Donegana's Hotel

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Donegana's Hotel
Donegana's Hotel, Montreal.jpg
Donegana's in The Illustrated London News
General information
Type Private House
Vice-Regal Residence
Location Old Montreal
Address Notre-Dame Street
Construction started 1821
Destroyed 1880

Donegana's Hotel stood on the north-west corner of Notre-Dame Street and Bonsecours Street, a block away from Bonsecours Market in the Old Montreal district of Montreal, Quebec. Originally built as a private residence in 1821, the house served as the vice-regal residence of the Governors General of Canada from 1837 until 1843. It briefly housed the High School of Montreal before it was purchased by Jean-Marie Donegana who enlarged it to become the largest hotel in the British Colonies. It became famous across Europe and North America, where its reputation was only equal to, if not exceeding, that of New York's Astor House.[2] Donegana's was burnt down in the Montreal Riots of 1849.

The site was sold in 1850 and the hotel rebuilt by American management[3] as a new Donegana Hotel, which prospered until the 1870s under hotelier Daniel Gale. Gale promoted it in New York papers as a Montreal hotel that was equal to the finest American hostelries.[4][5] Confederate agent and wine merchant P. C. Martin lived there around 1863,[6] and after the American Civil War the family of ex-President Jefferson Davis stayed at the Donegana during their time in Montreal.[7] In 1880 the second hotel was replaced by the Hôpital Notre-Dame.

Early years[edit]

Originally built as a private home, the main structure was started in 1821 for the American millionaire William Bingham (1800-1852), only son of Senator Bingham, in preparation for his marriage the following year to Marie-Charlotte Chartier de Lotbinière (1805-1866), daughter and co-heiress of the 2nd Marquis de Lotbinière. The Bingham house became a centre for fashionable society living in, and visiting, Montreal.[8]

In 1834, the Binghams left Montreal for Paris, and for a time they leased their old home to Lord Seaton.[9] In 1837, Lord Durham, the newly appointed Governor General of Canada, took lease of the house having chosen the imposing mansion over the run-down Château de Ramezay for his official residence. Durham required that the house was furnished in "superior style" and no expense was spared to meet his exacting standards.[10] Governors General Lord Sydenham and afterwards Sir Charles Bagot maintained the house as their official residence until 1843, when it was sold by the Binghams who by then had made their permanent home in England at Broome Park, Kent.[11]

In September 1843, the house became the first home of the 167 newly enrolled students of the High School of Montreal. At the end of the first academic year the closing ceremony, presided over by The Hon. Peter McGill and Lord Metcalfe, was held in the large hall that had previously been the Bingham's ballroom.[12] In 1845, the school moved to its purpose built home on Belmont Street.


Donegana's seen flying its flag at half-mast for General Sir Benjamin d'Urban's funeral on Rue Notre-Dame, 1849

In 1845, the house was purchased by hotelier Jean-Marie Donegana, the already well-known general manager of Rasco's Hotel in Montreal.[13] The facade of the building was kept as it had been when it was the Bingham's home, but extensive additions were made to the rear of the building. Donegana's stretched across to the Champ de Mars and in its time was the largest hotel in the British colonies.[14][15] Every luxury was made available, including hot and cold baths at any hour of the day, and the gas lighting that lit the hotel was said to have given "a marvellous effect to the rich marble decorations" in the lobbies.[16] Each of the 150 apartments had its own bathroom. The dining room measured 100 by 218 feet and the gallery surrounding the cupola that rose over the building offered a commanding 360 degree view of the city.

Though Montreal was still a comparatively small town of some 40,000 people in 1845, John Bigsby had noted 25 years previously that its inns were "as remarkable for their palatial exterior" as for their "excellent accommodation within"; remarking that Montreal was "a stirring and opulent town.. advanced in all the luxuries and comforts of high civilisation."[17] Donegana's did not disappoint, it was said to be on a par to Astor House in New York and as good a hotel as many in London.[18] A British Army officer who was visiting Montreal described it as "a magnificent establishment," finding the furnishings equal to its "splendid" architecture: "Everything was conducted in this hotel in the first style: the furniture was superb, and the attendance. All French waiters, most admirable, while the cuisine was of the most recherché character".[19]

In 1847, Donegana's hosted the first Charity Ball in aid of the Montreal Maternity Hospital under the patronage of the Governor General, Lord Elgin. Not long after this event, Elgin's aide-de-camp, Lord Mark Kerr, decided to stir up some excitement in the hotel when he had heard there was an abundance of American tourists staying. He rode his horse through the three immense doors into the dining room and stepped around the table. At first the tourists were stunned and then greatly amused, and Kerr afterwards found himself showered with invitations to New York.[20] It was also at Donegana's that members of the Montreal Hunt met to halt a Royal Artillery officer from selling their hounds.[21] Guests included Maurice Sand and Jérôme Napoleon Bonaparte.[22] Residents when Parliament was in session included Sir Allan Napier MacNab of Dundurn Castle and Chief Justice Joseph-Rémi Vallières de Saint-Réal.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Troy Daily Whig, July 16, 1850
  2. ^ Important from Canada, 1849
  3. ^ Troy Daily Whig, July 16, 1850
  4. ^ Advertisements, 1868, Syracuse Daily Courier
  5. ^ Traveler's Guide to Montreal. Montreal: Daniel Rose, 1866
  6. ^ Mackay's Montreal Directory 1863-64
  7. ^ Papers of Jefferson Davis, June 1865 - December 1870. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2008.
  8. ^ The New Dominion Monthly, 1868
  9. ^ A Journal of Visitation to the Western Portion of his Diocese - John Strachan, 1846
  10. ^ Edgar Allen Collard, Montreal Gazette - 1972
  11. ^ Descendants of William Bingham of Philadelphia
  12. ^ Edgar Allen Collard, Montreal Gazette - 1972
  13. ^ The Italians in Canada, A.V. Spada (1969)
  14. ^ Important from Canada, 1849
  15. ^ The Canadian Guide Book, with a map of the Province - Edward Stavely (1849)
  16. ^ Edgar Allen Collard, Montreal Gazette - 1972
  17. ^ The Shoe and Canoe; or pictures of travel in the Canadas (published 1850) by John Bigsby
  18. ^ Edgar Allen Collard, Montreal Gazette - 1972
  19. ^ Edgar Allen Collard, Montreal Gazette - 1972
  20. ^ Edgar Allen Collard, Montreal Gazette - 1972
  21. ^ Edgar Allan Collard in the Montreal Gazette - August 15, 1970
  22. ^ Trois Siècles de Tourisme au Québec, par Robert Prévost (2000)
  23. ^ Passages in the Life of a Soldier: Or, Military Service in the East and West, by Sir James Edward Alexander, 1857

External links[edit]