Chateau Lake Louise

Chateau Lake Louise is a world-renowned mountain resort and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Banff National Park, Alberta. Known as the “Diamond in the Wilderness,” the chateau was built beginning in the late 1800s, and was developed as part of the CPR’s network of hotels. It shares a lineage with the Banff Springs Hotel, Le Chateau Frontenac in Québec City and the Empress Hotel in Victoria. Considering its remote location and its eventual scale, the Chateau Lake Louise marked an important point in the development of the Canadian West.

Chateau Lake Louise
Chateau Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains.

Geography

Lake Louise was originally known to the local Stoney-Nakoda people as Ho-run-num-nay, or the “Lake of Little Fishes.” The lake, which has opaque turquoise waters in the spring and clear, reflective qualities in the fall, is located in an idyllic mountain setting, encircled by mountains and glaciers, which serve as a natural frame. The area is considered to be exceptionally picturesque and photogenic.

The hotel is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Louise facing the Victoria Glacier. The surrounding mountains include Mount Victoria, Mount Lefroy, Mount Aberdeen, Mount Temple, Mount Beehive, Mount Whyte and Mount St. Piran. Lake O’Hara and Moraine Lake are nearby.

Lake Louise
The jewellike lake, framed by blue mountains and gleaming snowfields, is one of the most famous mountain vistas on the continent (Corel Professional Photos).

Early Development: Chalet Lake Louise

A Stoney-Nakoda guide brought CPR employee Tom Wilson to the lake in 1882. Wilson initially named it Emerald Lake and promoted it as a development opportunity. In 1886, CPR workers built a log cabin along the shoreline. It provided two beds and served meals to people on day trips in the area. A fire in 1893 destroyed the original cabin, prompting the building of a second, single-storey building in 1894 called Chalet Lake Louise. This second version of the hotel was set farther back from the lake, improving the site conditions that challenged the original cabin.

Expansion, 1896–1912

The hotel’s development over the years can be traced by distinct transitions in architectural style (see Canadian Architecture: 1867–1914). Several architects were involved in the creation of the current hotel, each working in different styles to capture the cultural conditions of the times.

In 1896, architect T.C. Sorby added a second storey to the chalet and expanded its capacity to accommodate 15 guests. Sorby retained the initial chalet structure but added wings with rooms on either side and included architectural details such as dormers (windows projecting vertically from roofs) and arches that framed the veranda on the perimeter of the chalet along the lake-facing side. The chalet was intended to support the growing influx of visitors to the area and to continue serving outdoor enthusiasts, further encouraging the popularity of the surrounding natural amenities.

Chateau Lake Louise from Fairview Mountain.

The next period of expansion occurred between 1900 and 1912 with the construction of a three-storey, 500-bed wing by architect Francis M. Rattenbury, who worked in both the Victorian style and Mock Tudor revival style typical of Canadian architecture of the time. The hotel’s Victorian features include the use of ornate trim on the exterior and the placement of turrets at the corners, while the Mock Tudor revival features include exposed structural timber framing with stucco infill. The combination resulted in a bold aesthetic for the hotel.

The chateau’s growing pains were addressed with yet another addition in 1912, which modernized the hotel. W.S. Painter, one of the architects of the Banff Springs Hotel, added a concrete wing in the Italian villa style that would create a new aesthetic. Painter split from the styles of the past, presenting a smooth, unadorned, cream-coloured exterior facade with a flat roof and towers at each end of a long, rectangular floor plan. The previously typical veranda was replaced in favor of private balconies and flat arches framing the public spaces at ground level.

1915 postcard for Chateau Lake Louise, showing the Rattenbury wing in the foreground and Painter's structure in the background.

Expansion, 1924–Present: Chateau Lake Louise

The growth of the local population, the successful development of a tourism industry in the area and the impact of another devastating fire influenced the consecutive additions, improvements and renovations of the hotel. Furthermore, with the modernization of transportation — namely a tramline (in 1913), the automobile and airplanes — visitor records changed accordingly, growing exponentially and thereby prompting the chateau’s growth.

A second fire, in 1924, destroyed the Rattenbury additions, though staff managed to save the Painter wing by lowering a fire screen and isolating the fire. Given the damage and the need for more capacity, a final team of architects, Barott and Blackader, were hired in 1925 to reconsider the future of the hotel. The new nine-storey brick addition featured 400 bedrooms, mostly facing the lake, and included the second largest pool in Canada (built in 1926), measuring 100 feet by 40 feet.

