This Week in History


Ottawa's Own Château

For the week of Monday May 31, 1999

On June 1, 1912, former Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, led the opening ceremonies for the Château Laurier. Built in the French Renaissance style, this landmark hotel was intended to attract Grand Trunk railway tourists. 

The Château as it looked in the past

The Château Laurier, circa 1916
© Château Laurier Historical Booklet /
LAC / PA11240

The Château Laurier was conceived by Grand Trunk Railway general manager, Charles Melville Hays, who wanted to increase train travel by building fantasy-like castle hotels near main track depots. For Ottawa, he proposed constructing a new train station connected by an underground tunnel to a luxurious hotel across the street. The Château's picturesque design, with its turrets and copper roof, quickly made it the leading place to stay in the capital. Opening ceremonies for the hotel, scheduled for April by Hays, were postponed when he tragically lost his life on the Titanic.

The hotel has changed over the years. Always richly decorated, it was furnished with a private bath in every room  quite a luxury in the days when most houses had no indoor plumbing. The Château even had separate women's entrances, dining rooms, and sleeping quarters - to protect the reputation of ladies travelling alone. The Canadian National Railway bought the hotel in 1919 and added an east wing. Air conditioning, colour TVs, and convention rooms were added in the 1960s. In 1984, a marble staircase and lobby fountain were added, as was an updated fitness facility and an international business centre. Still the hotel's historic ambiance was preserved.

A promotional flyer for the hotel's opening

A promotional flyer for the hotel's opening
© Château Laurier Historical Booklet / LAC

The Château Laurier has a lavish history of celebrity guests and important events. When the First World War ended a huge celebration took place at the hotel, and balls for debutantes were common. The first Marconi radio program came from the hotel, and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast from the 7th and 8th floors for 80 years. Second World War plans were made within the hotel, and the former Canadian Grill restaurant on the lower level was often called the "Third Parliament" due to its vast political clientele.

The Château Laurier was one of four grand château-style railway hotels recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1980.

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