Château Laurier

The Fairmont Château Laurier is a landmark hotel in Downtown Ottawa, Ontario located near the intersection of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive designed in the Châteauesque style.

History and Architecture

Château Laurier was commissioned by Grand Trunk Railway president Charles Melville Hays, and was constructed between 1909 and 1912 in tandem with Ottawa's downtown Union Station (now the Government Conference Centre) across the street.

The plans for the hotel initially generated some controversy as the Château was to be constructed on what was then a portion of Major's Hill Park. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, then the Prime Minister of Canada, helped secure the important site for the construction, and the hotel was eventually named in his honour. Laurier's government was also subsidizing the Grand Trunk Railway's Pacific Line. Further conflict ensued when the original architect, Bradford Gilbert, from New York was dismissed due to disagreements with Grand Trunk executives, and the Montreal firm of Ross and Macfarlane was hired to complete the design.

The hotel was to be opened on 26 April 1912, but Hays, who was returning to Canada for the hotel opening, perished aboard the RMS Titanic when it sank on 15 April. A subdued opening ceremony was held on 12 June 1912, with Sir Wilfrid Laurier in attendance.

When the Grand Trunk became part of the Canadian National Railway in 1923, the Château Laurier became one of CN's most important hotels. For years, the hotel thrived, playing host to royalty, heads of state, political figures, celebrities and members of Canada's elite. R.B. Bennett lived in a suite in the hotel during his term as Canadian prime minister, from 1930 to 1935.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the construction of numerous competing hotels in the capital, as well as the closure of Union Station, led to a slow decline in the Château's fortunes. Significant work was undertaken in the 1980s to refurbish and renovate the Château Laurier, however, thus restoring its position as Ottawa's pre-eminent hotel.

The hotel was operated by Canadian National Hotels until the chain was purchased by Canadian Pacific Hotels in 1988. 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.

In addition to hotel guests, the Château Laurier has also served over the years as the home of two important Ottawa institutions. From July 1924 to October 2004, the seventh and eight floors at the top were home to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's local English and French language radio stations (a legacy that commenced when the Canadian National Railway established Ottawa's first radio station). Yousuf Karsh, one of the world's most renowned portrait photographers, maintained his studio and residence at the Château Laurier for many years.

The hotel is just metres away from some of the capital's most important landmarks including Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal, the National Gallery of Canada, the Byward Market, the National War Memorial, the U.S. Embassy, and the Rideau Centre. Given its proximity to these buildings and the fact that it has served as a home and meeting place for many notable political figures over the years, the hotel has often been referred to as "the third chamber of Parliament".

The hotel was the inspiration for the "Hotel du Canada" at the Canada (Epcot) pavilion in Orlando, Florida. In 2000, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada chose the building as one of the top 500 buildings produced in Canada during the last millennium.

Haunting of the Château Laurier Hotel

The Château Laurier Hotel is said to be haunted, with numerous guests reporting to have seen the ghost of Charles Melville Hays and experiencing paranormal activities. Stories of the haunting began when Charles Melville Hays died on his return voyage on the RMS Titanic from Europe 12 days before the hotel's opening. Stories suggests that Hays' ghost rests within the hotel due to its significant importance to his life, and the fact that he never witnessed the grand opening due to his death. Guests have also reported seeing the ghost of a small child, and experiences the feeling of "being watched" the moment they enter the hotel. Other guests have also reported eerie sounds from the hotel and unexplained shaking.

Building Activity

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