Canada’s Grand Railway Hotels – Part 2

Tuesday, 13th October 2009 by

Thanks to last week’s launch of Google Street View in Canada, our Canadian correspondent Ian has been able to prepare a grand tour of Canada’s Railway Hotels, in 2 parts.

Continuing our journey from east to west, looking at Canada’s grand railway hotels, we start in Toronto and the Royal York Hotel.

Royal York Royal York

The largest Fairmont hotel in Canada, the Royal York is directly across the street from Union Station, still the departure point for trains which head across the country to Vancouver1.

When it opened in 1929 the hotel was the tallest building in the British Empire, and it is typically where members of the Royal Family stay when visiting the city.

Hopping across the still-lacking-in-Street-View-imagery provinces, we head to Alberta and the Palliser Hotel in Calgary, located right next to the Calgary Tower.

Palliser Palliser

Opened by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1914, the Palliser is now home to the CPR Pavilion, an exhibition showing the historical links between hotel and railway, including some vintage train cars2. Once the tallest building in the city, the hotel is now dwarfed by skyscrapers that have sprung up in this oil-rich city.

Following the Street View car west we get to the Rocky Mountains, and two hotels that can perhaps be considered the grandest of the grand hotels. CPR President William Van Horne declared “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists”, and those tourists still flock to these hotels in huge numbers every year.

The Banff Springs Hotel opened in 1888 and was rebuilt 40 years later after a fire, though it took another 40 years after that for it to be made suitable for winter use.

Banff Springs Banff Springs

The Banff Springs takes its name from the natural hot springs which rise in another part of the town – the hotel’s current spa is only ‘reminiscent’ of the natural springs!

Named a National Historic Site in 1992 (and located in the UNESCO World Heritage Banff National Park), the hotel is now a major ‘resort’ with a world-renowned golf course, huge conference centre, on-site staff housing and multiple accommodation wings for guests.

About 60km to the north-west is Chateau Lake Louise, which has also developed into resort status.

Chateau Lake Louise Chateau Lake Louise

At the edge of a stunning glacier-blue lake, surrounded by soaring mountain peaks – this has to be one of the most scenic hotel locations in the world3, though it is amusing to see trail-ragged hikers wandering through the opulent surroundings after a long day’s walk. And despite its size, this hotel did not open year-round until the 1970s. Winter activities now include skiing and skating on the lake, as well as horse-drawn sleigh rides.

Finally to Vancouver, end (or beginning, depending on your direction of travel) of the cross-country train journey, and the Hotel Vancouver.

Hotel Vancouver Hotel Vancouver

A joint construction by Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, the hotel is a short distance from the current VIA Rail station. It opened in 1939 with a visit from the King and Queen.

Similar to the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, the Hotel Vancouver housed the local CBC studios for a number of years.

We hope to conclude this series with the hotels in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Victoria – when Street View makes it to those cities.

  1. A journey that many Canadians try to make at least once in their lifetime – it is a wonderful experience. 

  2. However, trains no longer run to Calgary (or Banff  / Lake Louise) – VIA’s current cross-country route passes through Edmonton. 

  3. And if, like me, you can’t afford to stay there, the lunch is quite reasonable, and the view while you linger over your meal is priceless!