It has been sitting empty for several years now as the restless hands of time have passed it by. But current owner Feroze Virani has taken over the iconic Windsor Hotel with construction underway that his firm says will turn the 10-storey downtown landmark into a retirement home. Let us hope that the opening is not far off.
Thinking positively, the ongoing refurbishing of the Windsor Hotel — aka Windsor Park Hotel — is poised to become the latest boost to a Sault Ste. Marie downtown that continues to slowly but surely show signs of revived energy in the wake of the ‘vid.
As new restaurants continue to open in old and formerly empty buildings along Queen and its side streets, the planned re-opening of the Windsor Hotel looms as more welcome news for what is an ongoing downtown comeback.
Personally, I have good and vivid memories of the Windsor Hotel that dates back to my youth.
In fact, beginning in 1972 when I was still in high school at Sir James Dunn, I worked at the Windsor Hotel as a waiter and bartender.
Known as the Windsor Men’s Bar, it was one of a number of shops that operated within the main floor of the venerable establishment.
Besides the men’s bar, the hotel was home to the Windsor Coffee Shop, the fine-dining Oak Room, the Imperial Room Banquet Hall, the Windsor Lounge, the Windsor Smoke Shop, and the Sportsmen Barber Shop.
Working at the Windsor Hotel was a good gig. Back when I started there, the minimum wage in Ontario was $1.80 an hour but the Windsor Hotel was owned by Algoma Steel — and was thus, unionized — and being a waiter in the men’s bar paid $3.39 an hour, plus tips.
I liked working there enough to maintain the job beyond high school and into when I attended Sault College, then Algoma University. In fact, when I landed my first media job in 1975, a part-time gig at CKCY Radio that paid $3 a sportscast, I stayed on at the Windsor Hotel as a waiter and bartender.
What stands out about my time during the Windsor Hotel glory days were the people I worked with and those who I waited on in the men’s bar.
The coffee shop — which faced Queen St. — featured a number of young, attractive, personable waitresses such as Carol Hodgkinson, Janis Forman, Kathy Hepburn, Elaine Stewart, Wilma Weeks, Kathy Weeks and a lass from Newfoundland, whose first name was Gerri. (Sorry, I can’t remember her last name or whatever became of her.)
My job in the men’s bar had its share of characters that included senior bartenders Oscar Herzog and George Doucette and a cast of fellow waiters such as Larry Shackleton, Joe Armour and Bill Paolini.
Alex Currier was the resident manager of the Windsor Hotel back then. He lived in an upstairs apartment in the Windsor with his wife and kids and he was a good man. He was strict but fair and if you showed up for work on time, were presentable, and did what was expected of you, Mr. Currier would have no issues with you.
As for the patrons of the men’s bar where I worked, they included good guys like Joe (Giuseppe) Lavoratore, Jim Traveson, Henry Alisat (who with his dad, Henry Sr., owned and operated the nearby Sandwich Shop), Mike Buckley, Lynn Winkleman, Wolfgang Werner, Jim Landry, Jim Nevin, Jim Running, Ken Theriault, Bill Souliere and Russ Johnson. (Russ, when he had a few too many bottles of Molson Canadian, was fond of calling me “Rhonda”, in reference to my long hair. Revenge, though, would be sweet for the long-haired waiter. Which is another story for another time.)
Anyway, circa 1975, the Windsor Hotel was sold to brothers Gene and Gerry Nori (and partners) and they made changes that included the introduction of what became the popular Tiffany’s Disco Bar.
It was in early 1976 that I went from part-time to full-time at CKCY Radio and could no longer fit in working at the Windsor Men’s Bar even though I didn’t want to leave. But working there has resulted in a retention of positive thoughts that have remained in my memory bank.
And I am just one of many with a particular interest in the downtown area of the Sault who are happy that the Windsor Hotel is, hopefully, slated to soon be up and running.
The historic Windsor Hotel has been an eyesore for too long now. Hopefully the planned re-opening of the stately old fortress comes sooner than later.