Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth: a royal transformation

  • Magazine

Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth is reopening its doors... and showing off a grandiose transformation reminiscent of its rich history.

One year after closing for renovations, the iconic Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth reopened to the public this past July, just in time for the city’s 375th. Architects Martin Leblanc and Jean Pelland, the brilliant minds behind the hotel’s stunning transformation, spared no expense when it came to adding opulent flair to one of the city’s most historical buildings; the place is imbued with luxury... right down to the smallest detail.

The traditional lobby has been transformed into an indoor street of sorts, new workspaces overlook Mont Royal, an agora that can be enjoyed by all Montrealers, as well as the many restaurants that line the street. Everything has been designed so as to facilitate business exchanges, increase tourist traffic and lend an urban feel to the hotel, without forgoing the notion of luxury. “We were inspired by the era when the hotel was originally built,” explains Leblanc. “This was in 1958, before Expo 67 and the Olympics. Montreal was internationalist, ambitious and starting to really open up to the world, to society and the arts.” At the time, Queeny stood tall and proud; it was the second largest hotel in all of Canada. It was with this thought in mind that the Sid Lee Architecture team dreamt up the idea of a hotel-gallery, a space proudly filled with paintings, sculptures and digital art. “We wanted someone travelling alone to feel comfortable wandering through the hotel, to see it as a place to discover and learn through our collection,” adds Pelland.

Historical guests

In the first few decades following its construction by the Canadian National Railway, several famous figures passed through the hotel’s doors. Guests such as Queen Elizabeth II, Indira Gandhi, De Gaulle, Nelson Mandela, Mikhaïl Gorbatchev and the Dalai Lama himself turned this now famous establishment into one of historical value. If walls could talk, you would still hear the booming speeches of Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro, the soothing sounds emanating from Oscar Peterson’s piano, and of course, the righteous cries for peace coming from John Lennon and Yoko Ono, during their legendary bed-in, which took place in suite 1742 during the Vietnam War.

“The list of famous guests had been dwindling in the past few years,” remarks Leblanc. “We made sure to give the place a makeover that will have celebrities lining up to stay here.” An abandoned elevator was restored and now links the lobby to the presidential suite, where Riopelle and Jean McEwen works of art share the walls with emerging Montreal artists. The Queen Elizabeth has always been a popular meet-up place for businessmen and women, so when it came to rede- signing the conference rooms and workspaces, the Leblanc- Pelland duo went all-out contemporary. “Before, business meetings were held in closed rooms,” explains Pelland. “Today’s businesspeople want shared spaces, so we went ahead and opened up many of the rooms.” The same idea was applied to the kitchen, that according to Leblanc “boasts one of the best catering services in the entire city.” Guests and gourmets alike can purchase their products at the new Marché Artisan.

The Queeny was a pioneer of the Montreal hotel industry, one of North America’s very first hotels to have air conditioning and escalators. “At the time, the lifts were designed to carry elephants to the roof!” jokes Pelland.  It is on a firm foundation, both literally and historically, that Ivanhoe Cambridge has restored Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth and returned her to her former pomp and glory.


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