History In The Making At Fairmont Le Château Frontenac’s 125th Anniversary Year of Celebration

By Laura Goldstein

What do pop star, Céline Dion, Sir Winston Churchill, actress Grace Kelly, U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt and director, Alfred Hitchcock all have in common? Not only were they all guests at the illustrious Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City, Canada over its 125- year history, but many madehistory during their stay! “Throughout 2018 we’re celebrating the Anniversary of the hotel through concerts, photo exhibitions, culinary galas, surprise celebrity events, public tours and even the first ever commission of a hotel anthem in North America,” relates the hotel’s enthusiastic general manager, Robert Mercure.

Castle In the Clouds

Le Château Frontenac is dramatically positioned high atop Cap Diamant overlooking the St. Lawrence River and Quebec City, the capital of the province of Quebec. It’s one of the oldest fortified walled cities in North America and like the hotel, a UNESCO National and World Heritage site. Little wonder that Le  Château Frontenac is a dream setting for film and television shoots.

Inspired by the fairytale-like chateaus dotting France’s Loire Valley, it was designed by architect Bruce Post (father of American doyenne of etiquette, Emily Post,) for the Canadian Pacific Railway. And, like it’s younger sibling in western Canada, The Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, it was a luxurious respite for those travelling by rail past Toronto heading east. Officially opened in 1893, history buffs will revel in Le Château Frontenac’s amusing salute to its namesake, Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenacand Governor of the Quebec colony, New France: a dashing portrait of the Count safeguards the lobby and a 300- year-old stone is marked in the hotel’s vaulted foyer; several original French coat of arms are hung throughout the hotel and on display are 17th and 18th century wine bottles found near intact during the excavation of the site. Santé!

In 2014, the hotel underwent a massive $75 million redesign by Wilson Associates and Rockwell Group integrating elegant, contemporary decor while preserving the original towers, turrets and coffered ceilings. Drawing inspiration from the nearby St. Lawrence River, original mahogany beamed ceilings and walls are enhanced by the stunning use of regal blue carpets and striated Italian onyx backlit by LED lighting in the main lobby.

Several art and photography exhibitions will be mounted over the Anniversary year. As you walk along the entrance to Le Champlain Restaurantyou will be mesmerized by the floor-to-ceiling glassed -in wine cellars containing over 1,600 wine bottles, but don’t forget to look up at the suspended art. Charlevoix sculptor, Marc Bouchard’s River is a 900-lb polyurethane sculpture that meanders like the St. Lawrence River from the tip of l’Île d’Orléans to Montréal.

Le  Château Frontenac in Song

Last year when Le Château Frontenac’s Robert Mercure began deliberating with his team about the 125th Anniversary events, they thought,  why not commission an anthem? It’s the first Heritage designated hotel in the world to receive this honour. Canadian composer and pianist, Steve Barakatt, will perform his composition with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra on April 14th in the Le Château Frontenac Ballroom. Barakatt composed Unicef’s anthem, entitled Lullaby that in addition to receiving earthly airplay, was broadcast from the International Space Station. He was also responsible for the  anthem in celebration of Quebec City’s recent 400th Anniversary. “From my home in Quebec City, I can actually see Le Château Frontenac,” laughs the charming Barakatt, “so it was certainly a visible inspiration.”

“I did a tremendous amount of research on the hotel, reading books and historical documents before I sat down to write the music. It has such powerful stories attributed to it from its architecture and the building of the railroad to all the famous politicians and stars who have stayed there.”

Political Intrigue

In August of 1943 and in September 1944, Le Château Frontenac hosted the Quebec Conferences (codename: QUADRANT,) a series of highly confidential meetings to plan the Normandy invasion with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt; British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King among other heads of state.

Over the years, other political dignitaries from Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan to French Presidents, Charles De Gaulle, Francois Mitterand and China’s Chiang-Kai-Shek have been guests at the hotel. “It’s quite remarkable that our former Prime Minister, (the late) Pierre Elliott Trudeau used to stay here with his little son, Justin and now he is the leader of our country and has come to the hotel with his own family,” says Mercure proudly.

Throughout July and August 2018, Le Château Frontenac will honour the 75th Anniversary of the Quebec Conferences with a photographic exposition and talks with guest historians, David Mendel and Barry Lane.

How Suite It Is

Officially opening on April 23rd Fairmont Le Château Frontenac has designed 8 Celebrity Suites distinctly decorated with photos, art and ephemera to honour their former guests Sir Winston Churchill; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Director, Alfred Hitchcock; HRH Queen Elizabeth II; Charles de Gaulle; Princess Grace; Céline Dion and Prime Ministers Trudeau & Trudeau.

Did you know that Quebec pop chanteuse, Céline Dion signed her first international contract with Sony Records in 1986 after performing for a group of executives at Le Château Frontenac? The Dion family have been invited to the opening of her Suite.

In 1952, director Alfred Hitchcock shot the thriller, I Confessstarring Montgomery Clift and Anne Baxter at the hotel with many staff as extras.

Actress Grace Kelly who became Princess Grace of Monaco, presided in costume over the Grand Ball at the opening of the Quebec Winter Carnivalin Quebec City in 1969. The son of Grace Kelly, Prince Albert II of Monaco, has been invited to officially open the Suite.

To plan your stay around the many events of the 125th Anniversary A Year of Celebration at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, here’s a helpful schedule in French and English.