Canada's grand railway hotels

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Banff Springs Hotel is one of several grand railway hotels built across the country.

Canada's grand railway hotels are a series of railway hotels across the country, each a local and national landmark, and most of which are icons of Canadian history and architecture; some are considered to be the grand hotels of the British Empire. Each hotel was originally built by the Canadian railway companies, or the railways acted as a catalyst for the hotel's construction. The hotels were designed to serve the passengers of the country's then expanding rail network and they celebrated rail travel in style.


Interior rotunda view of the Royal Alexandra Hotel in Winnipeg circa 1909
Interior rotunda view of the Royal Alexandra Hotel in Winnipeg
The Château Frontenac is an early example of a Canadian Châteauesque-styled hotel. The style was used for many of Canada's railway hotels.

Many of the railway hotels were built in the Château style (also termed the "Neo-château" or "Châteauesque" style), which as a result became known as a distinctly Canadian form of architecture. The use of towers and turrets, and other Scottish baronial and French château architectural elements, became a signature style of Canada's majestic hotels. Architects also used the style for important public buildings, such as the Confederation and Justice buildings in Ottawa.

In later years, the railway companies departed from the Château style for some of their properties, notably with the construction of Winnipeg's Royal Alexandra Hotel in 1906; the Palliser Hotel in Calgary, built in 1914; and the elaborate second Hotel Vancouver, designed in grand Italianate style, unlike any of the previous Canadian railway hotels.


Canada's first grand railway hotel, the Windsor Hotel in Montreal, opened in 1878. Although it was not owned by a railway company, it was built to serve railway visitors from nearby Windsor Station. Given its location next to Montreal's main train station, the Windsor served for years as the permanent residence of executives of both the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and Grand Trunk Railway.[citation needed]

The railways' development role in the construction and operation of large hotels was inaugurated with Canadian Pacific Railway's opening of the Hotel Vancouver on May 16, 1888. This was the first of three railway-owned hotels by that name in Vancouver. Two weeks later, the Canadian Pacific Railway officially opened the Banff Springs Hotel on June 1, 1888. The president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, William Cornelius Van Horne, had personally chosen the site in the Rocky Mountains for the new hotel. He envisioned a string of grand hotels across Canada that would draw visitors from abroad to his railway. Van Horne famously remarked: "If we can't export the scenery, we'll import the tourists."[1][page needed] The original Banff Springs Hotel, of wooden construction, was destroyed by fire in 1926 and replaced by the present structure.[2]

Situated in Downtown Toronto, the Royal York is the largest railway hotel built in Canada.

Canadian Pacific next built the Château Frontenac in Quebec City, which quickly came to be the symbol of the city. It was designed to rival any hotel in Europe. Its elevated location overlooking the city also made it a readily identifiable landmark as viewed from passing trains as well as ships plying the waters of the Saint Lawrence River en route to or from Montreal. Place Viger followed in Montreal, followed by The Empress in Victoria, British Columbia, and the Château Lake Louise in Alberta. The largest of the railway hotels is the Royal York in Toronto, which opened in 1929.

The main competitor to Canadian Pacific, the Grand Trunk Railway, was not prepared to leave the field solely to its rival. It also determined to build a chain of luxury hotels across the country, which it did in the château style. The GTR built the Château Laurier in Ottawa in 1912, with the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg and the Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton following in 1913 and 1915 respectively.[citation needed]

Opened in 1958, the Queen Elizabeth Hotel was the last railway hotel built in Canada.

The GTR was amalgamated into the Canadian National Railway (CNR) in 1920. During the decades that followed, the hotel divisions of CPR and CNR, Canadian National Hotels and Canadian Pacific Hotels, continued to expand their competing hotel chains across the country. The Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, built in 1958 over that city's Central Station, was perhaps the last true railway hotel built in Canada. Both railways continued to open new establishments in subsequent years, although none had any connection to the railways, except through their ownership.[citation needed]

In 1988, Canadian Pacific acquired Canadian National Hotels.[3] For the first time, many of Canada's railway hotels were operated by the same company. In 2001, Canadian Pacific Hotels was renamed Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, using the name of an American company it had purchased in 1999.[4] Fairmont continues to operate most of Canada's landmark hotels (see Canadian Pacific Hotels).


The majority of Canada's grand railway hotels were built by three railway companies, Canadian National Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway, and Grand Trunk Railway. However, a few railway hotels were built and operated by other companies. Great Northern Railway was the only American company that built a railway hotel in Canada, the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta.

Canadian National Railway[edit]

The following are grand railway hotels built for Canadian National Railway, and its hotel division Canadian National Hotels.

Name Year opened Location Architect Status Photo
Hotel Charlottetown 1931  Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown John Schofield, G. F. Drummond Operated by Rodd Hotels and Resorts
Hotel Newfoundland 1926  Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's Demolished in 1983.
Hotel Vancouver (third)[note 1] 1939  British Columbia, Vancouver Archibald and Schofield Operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
Jasper Park Lodge 1922  Alberta, Jasper Burned down in 1952. Rebuilt in 1953. Operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
Queen Elizabeth Hotel 1958  Quebec, Montreal George Drummond Operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
The Bessborough 1935  Saskatchewan, Saskatoon Archibald and Schofield Operated by Delta Hotels.
The Nova Scotian 1930  Nova Scotia, Halifax Archibald and Schofield Operated by Westin Hotels & Resorts.

