Articles

THE HOTEL WITH THE ELEGANT AIR

You may speak with awe of Shepheard’s And the Savoy in the Strand And boast of caravanserais From Banff to Samarkand But at the Manoir Richelieu Soundproof champagne flows like beer And lambs eat salted grasses For Brenda Duff Frazier

KEN JOHNSTONE April 15 1952
Articles

THE HOTEL WITH THE ELEGANT AIR

You may speak with awe of Shepheard’s And the Savoy in the Strand And boast of caravanserais From Banff to Samarkand But at the Manoir Richelieu Soundproof champagne flows like beer And lambs eat salted grasses For Brenda Duff Frazier

KEN JOHNSTONE April 15 1952

THE HOTEL WITH THE ELEGANT AIR

KEN JOHNSTONE

You may speak with awe of Shepheard’s And the Savoy in the Strand And boast of caravanserais From Banff to Samarkand But at the Manoir Richelieu Soundproof champagne flows like beer And lambs eat salted grasses For Brenda Duff Frazier

OF ALL THE devices used in Canada to ensnare the American tourist dollar the plush resort hotel is perhaps the most impressive. Across Canada, strategically situated in locales of almost stupefying beauty and surrounded by all the amenities and comforts traditionally associated wiih vacation, a dozen multimillion-dollar investments stand as beacons in the wilderness. All of them are luxury hotels and all of them enjoy a large American patronage. But of the whole glittering galaxy in Canada’s super-resort crown the brightest jewel by far is that sparkling on the side of a mountain along the St. Lawrence River, the Manoir Richelieu at Murray Bay.

The Manoir does not achieve its pre-eminence from such tangible factors as superior facilities or attractions. But there is an air about it not duplicated anywhere else, and it is that atmosphere which first intimidates and then finally captivates its visitors, changing passing birds of flight into homing pigeons for years on end.

One has only to walk through the lobby of the Manoir to become aware of its peculiar quality of old-world elegance and unobtrusively wealthy leisure. It breathes up from the period furniture and oriental rugs and it radiates from the careful deference of the staff. You walk carefully not to disturb the ghosts, when a live one peers at you from over a newspaper, or looks up enquiringly from its canasta when you pause at the door of one of the games rooms off the lobby, you are inclined to retreat to Vaczlav Van Brozik’s huge painting of Columbus at the Court of Isabella. Then, rea'ÁzviYg you are aot m court clothes, you slink out abashed.

Partly the atmosphere is calculated, partly it is a tradition. The tradition comes out of the historical background of Murray Bay, or La Malbaie as it is better known in Quebec. Here, history says, in 1608 Samuel Champlain brought his fleet to anchor in the broad bay on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, about ninety miles below Quebec. A sudden storm threatened some of his ships and Champlain thereupon named the spot La Malbaie, or “Bad Bay.” Following Wolfe’s victory General Murray turned over the two seigniories in the district to two of his officers, Col. John Nairne and Col. Malcolm Fraser, and the district was renamed Murray Bay in his honor.

Murray Bay rapidly gained its reputation as a summer resort. As early as 1791 Nairne wrote

a Montreal friend: “You shall drink the best of

wheys and breathe the purest sea air in the world and, although luxuries will be wanting, our friendship and the best things the place can afford to you, I know, will make ample amends.”

Whey is no longer served at the Manoir Richelieu but there is ample luxury to replace it, and the sea air has not changed. About thirty years ago the late President of the United States, William Howard Taft, testified: “The air of Murray Bay invigorates like champagne without that beverage’s ‘morning after.’ ”

Between the period of these two observations Murray Bay, and with it the Manoir Richelieu, created that unique background which is such a great part of its charm today. Families from Quebec and Montreal began to make the summer pilgrimage regularly as far back as a hundred years ago. Among the first to settle in the district as permanent summer residents were the Buchanans, the Blakes, the Henshaws and the Lambs. They were later joined by American summer residents, among the first of whom were the Tafts. The former American President, who later became U. S. Supreme Court justice, seems to have attracted with him a considerable wing of the American judiciary, for Justices Harlan and Hughes became regular visitors. Nor were Canadian legal lights lacking. Murray Bay counts among its present and former summer residents Justices Sévigny, Marchand, Letourneau, Greenshields, Fitzpatrick and Cannon.

At first the summer visitors found accommodation with local residents or stayed at the modest

Lome House on the site of the present Manoir. Then they began to build their own magnificent summer homes and the steamship line which brought them to Murray Bay—then the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company, now Canada Steamship Lines—bought up the desirable site of the Lome House and built its first Manoir Richelieu, an impressive wooden structure of two hundred rooms. That was in 1901. The summer residents built their homes along the mountain, eastward from the Manoir, and the road which led to their palatial residences became known as the Boulevard.

