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The History of the Ritz-Carlton Montreal

Only a very few hotels in the world are inexorably linked to the history of the cities where they are located. The Ritz-Carlton Montreal is one of those hotels.

For more than a century, the “Grand Dame of Sherbrooke Street” has been at the social heart of Montreal.  Not only has the hotel welcomed illustrious guests for  a century, it has been the place where eminent local Montrealers  from the worlds of politics, literature, fashion, high society and the arts have come to meet over a glass of champagne or a lunch in the garden.

Important events in the history of Quebec have been discussed here, royalty have slept here and weddings have been celebrated here. The hotel has proven itself able to adapt to changing times, always a source of pride for the city. Perhaps it is because, from the very beginning, the hotel was built to the exacting standards of the legendary hotelier, Cesar Ritz.

The idea of a luxury hotel on Sherbrooke Street was the dream of four wealthy Montreal investors who felt the city needed a property fit to welcome the “carriage trade”.

The hotel was to have been named The Carlton, until one of the investors, Charles Hosmer, suggested that the property would benefit from the input from his friend Cesar Ritz. Ritz agreed to give the rights of his name to the hotel provided it included luxuries that were very rare at the time, including washrooms in every room.

Other amenities that Ritz insisted upon were around-the-clock dining, an excellent concierge desk and most importantly – a grand staircase so that the ladies could make dramatic entrances in their gowns during formal functions.

The ladies of Montreal did just that the night of December 31, 1912, when The Ritz-Carlton Montreal – the first hotel in the world to bear the name Ritz-Carlton – held its first official celebratory gala.

The hotel that opened its doors that glittering night was designed by New York architectural firm, Warren & Wetmore, whose other achievements include Grand Central Station, as well as the Biltmore, Vanderbilt, and Ritz hotels in New York City.

A Neo-classical building constructed in the palazzo style, it was inspired by the architecture of brothers Robert and James Adam.  Built for $3 million, the majestic hotel quickly established an esteemed reputation which led to it being selected as the site for the first transcontinental phone call in February, 1916.

When Hollywood stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks booked rooms at The Ritz-Carlton, crowds thronged outside to see them. Fairbanks would climb out onto the hotel’s balcony above the sidewalk to acknowledge the ardent admirers.

The Ritz-Carlton Montreal is the city’s only luxury hotel dating from 1880 to 1940 that is still in operation, which attests to the economic power of the city’s elite of this era that was largely concentrated in the Golden Square Mile area.

In 1950, another significant moment in The Ritz-Carlton Montreal’s history was marked by the opening of The Ritz Garden.

Renowned past guests include; Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, George Bush Sr., as well as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who held their 1964 wedding ceremony at the hotel.

During the summer months, guests could enjoy lunch or dinner outdoors by the garden pond and watch the hotel ducklings frolic in the water. In 1956, a new wing comprised of 67 rooms and suites was built in keeping with the spirit of The Ritz’s original architecture and design.

Since its opening, The Ritz-Carlton Montreal has been the hotel of choice for high profile guests and the most discerning travellers from around the globe.

The Ritz-Carlton Montreal closed its doors in 2008 to undergo a major renovation which would revive its title as the "Grande Dame" of Sherbrooke Street. 

Throughout this renovation, utmost care was taken to ensure that the character and charm of this iconic hotel was preserved.

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