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Ottawa - The Fairmont Chateau Laurier


The story of Ottawa ’s most prominent luxury hotel is an odd one, in that it begins and end with one of the ill-fated Titanic’s most illustrious passengers. Charles Melville Hays, an ambitious Illinois-born railway man, was fingered at the young age of 17 to be a great entrepreneur in the growth of the North American Railway system. By 1873, he was employed by the office of the superintendent of the Missouri Pacific Railway. By 1889, just beyond the ripe old age of 30, he was the manager of the entire Wabash Railway system, and with the Grand Trunk Railway funded by British capital and plagued with problems trying to establish a transcontinental system through Canada , Hays promptly filled a senior position in 1893. By the turn of the century, citing the profitability of the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City and the Banff Springs Hotel in the Canadian Rockies, Hays sought to establish great hotels along the ailing railway route. The original documents planned for seven of them, the largest and most presumptuous of which was to be erected on the shores of the Rideau in the nation’s capital, in the spring of 1912. Hays never saw his dreams come to fruition: two weeks before the Chateau Laurier was to open, his return boat from England struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic . In memoriam, the opening was postponed two months in honour of the tragedy, and on opening day in June, it was the hotel’s namesake, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, who was the first to sign the hotel register.

Backing onto the Rideau River and adjacent to Canada’s federal parliament buildings, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier was exactly what Hays had envisioned—a world-class hotel, on the railway line, in Canada’s most influential city. Today, that had never been more true. What began as a 306-room hotel that was lauded for its indoor plumbing (a rarity in the 1910s) is today a 459-room landmark destination for visitors to the nation’s capital. With confidence, dignity, and style, every taste and discerning requirement is met for guests to Ottawa, and the experience begins as one arrives at the steps of this majestic limestone structure boasting the precise and opulent lines of an old French chateau. It was in 1929 that an expansion to the property, making it ‘U’-shaped rather than ‘L’-shaped, that gave the Chateau Laurier its stately symmetry, and brought the magnificent lobby into a central context. The original bust of Prime Minister Laurier still stands here today, and opposing views down to the Rideau Canal and the open-air Byward Market are the setting for an experience that few hotels can rival.

Rooms at the Chateau are nothing short of palatial: ornate furnishings and textiles fill out each cozy standard room and spacious suite. History has seen many notable figures actually take up residence in the hotel, and the hallways are renowned for political stargazing, as figureheads from parliament can be regularly seen roaming the halls. The list of famous names in the register is a testament to the hotel—Pierre Trudeau, Queen Elizabeth, Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, and the King and Queen of Siam have all taken up residence in the hotel at one time or another. CBC Radio has run broadcasts from its seventh floor since the 1930s, and Yousuf Karsh, the world-famous portrait photographer whose shots of the above celebrities grace the walls of the reading lounge, resides in a sixth floor “studio” for close to two decades. The appeal may lie in what is today the Fairmont Gold standard, a private VIP floor offering the ultimate Chateau Laurier experience. With oversized rooms, private check-in, and complimentary high-speed Internet access and local calls, the Fairmont Gold standard makes for an especially pleasing stay.

With so much to explore downtown, guests often find themselves climbing back up the slope to the hotel after a long and satisfying meal at one of the Market’s great restaurants. Today, more than ever, that sojourn is a welcome option, but far from necessary. The name Wilfrid’s is by consensus deemed to be one of the city’s finest restaurants by food and wine critics, and the reasons are immediately clear when one walks through its doors. With sweeping views of the parliament buildings and the Rideau locks, the view alone is world-class. The food, Executive chef Marcel Mundel’s sophisticated twist on authentic regional Canadian cuisine, is up to par, as the panels for Wine Spectator and Ottawa City Magazine seem to perennially agree. Zoe’s, named for Laurier’s wife, is a stylish lounge for guests to relax in and enjoy their favourite cocktail, be it afternoon tea or a martini to the sounds of the live nightly entertainment. Timeless, elegant, and stylish, the Fairmont Laurier retains the same sense of class and prestige as it has for Canada ’s most illustrious statesmen over the decades. At the end of a long line of world-class Fairmont hotels along the transcontinental railway line, the Chateau Laurier is a triumphant welcome home.

Where to Stay

Fairmont Chateau Laurier -  - 1 Rideau Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 8S7 - Phone (613) 241-1414 - Fax (613) 562-7030

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