A Look at Ottawa’s History- The Chateau Laurier

July 30, 2019


If you’ve ever been down to Parliament hill, you probably know the Chateau Laurier. This stunning hotel, located near the intersection of Rideau Street and Sussex drive is a historic masterpiece in Ottawa, and a major tourist point.

Chateau Laurier was first commissioned to be built by Grand Trunk Railway president Charles Hays, between the years of 1909 and 1912. It was Hays’ dream to extend the Grand Trunk railway over to the West Coast, and to build luxury hotels in major cities along the way.  The project cost approximately $2 million dollars, which today would be equal to over $44 million. It was commissioned in tandem with Ottawa’s downtown Union Station, now the Senate of Canada Building. The buildings were connected via tunnel.


To see his dream come true, Hays’ hired Ross and Macfarlane of Montreal to design the hotel. Their design combines French Renaissance style with the neo-Gothic lines of the Parliament buiings. It was built with granite blocks, white Italian marble, light buff Indiana limestone, and copper for the roof. For furnishing and to keep the aesthetic value of the hotel, they furnished it with antiques, including a travertine marble staircase with brass railing, and Czechosovakian crystal ases. Tragically, Hays’ never had the chance to see the completed project. Days before the hotel was set to open, Hays’ and the male members of his party perished aboard the Titanic.


When the hotel first opened it consisted of 350 bedrooms. 155 of those featured a private bathroom, while the other rooms featured washstands with hot and cold water connections. This makes the Chateau Laurier one of the first to have hotel rooms offering indoor plumbing. In 1929 Montreal architect John Archibald and John Schofield adapted a design for he expansion of the hotel, adding another wing with 240 additional rooms. A state of the art spa, including the swimming pool, were among further additions.


Since opening, many politicians, heads of state, royalty, and entertainers have stayed at the hotel. Some of these include Shirley Temple, Nelson Eddy, Rich Little, Billy Bishop, Bryan Adams, Carrie Fisher, and almost every star of stage, music, or screen that has performed in Ottawa. The movies Captains of the Clouds, Little Gloria: Happy at Last, and H20 were all filmed at the hotel, and CBC Radio used to broadcast right from the hotel before moving to it’s new location. World Famous photographer Yousuf Karsh called the hotel his home for 18 years, hosted his studio from the sixth floor, and gifted portraits to the hotel once he moved out. These portraits still hang there to this day.


Fairmont Chateau Laurier continues to set the standard for luxury accommodations and amazing service in the hospitality industry. With status as a heritage building, the hotel is a vital part of Canadian history, and continues to add stunning views to the Ottawa skyline.


Currently, there is another expansion to the building being planned. Larco Investments proposes to build a 7 storey addition with 147 rooms. This expansion will feature a more contemporary style at the rear of the currently existing building. While controversial, the plan was approved and construction is being planned.