Since I have not been to any new restaurants lately, I decided to blog about something else that interests me. It may or may not interest the reader. The topic is HOTELS!
One big plus of business and personal travel is staying in hotels. I love hotels and had I not ended up by accident in the medical business I think I could have been a successful hotelier.
In travels across Canada I’ve enjoyed good ones and not so good ones. Four Seasons, Westin, Sheraton etc., are all good but perhaps the hotels I’ve most enjoyed are the old Railway Hotels. The Grand Trunk Railway, the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway all built grand, beautiful hotels during the heyday of rail travel. Almost all of them are now operated by Fairmont Hotels, a company the CPR bought in 1999. Fairmont was spun off as a separate company and later became part of the French company ACCOR.The ownership of the hotels is spread among a number of investment companies.
Possibly my favourite of these grand hotels is the CHATEAU FRONTENAC in Quebec City. Opened by the CPR in 1893 in the old city of Quebec, this 611 room Chateauesque style structure overlooks the St Lawrence River. Having stayed there 3 times, always in winter, I found it utterly charming, partly due to the French influence of the city. It’s now 127 years old but has been maintained superbly over the years. Rooms with views, wonderful food and charming staff. And right in the centre of the old town.
Not the oldest but the largest of the CPR hotels is Toronto’s ROYAL York. Built on Front Street across from Union Station this 1363 room giant opened in 1929. I have fond memories of several stays there at a variety of business meetings. On one occasion in 1970 I organized a Mexican Fiesta Party for the Ontario Operating Room Nurses convention. We used a large meeting room on one of the higher floors and the party featured a Mexican Band, a Mexican Buffett and Sombreros for the guests. This event gave me access to the behind the scenes activity of a large hotel. The catering staff, the kitchens, the serving area etc was all fascinating to me.
The Royal York has multiple restaurants including a Benihana. An old friend treated me to dinner years ago in The Imperial Room which at the time was a restaurant/night club.
The Royal York is operated by Fairmont but owned by 3 investment groups. If you are in Toronto, it’s worth a visit even if you don’t stay there. At least take a stroll through the public areas. It’s magnificent.
Up in Ottawa, close to Parliament Hill is the Chateau Laurier another Fairmont property. The head honcho of the Grand Trunk Railway, Charles Hayes, commissioned the hotel in 1909. It was scheduled to be opened in April, 1912 but Mr. Hayes had perished on the Titanic sinking so the opening was delayed until June, 1912. When the 429 room hotel opened Sir Wilfred Laurier, after whom it was named, was there. The building is distinctive for its limestone exterior, the marble lobby floors and some original Tiffany Stained Glass windows. When Grand Trunk merged with CNR, the Laurier became the most important hotel in the chain. From 1924 until 2004 CBC maintained radio studios on the 7th and 8th floors and the famous photographer Yusuf Karsh had both his home and studio in the hotel for many years. By the way, Rooms rates in 1912 were $2 per night.
I got to know the interior of the hotel quite well during a 3 day sales meeting in January, 2000. It was -50 outside the entire time so we were loath to venture out.
There you have it. Three great hotels. More to follow.