Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/11/2021 (274 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Teddy Pagtalunan likes being in the middle of the action. It’s one of his favourite things about working as a bellhop at the corner of Portage and Main.
"This hotel is connected to everything and people are coming from everywhere," says Pagtalunan, who has been greeting guests at what is now known as the Fairmont Winnipeg for the last 41 years. "It keeps us busy and keeps my brain busy."
The 21-storey hotel opened in 1970 as the Winnipeg Inn and has been through several name changes — The Westin Winnipeg and The Lombard — before becoming The Fairmont in the late ’90s. This year, the company is celebrating a belated (owing to the pandemic) 50th anniversary with a series of special events.
For Pagtalunan, the anniversary is another milestone in long career. He arrived in Winnipeg from the Philippines in 1980 and started working at the hotel the same year. While he never expected to stay in the job for four decades, his longevity and uncanny ability to remember names has made him something of a folk hero among guests.
"Some people… tell me that it’s because of me that they come back," he says with a chuckle. "Even if it’s a joke I think the way we give service makes them really want to come back."
This weekend, the hotel restaurant, the Velvet Glove, is offering a Winnie-the-Pooh-themed high tea menu to mark the occasion.
"We’re kind of attaching ourselves a little bit to Manitoba lore," executive sous chef Richard Duncan says. "And just trying to have a little bit of fun with it."
The platter of sweets and sandwiches is served on a tiered tray with menu items named after characters and locales in the iconic A.A. Milne children’s books. The spread includes chocolate covered strawberries dressed up like honeybees, Christopher Robin shortbread, citrus and honey scones, Hundred Acre Woods smoked salmon bagel and Piglet’s honey ham and dijonnaise sandwich. The dine-in version of Winnie’s High Tea is sold out for this weekend and next, but the restaurant has a to-go option available in a custom layered box. Orders can be placed by visiting opentable.ca and searching for the Velvet Glove.
The restaurant is also hosting a Nutcracker-inspired high tea the first and second weekend in December. Duncan, who has worked at the local Fairmont for eight years, is excited to be able to do special food events in person again.
"I’m just so happy that we’re able to talk about these things again," he says. "Our industry, like a lot of industries, was hit hard… so seeing the support and seeing people excited about these events is heartwarming for us."
While there wasn’t much to celebrate within the tourism and hospitality industry over the last 18 months, right now feels like a fitting time to toast a longstanding local establishment, says Fairmont Winnipeg general manager Jacco van Teeffelen.
"Yes, we should cautiously celebrate," he says. "We have a really interesting history, so it’s worth standing still for a moment, and looking back and seeing what everybody has accomplished."
Having assumed his post in May, van Teeffelen hasn’t been around for many of the hotels memorable moments. Still, stories of visits from Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes and royals count as highlights among staff — the 1984 visit from Queen Elizabeth, in particular.
"I wasn’t there, but in my career, I’ve served many royal families and it’s always a highlight," says van Teeffelen, who has worked in Fairmont hotels around the world for the last decade. "The planning and execution is such a tedious project and it has to be done with perfection… for hotel people, it’s almost like winning the Olympics."
Visit fairmont.com/winnipeg to learn more about the anniversary and its associated events.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.