Land­mark has opened its doors to politi­cians and pachyderms

Montreal Gazette - - Front Page - ALAN HUSTAK THE GAZETTE

Ro­saire Guérard was hired as an elec­tri­cian by the Queen El­iz­a­beth Ho­tel two weeks be­fore the first guests checked in 50 years ago this week­end.

Guérard, who doesn’t look any­where near his 71 years, is one of three staffers still on duty who were there when the ho­tel opened its doors on March 15, 1958.

“I was work­ing at a dance hall in Bel­mont Park, about to get mar­ried and I needed a per­ma­nent job,” Guérard said.

“I’ve been here ever since. I love my job, I love the clients. They’re more my boss than any­one else.”

Among the more mem­o­rable mo­ments of his five decades at the ho­tel, he re­calls herd­ing live ele­phants on loan from Granby Zoo for a 1990 Beaver Club din­ner into an up­stairs ball­room via a freight el­e­va­tor.

“They pissed all over the ser­vice el­e­va­tor,” Guérard said.

“They didn’t want to go down the el­e­va­tor shaft. That was some­thing else.

“The other mem­o­rable time was the Oc­to­ber Cri­sis in 1970, when the Que­bec gov­ern­ment went into hid­ing in the ho­tel. I had to record Pre­mier (Robert) Bourassa’s television ad­dress and no one from the out­side world was sup­posed to know he was in the ho­tel.”

When Guérard be­gan work­ing at the Queen El­iz­a­beth, it was owned by Cana­dian Na­tional Rail­ways and man­aged by the Hil­ton chain. The 1,039-room con­ven­tion ho­tel was built above rail yards that fun­nelled trains in and out of Cen­tral Sta­tion.

Now part of the Fair­mont chain, the Queen El­iz­a­beth kicks off an of­fi­cial round of 50th-an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions next month. To mark the an­niver­sary, it will sup­port a writer-in-res­i­dence – yet to be named. Chefs have cre­ated an an­niver­sary choco­late truf­fle, a spe­cial tea blend and a new sig­na­ture mar­tini to com­ple­ment the ho­tel’s al- ready fa­mous three-ounce bird­bath mar­ti­nis. An ex­hibit of pho­to­graphs fea­tur­ing high­lights of the ho­tel’s 50-year his­tory will also be mounted.

De­signed by CN’s chief ar­chi­tect, Ge­orge Drum­mond, as “a ho­tel for all the world and a land­mark to match the scope of a great city,” it did not dis­ap­point.

It stands on 160 con­crete py­lons that cush­ion any vi­bra­tions from the trains that still rum­ble un­der­neath. It was one of the first ho­tels in North Amer­ica with es­ca­la­tors, cen­tral­ized air con­di­tion­ing and di­rect-dial tele­phones in each room. Its vast re­cep­tion lobby is longer than a reg­u­la­tion foot­ball field.

“It is un­fair to look at the ho­tel as a piece of ar­chi­tec­ture on its own,” her­itage ac­tivist Dinu Bum­baru said.

“It is part of a gi­gan­tic com­plex. But it is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it was the cor­ner­stone of a ma­jor ur­ban Place Ville Marie re­newal project, which filled an open trench.”

Few re­mem­ber the bit­ter con­tro­versy over nam­ing the ho­tel. Que­bec na­tion­al­ists wanted it called Château Maison­neuve in hon­our of Mon­treal’s founder, Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maison­neuve. CN’s pres­i­dent, Don­ald Gor­don, stub­bornly in- sisted it be named for the queen, who had un­ex­pect­edly come to the throne in 1952 while the ho­tel was still on the draw­ing boards.

“The frus­tra­tion of FrenchCana­dian na­tion­al­ists at his in- tran­si­gence was ev­i­dent,” Paul An­dré Lin­teau wrote in his His­tory of Mon­treal Since Con­fed­er­a­tion.

“Pe­ti­tions were cir­cu­lated, hun­dreds of thou­sands op­posed to the name Queen El­iz­a­beth signed, in­clud­ing Mayor Jean Dra­peau and var­i­ous city coun­cil­lors. But noth­ing hap­pened. Gor­don wouldn’t budge. His in­sen­si­tiv­ity to the as­pi­ra­tions of French-speak­ing Mon­treal­ers left ev­ery­one with a bad taste.”

To add in­sult to in­jury, CN flew in a planeload of Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties for the gala open­ing in April: The most fa­mous was Leo Car­illo, oth­er­wise known as Pan­cho in the pop­u­lar 1950s television se­ries The Cisco Kid. Guy Lom­bardo and His Royal Cana­di­ans, a big band from the era, was im­ported to play for the oc­ca­sion.

Cuba’s Fidel Cas­tro, not the queen, was the first head of state to check into the ho­tel, in 1959. Queen El­iz­a­beth has dropped in for a visit four times.

But per­haps the most cel­e­brated guests were John Len­non and Yoko Ono, who staged their Bed Peace demon­stra­tion in Suite 1742 for one week in 1969, dur­ing which Len­non wrote his an­them Give Peace a Chance.


Ro­saire Guérard, 71, landed work as an elec­tri­cian at the Queen El­iz­a­beth Ho­tel in 1958, two weeks be­fore the first guests signed the reg­is­ter. He’s been there ever since. “I love my job, I love the clients,” Guérard says.

The 1,039-room Queen E was built on what is now René Lévesque Blvd. Be­low it, trains roll in and out of Cen­tral Sta­tion.


The Queen El­iz­a­beth Ho­tel rises over Cana­dian Na­tional tracks leav­ing Cen­tral Sta­tion, be­fore Place Ville Marie was con­structed.


In June 1959, Queen El­iz­a­beth II was shown a model of the Place Ville Marie project, which was un­der con­struc­tion on the then-named Dorch­ester Blvd., op­po­site the Queen El­iz­a­beth Ho­tel.

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