The Château Frontenac in Quebec City is easily identifiable — you can ask almost any Canadian in the country.
In the 1990’s, it came to be known as the most photographed hotel in the world. This year, it celebrates its 125th anniversary.
“People often, when they arrive, they’re very enchanted by the charm of the Château Frontenac and the atmosphere and the history,” said general manager Robert Mercure.
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The architect of the historic hotel, located in the heart of old Quebec, was inspired by the French castles.
Built on a cliff, it rises high above the Quebec City skyline.
The grand heritage railway hotel was built out of stone, which was fortunate because it caught fire in 1926.
“They had to pretty much redo the interior of the hotel,” Mercure explained, adding the structure of the hotel stayed intact.
Built in 1893, there was some discussion as to where to put the hotel.
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“I think there was about 20 years of discussions about where to situate the Château Frontenac when they were looking at building it…Eventually they decided to put it where it is today because of the 400 years of history of the site,” Mercure explained.
The city’s early founders used the site as a military fort, in part because it’s where the Saint Lawrence narrows and they could shoot canons across the river.
“This was always a very militarily-strategic area,” Mercure said.
“The Château Frontenac is more than a hotel, it really is a symbol of Canada.”
This made for an ideal location for top-secret meetings during World War Two.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King met at the Château in both 1943 and 1944.
“There was major security with the river, with the citadel and with us. They literally closed the hotel, they took over the entire hotel,” Mercure said.
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The world leaders plotted the invasion of Normandy, which changed the outcome of the war.
Hotel administration has planned a host of events for the year, including “a series of concerts of classical music and pop music, opera and rock.”
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The Château Frontenac has had its share of celebrity guests – from royals to actors, filmmakers and international superstars.
Paul McCartney stayed at the Château for Quebec City’s 400th anniversary — Mercure gave him a sweater before his performance.
“When he came out for his encore and played ‘Yesterday’…he was wearing the sweatshirt that I had given him,” Mercure said.
Mercure also said Celine Dion got her big break at the hotel when she sang in front of a group of Sony executives in the ballroom.
“They immediately signed her and then she instantly became an international star,” Mercure said.
The general manager said last year was the best financial year financially in the hotel’s history.
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“There’s a real exciting buzz about Quebec City as a destination,” he said.
“Whether it’s the Americans coming back; the Asian market is really expanding dramatically.”