For 75 years the Lord Elgin has been a monumental presence in the heart of Canada’s capital — an elegant limestone landmark adorning the Ottawa streetscape, etched with history, welcoming the world. The Lord Elgin Hotel was an offspring of war and an early expression of the modernist vision that would eventually transform a dusty, rough-hewn lumber town into a cosmopolitan city and epicentre of national pride. An architectural triumph designed to complement the stone-walled, copper-clad houses of Parliament nearby, The Lord Elgin has remarkable links to Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, Mackenzie King, and to the hotel’s aristocratic namesake, the 8th Earl of Elgin. This 19th-century governor general, whose 1853 visit to the city helped propel Ottawa’s quest to become Canada’s capital, is best known for ensuring that Responsible Government — in a word, democracy — would reign supreme in this wintry corner of Queen Victoria’s vast empire. A warm relationship between the hotel and Lord Elgin’s descendants in Scotland, including the present 11th Earl, continues to this day.
At the cornerstone ceremony marking The Lord Elgin’s construction in February 1941, a time when Britain was reeling from the enemy’s nightly bombing Blitz and the future of all democratic nations was in doubt, the fast-rising hotel was hailed by King himself as a symbol of the faith that freedom would ultimately prevail over tyranny in the war then raging. The building and the business it embodied would come to represent other values, too: a belief that public and private interests could ally to create a world-class capital for Canada; and that tourists, business travellers and other visitors to downtown Ottawa — some 10 million of them to date — would be drawn to a place where history and hospitality share a stylish, storied home.
On Saturday, February 27th, exactly 75 years after Prime Minister Mackenzie King himself laid the cornerstone of this historic hotel at the height of the Second World War, The Lord Elgin celebrated that auspicious occasion with a 1940s-style evening celebration attended by municipal leaders, federal officials, valued clients and other members of the community. The event also featured a silent auction fundraising event for the Canadian Red Cross, recognizing the longstanding relationship between the hotel and the humanitarian organization.
“We are thrilled to be showcasing the remarkable story of our hotel in this anniversary year,” said David Smythe, general manager of The Lord Elgin. “We are so proud of our rich history, of the special role this place has played in the growth and prosperity of Ottawa, and of the local ownership and devoted staff that remain dedicated to providing a first-rate visitor experience for our clients while safeguarding and sharing the hotel’s incredible heritage.”
The Lord Elgin Hotel, owned since 1987 by Ottawa’s Gillin family, was built in the throes of war and during a pivotal period in the evolution of the National Capital Region. Hailed at the time by Prime Minister King as a symbol of Canadians’ faith that democracy would prevail in its fight against Nazi tyranny, The Lord Elgin was also a showpiece of collaboration amongst the federal government, the City of Ottawa and various private sector partners led by the U.S.-based Ford Hotels Company.
The Lord Elgin’s construction was undertaken with a great sense of urgency to address Ottawa’s acute lack of hotel rooms as the capital became a vital hub for wartime planning, equipment acquisition and troop movements. At the same time, however, the original plan for a boxy, unremarkable brick building was abandoned — almost entirely due to Prime Minister King’s personal interventions — in favour of a grand, stone-walled, “chateauesque” structure that helped set the tone for the modern, cosmopolitan capital to come. The elegantly designed, beautifully proportioned hotel embodied the kind of capital King envisioned for Canada and which, ultimately, was realized under the direction of the National Capital Commission.
The story of the birth of The Lord Elgin Hotel is finally being told as part of this year’s 75th anniversary celebrations. A commissioned history of the hotel’s origins, researched and written by Ottawa journalist and Carleton University professor Randy Boswell, has shed intriguing new light on the design, construction and inauguration of the building that has been, for more than seven decades, an important fixture of both the city’s streetscape and Ottawa’s hospitality industry.
The Lord Elgin’s anniversary commemorations will culminate on July 19, 2016 — 75 years to the day after the completed hotel was officially opened by Prime Minister King in a ceremony attended by much of the federal cabinet, ambassadors and many other dignitaries, and highlighted by the unveiling of the famous marble busts of Lord and Lady Elgin in the main lobby. Lord Elgin, the hotel’s namesake, was a 19th-century governor general who helped bring Responsible Government to Canada. His descendants, including the current 11th Earl of Elgin, have maintained a warm friendship with the staff and management of the hotel throughout its storied existence.
For more information, contact Ann Meelker, director of sales and marketing, Lord Elgin Hotel tel: 613-563-6409; firstname.lastname@example.org
Prime Minister Mackenzie King, top left, holds the trowel he used in the laying of the cornerstone of The Lord Elgin Hotel at a ceremony on Feb. 27, 1941, along with Ottawa Mayor Stanley Lewis (holding hat). Lower left, the cornerstone as it appears today, near the entrance to The Lord Elgin’s ‘Grill Forty One’ restaurant. Lower right, a new book chronicling the birth of the hotel 75 years ago.
The Lord Elgin Hotel features 355 well-appointed guest rooms and 13,000 square feet of meeting and conference space just steps away from the capital’s Parliament Hill. The hotel is located at 100 Elgin Street at Laurier Avenue, across from Confederation Park. The Lord Elgin Hotel is just a short walk away from some of the capital’s most significant landmarks including Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal, the National Gallery of Canada, the Byward Market, the National War Memorial, the U.S. Embassy, the National Arts Centre, and the Rideau Centre.
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