Today the signposts at the entrances of the Boulevard homes offer a good cross section of Canadian and American upper crust. There are the (Dominion Corsets) Amyots of Quebec City, father and son; the socialite Bancrofts of New York and the ditto Binsses of Washington, who count a rear-admiral in their gathering; the two elderly Blaikie ladies, one of Toronto’s oldest families; the leading Montreal legal lights, the Buchanans. Then there is Mrs. F. H. Cabot of the Boston Cabots, no less, with her considerable family which she has settled in elegant homes over the Fraser seigniory. Charles Cannon, MP, represents the Magdalen Islands, and the Caverhills of Montreal are of the old wholesale firm of Caverhill and Laermont. Roddy Choquette of Montreal is the laundry king and John D. Coffin of New York, former Hearst executive, has built several paper mills in Canada. Sidney Dawes is the head of Atlas Construction, currently working on Toronto’s subway. The Donohue family of Quebec City— George, Mark and Charles—have Continued on page 30

Hotel With the Elegant Air

Continued from page 13

a newsprint mill within a few miles of their summer homes. Leo Timmins is of the N. A. Timmins Corporation and Hollinger Mines fame. The Hamilton Fishes of New York have long heen prominent in the U. S. Republican Party. Sen. Léon Mercier Gouin, leading Montreal lawyer, is a son of the former Quebec premier. The McGraths of Warrenton, Va., own Rotary Steel. The Harold Kennedys have sold their

shipping line. Peter Fortune Ryan still has his share of the one hundred and sixty millions that grandfather Thomas Fortune Ryan left when he died in the early Twenties. Republican presidential candidate Sen. Robert Taft and his brother Charles continue the Taft tradition at Murray Bay. And so the list goes on.

These people, who have been coming literally for generations, make their presence felt in the atmosphere of the Manoir. In the early days, during its two-hundred-room period, the Manoir served as a kind of clubhouse for the

Boulevard crowd and was peopled almost exclusively by their friends. The atmosphere was close, comfortable and clannish. Then, at the close of the 1928 season, the old hotel burned to the ground in a couple of hours.

The disaster found the Manoir with a solid hooking for the 1929 season and a president-managing director of remarkable energy, William H. Coverdale. During the winter of 1928-29 contractors worked the clock around and, by July 1, 1929, the new threehundred-and-fifty-room Manoir was ready to receive its first guests.

The present imposing edifice, a fivestory ivy-clad grey concrete structure topped by a green copper roof in feudal Norman style, stands as an impressive monument to a remarkable man. Coverdale had both imagination and unlimited energy. He furnished the Manoir with a collection of genuine French chateau-style pieces, the graceful lines of which are only matched by the solid comfort in their depths. He contributed what is generally considered to be one of the best collections of Canadiana in existence to cover its walls: maps, documents (including a

royal proclamation dated 1630 forbidding the sale of “habiliments of warre” to the saurages), paintings, drawings and etchings to the number of three thousand and valued at almost one million dollars. The first thousand items he collected in a year, and he spent the next twenty years building the collection. In the last year of his life, three years ago, six huge anchors with anchor chains arrived at the Manoir by flatcar. He died before he got around to telling anyone their history, but they repose in a choice spot on the lawn across from the Manoir’s entrance.

But the new Manoir marked the beginning of the end of an era; the era in which it was more of a private club than a resort hotel. For not all the well-settled Boulevard crowd could fill the three hundred and fifty rooms and seven cottages that comprised the Manoir’s seven-hundred-person capacity. Canada Steamship Lines let it be known that the Manoir stood ready to receive summer visitors "who could pay the tariff. Outsiders began to drift in and, coming once, were enchanted. Returning, they became part of the regime.

“Peasants” in the Wings

Until two years ago this peculiar regime was best expressed in the person of Lady Jane Williams-Taylor, tall, statuesque, supremely elegant in her eighty-fifth year. Sir Frederick Williams-Taylor, for many years general manager of the Bank of Montreal, was a gentleman of the old school. A Nova Scotian, he had been knighted when he was with the bank in London and he brought a British atmosphere back with him. After he retired from the bank they customarily divided their year between Nassau and Murray Bay, and in either place it was Lady Jane who headed up the social register. Guests at the Manoir still talk about the way Lady Jane and her retinue swept into dinner, always in evening dress. She invariably had the choice table, at the corner of the V-shaped dining room, commanding both wings. And the social status of the other guests in the hotel could be computed by the closeness of their tables to that of Lady Jane. Anyone who was anyone would be within nodding distance of Lady Jane, and the “peasants” would be carefully placed at the very outside of the wings so as not to disturb her digestion.

