Château Laurier Hotel

Bill-newby L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
To be precise the hotel of which I speak is properly called Fairmont Château Laurier Hotel, a label I am more accustomed to incorporate when referring to its Executive Fairmont Gold floor (the so-called “hotel within a hotel”).  The change of ownership of this hotel from Canadian Pacific Hotels appears not to have hurt the hotel in the transition – no doubt for the added reason that, “In 1999, it was renamed the Fairmont Château Laurier after Canadian Pacific Hotels bought the American Fairmont hotel chain and changed its name to Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.”  Essentially a distinction without a difference though I object to the marketing of the grandeur of the hotel as the product of the Fairmont cunning at the expense of the former railway owners of the hotel including Grand Trunk Railway (1909 – 1923), Canadian National Railway (1923 – 1988) and lastly Canadian Pacific Hotels (1988 – 1999), proprietors which for me have always hearkened back to the spirited days of Canada’s formation.

Chateau Laurier Hotel (2)

Yesterday I was reminded why I adore this hotel.  We checked into the Fairmont Gold floor shortly after noon then proceeded immediately to Wilfrid’s dining room for lunch.  Everything about that experience epitomizes the hotel.  Certainly the hotel succeeds in its mission of “turning moments into memories” for its guests.  Specifically it is the unrivalled elegance of the hotel and insinuating sense of permanence and sophistication which perpetually move me.  Granted it may be an atmosphere more appealing to the older generation but that for me is perfectly serendipitous. I have always marvelled at the service, whether it is a scotch on the rocks, a martini or tea. The calibre of food at Wilfrid’s is undeniably high and never disappoints.  I might add that I can say the same for Epic Restaurant at the Royal York Hotel, another link in the chain which we patronize as regularly.

The breakfast on the Gold floor is unique, silver service and white linen.  The small, cozy lounge is ideally suited to a pleasant and incremental awakening. We have also taken advantage of the lounge at the end of the day by returning with our dinner guests for pousse-café.  To its everlasting credit the bar is on the honours system, a decided refinement we most lately encountered in Montepulciano, Tuscany at the family owned Villa Poggiano.

As we checked out of our room this morning after breakfast in the lounge I remarked how far even the finest American hotels would have to go to exceed the lavishness of the Château Laurier Hotel, referring at that moment in particular to the elevators with their solid brass doors and mahogany panelling.

My introduction to the Château Laurier Hotel was exactly forty years ago, March, 1975 when I began working for the law firm Macdonald, Affleck at 100 Sparks Street, Ottawa.  The convenience of the hotel and its reputed attraction to local parliamentarians and senators recommended the hotel to me more especially as it housed a magnificent indoor swimming pool, steam bath and sauna.  I was a member of the Château Laurier Health Club for the next 35 years (sadly until Canadian Pacific Hotels merged with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and pointedly closed the steam bath and sauna – which they have promised ever since to renovate and reopen).  Forty years ago the Health Club was managed very efficiently and professionally by Madam Juneau, assisted by Madam Chartrand.  They manned the now extinct long wooden counter around which guests were required to pass for admission to the Club.  For each guest Madam Juneau or Madam Chartrand would provide two towels and a locker key.

My personal memories over the years at the hotel include a congregation of the local Ottawa Bar in a suite with former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker; the annual Canada Permanent Saturday luncheon for the local Ottawa Bar (a tradition which not surprisingly ended when the Bar became too large to stuff into one of the ballrooms); birthday party gatherings too numerous to mention; wedding celebrations; brunches and dinners at Wilfrid’s and afternoon teas at Zoe’s; private jewellery exhibitions; estate auctioneer meetings; retails services; dining and dancing at the Canadian Room (now gone); profound cocktail rendezvous at the Cross Keys lounge; summer al fresco drinks on the terrace overlooking the Canal Locks; surreptitious viewing of the July 1st fireworks on Parliament Hill from the secret turrets of the Hotel; and innumerable points of convenience for meeting family and friends when heading elsewhere in downtown Ottawa or the By Ward Market.  Lately the Hotel has afforded a pied à terre for us country folk when visiting the Capital for dinner.

Oddly I have never felt compelled to photograph the Château Laurier Hotel. As much as I am attracted to architecture generally (for example I spent hours sketching the lines of the National Arts Centre following its construction), my absorption of the Château Laurier Hotel is confined to its staid atmosphere and provision of upscale visceral delights.

The Château Laurier Hotel is like a grand old lady, deserving of the utmost respect.  I always make a point of entering or leaving the Hotel by the front door, not its side entrance on Mackenzie Avenue.