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January 24, 2022
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The Ottawa Senator

Its owner went down with the Titanic, but Château Laurier still managed to become a capital retreat

Charles Melville Hays, the man who founded the first CP Hotel, was an American who worked for the Wabash Railway. He moved to Montreal in 1896 to become general manager of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Hays convinced Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier to construct a second transcontinental line, and the government agreed to subsidize the venture to the tune of $30 million. Financing was chaotic, however; by the end of 1911, Hays' company was $100 million in debt. Hays met with the board of directors in England and proposed a strategy that included building a chain of luxury hotels across Canada. He had already begun construction on what would be Grand Trunk's flagship hotel, the Château Laurier, which was scheduled to open April 26, 1912.

On April 10, 1912, Hays set sail for home on the Titanic with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. He was also transporting dining-room furniture for the hotel. Not long before the disaster, Hays was chatting with two other passengers and remarked that "the trend to playing fast and loose with larger and larger ships will end in tragedy." Twenty minutes later the Titanic struck an iceberg and Hays perished along with some 1500 others.

It's not surprising then that the Château Laurier opened with little fanfare on June 12, 1912, nearly two months after its scheduled inauguration. In 1919, Canadian National Railways was created and assumed control of the Grand Trunk Hotels.

What began in tragedy evolved into nearly a century of success for the Fairmont Château Laurier: this year alone it received a Mobil Four-Star award, a CAA Four-Diamond award and made Condé Nast Traveler's Gold List.

It's not difficult to see why. The 429-room limestone, granite and copper structure is a study in mixing old world and modern -- marble floors, brass railings, ornate ceilings and antique furniture blend in quietly with data ports, a state-of-the- art health club and an 18-metre Art

Deco swimming pool. Rooms vary in size from 170- to 250-square feet for a standard room to 2000-square feet for the presidential suite, but all are comfortable, beautifully decorated and offer lovely views of the city. The Entré e Gold floor has its own concierge with private check-in, a lounge that offers a cocktail hour with complimentary hors d'oeuvres and an honour bar service. Breakfast is also served in the lounge each morning.

Although the hotel is a long-time favourite for politicians, conventioneers and visiting celebrities, it's also popular with families and couples on weekend getaways. There's a kid's playroom in the health club and the pool has a lifeguard on staff. There's also a babysitting service, kids' menus in all of the restaurants, including room service and a "welcome kit" upon check-in.

Grown-ups won't find any shortage of things to do in and around the hotel either. The Reading Lounge is mercifully child-free, with dark, carved wood walls and furniture and Zoe's Lounge has live jazz Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. There's also a small gallery, which features photography by Canadian artists.

There's a lot nearby to keep everyone happy. The Rideau Canal, popular for people-watching or taking boat rides, the Rideau Shopping Centre and Parliament Hill are across the street. Just down from them is ByWard Market, an open-air, cobblestoned shopping district, with crafts stores, fruit, vegetable and flower stands as well as restaurants, pubs and specialty shops. The Canadian Museum of Civilization (tel: 800-555-5621), which also houses a Children's Museum, the National Arts Centre (tel: 613-947-7000) and the National Gallery of Canada (tel: 613-990-1985) are within walking distance.


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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