Articles

THE CHATEAU ON THE ROCK

In the Chateau Frontenac above the St. Lawrence Queen Elizabeth, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Louise Fazenda, Gene Tunney, Winston Churchill and a diminutive button salesman have staved among the Greek braziers and basked in the super-service of a famous landmark

McKENZIE PORTER July 15 1952
Articles

THE CHATEAU ON THE ROCK

In the Chateau Frontenac above the St. Lawrence Queen Elizabeth, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Louise Fazenda, Gene Tunney, Winston Churchill and a diminutive button salesman have staved among the Greek braziers and basked in the super-service of a famous landmark

McKENZIE PORTER July 15 1952

THE CHATEAU ON THE ROCK

McKENZIE PORTER

In the Chateau Frontenac above the St. Lawrence Queen Elizabeth, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Louise Fazenda, Gene Tunney, Winston Churchill and a diminutive button salesman have staved among the Greek braziers and basked in the super-service of a famous landmark

SHORTLY after the last war a London travel agency interested in promoting emigration asked a hundred people who had never been outside England to study a series of photographs and pick out one they were certain was taken in Canada. Without exception they selected a shot of the Chateau Frontenac, that massive feudal pile which soars five hundred feet above the St. Lawrence River and dominates the steep and hoary streets of Quebec City.

This supports the claim of the owners, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company Ltd., that the Chateau Frontenac is the most famous hotel in the world.

The late Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, who was one of Britain’s wartime chiefs of staff, once said, “Whenever somebody mentions Canada the first image that leaps to my mind is that of the Chateau Frontenac, and I think that goes for most Europeans too.”

Although it was built only fifty-nine years ago the spires, turrets, arches and gables of this mock medieval castle have already been woven into the tapestry of the traditional Canadian scene. Since its foundations are rooted among the subterranean remains of ancient fortresses and early colonial residences at the summit of “North America’s Gibraltar” it is impossible to keep its vast façade out of schoolbook illustrations. Thus wherever Canadian, American, British and French history is taught, and the gallant fate of Wolfe and Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham is recalled, the Chateau Frontenac steals the picture.

Outside Quebec Province most Canadian families

have at least one member who speaks of the Chateau Frontenac as a sight he will never forget. The immigrant finer sweeps around the bend in the river and there it is, in all its lofty majesty, commanding the oldest of entrances to the latest of promised lands. The newcomer rarely thinks of the Chateau Frontenac as a hotel. To him it is the landmark of his future.

Frederick George Scott, a Canadian poet, wrote in 1928:

Quebec stands guardian at our water gate.

And watches from her battlemented state

The great ships passing with their living store

Of human myriads coming to our shore.

Expectant, joyous, resolute, elate.

Because of its unique location in this continent’s only walled city and in the capital of a community which has stoutly preserved its French identity, the Chateau Frontenac attracts as glittering a pilgrimage of monarchs, millionaires, statesmen and celebrities as the Savoy in London, the Ritz in Paris or the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

But because it must survive the consequences of being huge beyond proportion to Quebec City’s two hundred and seventy-five thousand inhabitants the management gives equal welcome to the humblest of commercial travelers, the merriest of conventioners, the most budget-minded of tourists and the brashest of local citizens, who use its luxurious confines as a rendezvous, promenade and free club.

The Chateau Frontenac is the second biggest hotel in Canada. Toronto’s Royal York is the biggest. The Chateau has seven hundred liedrooms

ranging in price from six-fifty a day to suites at fifty dollars. When pressed it can accommodate thirteen hundred guests.

The registers go back to names like Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, Earl Jellicoe, Earl Haig, the Vanderbilts and the Astors. In the musty files you may see the signatures of Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, Charles Lindbergh, Louise Fazenda, Jack Sharkey, Gene Tunney, and a host of other headliners of the Twenties and Thirties.

Just before World War II George VI and his Queen were there. Early in the war George, the late Duke of Kent, was a guest. In 1943 and again in 1944 the brains in the Anglo-American command gathered under the Chateau roof to plan D-Day and the defeat of Japan. Winston Churchill, who at that time was staying with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mackenzie King in the adjacent Citadel, wrote: “No more splendid or fitting setting for a meeting of those who guided the war policy of the Western world could have been chosen at this cardinal moment .”