To the last Lady Jane had a keen and discriminating eye, particularly for the male figure. A clerk in the gift shop was queried by Lady Jane about her boy friend. “He's not very goodlooking but he’s awfully nice,” the girl confessed. Lady Jane sniffed. “I like them not very nice but very goodlooking,” she observed.

Sir Frederick always made an impressive entrance in the bar in the evening. Letting his evening cape slide from his shoulders to the floor, in a penetrating voice he would ask the waiter, “Anyone notable or distinguished here tonight, Chris?” And Chris would invariably reply, “Well, you are here, sir.”

He spent many of his daylight hours on the tricky miniature golf course behind the Manoir. His favorite opponent was the late Quebec Superior Court Chief Justice Robert A. E. Greenshields, and since both of them were somewhat deaf and somewhat suspicious about each other’s strokes, great and loud arguments invariably ensued. But, no matter how bitter the argument, it never prevented resumption of the play the following day.

It was on the miniature course, playing with William Schmitt of Baltimore, that Sir Frederick once revealed his great tact. The pair were being held up by four girls who showed no willingness to let them through. Finally Sir Frederick approached them. “Girls,” he said, “those charming shoulders and hips, their movement is completely distracting me from my game. What can I do?” The girls asked the pair to play through.

But Sir Frederick’s greatest weakness was long-winded stories, with which he used to buttonhole unsuspecting guests. He would launch into an anecdote which spun on and on. Sometimes the ending was worth it. Sometimes Sir Frederick completely lost track of the thread of the story down some bypath which the telling had opened up. Older guests learned how to beat strategic retreats when Sir

Frederick showed signs of an attack coming on.

The conflict of the old order with the new came to a dramatic climax when a character notoriously in the news as a confrere of AÍ Capone spoke to Lady Jane in a spirit of pure camaraderie. She swept into the manager: “There’s a murderer in the

hotel!” she cried. “A murderer!” Instead of throwing the miscreant into chains the manager soothed her. “Don’t ¡ worry. He’s on his best behavior. Why don’t you invite him to dinner, just ¡ to be on the safe side?” Lady Jane did | not follow the suggestion.

Though the Williams-Tayiors are no I more, their spirit still seems to hover over the Manoir and maître d'hôte! Gustave dares sit only the ranking socialites at the table formerly occupied by that venerable couple. Two years ago granddaughter Brenda Frazier, complete with husband “Shipwreck” Kelly and baby, arrived at the Manoir i via Quebec and their usual pair of planes: one plane to fly in, the other to bring the baggage, car and chauffeur.

Curiously enough it is the indefinably elegant air represented both by the Williams-Tayiors and the French furniture which is part of the charm of the Manoir Richelieu. Contrary to a popular impression it is not required to dress for dinner; nor are sports clothes forbidden in the dining room. But it is interesting to notice that the j tourist who saunters into the dining room on his first day without a tie invariably wears one the next day. The atmosphere is contagious. At the Manoir they do not believe in introducing guests to each other and they do not believe in organizing sports. Should guests wish to know each other they get around to it if the feeling is mutual, and there are plenty of sports without organization—swimming, golf, tennis, riding, fishing, even croquet and lawn bowling, and billiards for those , who want to remain indoors.

The golf course ranks with the most

beautiful in Canada and is a tricky test of skill. The greens in particular are bewildering until you realize that the invariable roll is toward the St. Lawrence in spite of what the contour may seem to indicate.

Evening entertainment is typical of summer hotels—dancing, movies, bingo. The Boulevard families pay admission to the dances but they enjoy the privileges of the hotel on the same basis as the guests. Since they furnish some of the best - looking feminine adornment to the Manoir facilities it seems like a fair exchange.

According to manager Fred L. Abel, the Manoir prides itself more on its food and service than its recreational facilities. Food comes first and the dining room, which can seat seven hundred people at one time, runs like a piece of well-oiled machinery. The Manoir does not follow the practice of other summer hotels in hiring college girls as waitresses. They discovered that college girls, unlike college men, have a disconcerting habit of leaving in midseason to take their own vacations. So as much as possible the Manoir hires professional waitresses. A group of these move with Gustave at the end of the season to the British Colonial Hotel in Nassau. This group, about eighty strong, consisting of waitresses and captains, are the nucleus about which Gustave organizes his dining-room service.

