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says time travel is impossible? A recent stay at The Fairmont Royal
York in downtown Toronto convinced me otherwise. From the moment
my husband and I walked into this grand hotel after a relaxing train
ride up from the Windsor/Walkerville station, we sensed we had been
transported back to the early 20th century.
elegant hotel, conveniently located directly across from Union Station,
celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2004. The temporary home for
stars, dignitaries and of course, royalty, since opening its doors
in the summer of 1929, we can attest that the Fairmont Royal York
has maintained its reputation for service and hospitality in a magnificent
heritage building which includes every modern convenience imaginable.
only had a weekend to enjoy its many charms but we made the most
of our stay. Shortly after arriving, Alka Patel, the hotel’s
gracious Public Relations Assistant, took us on a fascinating tour,
including a glimpse behind the scenes. Having recently travelled
on a large cruise ship, we were struck by how similar the running
of Royal York is to that of keeping a ship sailing smoothly. What
impressed us most was the massive main kitchen, which ran the full
length of the hotel. The immense laundry facilities were mind-boggling
as well – all those sheets!
were comfortably ensconced in one of the Signature rooms located
above the 12th floor. Considered a Junior Suite, we found it spacious
and richly appointed, reflecting the history and style of the hotel.
A pillow-top king-sized bed, fireplace and a wealth of thoughtful
appointments, including a CD player, current magazines, a large
television, coffee and tea maker with supplies, and a luxurious
assortment of bathroom toiletries made it very difficult to leave.
Not to mention the hotel’s wonderful spa/health center with
its lap pool, whirlpool, children’s pool, well appointed fitness
centre, sauna, steam, massage therapy rooms and full conveniences
in the men’s and ladies’ change rooms.
also enjoyed a spectacular dinner in EPIC, the hotel’s premiere
restaurant. We were as impressed with the originality of the food
prepared with classic French touches that distinguish Chef
Jean-Charles Dupoire’s culinary heritage, as we were with
the design of this dynamic, fluid, and contemporary room, which
superbly contrasted with the traditional grandeur of the hotel.
look forward to our next chance to time travel again for another
invigorating dose of the “Royal” treatment!
was still wild country when The Mississauga sailed into Toronto-Carrying
Place’s harbour on July 30, 1793 with Lieutenant Governor
John Graves Simcoe and his young wife Elizabeth on board.
had concluded from studying maps of Upper Canada that this harbour
would be a good place to create a naval arsenal. There weeks later,
he issued a general order establishing the town of York in commemoration
of His Royal Highness the Duke of York’s victory over Holland.
same year, a surveyor drew up plans for a town, consisting of a
rectilinear gridiron plan of ten blocks. In 1801, its first hotel,
the Jordan’s York Hotel, was built on the east side. Although
the capital of Upper Canada had a population of just 300, comprised
mostly of soldiers, this hotel was popular, especially with the
members of the Canadian parliament and those who dealt with the
1843, Captain Thomas Dick built Ontario Terrace, comprised of four
brick houses facing Front Street; later attached to form a row;
in 1853, the building was refurbished to become the Sword's Hotel.
Queen’s Hotel, 1890 photo: CP
the capital moved to Quebec City in 1857, the Sword’s hotel
was sold and renamed the Revere House. In 1862, its name changed
again to the Queen’s and two wings were added. The Queens’
boasted fine cuisine and staff, 210 boudoirs, 17 private parlours,
accommodations for 400 guests, and a private garden. It was renovated
and added to many times. It was the first hotel in Canada to introduce
conveniences such as a hot-air furnace, running water in the rooms,
a passenger elevator and a business telephone.
of a Grand Hotel
the 1830’s, “grand” or “palace” hotels
– large, luxurious, purpose-built hotels that catered to high-end
clientele – had begun appearing in Great Britain and the United
States. British railway companies opened grand hotels like the Royal
Western Hotel in Bristol (1839) and the Adelaide and Victoria in
London (1839). The first purpose-built grand hotel in Canada was
the Windsor Hotel, which opened in Montreal in 1878.
1886, the Montreal-based Canadian Pacific Railway began constructing
its chain of grand hotels, which included Banff Springs Hotel and
Chateau Frontenac and continued to expand their chain into the 20th
century. The Canadian Pacific Railway commissioned Ross & Macdonald,
designers of The Mount Royal Hotel in Montreal (1923), the largest
hotel in the British Empire at that time, to build the Royal York
in Toronto – which was to became the largest railway hotel
in its chain.
site chosen for the Royal York Hotel was that of the Queen’s
Hotel, which was demolished in 1927 much to the consternation of
the local citizens who were shocked to see the demolition of their
site’s location was directly opposite the magnificent Union
Station, completed in 1924 and a collaboration between Ross &
McDonald and architects Hugh G. Jones and John Lyle.
the Roaring Twenties, the concept of the grand hotel had evolved
along with the flourishing economy, the rise of the automobile,
the growing love affair with technology and the rapid changes to
modern life. In the pre-WWI era, the luxury hotel was primarily
conceived as a sumptuous chateau or palace, but by the 1920’s,
the “Age of the Metropolis” the North American hotel
came to be regarded as a microcosm of urban society.
idea of the hotel as a “city within a city” began early
in the decade, and reached its culmination in Canada on June 11th,
1929, with the opening of the Royal York by His Excellency Viscount
Willingdon, Governor General of Canada. It was declared, “…the
Royal York opens its doors to cater to those who care to sojourn
with us, to provide the hospitality and good cheer for which Toronto
has ever been noted!” Over 2000 of Canada’s “who’s
who” attended the social event of the year.
