The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald is one of Edmonton’s oldest and most regal landmarks. Check out these vintage photos of the building for a charming blast from the past:
On July 5th, 1915, the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald opened its doors. Ever since, it’s been a staple of Edmonton’s skyline with its Chateau-style architecture and majestic turrets. While it’s hard to miss the building’s imposing shape and structure, it’s not as easy to spot the many intricate details throughout the architectural work. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice cornices, decorative eavestroughs, arches and pillars with stone detailing like gargoyles and crests of the four western provinces.
Over the years the hotel has been a centerpiece for social occasions — something the country’s first prime minister and the Mac’s namesake knew quite a lot about. During his political prime in the 19th century, John A. Macdonald accumulated some frat-worthy party tales, like the time he set himself on fire in his London hotel room, the time he vomited on stage at a political debate, or the time he brought $13,000 worth of champagne to a Confederation Conference in Prince Edward Island. With a leader like that, is it any wonder that Canadians know how to have a good time?
Like most old buildings, the Hotel Macdonald comes with its very own haunting story. Rumour has it that guests staying on the top floor have heard the clip-clopping of a horse and carriage on the roof, although no one has ever reported a sighting of the mysterious coachman.
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald will be holding a historic open house on August 23rd complete with old-fashioned cars, actors in period costumes and guided tours. Other celebratory events include the 100th Year, Gatsby-style New Year’s Eve Gala and a Celebrating 100 Years package, including a one-night accommodation, a three-course dinner for two, a buffet breakfast for two, valet parking and a bottle of the hotel’s 100th Anniversary Blend wine.
Recently, an elderly woman named Mary Schlader found a menu from the Hotel Macdonald dating back to the 1940s in a drawer in her home. The menu was a keepsake from a Supper Dance in 1945, which she attended with an American soldier from New York. On the menu that night: iced celery and relish, stuffed turkey and cream of tomato soup.
With its regal look and majestic turrets, the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald is indeed fit for a queen. In fact, Queen Elizabeth II of England has her very own suite there. During one visit to the hotel in 1939, a crowd gathered below her balcony window hoping to catch a glimpse of the royals, in turn creating the city’s first traffic jam.
The Queen isn’t the only high-profile guest to have stayed at the hotel. Other notable visitors include Paul McCartney, Bill Clinton, the Rolling Stones and Oprah Winfrey. On one unforgettable occasion, Gene Simmons crashed a wedding that was taking place in the hotel, giving a speech on stage in front of the guests. Another memorable celebrity stay was that of superstar songstress Cher, who ended up sleeping in her tour bus instead of her suite.
The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald was built by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway company in the early 20th century. The building was completed in 1915, but the president of the company that built it didn’t live to see the day the doors opened: he died when the Titanic sunk on April 14th, 1912.
Photo: City of Vancouver Archives
The hotel was designed by high-profile Montreal architecture firm Ross & Macdonald (the name is just a coincidence). The firm created some of the most well-known Canadian landmarks to date, including the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg, Maple Leaf Gardens and the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Ross & Macdonald also worked with urban planners to rebuild residential areas of Halifax after the infamous Halifax Explosion of 1917.
The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, along with seven other Fairmont hotels across Canada, boast the title of “bee pollinator hotels.” Through its partnership with Burt’s Bees and the Wild for Bees campaign, the Mac features replicas of natural bees’ nests to provide a home for the species. In support of the little buzzers, Jiju Paul, the executive chef at the hotel’s restaurant, created a bee-inspired menu featuring items like fennel pollen and brioche crusted halibut and local honey and grapefruit vinaigrette.
According to an article published in Huffington Post, a contestant on the game show The Price is Right recently won a trip to Edmonton with a six-night stay at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. However, instead of the hotel’s impressive facade, the graphics showed the word “Canada” splashed across a picturesque view of Moraine Lake and surrounding mountains. The winning contestant didn’t choose to stay at the hotel, instead opting to travel around Banff and Lake Louise in an RV. Whether or not her decision was affected by the graphics remains a mystery.
In 1983, the hotel was closed due to its poor condition. The historic building would have faced the wrecking ball if the City of Edmonton hadn’t intervened and designated it as a Municipal Heritage Resource in 1985 (the first of its kind in the city). The new-and-improved hotel made its debut in 1991 with upgraded and modern conveniences, new specialty suites in the attic (including the Queen Elizabeth II suite), and renovated guestrooms with the original closet doorknobs to retain the building’s old-world charm.