From Taft to Trump: Manoir Riche­lieu's rich history

Sherbrooke Record - - EDITORIAL - Peter Black

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.

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