Canada’s Grand Railway Hotels – Part 1

Friday, 9th October 2009 by

Thanks to this week's launch of Google Street View in Canada, our Canadian correspondent Ian has been able to prepare a grand tour of Canada's Railway Hotels, in 2 parts.

It is often said that Canada was built on the railroad, with expansion of the train tracks from east to west ensuring that the population - particularly new immigrants - spread across the country. A network of grand railway hotels was created to encourage wealthy tourists to take the train. With the arrival of Google Street View in Canada, we'll take a look at these hotels, starting with Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City.

Chateau Frontenac Chateau Frontenac

Opened in 1893, the hotel's history is apparent the moment you step into the ornate wood-panelled lobby, while the exterior is typical of the style of hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Company, with soaring turrets and towers.

Its position atop a rock outcropping gives stunning views across the St Lawrence river from many of the rooms and makes it the dominating feature of the city's skyline - see the view from the Old Town about 60m below.

Chateau Frontenac

The Chateau is now owned by the Fairmont hotel chain, as are most of the other grand hotels, including the Queen Elizabeth in Montreal.

Queen Elizabeth Queen Elizabeth

The last railway hotel to be constructed (in 1958) before air travel became the preferred form of mass transit, it has a rather more modern architectural style. It is located directly above Montreal's Central Station and is the largest hotel in Quebec with 1037 rooms.

This hotel is perhaps most famous as the location of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 Bed-In. They took up residence in room 1742 for a week, receiving the world's media and many celebrities and other guests. The bed-in culminated with the recording of Give Peace a Chance.

The Queen Elizabeth was preceded in Montreal by two other - externally more elegant - hotels, both of which have now been converted for business or educational use: the Windsor Hotel and Place Viger. The Windsor Hotel was the first of the grand railway hotels, opening in 1878; it closed 103 years later. Place Viger opened 20 years later but closed in the economic depression of the 1930s.

Hotel Windsor Place Viger

In Ottawa the Chateau Laurier stands beside the Rideau Canal, just a few meters from Parliament Hill.

Chateau Laurier Chateau Laurier

Originally located across the street from the train station1, the hotel was commissioned by Charles Hays, chairman of the Grand Trunk Railway. Unfortunately Hays chose a ship called the Titanic to make the journey to the hotel's opening celebration, which was subsequently delayed by a couple of months. Hays may have made the journey anyway, as a number of guests have reported seeing his ghost wandering the hallways!

Being in the nation's capital, the hotel routinely plays host to visiting heads of state and other dignitaries. For 80 years it was also the home of the local CBC studios, while portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh had a studio and apartment in the hotel.

We'll cover the rest of the country in part two of this post.

Thanks to Denis Gravel, Stephen Salomons and Dave.

  1. The old station building is now a government conference centre while the current station is located some distance from the city centre. ↩︎