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We checked into our room around 11 a.m. We were not in town on business nor did we just get off an early flight. Winnipeg’s Fort Garry Hotel was only a five-minute drive from our two-bedroom apartment in St. Boniface and we had absolutely nothing to celebrate. We just wanted to get away.
I felt like a tourist from the moment my boyfriend Zac and I pulled up to the château-style building. Walking up those steps of the hotel and into this national historic site was a new and exciting experience – regardless of the fact it was just another drizzling day in the city and all I had packed was a toothbrush.
My grandpa, Syd Cardy, worked at the Fort Garry Hotel in the 1950s. He gathered trunks of luggage at Union Station across the street, then brought them over for the guests on trolleys. His dad, Captain A.G. Cardy, also worked as the hotel’s shipper and receiver, keeping inventory in check. A few years back, Grandpa had taken us grandkids to the hotel for lunch, and when he told the staff about his family’s history, they let him give us a private tour of the kitchens, a secret elevator and other places where he had made so many memories long ago.
All of Grandpa’s stories about the hotel, especially his ghost stories, were fresh in my mind that day as we waited at the front desk. I couldn’t help but feel his presence. It was only a few weeks prior that I had helped write the eulogy for his funeral.
Our room was only a couple storeys up and the view looked out onto a beige brick wall. After our dramatic entrance through the lobby with its shiny floors and grand chandeliers, the bleak scene from our window brought us back to reality. No, you’re not at the Plaza in New York City, but keep pretending. And it’s just what you get for the “best available rate” on booking.com.
Zac and I jumped onto the queen bed that was tightly covered with a white duvet and rustic, fur blanket. Like children, we pointed out every detail of the room, the vintage bathroom tile, the local artwork, the TV remote. It was nearing noon, and we had a whole day ahead of us with nothing to do, so we went to the bar.
The Palm Lounge is on the first floor, just past the lobby. It has a grand piano, full length windows and a high ceiling, detailed in gold paint. The servers wore black polyester pants and collared white shirts. They held notepads they didn’t use and kept a pen tucked into the front of their black aprons. Smooth jazz played in the background as we looked over the drink menu.
I ordered a cosmopolitan and Zac chartered new territory with a martini, which he quickly realized was a lot of gin in a dainty glass. We spent the afternoon ordering cocktail after cocktail while predicting the lives of the people around us. We drank up a hefty bill and since we were on vacation, we decided to just charge it to the room. We wrote down #213, signed our initials and went to find some dinner.
The sun had come out, so we wandered across Broadway Avenue to find a patio. Ravenous from five hours of drinking, we ordered barbecued ribs, prime rib, French fries, Caesar salad and more alcohol. Who were we? Where were we? No one knew. Not even us in our new lavish life.
“Charge it to the room,” we kept saying in pompous British accents before raising our glasses. A new inside joke had been born.
When we returned to the Palm Lounge a few hours later, we were greeted like diplomats or famous movie directors.
“Welcome back, Miss Cardy,” a server said as she sat us at a small table near the piano. Zac and I locked eyes in surprise. She knew my name?
In that moment, it occurred to me that this pretend vacation wasn’t so pretend to the people around us. The staff at the hotel didn’t know about the smelly litter box in the corner of my home office or that I’m too cheap to pay for Amazon Prime. I had spent an entire day carelessly chugging expensive cocktails and didn’t bat an eyelash at the bill. For all they knew, I was a prestigious business woman, someone with multiple homes in Hawaii or a girl with millions of Instagram followers. The 10-year-old in me was delighted to know others were playing pretend, too, whether they knew it or not.
I was an honoured guest at a ritzy hotel. I was Miss Cardy.
In the morning, we called down to the front desk asking for the complimentary coffee and cookie tray they had advertised on our nightstand. We put on plush bathrobes, dipped our cookies into steaming cups of coffee and filled the bedsheets with crumbs. After a few more pictures with the miraculous view of concrete from our window, it was 10:59 a.m. and we were ready to checkout from our fake life.
The young man at the front desk was friendly and relaxed. He typed away, asking us about our stay then printed out our invoice and slid it across the counter. The game was over. A long list of PALM LOUNGE, PALM LOUNGE, PALM LOUNGE purchases stared back at us from the bill, ending with a number somewhere over $300. Miss Cardy had left the building and I was here to clean up the mess.
“Hold on,” the man said. “It looks like there’s been a mistake.” He took the paper back and began typing again. “Sorry about that.” He frowned at his computer screen.
He slid a new invoice across the counter, the total now reading $119.45, the room price for our one-night stay. The bar charges were gone, as if they had never happened.
We thanked him and hurried to the car, trying not to make eye contact with the bellboy and valet drivers in case they could tell we were criminals on the run.
A year or so has passed since this story took place and we have never been contacted by the hotel or informed of any errors. But it’s very clear to me what happened that day at the haunted Fort Garry Hotel.
The ghost of Grandpa Cardy got a kick out of us living large and playing our imaginary game. And, like when I was a kid, he wanted to give me a memorable experience at the hotel. I can see him winking at me now. Thanks for footing the bar bill, Grandpa.
Cass Cardy lives in Winnipeg.