Two of Canada’s historic railway hotels — Toronto’s Royal York and Vancouver’s Hotel Vancouver — are up for sale as Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec moves to get out of the hotel business.

The Quebec pension fund has scaled down ownership of hotels over the past three years from about 70 to fewer than a dozen. A Caisse spokesman said Friday the hotels were now a “non-strategic asset class.” 

Also up for sale are five other locations —Fairmont hotels in Victoria, Barbados, Seattle and Washington, D.C., along with the Hilton Downtown Atlanta.

Last year, it sold Ottawa’s Fairmont Chateau Laurier to an affiliate of Vancouver’s Larco Investments.

Its portfolio of hotels will be reduced to three, including the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, the W Montreal and the Queen Elizabeth in downtown Montreal, which will be renovated.

"It's hard to be an expert in everything everywhere and we now want to refocus and concentrate on these three asset classes," executive vice-president Sylvain Fortier said in an interview.

He said hotels are too cyclical, seasonal and volatile for most institutional investors like the Caisse. It prefers to invest in real estate assets such as office and residential buildings and retail properties.

"We feel that we're not hotel experts and we want to leave that to those who are."

Both the Royal York and Hotel Vancouver are managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and have prominent downtown locations.

Iconic hotels

Royal York was built by CP Railway in 1929 on Toronto’s Front Street opposite Union Station and was for many years the tallest building in Toronto.

Hotel Vancouver, also part of the CP hotel chain, was built in 1939 on Burrard Street in Vancouver, replacing a hotel of the same name a block away that operated under the same name.

Queen Elizabeth is one of many distinguished guests who has stayed at both the Royal York and Hotel Vancouver.

The Caisse has not revealed how much it expects to get for the properties.

The Caisse and partners Westmont Hospitality Group and InnVest Real Estate Investment Trust spent $2.5 billion in 2007 to buy 25 luxury Fairmont and Delta hotels across Canada. The Caisse obtained 14 of the properties.

The Caisse is Canada’s second-largest pension fund, after the Canada Pension Plan, and has $200 billion under management.