s these people had less time and money. Gone is the two hour and the three martini lunch. And some past members I spoke to did not find the cost of belonging to be worth it.
Also the policies of not allowing women to join till about 1989 are thought to have worked against it. The first woman was a top executive with CIBC. In the earlier years women were not even allowed in the main dining room at lunch hour. Many companies thought twice about being part of something that was not politically correct.
The rise and fall of clubs like these is indeed a barometer on the economic health of the city. Winnipeg is no longer as much of a head office city. At one time each of the major banks paid for 25 memberships. Some companies like Richardsons supported 40 members. They are gone.
Also gone or barely surviving, are many of the head offices' original service providers like legal, accounting, advertising, and human resources further reducing membership. The epitaph of the Carleton Club is that even though it survived the depression, the Winnipeg of the 1990s is not healthy enough to support a downtown business club.
The Manitoba Club has always attracted the elite of Winnipeg businessmen. It was founded in 1874. Until about five years ago women could not join here either. But they changed their policy right after the Carleton Club allowed women to join.