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100 years

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the construction of the Chateau Laurier and Ottawa Union Station.

Robert Cross

on 9 October 2015

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Transcript of 100 years

Main Lobby
Reading Room
Off the main lobby is the Reading Room, decorated with photographs gifted to the hotel by Yousef Karsh and furnished with antique furniture that was found and refinished from within the Château itself.
Main staircase
The original main staircase, once a focus of the hotel, is now hidden behind the reception desk. Guests can still access it to get to their rooms. The main staircase built in 1987 is now wider and a much grander entrance to the upper floors.
The Karsh suite
World renowned portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh operated his studio on the sixth floor of the hotel from 1973
to 1992.
Karsh’s suite as it remains today.
Presidential suite, similar to Karsh’s, from 1929.
The Pool
The 60-foot indoor swimming pool featured a Greek fountain, brass sun lamps and lounge chairs. The art deco pool area was opened in 1930 along with a hydro and electro-therapeutic health spa, modelled on european spas. The spa was considered the most up to date in North America. It continued to operate until the 1940s
Tea time
The Colonel By lounge
The Colonel By Lounge opened in the southeast corner of the lower level in 1968. It had regular entertainmment by Jack McPartlin, a bantering organist with a repertoire of 8,000 tunes ranging from slightly bawdy to romantic. He called the place “The House of Comments.”
The room had a high ceiling and a large painting of Colonel By overseeing construction of the Rideau Canal hanging above the fireplace.
It was billed as a place “where patrons can relax and enjoy themselves in a friendly and informal way.”
The lounge closed in 1979. Today, it is a dungeon-like storage area, including for old chandeliers.

All those towels have to go somewhere...
The first general manager of the Château Laurier was Charles Melville Hays, who was also president of the Grand Trunk Railway. It was he who commissioned the construction of both the Château and the train station. Unfortunatly, he was never able to take charge of the hotel.
He was travelling from England on board the Titanic.
From the top of the turret
The Government Conference Centre started life in 1912 as the Grand Trunk Railway Central Station. Constructed at the same time as the Château Laurier, its main purpose was to bring visitors to the new hotel.
Today, the building functions as a meeting and conference hall for
government purposes.
Many of the original finishes have been incorporated into the new meeting rooms. Just off the entrance lobby, is the waiting room. This was where the prime minister and his ministers could wait for trains. Inside, a fine marble fireplace with a Doric column mantelpiece, part of the original room, remains.
Train passengers entering the main lobby at Union Station could see the clock on the far wall of the Great Hall. Although that view is now blocked by a modern addition, the original clock remains. Though it appears to be brass, it’s actually made of wood. It worked until about a year ago, when it stopped. It was repaired using new parts, made by hand, just weeks before the building’s centenary.
The Great Hall
waiting room
A frieze encircles the top of the anteroom. Entitled “Romance of the Canadian Railways,” the frieze depicts the landscape and peoples of Canada along the route of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway between Winnipeg and Prince Rupert, B.C. The narrow semi-circular frieze, 22 metres in length, was originally painted in 1906 by British artist Sir Frank Brangwyn for the Grand Trunk Railway’s head office in London, England. It was donated to the Canadian government in 1977 and installed in the Conference Centre’s anteroom in 1981 after restoration.
The Anteroom
This was where departing passengers lined up to board trains. Only about one-third of the original 18-by-41 metre space is still visible; the rest is occupied by meeting rooms and a kitchen. Like the Great Hall, the concourse’s decorative coffered ceiling is made of plaster suspended from bridge trusses in the roof. The entire south wall was built column free so the building would not collapse if a runaway train overran the tracks.
The Concourse
Located between the two staircases leading down to the Great Hall, the tunnel was built beneath Rideau Street to funnel arriving train passengers to the Château Laurier. It’s still in use, though false walls have been installed to insulate the tunnel and provide better lighting. Originally, there was a barber shop in the tunnel lobby where men arriving on the train could get a shave and a haircut.
Tunnel to
the Château
From the turret of the Château, the Government Conference Centre can be seen directly across Rideau Street
Jasper Tea Room
In what is now a retail corridor, was originally the Jasper Tea Room. Designed by Group of Seven artist Edwin Holgate, it featured West Coast aboriginal inspired designs, furniture and decor. It later became the Cock and Lion lounge, featuring jazz, blues and big band music.
Tea is still served everyday in the English tradition, between two o’clock and five o’clock inside Zoe's Lounge. The hotel's very popular Afternoon Tea service features highlights such as freshly baked scones, European pastries, homemade strawberry jam and Devonshire Cream, prepared tableside.
He and his wife Estrellita lived in suite 358 from 1980 to 1998.
The Great Hall was the main waiting room of the old train station. It's look was inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla and Diocletian and was a half-scale copy of the waiting room at New York’s now-demolished Pennsylvania Station. The main features — eight Corinthian columns, barrel-and-groin vaulted ceiling, walls apparently made of Roman travertine — are all clever plaster fakes. The floor was raised eight inches and translation booths were added when the building was converted to a conference centre. The centre became the scene of many major events, including the 1973 Commonwealth conference and the G20 meeting and constitutional talks.
Click here to choose 'fullscreen' (recommended).
Then click
in bottom
menu bar to advance.

...and bedsheets and uniforms and tablecloths...
The laundry chute starts on the sixth floor and ends in the sub-basement. The hotel started contracting out laundry 15 years ago though some uniforms are still done on site. In 2011, 971 tonnes of laundry, including sheets, towels and tableclothes, were sent out. This video was filmed on a Monday... ... the laundry is backed up "all the way up to the third floor"
Rumours say the Château is haunted, with numerous guests reporting to have seen the ghost of Charles Melville Hays. Stories of the haunting began when Hays died on his return voyage on the Titanic from Europe 12 days before the hotel's opening. Stories suggests that Hays' ghost remains 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.
In the central bay of the main lobby, opposite the front doors, is an elaborate wood pedestal carved with the Canadian coat of arms, grapes and vines. Atop the pedestal, benignly looking at people arriving and checking in, sits a carved marble bust of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The Grand Trunk Railway had commissioned the French sculptor Paul Chevre to create the bust for displaying in the lobby. During a private viewing on the day before the hotel opened, Laurier was outraged. The nose, he protested, in no way resembled his own. Manager Bergman confessed the sculpture had been dropped by one of the workmen carrying it into the hotel and the nose was chipped. A local sculptor immediately repaired it but it wasn’t good enough. Laurier left in a huff.
Elaborate Canada Post mail boxes and chutes were in use until 9/11 when they were sealed over security concerns. Every floor had a chute that funneled mail to the basement mail room.
Depsite the furor, he was the first to sign the guest register.
Text: Maria Cooke, Don Butler, Robert Cross
Photos: Chris Mikula, Citizen Archives
Video: Scott Parker
Presentation: Robert Cross
The Ottawa Citizen
Full transcript