Canada’s Grand Railway Hotels – Part 3

Friday, 18th December 2009 by

With the expansion of Street View coverage in Canada, we can continue our exploration (see parts one & two) of historic Grand Railway Hotels.

Travelling again from east to west, we begin in Winnipeg, location of the magnificent Fort Garry Hotel.

Fort Garry Fort Garry

Constructed in 19131 in the now familiar Chateau style, it was the tallest building in the city at the time. The hotel was named after the nearby Upper Fort Garry, which was a prominent trading post in the 1800s.

The hotel was, for a while, totally self-sufficient – with heat, food, water and laundry all being taken care of on-site. There was even a working printing press, which was lifted into place before a room was constructed around it (it’s still there but currently unused). Unlike the majority of railway hotels which are today owned by Fairmont, the Fort Garry is independently operated.

Another non-Fairmont hotel is in Saskatoon, The Bessborough.

The Bess The Bess

Named after the then-Governor General, the Bess was built in 1932 but the great depression meant it didn’t receive its first guest until 3 years later. This hotel is noted for its extensive private gardens which stretch down towards the South Saskatchewan River.

Following the route of The Canadian to the west, we get to Edmonton and the Hotel Macdonald, which brings us back into the Fairmont properties.

The Mac The Mac

Named for Canada’s first prime minister, The Mac was constructed in 1915 in the Chateau style, though the use of Indiana limestone gives it a different appearance to many of the other hotels. This hotel was in poor condition and closed for a while in the 1980s. Heritage designation from the city saved it from demolition, and it reopened in 1991 after a major renovation.

Finally, we go beyond the reach of the railway, to Victoria and the unmistakable ivy-covered walls of The Empress, which opened in 1908 to serve passengers from Canadian Pacific’s steamships.

The Empress The Empress

Perhaps most famous for its afternoon teas, The Empress has a storied history of Royal and celebrity visitors. Similar to The Mac, a period of decline almost saw its destruction, but local sentiment was strong enough to save the building. That same civic pride forced Fairmont to abandon plans to alter the iconic sign on the hotel’s exterior.

There are many more railway hotels across Canada, but this concludes our look at the majority of the grandest and most historic properties.

  1. An earlier Winnipeg Hotel, the Royal Alexandra, was demolished in 1971. Its fine dining room was taken apart and reconstructed a few years ago at a railway museum in British Columbia.