Montreal

The Château Frontenac enters its 125th year of glitz & glamour

The prestigious hotel will be holding events throughout the year, and most of them will be free, says hotel's executive director, Robert Mercure.

Luxury hotel commits to free events, accessible to all during coming year's activities

Château Frontenac towers over the St. Lawrence on a wintry Quebec City day. The famous hotel's 125th birthday celebrations got underway Monday. (Julia Page/CBC)

If these walls could talk.

Quebec City's Château Frontenac, one of Canada's most recognizable architectural gems, which turns 125 years next year, has seen nobility and rock stars roam its expansive hallways.

World leaders strategized in secret in its conference rooms.

The prestigious copper-spired hotel that towers above the St. Lawrence River will be holding events throughout the year to mark its 125th anniversary, and most of them will be free so that everyone can partake in them, said the hotel's executive director, Robert Mercure. 

"We're all owners of the Château. We want it to be accessible and for all Quebecers to feel welcome here," Mercure said. 

The Château Frontenac opened its doors on Dec.18, 1893, as part of a push by Canadian Pacific Railway to drive luxury tourism across the country. 

'More than 125 years of history'

Robert Mercure, executive director of the Château Frontenac, inaugurates the hotel's 125th year. (CBC)

"It resides literally on the birthplace of Canada and New France,'' Mercure said. 

The hotel is built on Cap Diamant, a stone's throw from the Plains of Abraham and near the spot where the explorer Samuel de Champlain landed before founding New France.

It is built on the foundations of Château Saint Louis and Château Haldimand, where governors of New France resided.

When it opened, it had 170 rooms, but it's been expanded several times since and now has more than 600 rooms. 

The Château Frontenac can be seen from kilometres away. (Julia Page/CBC)

The Château Frontenac was designed by the American architect Bruce Price, who also drew up the plans for Montreal's Viger Station near the Old Port, as well as Windsor Station, near the Bell Centre. 

Guest registry filled with names of famous

The château has buzzed with glitz and glamour as long as it's been around, its guest registry signed by celebrities, politicians and athletes — among them Queen Elizabeth II, Céline Dion, Paul McCartney, Princess Grace of Monaco and Charlie Chaplin.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip stayed at the Château Frontenac during one of their royal tours. (CBC)

The highly secret Québec Conferences of 1943 and 1944 were held at the Frontenac.

Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King hosted members of the Allied Forces, including U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill there, as they planned the future course of the war.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Canadian Prime Minster William Lyon Mackenzie King arrive at the Château Frontenac in the 1940s, during one of the two Québec Conferences hosting the Allies of World War Two. (CBC)

The final details of Italy's surrender were worked out there.

Later, Alfred Hitchcock took a liking to the castle-like building. Hitchcock filmed I Confess there in 1953. 

Revamped, but ghost of Frontenac lingers

On Monday, the hotel hosted high tea, and actors personifying colonial Quebec figures, including de Champlain and Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac gave visitors and journalists a tour.

The hotel, a National Historic Site and part of the historic district of Old Quebec, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, is characterized by its 12 kilometres of cavernous hallways, sparkling chandeliers, elaborate stonework and shining brass accents. 

The Château's lobby's ceilings were painted blue when it was renovated in 2013-2014 in an effort to brighten up the space. (CBC)

It underwent $75 million in renovations in 2013 and 2014. The changes included brightening the interior with fresh coats of icy blue paint, revamping the hotel's restaurants and three-fifths of its rooms. 

However,  the ghost of Frontenac still haunts the château, said Bernard Crustin, who incarnated de Champlain Monday, with a knowing smile. 

With files from Angelica Montgomery and Radio-Canada

now