The approach of Barott and Blackader followed W.S. Painter’s Italian style, featuring dormer windows below the roofline and covered arcades on the lake side. Predominantly, however, Barott and Blackader worked to achieve a chateau style, giving the hotel its current appearance. Suitably, the hotel took on the name Chateau Lake Louise after the completion of the addition. Also during this period, other amenities such as teahouses and resting huts were included in the area to assist hikers on popular routes.

Chateau Lake Louise, interior dining hall.

The next period of renovations, from 1983 to 1986, featured $65 million worth of upgrades, including the addition of the 125-room Glacier Wing. A seven-storey addition called Mount Temple Wing, built in 2004 along Lake Louise Drive, offers more hotel rooms, dining facilities and conference and meeting rooms. Several dining halls and meeting rooms in the hotel are named after some of the local mountains and hiking trails, providing reference to the hotel’s natural surroundings.

Architectural Overview

The architectural transitions concluded with a strong traditional style that is recognized internationally. Some reviews have noted the hotel’s austere exterior, yet its orderly, repeated apertures and smooth-faced stone exterior fundamentally represent the surrounding environment. Comparatively, the interior is soft, romantic, showing off crafted and decorated details, grand spaces, lavish materials and views of the lake and mountains through oversized, arched windows. The chateau operates as an entry to its natural landscape, inviting guests to enjoy the natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

Four-Season Accessibility

The chateau made the Canadian Rockies more accessible to a larger audience with the provision of guides and the development of 160 km of trails, two teahouses (supporting popular hiking destinations) and the Abbot Pass Hut (now a historic site, built in 1922 as the second highest habitable structure in Canada). The hotel features a continued focus on creating environmental awareness while providing access to natural beauty. Initially open only in the summer, the chateau has become accessible for winter visits since the 1980s, welcoming its clientele through all four seasons.

Chateau Lake Louise Panorama
Chateau Lake Louise and the Lake Louise Ski runs reflected in the lake in Banff National Park, Alberta.

Services and Reputation

Chateau Lake Louise has catered to a large clientele over the years, including some notable and influential people. Jean Mollison, a local celebrity of sorts, managed the chalet in its formative years and contributed to its success, attracting well-respected mountaineers and furthering the hotel’s eventual status as a “major destination” for outdoor enthusiasts. A unique part of the chalet’s culture at this time were the cows that Mollison kept by the lake in order to provide fresh milk and cream to guests.

Following the death of noted mountaineer Philip Stanley Abbot on Mount Lefroy in 1896, the chalet began providing guided mountaineer excursions in order to ensure safe climbing for both novices and experts. The first guides on record in 1899 were Swiss climbers Edward Feuz Sr. and Christian Hasler Sr. The opportunity for a place to stay and become educated in matters of the mountains became a unique feature of the West and formed the beginnings of Canadian mountaineering.

The 1920s and 1930s proved fundamental to the development of the hotel. The chateau was nicknamed “Hollywood North” during this period. Many stars visited and multiple movies were filmed there, including Eternal Love (1929) with John Barrymore and Springtime in the Rockies (1942) with Betty Grable. Famous visitors included Ernst Lubitsch, Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Ford, Mary Astor and Teddy Roosevelt. Visits from Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip and Queen Noor of Jordan were also notable.

Chateau Lake Louise
Chateau Lake Louise in Lake Louise, Alberta (photo by John Dean, courtesy Take Stock Photography Inc.).

The hotel has marked its place in creating a mountain culture and making it distinctly Canadian with its architecture and its cultural offerings. All of these elements in combination have satisfied a range of clientele, solidifying a strong growth in tourism over the many phases the hotel has gone through since the late 19th century.

Contemporary Resort

After Canadian Pacific Hotels acquired Fairmont Hotels in 1999, the chateau’s official name was updated to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Resort Hotel. The resort now offers 554 rooms, outdoor adventures, and many meeting, conference and party rooms. The resort’s year-round activities include world-class skiing, mountaineering, hiking, boating, canoeing, photographic opportunities, painting, camps for children, horseback riding, spas, fishing and fine dining.