Original emblem of the Ritz-Carlton
|Address||1228 Sherbrooke Street West|
|Opening||31 December 1912|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Warren and Wetmore|
|Number of restaurants||1|
The Ritz-Carlton Montréal is a hotel that is found at 1228 Sherbrooke Street West, on the corner of Drummond Street, in Montréal, Quebec. Opened in 1912, it was the first hotel in North America to bear the "Ritz Carlton" name. The Ritz-Carlton hotel located in the luxurious Golden Square Mile is only partially branded by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, as it is otherwise independently owned.
The original builders called themselves the Carlton Hotel Company of Montreal with the concept of naming it after London's celebrated Carlton Hotel. However, one of the investors, Charles Hosmer, was a personal friend of César Ritz and he successfully persuaded his colleagues to incorporate the 'Ritz' name, owing to the success of the Hôtel Ritz Paris, opened in 1898.
For a fee of $25,000, Ritz agreed to lend his name, but stipulated that in accordance with the 'Ritz standards', every room was to have its own bathroom; there was to be a kitchen on every floor so room-service meals could be served course by course; and a round-the-clock valet and concierge service was to be made available to the guests for, amongst other duties, tracking lost luggage or ordering theatre tickets etc. Finally, the lobby was to be small and intimate yet with a curved grand staircase for the ladies to show off their ball gowns on their descent.
Montreal had long held a reputation for its sumptuous hospitality, going back to at least 1820 when John Bigsby observed that the city's hotels were "as remarkable for their palatial exteriors as they are for their excellent accommodation within." In the 1840s, Donegana's Hotel, the largest in the British Colonies, had a reputation equal to, if not exceeding, that of New York's Astor House. From the 1870s, the Windsor had been Montreal's pre-eminent hotel, but by 1909 certain of Montreal's wealthiest citizens felt that the increasingly influential city now needed a modern "first class residential hotel" to bring it into the Edwardian era.
Led by Charles Hosmer (a personal friend of César Ritz); Sir Herbert Holt, Sir Montague Allan and Sir Charles Gordon, met with Hon. Lionel Guest (a first cousin of Winston Churchill) and Harry Higgins (Chairman of the Ritz Hotel London) to found the Carlton Hotel Company of Montreal. The land on which the hotel was built was purchased from Charles Meredith, who became the fifth principal shareholder and had a significant influence on the hotel's image and future. The hotel was designed by the architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore and was completed at a cost of $2 million. Its doors were officially opened at 11:15 pm on New Year's Eve, 1912, marked by a gala ball attended by 350 guests.
As the founders had hoped, two-thirds of the guests at the Ritz-Carlton took suites comprising several rooms and lived there permanently for $29 a month. The First World War had made standards difficult to keep and in 1922, in direct rivalry to the Ritz-Carlton, the largest hotel in the British Empire was built on its doorstep with 1,100 rooms – the Mount Royal Hotel (not connected to the club of the same name). Helped by its more central location within what would later be termed as the Golden Square Mile, since opening its doors the Ritz-Carlton had joined the Mount Royal Club (whose co-founders included Allan and Meredith) as one of the two most fashionable meeting places for moneyed Montreal. On Valentine's Day, 1916, the first transcontinental telephone call was made at the hotel. An audience of two hundred businessmen were said to have listened breathlessly as the Chairman of the Bell Telephone Company enquired: "Hello. Is this Vancouver?" The clear reply - "Yes" - was met with a roar of approval and toasted with champagne.
In the years before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the hotel enjoyed a period of great prosperity. In 1918, Lord Birkenhead described it as "very luxurious and comfortable" and the American Bankers Association held their annual meetings there. In 1919, the Prince of Wales made the first Royal visit, staying in the seventeen-room Royal Suite. On successive trips to Montreal he stayed in private houses, but always met friends for drinks there. Queen Marie of Romania, Prince Felix of Luxembourg and Prince George, Duke of Kent were also guests in the 1920s. Lillie Langtry stayed, and movie idols such as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks drew swarming crowds of fans. It was the favourite hotel of ex-US President William Howard Taft and his wife, and they "entertained lavishly" in the Presidential Suite for all of 1921.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 was followed by the Great Depression and then World War II. The Swiss General Manager, Émile Charles des Baillets, had been with the hotel since 1924. In 1929, he lamented that before guests had come to stay for several weeks accompanied by trains of luggage, but during this time, when they did come, they came for a night or two with only a single bag.
Fortunately for the hotel, many of its in-house residents were not as badly affected as their American counterparts following 1929, and they stayed loyal to the hotel through its dark days. From the 1930s, when the widows and residents of the Golden Square Mile began to downsize from their mansions, a great many took rooms in the hotel, such as Lady Shaughnessy and founder Charles Hosmer's son, Elwood, who between him and sister had inherited $20 million from their father in 1927. The hotel's international reputation remained untarnished with guests such as Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Marlene Dietrich, Liberace, Tyrone Power and Maurice Chevalier; but as the last of the loyal Square Milers (who had been so pivotal to its early success) were dying off, the hotel began to fall into debt.
Wartime shortages made it difficult to maintain the graceful living standards set by the original founders. The General Manager, des Baillets, was succeeded by Albert Frossard in 1940, another native of Switzerland. Unhappily, and not without a fight, Frossard had to bow to the directors' commands to relax the custom of formal dress, of either White tie or Black tie, to suits in order to allow more people to dine at the hotel. Not that the founders would have approved, but the change worked and the hotel realized larger profits.
