Canada’s grand railway hotels are second to none

When Canada built its transcontinental railroad, it had the wisdom to build grand destination hotels that remain stylish to today.

The Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia is world famous for its high tea (wikipedia)


MONTREAL, Feb. 13, 2016 – When Canada completed its first transcontinental railway in 1885, connecting Eastern Canada with British Columbia, the country did something else that has become an elegant reminder of the past for travelers from around the world. It constructed a series of grand hotels across the country, each with its own personality and character.

Every one of Canada’s railway hotels is a national landmark that has become a symbol of the country’s history and architecture.

Chateau Laurier in Ottawa (wikipedia)

At one time or another, we have all seen pictures of these magnificent “château style” structures but probably are unaware of the story behind them.

Incorporating towers and turrets along with other elements of French and Scottish architecture, the railway hotels of Canada evolved into a form that is distinctly Canadian. The result is incomparable elegance and sophistication.

Though the properties themselves retain a singular theme, over time, with multiple companies involved and numerous competitive challenges, the complete history is a complex muddle. In the end, however, the final result is pure pleasure for visitors.

Artist rendering of Hotel Frontenac in Quebec City (wikipedia)

The first grand railway hotel opened in 1878 in Montreal. The Windsor Hotel, however, was not owned by a railway company. Instead it was built to host visitors from the nearby Windsor Station.

Construction on the transcontinental railway began in 1881 as part of a promise by Canada to British Columbia to join the Canadian Confederation 10 years earlier.

The Canadian Pacific Railway opened the first grand hotel built by a railway company in the spring of 1888 in Vancouver. Just two weeks later, CPR officially inaugurated what is arguably the most recognizable of Canada’s grand hotels in Banff.

Fall at Banff Springs Hotel on Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies (wikipedia)
Fall at Banff Springs Hotel on Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies (Wikipedia)

William Cornelius Van Horne, then president of Canadian Pacific, personally chose the site of the Banff Springs Hotel in the Rocky Mountains, saying, “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists.”

Banff Springs in 1929 (wikipedia)
Banff Springs in 1929 (Wikipedia)

The original hotel burned in 1926 and was replaced with the famed hotel we know today.

Soon after came the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City with its elevated site that overlooks the city and the Saint Lawrence River.

In Victoria, British Columbia, the Empress Hotel followed. Today, visitors traveling to Vancouver and/or Victoria frequently treat themselves to high tea at the Empress, even if they do not spend a night at the property.

High tea at the Empress is an international institution.

Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton, Alberta has stunning views (wikipedia)

Eventually, the Grand Trunk Railway, the primary competitor of Canadian Pacific, entered the “war of grand hotels” and opened Chateau Laurier in Ottawa along with the Fort Garry and Macdonald hotels in Edmonton. Much like Chateau Frontenac, the Macdonald’s elevated location offers magnificent views that further enhance the hotel’s grandeur.

Empress interiorBy 1920, the Grand Trunk Railway merged into the Canadian National Railway, but the competition continued until 1958, when the Queen Elizabeth Hotel opened in Montreal over the Central Station. The Queen Elizabeth is regarded as the last true railway hotel in the country. Though both companies continued to open other properties in Canada, they had no ties to the trains.

Many of Canada’s railway hotels were owned and operated by the same company for the first time when Canadian Pacific acquired Canadian National.

Slightly more than a decade later, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts took over many of the landmark properties in 1999, though several are still managed by other chains today.

No matter. For travelers, it merely translates into the highest quality of accommodations with standards that are second to none.

Fairmont now operates the Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC but the elegance remains (wikipedia)

Canada’s historic grand railway hotels whisk you back in time to the golden age of travel. It was an era when travelers explored the world for “travel’s sake,” a gentler time with an air of sophistication that is frequently lost in today’s contemporary rush of “checklist” tourism.

Savor the moment. The grand Canadian Railway Hotels will not disappoint.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of the Magellan Travel Club

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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