Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chateau Montebello

I imagine that I first heard of Chateau Montebello back in the 1980s when two important events transpired there — the G7 Summit in 1981 and the NATO summit in 1983. More recently, in 2007, Montebello also hosted the Trilateral Summit (or the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America summit) consisting of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and President George W. Bush.

Back then and up until just a few years ago, I didn't realize that it was a hotel that is also open to the public. It was a neighbour in Sarnia who informed me that he stayed there one night and insisted that it was a place to be experienced. Back when we were formulating plans, we had briefly considered spending a night as part of our fortieth anniversary celebrations, but the price put a damper on that — we find $200 and up per night is a little steep.

However, on Sunday, on our way to a more modest establishment in the neighbouring province of Quebec we discovered that one could freely walk the grounds and take a gander (gander as in peek, not a goose) inside. But it was a cool and windy sort of day, so we demurred. On Monday, however, the weather was delightful, so we took our curious selves out of our way to drive back to Montebello on the banks of the Ottawa River. I'm glad we did. Assuming that every excursion has a highlight, this was it for me this weekend.

We walked into the property from the old railway station, which is now a tourist centre on the eastern edge of the very extensive grounds. The saunter from station to chateau probably only takes ten minutes, but, of course, it took us longer, for we couldn't not stop to see a few unexpected sites: such as a patch of red trilliums in the woods.

You might recall that it was just about a week ago that I mourned not finding any red trilliums locally. Well, we weren't looking for trilliums of any kind this past weekend, but we serendipitously stumbled upon a patch regardless. In point of fact, they were more pink or lavender (see photo below) than red, but there were several shades and a few plants were closer to the red that I have seen in pictures. However, I presume that whatever the exact tint of a specific plant, they are all red trilliums. At least, my brief effort at googling didn't offer any other explanation, except to indicate that the red trilium may also be referred to as the purple trillium.

Another surprise: as we emerged from the woods but before we arrived at the chateau itself, we came upon a group of buildings which comprise the Manoir Papineau National Historic Site of Canada (manoir being the French version of manor). On the off-chance that I might wish to present more detail in a later post, I refrain from further comment but will offer you the photo below of the manor house of the eminent historical figure, Louis-Joseph Papineau. Apparently, it is sometimes open for visitors to browse for a fee, but not when we were wandering by. Several other buildings from his historical estate also exist on the estate.

Finally, we came to the marvellous log, quintessentially Canadiana structure that is Chateau Montebello. The photo shows the centre hub from the outside and two of the four wings.

Built in 90 days in 1930, Montebello existed a private playground for the rich and famous for forty years until 1970 when it became accessible to the public as part of the Canadian Pacific chain of hotels. Almost three decades later it passed into the Fairmont empire before it was sold again three years ago although property signage indicates that it is still affiliated with the Fairmont chain.

A distinctive exterior feature seen in the photo below is how the tips of the logs at the corners are painted red. We wondered at this oddity at the time, but I believe it may have to do with Canada's colour being red.

It's pretty impressive inside too in a rustic, Canadian sort of way. They keep it quite dark in the lobby, so my hand-held, slow-shutter-speed, high ISO photos are a bit grainy, but here they are regardless. Let's start with two photos of the fine ceiling.

The floor level view is also distinctive and impressive. The first shows part of the almost floor-to-roof stone fireplace while Cuppa relaxes and enjoys the ambiance in the second photo.

We decided to savour the experience — literally — so we ordered a cup of coffee from the waiter with a lovely French accent. He was the one who filled us in on a bit of the history which I mentioned above. He was actually more informative than the website. The coffee was really, really good but at ten dollars for two small mugs without recourse to refills, we didn't stay around for seconds. The two cups weren't really ten dollars but over over seven with tax, so in a what the heck mood, I left the change for my ten on the table. For a few moments, drinking fine, expensive coffee in such a wonderful building, I felt a twinkle of what it must be like to be rich. And I suppose I am in my own way.

Finally, here is Cuppa enjoying her expensive cuppa and a photo looking down into the dining room.

Who knows, perhaps if my ship comes in (thanks for that expression, Dad), we'll go back for a night for our forty-fifth or fiftieth. Probably not, but I'm right chuffed to have been able to visit ever so briefly.


Barry said...

I really enjoyed this post Anvil! What a beautiful place and your wife looks right at home there in the lobby.

Donna said...

Built in 90 days??? Good Lord!
Great tour Ac!!hughugs

Heather Plett said...

Looks lovely!

KGMom said...

It is a lovely looking place.
$10 for 2 coffees? Whew.
I am glad that at least it was really good.

Mary G said...

We got to play with the rich when our kids managed to arrange a weekend there for us for our 45th wedding anniversary. The Sunday brunch has to be eaten to be believed, and there is a huge pool and exercise complex as well.
Super photos -- really shows the place off!
But we missed the Chateau, which closes in winter. Thanks for the info.
I think that the purple ones are older reds, as they fade, the same as the white ones go pink.

Anonymous said...

Written so well I felt as though I was there with you. Although that would make me a gooseberry! Loved the post and the pics.

Anonymous said...

Man do I ever want to visit Canada with guides like you folks. The photos are delightful.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

It is a lovely place. The kind of place only a politician on the public purse could afford.

I have sat in the lobby of a few elegant hotels and tried to act like I belonged while people watching.

One luxury I used to enjoy was the Empire Room in the Royal York Hotel when it was a dinner club, (one of the last) with live band and singers. That was back in the day when I thought I might try to be a sophisticated urbanite.

Woman in a Window said...

What an amazing place. I love that even though it's grand, it's rustic. That feeds me, it does, and I don't even have to leave a ten.