A few weeks before her father’s death the present Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh caught a glimpse of the Chateau Frontenac’s Chippendale chairs, Jacobean dressers, Queen Anne desks, Cromwellian candlesticks, Louis XV mirrors and a view of that waterway up which Samuel de Champlain sailed nearly three hundred and fifty years before. But the royal visit did not seal the Chateau from regular custom. “On that day,” says a little button salesman who’s been taking a minimum-price room for twenty years, “they

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didn’t turn me away.’’ Nor were any restrictions placed on a couple of conventions being held at that time. And when the royal pair had gone the Chateau swarmed once more with the young Lotharios who meet their girls in the Grande Allée, a wide corridor off the main lobby. And back came the local matrons who chat for hours in the Salon Rose without spending a nickel.

Although the Chateau Frontenac nods to the present with its speedy elevators. faultless plumbing, lightning laundry service, efficient garage facilities and tourist entertainment, it cultivates the aura of more leisured days. Each afternoon a quartet in eighteenthcentury wigs and silks plays discreet little melodies that harmonize with the tinkle of teacups in the St. Lawrence Room.

The city's calèche and sleigh drivers, the souvenir stores, adjacent restaurateurs. professional guides, butchers, grocers, fishmongers, taxi drivers, and dozens of other traders are always

The Grand Staircase, built of marble brought from France, was copied from Le Petit Trianon at Versailles, one of Marie Antoinette's homes. The goldand-blue ballroom is a near-replica of Versailles’ illustrious and priceless Hall of Mirrors. The Jacques Cartier room, a drinking, dining and dancing spot, is modeled after the big stem cabin in the Grand Hermyne, which sailed to the discovery of the entrance to the St. Lawrence River in 1534.

• Mellow tapestries, crystal chandeliers, ceiling beams of fumed oak, handrails of extruded bronze, carved mantels, leaded windows, Greek braziers and Oriental vases have given the Chateau no distinct period motif but a warm conglomeration of styles.

Four show suites, the Colonial, Habitant, Chinese and Dutch, each with two bedrooms and a sitting room, are furnished meticulously in the respective style their names suggest and go to guests who can pay between forty and fifty dollars a day and be trusted not to take any of the antiques as sou-

Royalty is always accommodated on the thirteenth floor which, to assuage the fears of the superstitious, has been named the Crown Floor. The suites here are fitted with elegant and enormous chairs, couches, chimney seats and desks. The beds are ornate and inviting and the color schemes soft and restful. Americans compete for the suites which George VI and Queen Elizabeth used in 1939. If they can't get these they ask for the ones set aside for the present Queen and her Consort last year. To the hotel’s lasting regret these were never used because the royal couple were on such a rigid time schedule they never got a chance to go up-

About sixty percent of the hotel’s revenue comes from tourists. In summer they take rubberneck rides around the ancient city in high two-wheel horse-drawn calèches. In winter they take sleigh rides through the precipitous streets, skate on the Chateau's rink, ride o bus to Valcartier Lodge and ski under the guidance of the hotel’s professional. Fritz Loosli. or scud at sixty miles an hour down a toboggan slide.

The Chateau manages to keep busy the year round with spacious sample rooms for traveling salesmen, conventions whose organizers deliberately choose between-season lulls for space and comfort, and local shindigs ranging from cocktails for twelve to balls for a thousand.

anxious to know “How many are in the Chateau today?" Their livelihood depends on it.

Most of the Chateau waiters, bellhops, maids and chefs are Canadiens, but there is a heavy sprinkling of English and Europeans too. Consciously or unconsciously they adopt the mien of old retainers.

They are a tight-lipped observant bunch who know more about the average guest's habits than he would ever realize. Bell-captain Harry Bartlett, who has been working in the main lobby for more than thirty years, is sometimes approached by women who want to check up on their husband’s out-of-town activities. But he always keeps his counsel. He is known by his Christian name to scores of wealthy regulars.

It was Harry who went out onto Duff erin Terrace, a broad boardwalk overhanging the Lower Town, in 1939 and informed Lord Beaverbrook that the British government had declared war. Beaverbrook continued to stare at a pipe on the Chateau walls which was giving off a plume of steam. “Harry." said Beaverbrook, “where does all that steam come from?” Harry’ replied: “From the heating plant, sir.”

Said Beaverbrook, “Very’ wasteful. It should be bottled and used again."

Harry has been up in the elevator with many’ crowned heads, including the Duke of Windsor who spent the brief ascent idly’ practicing golf swings and never said a word.

Once, about twelve years ago, Harryfelt like punching a certain guest on

the nose. The King and Queen of Siam had just entered Harry’s elevator, when this man said audibly: “Huh! What a king!” When Harry closed the gates the King turned to his exquisite little Queen, bowed and said, “And what a queen!”

