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Building for the future

The Fort Garry Hotel

Take a step into the Fort Garry Hotel, and you will be walking into Canadian history. This proud Winnipeg establishment, built in 1913 by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, is a piece of old world elegance with its soaring 10-foot ceilings and four stunning ballrooms. The 242-room “Grand Dame” continues to be a favorite for weddings, romantic getaways, and business conventions - rumors of the resident ghost notwithstanding. Guests revel the chance to walk down halls graced by the likes of Queen Elizabeth, Louis Armstrong, Laurence Olivier, and Roald Amundsen, who chose the Fort Garry Hotel as the backdrop for his sold-out lecture about his 1926 North Pole expedition.

The Fort Garry Hotel maintained an authentic charm as the hotel approached its 100th anniversary, but there was one factor where authenticity was no longer so appealing: its aging infrastructure. The original building was designed for steam heating and had no modern insulation, and some of the air handling units were several decades old. A two-pipe system would send hot water to heat in winter, and cold water to cool in summer, meaning temperature controls had to be manually adjusted - usually this would be prompted by guest complaints. Richard Bel and Ida Albo, who bought Fort Garry Hotel in 1992, realized their pride and joy was starting to show its age. Something had to be done.

“You will be walking into Canadian history”
Large Circular Room

The owners of the Fort Garry Hotel wanted to create a more comfortable experience for guests, while also improving the building’s sustainability profile and reducing energy costs. But to bring green credentials to a historic building such as the Fort Garry Hotel requires a certain finesse. Old, inefficient systems may be deeply embedded into the structure of a building, making them very difficult to update. The hotel has withstood two world wars, two city-wide floods, and the Winnipeg General Strike - but to survive its aging infrastructure was its biggest threat to date. How do you solve this problem without destroying the charm?

For Schneider Electric, a building automation project such as modernizing the Fort Garry Hotel was a dream project, albeit a challenging one. When energy management experts work on a brand-new building, sustainability solutions can be incorporated at the drawing board, and executed cleanly and quickly. But the classic Fort Garry Hotel was a far more temperamental prospect: “This was a complex process, both in terms of design and implementation,” says Juan Macias, President at Schneider Electric Canada. “Integrating a historical building like this is quite an engineering challenge.”

Hallway woman with bag
“Modernizing the Fort Garry Hotel was a dream project, albeit a challenging one”
“This is the system that enables the owners of the hotel to respond to problems before they happen”
Large Circular Room

Overseeing this is the building automation system, which is where the Big Data learning comes in. “The whole cycle starts at the edge with local control, and sitting on top of this is a series of applications that lets the customer better understand how the building is performing,” says Macias. This is the system that enables the owners of the hotel to respond to problems before they happen, resulting in both reduced maintenance hours and minimized disruption for guests.


A particular challenge for Schneider Electric was the Fort Garry Hotel’s Turkish bath, which is one of the top spas in Canada. “The spa is a showcase for the hotel, but to maintain the temperature and airflow in the steam rooms with the equipment that they had was very difficult,” says Macias. As part of an extensive fitness centre that features an indoor pool, whirlpool, steam room, and an entire indoor running track, the spa had to be modernised without causing undue disruption to the daily operations.


Schneider Electric, working in partnership with BARCOL Controls Ltd., had to retrofit all the controls to the steam rooms. The process was complex and costly, but the Turkish bath is now once again a luxurious showpiece. Automation servers are used to control and monitor the spa’s mechanical systems, including a small steam plant and a chiller, as well as overseeing the controls for fibre-optic lighting, heated walls and benches, aroma pumps, cold fogs, and tropical mists.


The world’s energy demands are expected to double in the next 40 years. Considering how 82% of all buildings are still energy inefficient, there is much work to be done - not only to make sure the energy we use comes from sustainable sources, but also to ensure buildings do not waste power. This represents a significant potential to improve energy efficiency, not just for the sake of the planet, but also for the comfort of the people who use these buildings.

“We live in a more and more energy intensive world,” says Macias. “Demand will continue to grow, and we need to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions significantly in order to avoid damage to our planet.” While building automation projects such as the Fort Garry Hotel often start as an attempt to reduce energy consumption in order to save costs, it also comes with a desire to create sustainability for the future. There is no longer any doubt that economic and green incentives are two sides of the same coin.

82% of all buildings are still energy inefficient
Tiled room
20% energy consumption down 25% maintenance staff time down

The Fort Garry Hotel used to be a self-contained little world, operating as a closed-circuit ecosystem that catered to residents’ every need. The hotel had its own heating plant, water well, laundry, bakery and butchery - there was even a printing press for printing menus and hotel notices.

Today, self-sustainability is no longer an aspiration for the Fort Garry Hotel, as needs have changed. Now, the goal is to be truly sustainable in a manner that preserves the building for the future.

With the help of Schneider Electric, the Fort Garry Hotel has been transformed into a modern, sustainable hotel with lowered energy requirements - consumption has been reduced by 20%, and maintenance staff time is down by 25%. Guest complaints have all but vanished too. Not that anyone can really tell from a glance that anything has changed. While modern and sustainable under the surface, on the outside the Fort Garry Hotel remains the same Grand Dame of Winnipeg - now with a green glint in her eye.