Royal York was the largest hotel in the British Empire at that time
and contemporary writers called it “a mountain over city and
lake.” Its block-sized bulk rested against the Front Street
sidewalk, on the shoreline of Lake Ontario, at the edge between
the central business district and lands occupied by the railway
and port. In juxtaposition to the long, low, colonnaded Union Station,
the hotel’s 28 stories of steel frame, encased in Indiana
limestone, rose in steps to a steeply pitched copper chateau roof.
1100 room hotel instantly became a Toronto landmark and dominated
the skyline for over three decades.
hotel’s architectural style, with its geometric forms, stylized
ornament, bilateral symmetry and pyramidal massing was dubbed “Modern
Classicism.” New York’s Empire State Building is another
striking example of this style of building that had emerged from
early 20th century avant-garde European architecture and French
Beaux-Arts planning and composition.
Royal York’s ground floor was essentially arranged as a commercial
street, centered round a square hall with two corridors of stores,
a barber shop, a bank and an exhibition hall. A coffee shop and
grillroom was available for travellers entering the hotel from Union
Station via a terrazzo and marble-clad tunnel under Front Street.
Chefs at the Grill Kitchen- “the largest in Canada”
$16 million, The Royal York boasted a library with 12,000 books,
ladies’ hairdressing parlours, ten ornate passenger elevators,
a playroom for children and even a 12-bed hospital with doctor and
nurse in attendance. Convention and banquet space served over 4,000
conventioneers and in one of the convention halls, an enormous pipe
organ was installed.
of the bedroom floors were laid out in an efficient H-shaped floor
plan, ensuring every room received natural light. Twenty-two storeys
above the street, a glass-enclosed roof garden seated 315 diners.
The top four floors were used for elevator machinery, ventilation
equipment, water tanks and the workshop of the hotel’s silversmith.
Instead of messy coal, live steam was piped under pressure from
the nearby Terminal Company’s plant to provide heat and electricity
for the entire building.
its doors just before the Great Depression hit proved to be a challenging
time for the owners and staff of the Royal York. Staff lived off
tips and management scoured the streets for guests to fill the house.
Fairmont Royal York is Born
October 1999, Canada Pacific Hotels & Resorts acquired Fairmont
Hotels and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts was born. The Fairmont
Royal York became part of the largest luxury hotel management company
in North America, and is sister to properties including The Plaza
in New York, Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta, and the Fairmont San
2001 a $12 million restoration program transformed the new main
lobby area and all public meeting areas on the mezzanine level,
including creation of the hotel’s newest restaurant, EPIC.
The next year saw a $2.5 million restoration program on the famed
Imperial Room, The Library Bar and its foyer. Today, after welcoming
more than 40 million guests, The Fairmont Royal York continues to
represent the epitome of hospitality.
of some of the famous people who have stayed in the hotel include:
Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Francis Ford Coppola, Frank Sinatra, Gene
Kelly, Gloria Swanson, Jackie Chan, Jane Fonda, John Barrymore,
Liberace, Mohammed Ali, Tony Bennett, N’ Sync, Tiger Woods,
Barbara Bush, Hillary Duff and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
first royal guests were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. During
the Royal Stay, the Queen Mother was impressed by the immensity
of the hotel, the modern facilities and the speed of the elevators.
Other royalty and heads of state that have stayed at the hotel include
Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward,
King Hussein of Jordan, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa and the Dalai
hotel has also welcomed many other VIPs, i.e., “Very Important
Pets” and has created a unique and thoughtful amenity package
for the various “dognitaries” who arrive at the hotel
with their two-legged friends.
guests have decided to spend all eternity at the hotel. People have
been spotted wandering the corridors and then suddenly disappearing.
One such “spirit” is a steward who wears his uniform
and wanders the silver room in the hotel’s basement. When
hotel staff collects silverware, they often report seeing him out
of the corner of their eye, but when they turn to get a second look,
he disappears. A bellman also spotted a man dressed in grey flannel
and a red smoking jacket cross a hall and then disappear.
year 2004 marked the Diamond 75th anniversary year for The Fairmont
Royal York. The hotel was honoured by the Ontario Heritage Foundation
with a provincial plaque commemorating 75 years of service.
100 Front Street West, Toronto • 416-368-2511 • www.fairmont.com