Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello

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Discover the Fairmont Château Montebello, which was once the home of the exclusive Seigniory Club.

Fairmont Le Château Montebello, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2017, dates back to 1930.

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At the height of the Roaring Twenties, a Swiss-American entrepreneur named Harold M. Saddlemire managed to acquire a tract of land along the Ottawa River. The area was once part of a brilliant estate inhabited by the prominent Papineau family for more than a century. Saddlemire decided to purchase the location, for he envisioned it hosting a private wilderness retreat meant only for the most illustrious guests. Originally calling the project “Lucerne-in-Québec,” Saddlemire began constructing a massive wooden cabin that would become one of the largest in the entire world. He charged its construction with the renowned Finnish architect Victor Nymark who relied upon rustic design aesthetics for his inspiration. Contractor Harold Landry Furst teamed together with Nymark to provide a source of labor, ultimately importing a team of 3,500 workers to develop the site. In all, some 10,000 red cedar logs were used to construct the building and its surrounding facilities, which was all done carefully by hand. The project began in earnest just months before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Despite the economic fallout that affected economies across the globe, Saddlemire still managed to develop his luxurious retreat within a matter of months.

Saddlemire’s exclusive club debuted before an enthusiastic crowd on July 1, 1930. Three days after it opened, Saddlemire commemorated the moment by holding a magnificent costumed ball. By this point, he had come to call the retreat the “Seigniory Club.” Saddlemire had settled on the new name as an ode to the religious Séminaire de Québec, which had owned the are prior to the Papineaus during the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of Canada’s leading citizens quickly became members, including the heads of the Bank of Montréal, the National Bank of Canada, and the Royal Bank of Canada. Even Louis-Alexandre Taschereau—then the Primer of Québec—was a member of Saddlemire’s fabulous retreat. Yet, the Seignory Club also hosted dozens of special guests throughout its early history, including the likes of Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford. U.S. President Harry S. Truman was perhaps the most distinguished visitor to grace the club, who spent several days at the location amid his tour of Canada in 1947. The president had specifically singled out the Seignory Club in order to fish for some spectacular Canadian trout.

Canadian Pacific Railways eventually gained control over the site in 1970, transforming it into a public resort known as the “Château Montebello.” Nonetheless, its glamour and prestige remained untouched. Countless international luminaries continued to flock to the location, including Emperor Akihito of Japan, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Prince Rainier of Monaco, and his wife, actress Grace Kelly. Château Montebello also soon grew a reputation for hosting several important international conferences, starting with the 7th G7 Summit in 1981. This event was attended by some of the most powerful individuals in the world at the time, such as U.S. President Ronald Regan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and French President Françoise Mitterrand. Similar gatherings occurred over the next several decades, with the last event transpiring during the late 2000s. Today, the hotel is proudly operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts as the “Fairmont Le Château Montebello.” A member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2017, as well, this outstanding historic destination is among the most exclusive vacation retreats still open in Canada.

  • About the Location +

    The land upon which the Fairmont Le Château Montebello currently resides was once part of a massive founded by the Papineau family in 1801. The scions of Joseph Papineau, the Papineau family was heavily involved in Canadian politics throughout the 19th century. They specifically championed the preservation of French-Canadian culture and political power at a time when Canada’s national identity was becoming far more anglicized. Louis-Joseph Papineau was the most prominent politician born of the family, having founded the nationalistic Patriote Movement of the early 1800s. The movement eventually spawned a revolt known as the Lower Canada Rebellion, which sought to resist the rise in British colonial power in Québec. Louis-Joseph Papineau was one of the central leaders, alongside such individuals like Jean-Oliver Chénier and Thomas Storrow Brown. Fought in the late 1830s, the rebellion ultimately proved futile. The uprising was quelled in 1838, with many of the ringleaders interred in various prison camps. Papineau himself fled into exile a year later, only returning to Canada in 1845 when he was finally granted amnesty.

    Louis-Joseph Papineau soon returned to political life, serving in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada from 1848 to 1852. (The Province of Canada was a union formed between the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada following the failed rebellion of the late 1830s). A committed republican, Papineau remained committed to protecting the rights of French Canadians during his term in office. Around this time, he constructed a magnificent turreted stone manor on the grounds of his family’s estate called “Manior Papineau.” Constructed downstream from Montréal along the banks of the Ottawa River, Papineau lived at the estate with his wife and four children for the remainder of his life. It would continue as the home of the Papineau family for the next seven decades, with his youngest daughter, Azélie, inheriting it sometime after his death in 1871. According to Parks Canada—which became the steward of the site in 1993—the manor’s architecture:

    “Represents a blend of stylistic influences similar in many respects to that which is encountered in contemporaneous neoclassical villas. Its sculpted decor recalls the Greek Revival style. From the river, the house appears as a monumental elevation flanked by two corner towers. The facade and hip slopes of the roof present an overhang of unusual proportions, in a muted reference to the Regency style. The conic roof atop the stair tower built following a fire in 1892 is representative of the Queen Anne Revival. Finally, interior door openings between adjoining rooms were aligned to create particular interior perspectives, in keeping with French architectural tradition. The spiral staircase located in one of the towers also shows the influence of this tradition. The unusual positioning of the main reception rooms to the back of the ground floor, combined with the abundant fenestration on the lower two levels of the east tower, recall that a conservatory was once located here.”

