Fairmont Chateau Laurier

by Neilia Sherman

I arrived in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, after having traveled for four hours from Toronto by Via Rail. My mission was to check out the famous Ottawa Tulip Festival as well as take in some of the city’s sights and sounds – all while staying at the fabulous Fairmont Chateau Laurier.

The grand and ultra-gorgeous Chateau Laurier is one of best places to stay while in Ottawa. Photo courtesy Chateau Laurier
The grand and ultra-gorgeous Chateau Laurier is one of best places to stay while in Ottawa. Photo courtesy Chateau Laurier

The grand and ultra-gorgeous Chateau Laurier is one of best places to stay while in Ottawa.
Photo courtesy Chateau Laurier

There was plenty of controversy back in 1857 when Ottawa was selected by Queen Victoria to be the seat of Canadian government. At that point, compared to thriving cities such as Kingston and Toronto, Ottawa was seen as little more than a backward town and was known mainly for its drinking and carousing.

However, all that has changed and today Ottawa gives off an aura of dignity and history but is also filled with vitality and promise. The heart of the city is the Rideau Canal, a natural system of lakes and rivers made navigable by locks, dams and canal cuts. It was originally constructed for defense and trading but today it is popular site of leisure activities such as strolling, boating and

In my opinion, there isn’t a better place to stay in Ottawa than the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, an impressive classic hotel that was conceived by Charles Melville Hays. As the General Manager of Grand Trunk Railway, he came up with a plan to build grand hotels along the train route built by CN rail in order to encourage travel across Canada.

Laurier, significantly added to the prestige of the city. Sadly, Hays died on the Titanic just before the hotel was scheduled to open. The Chateau Laurier was built in the same French Renaissance style as Quebec’s Chateau Frontenac and it certainly adds a sense of elegance to downtown Ottawa with its castle-like grandeur.

There are a multitude of spacious corridors, public lounges and lobbies throughout the hotel, allowing guests to wander about creating the illusion that they are simply house guests of some royal family. One of the best things about staying at this grand hotel is its location. On one side of it, you have the majestic looking Parliament Buildings. A few streets away on the other side is the famous Byward Market. This area has a wonderful atmosphere, as it is filled with flower venders, cafes and interesting shops. It was established in 1826 and has the honour of being Canada’s oldest farmers market.

Ottawas Farmers Market. Photo: Brian Waterman
Ottawa's Farmer's Market. Photo: Brian Waterman

The Byward Market building, which was the original structure where goods were sold in the 1800’s was restored in 1998 and now houses specialty shops, delis and chic cafes. Here, I feasted on Quebec inspired cuisine such as quiche and tourtière. Since Ottawa
is right next to the Quebec border, almost half of the residents are bilingual, which adds an air of sophistication to the city.

Many of Ottawa’s museums and attractions are within walking distance of the Chateau Laurier; in fact the Museum of Contemporary Photography is next door in a reconstructed railway tunnel. It houses over 158, 000 photographs which focus on the work of Canadian Photographic artist.

The hotel is directly across from the Convention Centre as well as many of the nicer shopping areas such as Sparks Street Mall – a street with good stores that is closed off to traffic.

Unfortunately, it rained quite a bit during my two-day visit, but that didn’t stop my determination to see the tulips. Although some of the flowers were not yet opened due to the poor weather, I was impressed by the array and colours of the rows of tulips that had been planted throughout the city. I was even more impressed by the Artisans Tent, a place for Canadian artists to display their
unique wares, many of which were tulip themed. There were photographic displays, watercolours, sculptures, clothing and jewelry and I was tempted to buy far more than I could afford.

The history of the festival dates back to the year 1945 when Princess Juliana of the Netherlands presented Canada with a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs in appreciation for the haven that Canada had provided for Holland’s exiled Royal Family during WWII. Canada even went as far as declaring the delivery room at Ottawa Civic Hospital to be a territory of the Netherlands when the princess gave birth to a daughter, so that the baby could be born a Dutch citizen.

A display of handcrafted tulips - just one of the perks of Ottawas Tulip Festival. Photo: Brian Waterman
A display of handcrafted tulips - just one of the perks of Ottawa's Tulip Festival. Photo: Brian Waterman

Ever since then, the planting of tulips has become a yearly event in Ottawa. Pictures of the lovely blooms appeared in newspapers and attracted many visitors to the Capital. The first Tulip Festival was held in 1953 at the suggestion of world-renowned photographer Malek Karsh, whose photos have immortalized these
spring beauties. The festival is held in mid-May to coincide with the blooming of the tulips and it certainly is an uplifting sight to see the spirals of color around the Parliament as well as along the canal and Dow’s Lake.

An outdoor exhibit – Artisans in the Park – was also worth checking out. I especially enjoyed the huge handpainted tulips that were set up in the middle of Major Hill’s Park. Each one was as different as snowflakes are and all were beautiful to behold.

It was lovely to warm up after viewing tulip festivities in the rain, with a formal afternoon tea that was served in the Zoë dining room, which is the more casual of the Chatueau Laurier’s two restaurants. We had a great view as the room has large windows that look out at all of downtown’s activity. The delicate sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam really hit the spot.

An interesting feature of the hotel is the art deco pool and deck, complete with old-fashioned heat lamps and deck chairs. The pool is Olympic size and is a nice change from the small hotel pools that are usually filled with people loudly splashing around.

A guest room at Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Photo courtesy Chateau Laurier
A guest room at Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Photo courtesy Chateau Laurier

My room was pleasant and sported two bathrooms and four telephones, making it virtually impossible for you to miss a single important phone call. There was turndown service with treats and bottled water provided. The only complaint was that the television was a bit too small considering its distance from the bed. I
believe that this room was originally two rooms that were converted into one larger room; not quite a suite but larger than the standard rooms. The décor gave the room a majestic feel its heavy green velvet drapes and dark wood furniture.

The next day it was time for more sightseeing.

Most of the museums are free or inexpensive and one of the best is the Museum of Civilization, which is actually in Hull on the other side of the border. This is the most visited museum in Canada, according to the guide on my Gray Line Bus Tour. The museum documents the history of Canada chronologically, starting with the arrival of the Vikings. The Great Hall is devoted to Canada’s First Nations and offers a spectacular display of huge totem poles.

A couple of other interesting places to visit are the Royal Canadian Mint, where high quality collectible coins are produced, and, of course, the impressive Canadian Parliament buildings. I even caught sight of former Prime Minister Joe Clark on his way to the Press Building.

Ottawa is safe, picturesque city that is filled with rich Canadian history. It is a great place for a short getaway as the attractions are centrally located and the downtown area is full of wonderful opportunities for dining and shopping. But make sure to come in the spring. The Tulip Festival alone is well worth the trip.

If you go:

See the Website – http://www.fairmont.com/laurier/

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