Suave, diplomatic, Swedish - born, Gustave Warlund belongs to that school of headwaiter which frowns on the noise of a popping champagne cork as evidence of mishandling of the wine. His career since 1918 has taken him from the Grand Hotel in Stockholm through many of the important hotels including Claridge’s and the WaldorfAstoria.

The food at the Manoir lives up to manager Abel’s claim. The menu is varied and tasteful and the specialty of the district, Murray Bay lamb, has a distinctive flavor which is derived from the lamb feeding on salted grass. But it is when à-la-carte service is required that chef Peter Jurisich and his staff rise to great culinary heights. Some idea of the magnificence of such dinners may be gained from the fact that at conventions and special dinners it is not unusual to have a charge of ten or twelve dollars a plate extra on the bill, which normally includes food and lodging, American plan.

When the late Duke of Kent visited Canada he stayed in the vicinity of the Manoir and expressed a wish to visit the massive pile. It was arranged that he would have lunch on the premises and discreet enquiries were launched as to what rare dish would please his fancy. The reply came back through an equerry: “One breaded

veal chop.” The chop was served as requested, but it left a deep sense of frustration with Peter and his staff.

The Manoir is expensive but its minimum of sixteen dollars per day, room and board, is actually lower than that of some other luxury hotels. The rate is kept deliberately low, as the company hitherto has been more than happy with a break-even figure for the year’s operation. As manager Fred Abel points out, justification for the Manoir’s lack of profit has rested with

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the undoubted attraction it exercises for the people who pack the three CSL steamers which ply the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay.

The cruise liners usually hit Murray Lay around noon, and the passengers swarm ashore, flood through the town and up into the Manoir, make rapid purchases in the gift shop, gawk at the impressive display of Canadiana, snap each other’s photos against the Manoir background and then race back for the ship, ".brilled with their brief venture into another and mysterious world. The hotel guests retreat nervously from the onslaught and then make their appearance again when the tidal wave has receded. Only on Thursdays are they forced actually to rub shoulders with the hoi polloi, when the cruise ship stays overnight at the dock.

The Manoir’s grounds and golf course are beautifully kept. This is the particular responsibility of superintendent Hector Warren, who speaks English with a bit of a Boyer accent. A civil engineer, graduate of Queen’s, he is a native of the district. His ancestors are Scottish but Hector speaks far better French than he does English. At sixty-seven he has seen the Manoir through all its stages. He went to work for it in 1924 with golf-course architect Herbert Strong, in building of the new course. He saw the old hotel burn and he helped build the new one. During the summer he superintends the activity of all the outdoor help and during the winter he handles the maintenance employees. For twenty-eight years he was mayor of Pointe-au-Pic, the village which runs from the Manoir gates to the waterfront. The Warren family is practically everywhere you turn in Pointe-au-Pic and La Malbaie; only tlrree of the twelve Warren brothers remained bachelors, and Hector was one of these.

Keeping the grounds in order is sometimes a bit of a problem for Hector. He had to erect a barbed-wire fence around one of the water reservoirs to prevent the female help from using it as a swimming pool. He caught one girl in it and lectured her: “First of all it’s against the rules to swim in there, and secondly it’s against the law to swim without a bathing suit. It’s also very embarrassing.” Another time he had to cut down a couple of his beloved trees when he discovered they grew too conveniently close to the girls’ dormitory.

Hector has watched the old order change at the Manoir. He sees more and more Americans coming; in August the percentage is something like ninety percent American. And he has seen the Canadian group linked with the Boulevard dwindling. The Desmond Clarkes, the Ernest Savards, Aline Jobin from Montreal, the Mortimers and Booths from Ottawa, the Harry Hatches from Toronto, Dr. and Mme Guiguères from Quebec City — they seem to be getting fewer and fewer. And he wonders how much longer can the old elegant Manoir hold off the new and irreverent crowd. Meanwhile Hector manages to keep up with them.

An American couple motored in from Quebec, missing the Manoir to land in Pointe-au-Pic at the Chateau Murray, owned by Hector’s brother. Hector volunteered to show them the sights. The American was busy filling Hector’s ear with what a great nation they are below the border, how quickly they do things, erect buildings, build bridges. As they chatted they rounded a bend in the road to be confronted by the Manoir in all its summer glory.

“Where did this come from?” asked the amazed American.

“I don’t know,” said Hector blandly. “It wasn’t here when I passed yesterday.” it