Most people check into a hotel for a few days. Not legendary photographer,
Yousuf Karsh. He and his wife, Estrellita, lived for 18 years in Fairmont's posh Château Laurier in Ottawa, soon to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Slated to open on April 26, 1912, the official launch was deferred until June after owner and Grand Trunk Railway president,
Charles Melville Hays, an American, died on April 14 in the tragic sinking of the Titanic.
With the Parliament Buildings close by, Karsh enjoyed access to international celebrities and world leaders, particularly after his reputation skyrocketed with the celebrated 1941 photo of
"British Bulldog" Winston Churchill, reportedly the most reproduced photograph in portrait history.
"Two minutes were all that he would allow me," Karsh wrote in Faces of Our Time. "He marched into the room scowling ... I removed the cigar ... the scowl deepened, the head thrust forward belligerently, and the hand placed on the hip in an attitude of anger."
Karsh explained his success with, "It was the right time of history and the right man at that time in history, photographed 2-3 weeks after Pearl Harbor and during the darkest hour of the free world."
Born in Armenia and aspiring to become a physician, Yousuf arrived in Canada with his family at 16. His deft eye allowed him to become the only Canadian in the 2000 International Who's Who list of the 100 most notable people of the last century - 51 of whom he had photographed.
Throughout most of his career, Karsh used an 8X10 bellows Calumet camera, made circa 1940 in Chicago. Work was processed in Karsh's studio on the Château's sixth floor from 1973-1992, now a guest room. His photographic equipment was donated to
Ottawa's Museum of Science and Technology, and the
National Archives preserves more than 300,000 Karsh items, including negatives, prints, transparencies, manuscripts and audiovisual materials.
The couple moved to Boston in 2000, and Karsh died there in 2002. He was 93.
My wife and I are booked into Suite 358, the Karsh Suite, rented like any other room in the hotel, but the price tag ($2,800 a night) sets it far apart.
With its eminent address at Sussex and Wellington, the Karsh Suite appeals to both diplomats and business travellers. A black and white private photo gallery (gifted by Estrellita who also supplied the frames) includes portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Karsh, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, George Bernard Shaw, Barbara Ann Scott, Shirley Tabb, Grey Owl and our favourite ballerina, Karen Kain.
Delicate wood and plaster mouldings accent each room and frame the living room fireplace.
The kitchen maintains its original leather floor, 10-cm tiles of forest green and tan, and an antique refrigerator. A modern whirlpool tub dominates the bathroom with a marble-lined shower armed with three tiers of jets.
The Château's design combines the French Renaissance style with the neo-Gothic vertical lines of the Parliament Buildings. The builders used granite blocks, white Italian marble, light buff Indiana limestone and a distinctive copper roof. Furnished with antiques and a travertine marble staircase with brass railing, Czechoslovakian crystal and Sèvres vases,
the regal Château changed the face of downtown Ottawa.
An art deco swimming pool with $500,000 in recent upgrades, now part of the Health Club, was the centerpiece of the spa, built with pale pink Tennessee marble walls and dark green marble pillars. With a Greek fountain at one end, visitors relaxed on chaises lounges warmed by overhead brass lamps.
The building cost $2 million, and the 306 rooms, priced at $2 per night, were among the first hotel rooms to offer indoor plumbing.
CBC Radio broadcast from Fairmont Château Laurier's seventh floor for 80 years, until moving to their new location on Sparks Street.
Liberal Prime Minister,
Sir Wilfred Laurier, was an early supporter of the hotel, seeing it as an opportunity to add prestige to Canada's capital. However, he threatened not to sign the guest registry for the hotel's opening, unhappy with the nose on his bust, sculpted in France for the occasion. It was repaired to his liking, and remains impressively exhibited in the main foyer amidst the elaborate and original oak woodwork.
Plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary include a memorabilia search, now underway, public Open Doors events, June 2-3 with costumed guided tours, a year-long Centennial Tea offered in Zoé's lounge (named after Sir Wilfred Laurier's wife) starting April 26th, and a "culinary journey through time," with table d'hôte menus reflecting the past decades.
Deneen Perrin, Public Relations Director, adds that an iPad app is being developed for self-guided hotel tours that will transport guests through stunning "Peacock Lane," where well-dressed notables once gathered to flaunt their status amidst well-preserved ceiling paintings and an impressive wall of historic photos.
Situated Beside The Rideau Canal And Canada's Parliament Buildings
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
If you go
Stay: Fairmont Château Laurier: http://www.fairmont.com/laurier/
Dine: Try the nearby popular restaurant, Play Food & Wine, on York St., directly opposite
the fortress-like U.S. Embassy - www.playfood.ca
Do: The ByWard Market filled with restaurants, clubs, bistros, coffee shops, boutiques and food retailers - www.byward-market.com
Culture: Close to the hotel is The National Gallery of Canada with an upcoming blockbuster exhibit:
Van Gogh-Up Close starting May 25 - www.gallery.ca