Canadian Pacific Railway[edit]

The following are grand railway hotels built for Canadian Pacific Railway, and its hotel division Canadian Pacific Hotels.

Name Year opened Location Architect Status Photo
The Algonquin 1889  New Brunswick, St. Andrews Barott Blackadder and Webster Purchased by CPR in 1903. Original building burned down in 1914. The current building opened a year later. Operated by New Castle Hotels & Resorts.
Banff Springs Hotel 1888  Alberta, Banff Bruce Price (original)

Walter Painter (tower)

John Orrock (main block)

Operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
Château Frontenac 1893  Quebec, Quebec City Bruce Price
Château Lake Louise 1890  Alberta, Lake Louise
Château Montebello 1930  Quebec, Montebello
Fraser Canyon House 1897  British Columbia, North Bend Burned down in 1927.
Glacier House 1887  British Columbia, Glacier National Park Thomas Charles Sorby, 1902 addition by Francis Rattenbury Demolished in 1929.
Hotel Incola 1912  British Columbia, Penticton Demolished in 1980.
Hotel Saskatchewan 1927  Saskatchewan, Regina Ross and Macdonald Operated by Marriott International.
Hotel Vancouver (first) 1888  British Columbia, Vancouver Thomas Charles Sorby Demolished in 1912.
Hotel Vancouver (second) 1916 Francis S. Swales Demolished in 1949.
Hotel Sicamous 1900  British Columbia, Sicamous Edward Maxwell Demolished in 1964.
Hotel Revelstoke 1897  British Columbia, Revelstoke Francis Rattenbury (attributed) Closed in 1927 and dismantled in 1928.
Kootenay Lake Hotel 1911  British Columbia, Balfour William Wallace Blair Demolished in 1929.
Lord Nelson Hotel 1927  Nova Scotia, Halifax O. C. Gross Operated independently.
McAdam Hotel 1901  New Brunswick, McAdam Edward Maxwell Hotel closed in 1959. Building now operates as a museum.
Mount Stephen House 1886  British Columbia, Field Thomas Charles Sorby, 1901 addition by Francis Rattenbury Demolished in 1963.
Palliser Hotel 1914  Alberta, Calgary E. and W.S. Maxwell Operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
Place Viger 1898  Quebec, Montreal Bruce Price Hotel closed in 1935. Now used as office building.
Royal Alexandra Hotel 1911  Manitoba, Winnipeg E. and W. S. Maxwell Hotel closed in 1967. Demolished in 1971.
Royal York 1929  Ontario, Toronto Ross and Macdonald;

Sproatt and Rolph

Operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
The Empress 1908  British Columbia, Victoria Francis Rattenbury

Grand Trunk Railway, Grand Trunk Pacific Railway[edit]

The following are grand railway hotels built for Grand Trunk Railway and its western subsidiary, Grand Trunk Pacific.

Name Year opened Location Architect Status Photo
Château Laurier 1912  Ontario, Ottawa Bradford Gilbert,

Ross and Macfarlane

Operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
Fort Garry Hotel 1913  Manitoba, Winnipeg Ross and Macdonald Operated independently.
Highland Inn 1908  Ontario, Algonquin Provincial Park Closed in 1954. Demolished in 1957.
Hotel Macdonald 1915  Alberta, Edmonton Ross and Macfarlane Operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
Minaki Lodge 1914  Ontario, Minaki

Other companies[edit]

In addition to Canadian National Railways, Canadian Pacific Railways, and Grand Trunk Railways, several other companies built "grand railway hotels" in Canada. The Prince of Wales Hotel is the only grand railway hotel to be built by an American company, Great Northern Railway.

Name Year opened Location Architect Status Photo
Digby Pines 1905  Nova Scotia, Digby Operated independently.
Prince Arthur Hotel (Canadian Northern Railway) 1911  Ontario, Thunder Bay J.D. Matheson Operated independently.
Prince Edward Hotel (Canadian Northern Railway) 1916  Manitoba, Brandon Pratt and Ross Demolished in 1975.
Prince of Wales Hotel (Great Northern Railway) 1927  Alberta, Waterton Thomas D. McMahon Operated by Glacier Park Company.
Windsor Hotel 1878  Quebec, Montreal Hotel closed in 1957. All sections save the 1906 north annex demolished.


  1. ^ Although the hotel was initially developed by Canadian National Railways, its completion required the company to partner with rival Canadian Pacific Railways. The hotel was jointly managed by both companies until Canadian National Railways acquired full ownership of the hotel in 1962.


  1. ^ Chisholm, Barbara, ed. (2001). Castles of the North: Canada's Grand Hotels. Toronto: Lynx Images Inc. ISBN 1-894073-14-2.
  2. ^ "History of The Fairmont Banff Springs". Archived from the original on 11 February 2015. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  3. ^ "CP's hotel takeover makes it king of hill". Red Deer Advocate. 8 February 1988. p. 21 – via open access
  4. ^ "CP hotels take Fairmont name". The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail Inc. 9 December 2000. Retrieved 12 September 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]