By: Kendall Foreman
To call the Chateau Laurier Hotel (today known as the Fairmont Chateau Laurier) one of Canada’s most-storied buildings would not be an understatement. It has played host to dignitaries such as Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela and celebrities like Roger Moore and the Beatles. From 1930-35, the sitting Prime Minister R.B. Bennett even called it home.
With its Indiana limestone, conical and pitched copper-covered roofs, Tiffany stained-glass windows, and ornate gables, the Chateau Laurier Hotel was constructed in the French Gothic Chateauesque style. The purpose of the French chateaus of the 13th and 14th centuries was to serve as a defense, not a residence, which is why the word translates to “castle” in English. It was not until the end of the feudal system and the rise of prosperity that these buildings became the private homes of the upper class. At that time, the word “chateau” became more closely associated with the opulent manor houses of the Renaissance.
This style was chosen by Montreal architects George Ross and David McFarlane who took over the project after American architect Bradford Lee Gilbert’s drawings were found unsatisfactory. Gilbert had been hired by the president of the Grand Trunk Railway, Charles Melville Hays. GTR had plans to construct several impressive hotels along their rail lines in order to compete with their rival, the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The Chateau Laurier Hotel was built next to Major’s Hill Park in view of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada. Construction began in 1909, and it was set to be named after the sitting prime minister of Canada, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. It was planned that the hotel would open in the spring of 1912, but tragedy struck when GTR President Charles Melville Hays decided to visit England with his family just prior to the grand unveiling. While abroad, Hays purchased furnishings for the hotel which were to travel home with him aboard the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Hays’ wife and daughter survived the sinking, but sadly, both Hays and his son-in-law perished.
Following the tragedy, the opening was delayed until June 1, 1912, and instead of a grand event, it was rather subdued. Two hundred guests stayed at Chateau Laurier Hotel upon its opening, and it received glowing praise from the members of the press who were present when Sir Wilfrid Laurier signed the guestbook first.
In the over a century since its opening, the Chateau Laurier Hotel, now the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, has been expanded and designated as a historical landmark. It also has the distinction of serving as the inspiration for the icon of Epcot’s Canada Pavilion at Walt Disney World.
As guests enter the World Showcase Promenade, it would be nearly impossible to miss the impressive “stone” structure with the high-pitched, copper-patinaed roof which towers over the first pavilion on the right side of the lagoon. Known to Epcot as the Hotel du Canada, it sits atop one of the park’s premier restaurants, Le Cellier. Through the use of forced perspective, this building appears to be over six stories high when it is actually only three.
When approached via the path leading up the stairs, the Hotel du Canada sits on the right and a series of smaller facades sit on the left. These cottages are meant to represent the architectural influence found in Canada’s maritime provinces while Hotel du Canada is representative of the Chateauesque style architecture of Chateau Laurier and so many of the other impressive railroad hotels scattered across the vast expanse of Canada. This blending of the French and English architectural styles is just one of the many ways in which Walt Disney Imagineers chose to depict the various regions of the world’s second largest country.
(Photo courtesy of Melanie Whitfield)
Kendall has been a member of the WDW Radio Team since 2013. Today, you can read her work on the WDW Radio Blog or hear her join Lou for a number of WDW Radio podcast episodes. Kendall’s affection for Walt Disney World began with her very first family visit in the 1990s and has continued with each magical vacation since. Follow her on Twitter @kl_foreman.