by William Kendall @WilliamKendall1
Ghost stories abound throughout the world, from isolated homes in the countryside to small towns and even large cities.
Especially when October comes around and our thoughts turn to ghosts, goblins, and jack-o-lanterns. Such is the case in Ottawa, which has a wealth of ghost stories in some unexpected places, and even a tour company, the Haunted Walk, with several tailored tours of the city’s core and spooky stories that go along with it. One of those locales just happens to be our most prestigious hotel.
The Chateau Laurier is right downtown, on the east bank of the Rideau Canal, across from Parliament Hill. It forms part of what’s called Confederation Square, and dates back a century now. It is luxurious, welcoming, and has hosted the great and the good over a hundred plus years. Politicians, dignitaries, and celebrities have spent time here. The great portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh ran his studios out of the Chateau for the latter part of his career. Photographs of the hotel’s grand history can be found within. It is a landmark and a national historic site, and rightfully so.
And it has its ghosts.
The Chateau has the look of a castle, built in the French Gothic Chateau style. It was part of the era of railroad luxury hotels, commissioned by the president of the Grand Trunk Railway in tandem with his Union Station across the street. Charles Melville Hays named it in honour of the prime minister who helped get it built, and dreamed of it as a crown jewel in his railway hotels. It’s certainly maintained that crown jewel status, which Hays would approve of. In a way, he never left.
The hotel was to open in late April, 1912. Hays and his family had gone to Europe so that the railroad baron could secure further investment and purchase antique furnishings for his new hotel, soon to be opened. Returning from overseas, Hays booked passage on a ship you might have heard of.
Long story short, an iceberg decided to teach the “unsinkable” ship a lesson in respect, the ship went down with 1500 souls aboard, and Hays, his son-in-law, and his secretary were among them. It was said that he noted of the fierce competition between ocean crossing cruise lines: “The time will come soon when this trend will be checked by some appalling disaster.”
His body was recovered, and he was buried in Montreal. The opening of the hotel was delayed two months out of respect for the dead. And yet his spirit seems to have lingered, occasionally seen or felt in the hotel, the last major project he’d worked on in life. A spectre matching his description is sometimes seen, as is the ghost of a child. Unseen presences are known to move doors, furniture, or objects. Sounds are heard in rooms where no one should be.
In 2012, the centennial of the official opening was held, with the hotel open for business, cake marking the occasion, and people in period clothing of the time strolling around its corridors and promenades. One of the images of that day that sticks with me (and which I wish I would have photographed) was a young woman in Edwardian era formal wear, descending a staircase… and checking her messages on her mobile. I wonder what Hays would have thought of that.
The Chateau is an enchanting sight in the city, and a favourite photo subject for me. It remains the place to be seen today, with countless souls having had enjoyed its hospitality down through a century. Some of those souls appear to be staying there on a permanent basis… and in doing so have added to the mystique and character of the place.
What are some of your favorite haunts?
And Frankly, My Dear . . . That’s all she wrote!
William Kendall is a photoblogger who finds the unique perspective in everyday life. You can follow him on his writing blog, Speak Of The Devil, his photoblog Ottawa Daily Posts, and Twitter @WilliamKendall1.