In 1947, the hotel was sold to François Dupré, forming a new board of directors and naming himself president. Already the owner of two prestigious hotels in Paris - Hotel George V, Paris and the Plaza Athénée - Dupré had money, talent and experience, bringing with him some of the flair of César Ritz. He opened le Bar Maritime in 1948 and in the early 1950s added the Ritz Garden, where patrons could dine around a flower-fringed pond, home to twenty four ducklings. On one unseasonably cold summer night, a kind-hearted waiter took the ducks inside. The following day, during lunch, another waiter opened a tureen, and to his surprise, all the ducks waddled out. Amused guests helped staff round them up and returned them to the garden.
In 1957, a new wing consisting of sixty-seven rooms and suites was added, and care was taken to maintain the original Ritz-influenced Louis XVI and Carlton-influenced Regency styles and ambience. When the renovation was complete, Howard Hughes was the first person to check in, booking out over half of the eighth floor. Between 1959 and 1969 the image of the hotel was more like that of a Gentlemen's club. It catered to Montreal's old money and kept a low key, understated profile. However, publicity it could not escape was the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor to Richard Burton that took place there in 1964.
By 1970, it was felt an overhaul was long overdue. Shedding its formal image, it was updated to one of historical importance yet with modern styles, luxury and services. A year after Richard Nixon stayed, in 1972 The Rolling Stones booked out the entire sixth floor, but were refused service in the main dining room for not being suitably attired – they returned in jackets. In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip stayed. By 1979, the lobby and reception areas were enlarged and 100 rooms and suites had been redecorated. In 1984, Brian Mulroney was using the hotel like a second home and Pierre Elliott Trudeau was also becoming a familiar sight since having taken up residence at Maison Cormier in the same year. Modern guests have included George Bush Sr. and Celine Dion. In January 1992, the hotel was sold and became affiliated with the European-based Kempinski group of five-star hotels, becoming independently managed while still operating under the Ritz-Carlton banner.
In 2006, the hotel was sold to a group of private corporate investors, including a subsidiary of Monaco Luxury Hotels and Resorts. Plans for a complete overhaul were immediately effected and the hotel closed for renovations in 2008. Outlines of its Edwardian splendour remain, mixed with contemporary elegance. The number of rooms have been reduced by over half (229 to 98), replaced with luxury condo-suites and 35 condo-residences which have been put on the market. In 2011, chef Daniel Boulud announced he would open a restaurant in the Jardin du Ritz in early 2012 called Maison Boulud.
Pulling the hotel into the 21st century has not escaped controversy. In his 2011 book, The Suite Life: The Magic and Mystery of Hotel Living, Christopher Heard wrote, "The hotel has completely betrayed what it once was with this transformation. No longer will it be La Grande Dame, the Ritz-Carlton of old... the focus shifting from taking care of guests to making sure suite owners are happy". However, it must be remembered that the original five investors had desired a modern "first class residential hotel," and back then in its golden years when it was the first choice of any visiting dignitary, two thirds of the guests had called the hotel 'home'. Having been closed for four years during the refurbishment, the hotel opens its doors again in June, 2012, to celebrate its centennial anniversary. Its luxurious transformation has not skipped on detail or design, and La Grand Dame perks the curiosity of many passersby as she begins to awake from her four year slumber.
- Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
- Christopher DeWolf (30 January 2008). "New Look for the Ritz-Carlton". Spacing Montréal (Spacingmontreal.ca). Retrieved 2011-05-09.
- The Suite Life: The Magic and Mystery of Hotel Living. By Christopher Heard
- The Shoe and Canoe; or pictures of travel in the Canadas (published 1850) by John Bigsby
- The Canadian Guide Book, with a map of the Province — Edward Stavely, 1849
- Staying Connected — How the MacDougall Family Built a Business over 160 Years (2009) - James Ferrabee & Michael Harrison
- J.W. McConnell: Financier, Philanthropist, Patriot (2008), by William Fong
- Canadas of the Mind: The Making and Unmaking of Canadian Nationalisms in the Twentieth Century (2007) by Norman Hillmer & Adam Chapnick. Books.google.co.uk. 2007-07-26. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
- My American Visit - Frederick Edwin Smith Earl of Birkenhead - Google Books
- The Square Mile, Merchant Princes of Montreal (1987) by Donald MacKay
- An American family: the Tafts, 1678 to 1964 (1964), by Ishbel Ross
- No Ordinary Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton's First Seventy-Five Years (1989) by Aran Weller
- The Suite Life: The Magic and Mystery of Hotel Living. By Christopher Heard
- "Liz Taylor's Toronto courtship, Montreal wedding". CBC News. 24 March 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-09.
- Nithya Vijayakumar (25 June 2008). "Montreal Ritz Carlton is modernizing". Spacing Montréal (Spacingmontreal.ca). Retrieved 2011-05-09.
- "Ritz-Carlton cleaning house". The Gazette (canada.com). 12 June 2008. Retrieved 2011-05-09.
- Gizelle Lau (14 April 2011). "Daniel Boulud announces new Montreal resto, joins long line of Michelin-starred chefs to snub Toronto". Toronto Life (torontolife.com). Retrieved 2011-05-09.
- The Suite Life: The Magic and Mystery of Hotel Living (2011), By Christopher Heard
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