The Hotel Saskatchewan, Autograph Collection, is a stately hub in Regina

The Railway Hotels of Western Canada

By D. Grant Black

Like the British royal family, I too prefer a hotel with history, elegance and a central location.

Enter Canada’s railway hotels. These stately structures are the spawn of our country’s two continental railways: Canadian Pacific (CPR) and Grand Trunk. Most of the regal properties were designed to emulate European castles in the Châteauesque and Scottish Baronial styles of architecture.

During the early 20th century, when England’s monarchs and their families began visiting Western Canada, the railway barons anticipated their arrival with at least one grand hotel in each major Prairie city.

King George V, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II have all stayed at the five railway hotels on the Prairies. Here, we take a brief tour of the best of the west’s railway hotels, where you too will be treated like a king or queen, if only for a day.

The Hotel Macdonald, named after Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A., opened in 1915. This 11-floor, 199-room Grand Trunk Pacific Hotel was built in the Châteauesque style and overlooks the North Saskatchewan River Valley.

In 1939, “The Mac” hosted King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who caused Edmonton’s first traffic jam when well-wishers gathered below the main balcony for a glimpse. The renamed Queen Elizabeth II Suite is a 220-square-metre space with a stun-ning view of the river valley.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, try to catch The Royal Tea & Tour to partake in specialty teas, pastries and finger sandwiches, all created in-house.

Visitors entering the lobby of the hotel will immediately spot the opulent marble and fumed oak panelling. The Grey Tennessee marble contrasts with Botticino columns that support the ceiling and green marble bases.

This luxury hotel was built in 1914 according to Edwardian Commercial style. The Palliser’s shape was influenced by Chicago skyscrapers and designed to resemble very elaborate Prairie grain elevators.

The hotel rests next to the CPR tracks, which once connected well-heeled hotel guests to passenger trains heading to the Rockies or back east.

A big attraction for guests is the Wild Rose Alberta Afternoon Tea, offered daily in the Rimrock Dining Room. To treat yourself, stay in an expansive king suite on the Gold Floor, which offers special privileges like complimentary breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres.

railway hotels of western canada fairmont palliser afternoon tea
Afternoon tea is a classy affair at the Fairmont Palliser

In the late 1920s, the Canadian National Railway (CNR), a nationalized railway formed in 1919 to absorb the Grand Trunk and four smaller railways, decided to construct a luxury hotel in Saskatoon, a.k.a. the Paris of the Prairies. The company constructed its imposing edifice near downtown, between two riverfront parks. In 1931, CNR received word that Sir Vere Brabazon Ponsonby, the 9th Earl of Bessborough and Governor General of Canada, had given consent for the hotel to be officially named “The Bessborough.”

Upon completion in 1932, “The Bess” was the most modern hotel in the Dominion, with automatic elevators to transport guests to its 225 guest rooms, which included 16 suites. It’s equally modern today, having earned its fifth-consecutive CAA/AAA Four Diamond Award. Venture up to the turret rooms for truly stunning views of the South Saskatchewan River.

By the mid-1920s, CPR officials decided it was time “The Queen City” had a grand hotel of its own. They chose a site near Victoria Park to build Regina’s first and only railway hotel. The hotel’s exterior is pale Manitoba Tyndall stone and the interior, at the time, became the epitome of luxury.

This 224-room, 10-storey structure was built to be self-contained with its own power and water source. It opened on May 24, 1927, just a few blocks from CPR’s passenger line. Regina now had its grand palace to accommodate and entertain the upper classes, especially visiting royalty. Earlier this year, the luxe hotel earned a coveted CAA/AAA Four Diamond Award.

In 2012, this humble writer got to test out the Royal Suite a week before Prince Charles and Camilla’s visit. The impressive dining room seats more than a dozen guests and boasts a fully stocked butler’s pantry. The three-sided suite provides a panoramic view of downtown Regina and Victoria Park. For royal tuck-ins, the elevated king-size bed needs a booster stool.

In 1911, the Grand Trunk Railway began to build the Fort Garry Hotel after completing the link between its east and west lines. Set firmly in Winnipeg’s central core, the new hotel was just one block from the railway’s Union Station.

When the towering 14-storey hotel opened in 1913, it was Winnipeg’s first skyscraper—and the Manitoba capital became known as the “Chicago of the North.” Even today, this luxurious structure still delivers old world elegance with a grand exterior staircase, marble-encrusted lobby, Corinthian columns, sparkling chandeliers and four grand ballrooms.

Touring Royals opt for the Vice Regal Suite, which you too can reserve. Here, guests can revel in their own royal moments and bask in luxury, one fleeting night at a time.