From Taft to Trump: Manoir Richelieu's rich history
Assuming he's still president a year from now, Donald Trump, an active duffer, will be at least the second United States commander-in-chief to play a round or two on the Manoir Richelieu's world-class links.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Manoir, in La Malbaie, in the Charlevoix, formerly known as Murray Bay, will be the site of the annual G7 summit meeting next May. It will be the sixth such get-together Canada has hosted, and the first in Quebec since 1981 when it was held at Montebello, near Ottawa.
William Howard Taft was the only person to serve as U.S. president (1909-13) and as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1921-30). Between these two top jobs, Taft held another prestigious office, that of president of the Murray Bay Golf Club (1914-21). It was in that capacity that he inaugurated the Manoir Richelieu Golf Club, on the grounds of the elegant hotel overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
Taft was a long-time summer resident of the Charlevoix, whose salty air he declared to be "intoxicating like champagne but without the hangover the next morning." A few years ago, the town of La Malbaie held a ceremony to rename a street Côte Taft, in honour of its famous guest. The event drew the 27th president's grandson, Peter, who recalled the idyllic summers spent in the region when he was a child.
The Manoir that President Taft would have known burned to the ground two years before his death in 1930. The hotel's owners, Canada Steamship Lines, immediately decided to rebuild, but even bigger and grander. The architect, John Archibald, went with a Norman castle look, the same as he used for the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa.
The new hotel was built entirely of concrete, poured throughout the winter thanks to a special wooden cover that allowed the worksite to be heated. Incredibly, the new fire- and earthquake-proof structure was ready to receive guests in time for the next season in June, 1929.
CSL went all out to decorate its prize property on the St. Lawrence, one of several luxury hotels the company operated during its heyday. The president at the time, William Coverdale, instigated the acquisition of an extensive collections of art, First Nations artefacts and Canadiana, comprising more than 3,000 works.
When CSL, then owned by Paul Desmarais' Power Corporation, sold the Manoir (as well as the Hotel Tadoussac) in 1960, the collection became the subject of a tug-of-war between the Quebec and Canadian governments, each anxious to possess such a remarkable assortment of unique historical and art objects.
The dispute was resolved by giving the art works to Canada, and the ethnography collection to Quebec. Apparently, five paintings from what is known as the Coverdale Collection still adorn the walls of the Manoir.
The hotel also offered musical entertainment, notably the Romanelli Orchestra featuring trumpeter Bobby Gimby, who penned the famous "Ca-na-da" song that became the 1967 Centennial's official anthem.
(Scores of fascinating details about the Manoir are found in Philippe's Dube's 1990 book: Charlevoix: Two Centuries in Murray Bay).
The Manoir has had many ups and downs over the years, with various changes of ownership. The most notorious period perhaps was in the mid-1980s when the Quebec government, which became owner of the property through a bankruptcy, sold it to hotelier Raymond Malenfant.
Malenfant wanted to dispense with the hotel's labour union, which sparked a bitter dispute lasting two years and resulting in the vandalising of the hotel and the death of a demonstrator in a scuffle with police. It was learned later that the union had been infiltrated by an undercover CSIS agent
Since then, the castle on the St. Lawrence has had stable stewardship for nearly 20 years under the Fairmont company (now owned by the French hotel giant Accorhotels). An expansion and renovation of more than $140 million, as well as the addition of the Loto-quebec Casino, have helped restore the place to its former glory as a global tourism destination.
A luxury hotel with a casino and golf course - maybe President Trump will like the property so much he'll make a terrific deal to buy it.