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Edmonton, Alberta - The Fairmont MacDonald

Built in the characteristic Chateau-style of 16th-century French castles, which one can observe at landmark Fairmont hotels in each major Canadian city along the railway, the lovingly-named ‘Mac,’ on the bluffs above the North Saskatchewan River Valley, opened its doors in 1915, destined to become the centerpiece of social life in downtown Edmonton. For forty years, its status was preserved, and its appeal widespread, to the extent that in 1953, a substantial 16-story, 300-room addition was undertaken to meet the hotel’s pressing need for more accommodation space and convention facilities. Sadly, the hotel’s grand addition proved to lack the architectural integrity that had made the ‘Mac’ so appealing in its early years, and ultimately, the grand addition would be destroyed in the mid-1980s, and the future of the hotel cast in doubt. It was closed in the same era, and a period of indecisiveness about which direction the hotel should move in cast grave concerns over the possibility that the entire edifice may be abolished. When the City of Edmonton stepped forward and designated the hotel as a Municipal Heritage Resource, a fate of ruins was postponed, and purchase of the hotel by Canadian Pacific Hotels in 1988 ensured that its place within the city’s history would be restored to its original glory. Reopened in 1991, the ‘Mac’ is again a cultural centerpiece in Edmonton’s downtown, and the most esteemed hotel on the banks of the Alberta capital’s North Saskatchewan River.

With its heritage detailing intact, the latest round of renovations included the addition of a number of specialty suites in the turret spaces of what was once the hotel’s attic, featuring great views of the city and the valley floor. With just 198 guest rooms, the ‘Mac’ is almost a ‘boutique’ hotel within the Fairmont chain, a private place that exudes the tradition of the railway’s legacy, combined with the finest modern comforts. The doorknob to each room is engraved with the Grand Trunk Railway’s insignia, while inside, plush terry cloth robes and high speed Internet access are just two of a number of essential amenities catering to the modern business traveler. When out exploring the city of Edmonton, or tied up in business meetings all day, returning to one’s room at the ‘Mac’ ought to be a place of refuge for relaxation and unwinding, and the Fairmont staff has precisely this in mind. Head downtown to enjoy the symphony, a dance recital, or even the theatre, the opera, or the beloved Oilers, and the ‘Mac’ and its attentive staff will be there awaiting your return.

There, in addition to some of the most comfortable and luxurious guest rooms in the city, the Fairmont MacDonald features The Harvest Room, one of the city’s premier restaurants. Following the culinary traditions of the province, Alberta beef is prominently featured on a menu dominated by classic dishes like beef Wellington and well-aged steaks. Breakfast is one of the best anywhere, including beef tenderloin, applewood cheddar cheese, and bacon baked beans with a single farm-fresh egg. The menu’s regional variations also serve as a sort of tribute to the broad culinary traditions nationwide; Brome Lake duck confit, Digby scallops, arctic char, and wild Pacific coho salmon are all featured on the main menu, and the maitre’d is happy to help guests find the perfect wine for their chosen dish. Before the linens are pressed for dinner service, there is afternoon tea, a hotel tradition that harkens back to the Mac’s earliest days, when dignitaries traveling by rail would make the Macdonald their final stop before venturing into the rugged Rockies.

One feature of the Mac missing in those early glory days was the spa, part of the most recent renovation and a wondrous place for relaxation after a long day of business or pleasure in the city. A variety of massage therapy treatments are harmonized with a world-class health and fitness facility, including indoor pool, sauna, and steam room. Recovery time can be necessary after a long night out. A city on the northern frontier, summer nights in Edmonton are characterized by big skies and a fat sun that rarely sets before 11:00 p.m. With so much daylight to take advantage of, one would be remiss to travel there and not enjoy one of the city’s superb golf offerings, which seem to grow each and every year. The strongest course is Blackhawk, a new design from provincial son Rod Whitman that garnered a runner-up place in Canada’s 2004 Best New Course rankings. Running through the river valley of the North Saskatchewan, Whitman’s minimalist design is a tribute to the classic parkland course, where the natural features of the land are preserved. Whitman’s first solo design, the 27-hole Wolf Creek Resort, is just an hour south of the capital in Ponoka.

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