This Week in History


Castle Life

For the week of Monday December 15, 2003

On December 20, 1893, the Château Frontenac officially opened its doors. With its picturesque silhouette overlooking the St. Lawrence River, this prestigious hotel would become a symbol of Québec City and a model for other grand hotels built in Canada.

Château Frontenac
© Parks Canada / P. St-Jacques

At the end of the 19th century, Canada’s economic recovery motivated the railway companies to provide more luxury services in order to encourage the well-to-do to travel by train. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Company made its trains more comfortable and then built resorts in the mountains. William Van Horne, the company’s general manager, had an even greater vision and founded the Château Frontenac Company. He hired renowned American architect Bruce Price to build a luxury hotel in Québec City.

Erected in 1892-93, this imposing hotel building was called Château Frontenac, in honour of Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac and French Governor of New-France from 1672 to 1698. The Château was an immediate success and became one of the most talked-about hotels in the world. This castle-style building of stone and Scottish brick is a romantic interpretation of the 16th century Loire Valley castles in France. It is U-shaped with an interior court. Towers, dormers and high-peaked copper roofs give it a very distinctive look. It would establish the castle architectural style not only in the Canadian Pacific hotel chain, but also throughout Canada until the 1930s.

Interior of the Château Frontenac
© Parks Canada / P. St-Jacques

Early on, the Château Frontenac’s 170 rooms could no longer accommodate all the guests. A number of expansion projects were then undertaken: the Citadelle wing was built in 1899; the Mont-Carmel wing in 1908; the Saint-Louis wing in 1920; the Tour Centrale wing in 1924, and the Claude-Pratte wing in 1993. Today, this grand hotel boasts 610 guestrooms. Throughout these additions, the architects respected Bruce Price’s original work and maintained his historic style and charm of yesteryear. For more than a century, Château Frontenac has enjoyed a worldwide reputation and welcomed a famous clientele. Celebrities, politicians, high-ranking officers and members of royal families have stayed here. A number of important decisions have also been made within its walls, including when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill devised a strategy at the Quebec Conference in 1944 to end the Second World War.

Château Frontenac was designated a national historic site in 1980.

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