In the golden days of North American train travel, railway companies engaged in fierce competition to entice passengers, both on the tracks and beyond. The slowness of this mode of transportation and the vastness of the continent necessitated comfortable overnight options, and these companies erected some seriously luxurious hotels to meet that demand.
A prime Canadian example of this trend can be found in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Completed in Montreal in 1958, this grand hotel was established by the Canadian National Railway, a freight company headquartered in the country’s chic French metropolis. The hotel boasted 21 floors and 1051 rooms, and would go on to host many of the most famous figures of the 20th century: Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Joan Crawford, John Travolta, Mikhail Gorbachev, Fidel Castro, Princess Grace of Monaco, Charles de Gaulle, and George W. Bush have all slept between these iconic walls. Queen Elizabeth II herself, the hotel’s namesake, has visited on four occasions. Perhaps its most notable claim to fame, however, occurred in 1969, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono conducted their infamous Bed-In in room 1742 after being turned away at the U.S. border. It was in this room that the song “Give Peace a Chance” was recorded.
The Queen Elizabeth Hotel passed through different hands of ownership over the years, operating under the Hilton Hotels umbrella and then, when CN Hotels was sold to Canadian Pacific Hotels, it became one of the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. In June of 2016, the hotel was closed for just shy of a year while it underwent an extensive, $140-million-dollar renovation project.
The architecture firm brought on board for this project was Sid Lee Architecture. Working in collaboration with Architecture49, Sid Lee transformed this iconic landmark to meet the needs of the 21st century, while preserving and paying homage to much of its original character. Today the hotel has been scaled back to 950 rooms, designed in what Sid Lee describes as the “international style of the era” — that is, a coupling of international grandeur with sleek, mid-century lines.
“We embraced the standards of the prestigious Fairmont brand to design a world-class hotel environment,” explains Martin Leblanc, a Senior Partner at Sid Lee, via a press release. “The Queen Elizabeth’s new style is inspired by the hotel’s history and stylistic evolution, giving it an identity all its own.”
The common areas of the hotel received new entrances and a reconfiguration of spaces, allowing for plenty of natural light. Sculptural staircases, opened-up kitchen areas and patios, and commercial services on the ground floor create an inviting, 1960s-esque atmosphere for locals and visitors alike to shop and partake of the city’s electric downtown vibe.
The Agora, an entirely new space for the hotel, functions as a public indoor space for major events and festivities. Its design is a curious mix of both the future and the futurism of its time; the firm describes this vision as “daring, electric juxtapositions of small, inviting, modular spaces.”
Rosélys Restaurant is a modern bistro that combines Parisian elegance and English flair, balancing what the firm calls “masculine and feminine features,” including geometric shapes based on chevrons and curves. New windows were added to the original façade and ceiling, providing splendid views of Mary Queen of the World Basilica.
Nacrat Bar, on the other hands, boasts street views of the Place Ville Marie Esplanade. Large picture windows and an exterior patio open onto René-Lévesque Blvd. A massive bar in the centre of the space sits beneath a highly reflective low ceiling, a nod to the original ceilings of the bar. The Nacrat is a combination of glam rock, pop, and British pub culture aesthetics.
On the second and third floors, conference facilities have been created by opening up the original façade and workspaces. These venues boast views of the landmark Mount Royal. Several thematic meeting rooms on the third floor make the hotel an ideal destination for international business-types.
Then, of course, there are the guest rooms. These were designed by L.A.-based Design360 in collaboration with Fairmont Hotels and Sid Lee. However, three spaces — the Ville-Marie Royal Suite, the John Lennon & Yoko Ono Suite, and the Fairmont Gold Lounge — were designed by Sid Lee, again taking cues from the style and patterns of 1960s fashion.
Facilities on the 21st floor now provide guests with exclusive access to the Fairmont Gold experience. A series of lounges, each boasting a unique ambiance, are located on the former site of the famous Panorama cocktail lounge.
“We designed the renewed hotel experience with a very holistic vision,” says Jean Pelland, a Senior Partner at Sid Lee, via press release. “The hotel literally opens onto the city to welcome local people. More generally, it reasserts itself as an urban hub serving local and international clienteles. It’s a third space where people can go every day to do business, attend events, or enjoy some downtime.”
To learn more about this project, visit Sid Lee’s website.