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Canada's Grand Railway Hotels

Banff Springs Hotel
Banff Springs Hotel 2
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise 2
Fairmont Empress Victoria
Fairmont Empress Victoria 2
Fairmont Royal York Toronto
Fairmont Royal York Toronto 2
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
Quebec, Canada
Fairmont Palliser
Fairmont Chateau Laurier Ottawa

Canada's Grand Railway Hotels

story by: Tom Ricketts

Canada’s Grand Railway Hotels

Being the massive country it is, Canada has an extensive rail infrastructure stretching all the way from Halifax and Cape Breton Island in the east, to Vancouver and Prince Rupert in the west. For nearly 200 years, rail has played an integral part in the development of Canada as a nation, and remains as popular as ever today. Canada has the world fifth largest network of railways and a journey from Halifax to Vancouver takes a whopping five days!

When the railways were being built, many new settlements sprung up across the country. In mountainous and remote areas, the rail companies had to build huge accommodations and services to cater for the many workers they had onsite. As workers wrote home telling of the pristine beauty of places like the Canadian Rockies, family members suddenly wanted to come see for themselves, and they had to be accommodated somewhere. This gave the railways bosses the idea of building hotels on their networks. The two major rail companies, Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) then engaged in somewhat of a battle to build each hotel on a far more grand scale than the competitor’s previous effort. What we’re left with today is a stunning collection of buildings across Canada, many of which remain as hotels today. Read more about some of the most popular hotels below…

Fairmont Empress Hotel
The most westerly of the grand hotels is Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel. Ironically though, Victoria is not served by a railway thanks to its location on Vancouver Island, but regular passenger ferries connected with trains in Vancouver. The hotel has a prime position in the middle of town overlooking the harbour. One of the many grand hotels now operated by Fairmont, the hotel offers 447 five star luxury rooms and suites. Since 1908 the hotel has served a traditional English Afternoon Tea with scones, pastries and sweets which is a must do in Victoria, even if not staying at the hotel.

The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
Known as the ‘Castle in the City’, the Hotel Vancouver is actually the third reincarnation of the grand hotels in Vancouver, however the earlier two were demolished long ago. The 111 metre high hotel is capped with bronze roof which has oxidised to become the same colour as the Statue of Liberty. The hotel is one of four Fairmont’s now in Vancouver, although the other three are new buildings.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Perhaps the most famous of all the grand hotels, the Banff Springs Hotel rises out the pine trees of the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Banff National Park, and resembles a castle that any European country would be proud to claim. This hotel was one of the first built, opening in 1888. The huge hotel has 764 luxury rooms, as well as many facilities such as a golf course, bowling alleys, and of course, everything needed for a ski holiday.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
While little remains of the original hotel, the Chateau Lake Louise gets a mention thanks to its absolutely stunning location. The hotel is right on the shore of UNESCO World Heritage Listed Lake Louise and has to have some of the best views of any hotel in the world, looking across the turquoise waters the Victoria Glacier clings precariously to the surrounding mountains. There’s 550 luxury rooms throughout the hotel, but be sure your agent books you a room with a lake view!

Fairmont Palliser Hotel
Located right in the middle of Calgary, the Palliser Hotel is the oldest and most luxurious in the city. The Palliser has a different architectural design to her castle like sisters in the Rockies, and more so resembles a Chicago or New York style highrise building. In a city where skyscrapers now seem to go up overnight, the hotel was the tallest building in Calgary for nearly 30 years. Yet another Fairmont property, the hotel offers 407 luxurious rooms and suites, one of the city’s finest bars, and is conveniently located right next to the Calgary Tower.

Delta Bessborough
Over the border in Saskatchewan the railway bypasses the provincial capital of Regina and instead travels through the slightly larger city of Saskatoon. Here the architects returned to the castle like style in the building of the Bessborough Hotel. Although smaller than most of the other grand hotels with just 225 rooms, the building was still the tallest building in the city for nearly 50 years. It’s currently operated by the four star Delta Hotel chain.

Fort Garry Hotel
Far across the prairies in Winnipeg is the Fort Garry Hotel. This hotels architectural style is different again and was built to resemble the iconic Plaza Hotel in New York. While one of the few grand hotels to not be operated by the Fairmont chain, the hotel does still offer five star luxury throughout its 246 rooms and suites.

Fairmont Chateau Laurier
Canada’s capital city of Ottawa has no shortage of magnificent architecture, and the Chateau Laurier is no exception. This hotel was actually not built by CN or CP, but by another railroad called Grand Trunk Railway (GTR). The architectural style is therefore different to the CP and CN hotels, and has a more French gothic style with distinct turrets and towers. The hotel was to open with much fanfare on 26 April 1912, but the sinking of the Titanic just eleven days claimed GTR’s president, so a more subdued opening was held a month later. Today the Fairmont chain have taken over ownership and offer their same five star luxury across the hotels 429 rooms and 33 suites. Some have rooms over the impressive Parliament Buildings, Rideau Canal and downtown Ottawa. 

Fairmont Royal York
Easily the largest of all the grand hotels is the Royal York Hotel. The hotel occupies a prime site in downtown Toronto that when bought, was actually already home to the city’s most prestigious hotel. CP decided to demolish the existing hotel and rebuild as the Royal York Hotel. At completion, the building was not only the tallest building in Canada, but the entire Commonwealth! Fairmont operate the hotel today with their usual five star luxury across the 1600 odd rooms. The Royal York has always been the premium hotel in Toronto, and is regularly booked for royal visits when the Queen herself has an entire floor.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac
Said to be the world’s most photographed hotel, the Chateau Frontenac dominates the UNESCO World Heritage Listed old town of Quebec City. You would be forgiven for thinking the hotel was once, or still is, a medieval castle of Europe, however it has always been operated as a hotel. The Chateau Frontenac is the second oldest of the grand hotels, originally opening in 1893 and has had numerous additions since then. The hotel was a popular meeting place for Churchill, Roosevelt and King (Canadian PM) during the First World War. Yet another Fairmont operated property, this hotel features many different luxury rooms and suites, so be sure to have your agent book one with breath taking views of the old city or the Saint Lawrence River.

Lord Nelson Hotel
At the eastern end of Canada’s railways is the city of Halifax. In 1928 the city got their grand hotel, named after Lord Horatio Nelson. The hotel has since been a landmark for the city and one of its most treasured buildings. Today the hotel is operated independently and offers a variety of three and four star rooms and suites.

Canada’s grand hotels have been at the forefront of tourism in the country for over 100 years. As the CP president William Cornelius Van Horne famously said, “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists”. For any holiday to Canada today, whether it be on rail or not, a stay in one or two of these hotels is an absolute must!


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