Queen Elizabeth Hotel | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Queen Elizabeth Hotel

The opening of the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal took place on 15 March 1958.

Queen Elizabeth Hotel

The opening of the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal took place on 15 March 1958. Built around the Gare Centrale (Central Station), the Queen Elizabeth Hotel complex was supposed to fill in the "gaps" resulting from the construction of the railroad tracks and be part of the Place Ville-Marie on Dorchester Boulevard (now boulevard René-Lévesque), an urban development project that was very innovative at the time. The design and construction of the project fell to CN chief architect George Drummond, and CN president Donald Gordon approved the plans in 1953. Work officially began on 23 June 1954.

The L-shaped building, strengthened with 160 cement pylons to deaden the noise and vibrations of trains passing underneath it, accommodated 1200 rooms. It was one of the first hotels in North America with escalators, air conditioning and a private telephone in each room.

In November 1954, Gordon announced that the hotel's name would be "Queen Elizabeth," which resulted in a swell of controversy and demonstrations with militants demanding "a French name for French Montréal." A petition with more than 250 000 signatures was sent to the city of Montréal in 1955, demanding that the hotel be named Château Maisonneuve in honour of Montréal founder, Paul de Chomedy de Maisonneuve, but nothing was done despite the movement of public indignation and interventions by Mayor Jean Drapeau and a number of Montréal city councillors. Donald Gordon was even burned in effigy during a demonstration. Disregarding all these demands, Gordon held his position and announced that the hotel would be named for Queen Elizabeth, who acceded to the throne in 1952. Québécois nationalists perceived this inflexibility as a lack of respect and recognition, and it left francophones with a very bitter taste. On 15 March 1958, the hotel officially opened its doors with M. and Mme Charles Morel from Baie-Comeau celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary as its first guests. A month later, the gala opening lasted 3 days with a panoply of guests and Hollywood celebrities, again rekindling francophone resentment. Guy Lombardo and his orchestra provided the music.

Throughout the years that followed, the Queen Elizabeth Hotel saw a parade of celebrities, each more famous than the last: Fidel Castro was the first visiting head of state on 27 April 1959; then Queen Elizabeth dropped in for a first very brief visit on 25 June 1959. During Expo 67, more than 20 political personalities stayed there, including Queen Elizabeth and Charles de Gaulle.

In 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono moved in for a week during their famous Bed-In for Peace, where Lennon wrote and recorded his anthem "Give Peace a Chance." In 1970, Robert Bourassa and some members of the government sought refuge, unknown to the public, at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel during the October Crisis.

The Queen Elizabeth Hotel also houses the Beaver Club restaurant, one of the best in Montréal and in the country, with a ballroom where patrons ring in the New Year at a gala dinner and dance each December 31.

In January 1988 Canadian Pacific Hotels, which became the Fairmont Group the following year, acquired the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. In 2003, $30 million were spent on renovations, particularly on the hotel lobby and the Beaver Club restaurant.

In April 2008 the renowned hotel feted its 50th anniversary with a photo gallery presenting an eloquent account of its celebrated history. In addition, the house chefs invented an anniversary chocolate truffle, a special tea blend and a signature martini cocktail.