Harry remembers being curious once to know why Lindbergh always insisted on carrying one of his own bags upstairs. Later he found out it contained a parachute. Lindbergh took the parachute everywhere he went as a precaution against tamperers.

The laundry’ boss, Alfred Rudd, thinks no more of returning eight one-hundred-dollar bills found in the pocket of a soiled shirt than he does of restoring cuff links, studs, spectacles, pens, wallets and other articles which come down in the wash almost every dav. Although he handles sixteen thousand sheets, towels, bath mats, bedspreads, pillow slips and personal garments daily, plus occasional loads dropped off by CPR liners, he will, when necessary, tum out a client’s laundry in two hours.

Alfred Thomas, the maître <Thôtel, an Englishman from London’s Savoy, received a long-distance telephone call a few weeks ago. It was from a woman who said her husband, a salesman, would be spending his birthday in the hotel. Thomas listened to her plan. When the birthday came around the salesman found a cake in his room with the right number of candles burning brightly.

The waiters all speak several languages. Recently, when a Brazilian

was dining in the coffee shop, where the waitresses speak only French and English, Thomas sent a Portuguesespeaking waiter down from the more expensive dining room to attend him.

Thomas, in England and Canada, has waited on the last four British monarchs and he drilled his staff for four days before the recent banquet for Elizabeth and Philip. He evolved a military manoeuvre which called for many waiters taking two smart paces to the right on reaching a given spot and allowing others behind them to follow through. In this way every guest was served at the same time with a piping hot dish.

At all cocktail parties Thomas makes sure there is one waiter who does nothing but circulate among the guests with a burning candle to light cigarettes.

Thomas delights in providing unusual service. At last year’s convention of the Canadian Institute of Stove and Furnace Manufacturers, president Alexander Mackenzie, of Toronto, rose I to say that one of the members had j just returned from Paris bringing with him a celebrated group of French singers. Mackenzie then winked a signal to Thomas and a group of off-duty Chateau waiters trooped in and gave such a good rendition of a number of French songs that many of the conventioners thought their president had spoken the truth.

The Habitant suite is a favorite of j convention presidents. One of its j features is a heavy old French bed inscribed with the Quebec motto: Je

Me Sout iens.

Last year a convention president was showing the suite off to a number of party guests. One of the guests wanted to know what the motto meant. The president didn't know' so he asked a Canadienne who was present. For a gag she gave the president a bewitching glance and said in slow dulcet tones,

“I remember.” A chorus of wolf whistles rattled the windows.

Few winter visitors to the Chateau Frontenac can resist a whiz down the toboggan slide. Steve Kandic, a hand| some husky Yugoslav who is in charge, has had rare opportunity to observe the reactions of humans when hurtling through icy air at sixty miles an hour with their rumps one inch from the ground.

“The children,’ he says, “just open their mouths and pop their eyes. The young people open their mouths and close their eyes. And the old people, who have not so many years to lose, roll back their eyes, open their mouths and yell ‘Whee-eee-eee!’ all the way

There has never been a serious accident on the slide. But there might have been. One New Year’s Eve a festive group in evening clothes determined to have a go, in spite of the fact that unsupervised sliding is strictly prohibited. The slide was closed and they couldn’t find any toboggans. Even so they climbed to the top to watch one stouthearted fellow who announced he would do it standing up. He did. When he reached the point where the incline meets the level plane, at a mile a minute in dancing pumps, he ascended into the air, described a graceful arc, made a slow roll and let out an unearthly howl. Then he landed headfirst in t heap of snow. His , friends had to carry him back to the j hotel suffering not from physical injuries but from shock. This man, a ! well-known Quebecer, say's today: “It shook me rigid.”

The Chateau manager, George J. j Jessop, an urbane martinet in his middle forties, has imparted to the ! assistant managers and room clerks the black - coated stripe - panted punctilio and the shrewdness, cynicism and stoI

icLsm of professional dead-pan diplo-

The Chateau gets its share of visitors who arrive with a suitcase full of magazines and skip without paying their bills. One customer vanished owing the hotel a hundred dollars. The assistant manager got the bill and telephoned all the numbers the man had called from his room. One of the numbers belonged to a garage and it transpired that the man had paid a hundred-dollar deposit on a rented car he was going to pick up that day. The assistant manager was waiting at the garage when the man arrived. He persuaded the garage proprietor to give the Chateau the money deposited on the car, saved the garage possible loss of a rented car. and saved the bill-skipper a criminal charge.