    This brilliant destination is now recognized by the Canadian government as a National Historic Site of Canada. Its amazing architectural designs are some of the finest in the region, as are its views overlooking the Ottawa River. But the site is also a widely celebrated landmark in Québec due to its connection to Louis-Joseph Papineau. Even though Papineau’s movement ultimately failed during the late 1830s, it had successfully sparked a proud sense of patriotism among the Québécoise that lasts to this very day. As such, the Manoir Papineau National Historic Site continues to be one of the most important symbols of French-Canadian heritage in Canada today.


  • About the Architecture +

    When Harold M. Saddlemire began developing his exclusive wilderness retreat along the banks of the Ottawa River, he intended for it to be unmatched in its rustic beauty and elegance. As such, he tasked the renowned Finnish architect Victor Nymark to create its beautiful appearance. Having just completed the Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta—another member of Historic Hotels Worldwide—Nymark was celebrated throughout Canada for his rustic woodworking. And like the Jasper Park Lodge, he relied upon the area’s pastoral environment as the source of his inspiration. Nymark worked closely with a contractor named Harold Landry Furst, who managed the 3,500 team of workers that created the Seignory Club. Taking just four months to complete, hundreds of laborers worked around the clock on alternating schedules every day of the week. Nymark and Furst even imported electrical lighting so that the work would continue unfettered late into the night. But the most surprising aspect of the project was that the craftsmen and workers built a significant portion of the club before either Nymark or Furst had even furnished the final blueprints!

    In all, Nymark and Furst imported some 10,000 red cedar logs from British Columbia to develop the Seignory Club’s main structure (now the Fairmont Le Château Montebello), as well as its two attending buildings. The transportation of the wood from across Canada proved to be easier than expected, since a local spur of the Canadian Pacific Railway was located mere moments away. Measuring at 4 million cubic feet, the club’s main building ranked among the largest log cabins ever constructed in the entire world. The logs themselves were painted black on the outside and were festooned with countless decorative wall carvings. Nymark and Furst divided the building’s layout into four distinctive, star-shaped wings that housed more than 200 beautiful guestrooms and suites. A magnificent central lobby sat at the center, capped by a three-story atrium and 70-foot-long rotunda. The lobby’s fireplace served as the centerpiece of the space, which included a massive chimney that rose 65 feet above the ground. Nymark and Furst also used more than 500,000 hand-slit cedar roof shakes for the main building’s roofing, as well as 103 miles of wooden molding.

    The specific architectural style that characterized the Seignory Club’s overall appearance is best defined as “National Park Service Rustic.” As the name would suggest, the form first became prominent in the United States before its spread into Canada. Architect Herbert Maier conceptualized the aesthetic while he was studying the Arts and Crafts movement at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 20th century. Rejecting the design aesthetics of industrialized society, Maier created an architectural form that utilized building materials to better connect a structure to its natural surroundings. Following his graduation from school, he quickly set about designing several structures with his novel architectural approach. Maier found a particularly receptive audience at the National Park Service, as many alumni—including his friend Ansel F. Hall—had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley around the same time. Other architects soon adopted Maier’s mentality and it quickly became the preferred architectural style of the National Park Service. Its use only became more widespread in America when the Civilian Conservation Corps began erecting dozens of new park structures during the 1930s. Yet, its popularity throughout North America eventually waned by the middle of the century, as architects began embracing newer design philosophies.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Bing Crosby, singer and actor known for his roles in Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s.

    Joan Crawford, actress known for her roles in Mildred Place and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

    Bette Davis, actress known for her roles in All About Eve, Jezebel, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

    Perry Como, singer remembered as “Mr. C” who won five Emmy Awards.

    Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister of Canada (1963 – 1968)

    Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada (1968 – 1979; 1980 – 1984)

    Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada (2006 – 2015)

    Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of West Germany (1974 – 1982)

    Giovanni Spadolini, Prime Minister of Italy (1981 – 1982)

    Zenkō Suzuki, Prime Minister of Japan (1980 – 1982)

    François Mitterrand, President of France (1981 – 1995)

    Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979 – 1990)

    Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico (2006 – 2012)

    Prince Rainier III of Monaco (1949 – 2005)

    Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, famous American film actress known for Mogambo and wife of Prince Rainier III.

    Queen Juliana of the Netherlands (1948 – 1980)

    Emperor Akihito of Japan (1989 – 2019)

    King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom (1936; later the Duke of Windsor following his abdication)

    Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States (1945 – 1953)

    Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States (1981 – 1989)

    George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States (2001 – 2009)


  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    Custody (2007)

    The Kate Logan Affair (2010)

    The Jensen Project (2010)


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