During a spree in the Thirties a famous writer of western novels ran up a bill for four hundred dollars and couldn't pay. The management telephoned his publishers in New York who said he was easily good for that sum if only he would work. Jack Johnson, an assistant manager, bought the writer a rail ticket to New York and gave him time to pay. Unfortunately the writer dropped off at Trois Rivieres, went on another bender, and skipped from the Chateau du Blois in that city without paying his bill. He was picked up by the police, brought to Quebec City and jailed.

Johnson took a typewriter and paper down to the jail and said: "Go on!

Get yourself out of a jam! Write a stor>r.” The author produced a storyin a week. Johnson sent the story to his publishers for him. Back came a cheque for three thousand dollars. Johnson paid off the bills at the two hotels and several other debts the writer had incurred, persuaded the police that he was no crook, got his release from jail and sent him home singing with a handsome balance in his pocket. Johnson later became manager of Toronto's Royal York.

Relax in the Morning Breeze

The highlight of the Chateau Frontenac’s history occurred in 1943. On July 31 the federal government informed the management the building would be required for war purposes for a period of three weeks. All guests were to leave by Aug. 6: no staff would remain unless issued with a special RC.MP pass.

Eight hundred and forty-nine guests were asked to quit the hotel without explanation and three thousand reservations were canceled. One permanent guest, an elderly invalid woman, was allowed to remain. Anti-aircraft batteries moved in around the hotel.

Quebec City seethed with rumors. Some said the Chateau was being readied to receive wounded soldiers from Sicily. Others said the King and Queen were coming to escape the bombs. A third group swore the Pope was going to transform it into a temporaryVatican.

But in reality the Chateau was to tie the scene of the historic Quebec Conference between Churchill. Roosevelt and Mackenzie King. These three leaders lived and conducted their personal conferences in the adjacent Citadel. But the three chiefs of staff with their hundreds of aides and secretaries, were lodged in the Chateau. The entire third flooi was converted into offices and each nation had its own switchboard manned by service personnel.

The international staffs worked hard by day. But by night they relaxed like ordinary hotel guests. There was dancing in the Jacques Cartier Room and the Frontenac Room cocktail lounge was open. Joe MacDermott,

in charge of the hotel's liquor supplies, made a cocktail from a recipe given him by Lord Ismay. chief of Churchill’s personal staff. Called Morning Breeze, it consists of Cointreau, Grand Marnier, orange and lime juice. It’s still a favorite in the Frontenac Room.

One night Joe thought he had caught a spy in the Frontenac Room. He saw a big bearded man in a sweater, drill slacks and suede shoes, sitting in a corner with a civilian woman. It was an unusual spectacle in that heavily be-brassed and braided room. But the strange figure turned out to be the late General Orde Wingate, hero of Burma who, through Churchill's influence, had been flown from the jungle to spend a few days in Quebec with his wife.

During the conference the Chateau housed an experiment which ended in shots and almost caused the poker faces of the assistant managers to register emotion.

Lord Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, was giving a demonstration to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of a substance called Pykrete, a special type of ice with which it was hoped to build floating piers for the invasion of Normandyand floating Atlantic "islands" for aircraft. Two blocks of ice. one ordinary-, one Pykrete, were wheeled into the room.

Mountbatten invited General H. H. Arnold, chief of the U. S. Air Forces, to split the ordinary ice with an axe. This Arnold accomplished with ease. But when he swung down the axe on the Pykrete he let go the handle with a sharp cry of pain and left no impression on his target. Mountbatten then drew his revolver. He fired at the ordinary ice. which shattered. Then he fired at the Pykrete which was so strong it resisted the bullet. The bullet ricocheted and narrowlymissed Air Marshal Lord Portal

In his latest book. Closing the Ring, Churchill recalls: "The waiting officers outside who had been worried enough by the sound of blows and the scream of pain from General Arnold, were horrified at the revolver shots, one of them crying out, ‘My God. they’ve started shooting.’ ”

It was William C. Van Home later Sir Williams a president of the CPr. who decided to build the Chateau Frontenac hotel in 1890. The decision was made on a boating trip along the St. Lawrence with Bruce Price, the architect. The first wing was opened three years later. By setting the hotel on the foundations of the old Chateau Louis, official residence of the early French governors, and naming it after the greatest of them ail, Van Horae identified the hotel inseparably with Canadian history.

Part of its popularity with American visitors stems from the fact that they invariablyget a chance to rub shoulders with visiting notables. All the employees of the hotel are familiar with the storyabout the American woman who looked along the lobby one day at a huge pile of baggage.

"What’s happening?” she asked a bellhop.

"The Empress of Scotland has just come in.” he replied.

"Oooh goody!" said the woman. “Be sure to point her out to me.” ir