The Ritz-Carlton Montreal is a 229 room luxury hotel situated at 1228 Sherbrooke Street West in Montreal, Quebec. This Montreal property is not part of the widely-known Ritz-Carlton hotel chain. It has forty-eight suites including a "Royal Suite" and a "Presidential Suite"
The Ritz-Carlton, Montreal has undergone numerous transitions throughout the years. Within its walls, years of memorable, cherished and unforgettable stories have been captured. As one of the few Canadian hotels of its era still in existence, “La Grande Dame” has become a legend in her own time.
The Ritz materialised out of the dream of five Montreal investors who believed their city needed a hotel, which catered to the carriage trade. They purchased a plot of land on fashionable Sherbrooke Street, the first stone was laid in 1909 and full construction began early in 1911. They had planned to name the hotel after London's celebrated Carlton when one of the five investors, Charles Hosmer, remarked that his best friend Cesar Ritz had opened a hotel in Paris in 1898 which had quickly become recognised as one of the finest. The Ritz name alone, Hosmer persuaded his colleagues, would guarantee good fortune. He successfully applied for the rights to use the name but had to accede to several conditions. Any hotel bearing his name, Ritz stipulated, had to have a bathroom in every room; a kitchen on each floor so room-service meals could be served course by course; round the clock valet service, and a concierge to, amongst other duties, trace lost luggage, order theatre tickets, etc.
The lobby had to be small enough to create intimacy, and the hotel had to have a wide curving staircase from the mezzanine so that, on special occasions, women would make dramatic entrances, displaying their gowns to their best advantage. December 31, 1912 proved such an occasion.
On that day, the Ritz-Carlton, built at a cost of $3 million, celebrated its opening by hosting one of the decade most glittering parties. The Honourable Lionel Guest and Mr. R. Higgins, representing the Board of Directors of the Ritz Hotels welcomed guests at 11:15 p.m. 350 Montreal socialites gathered under the chandeliers for a banquet-ball, dancing until the early hours of the morning.
The following day, the Hotel’s first patrons began arriving. Amongst them were the Bank of Montreal’s General Manager Sir Frederick Williams-Taylor and Sir Montagu Allan, heir to a shipping fortune and donor of hockey’s Allan Cup. They sipped five o’clock tea among the tall potted plants in the Palm Court and dined in the Oval Room.
The smart, blue-clad elevator operators, the brown-bearskin-hatted doormen and the courtesy of the first manager, Rudolph Bischoff, impressed hotel guests. At the outset of World War I in 1912, Bischoff, a German, departed from the hotel. His successor, a brisk, corpulent Englishman aptly named Frank Quick, soon discovered that during the war years, staff able to maintain the hotel’s high standards of quality were difficult to find.
Nonetheless, the hotel was already so well established as one of the countries best that it was deemed a suitable site for the first transcontinental phone call. On February 14, 1916, an audience listened breathlessly as Bell Telephone’s Board Chairman, C.F. Sise, asked: “Hello. Is this Vancouver?” The reply - “Yes” - was toasted with champagne. With the roaring twenties came a new General Manager Swiss-born Émile Charles Des Baillets came to the hotel in 1924. Under his disciplined leadership the hotel became internationally esteemed and welcomes guests such as The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and Romania’s Queen Marie.
When Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks booked rooms at the Ritz-Carlton, crowds thronged outside to see them. Fairbanks would climb out onto the hotel’s balcony above the sidewalk to acknowledge the ardent admirers. The hotel was experiencing a period of prosperity, but this prosperity was relatively short-lived. The crash of 1929 rocked the Ritz. With the new decade came the depression. Des Baillets, the General Manager, was often seen helping the porters. Guests, he lamented, used to stay for several weeks, accompanied by many pieces of luggage. Now, they came for a night or two with a single bag. By 1936, the Ritz’s guest list had been cut to those few people who had managed to survive the depression with their coupons intact. Rather than lower its standards, the Ritz preferred to keep its suites in dust covers. Montreal’s leading families remained loyal to the hotel during the dark days and the Ritz managed to survive with its social reputation unimpaired. With the advent of World War II, the Ritz was full all the time. Business boomed but wartime shortages made it difficult to maintain the graceful living standards set by the original founders.
Des Baillets left the hotel in 1940, and was succeeded by Albert Frossard, another Swiss. Battling furiously to maintain standards, Frossard complied, though unhappily, to the director’s order to relax the custom of formal dress for dinner to allow other people to frequent the hotel and provide additional revenue. The plan worked, and the hotel enjoyed healthier profits.
Peace came and with it a European financier and hôtelier named François Dupré. The hotel was sold in 1947, a board of directors was formed and Dupré moved in as President of the company. François Dupré had money, talent and experience. He owned one of France’s leading racing stables and was the grandson of a leading French painter, Jules Dupré. He brought with him some of the flair of Cesar Ritz. Waiters moved softly and decorators busied themselves transforming the Ritz to fit Dupré’s conception.
In 1948, le Bar Maritime was opened. Its setting consisted of leather and copper furniture and bars. Another notable transformation in the early 1950s was the Ritz Garden, where patrons could lunch and dine outside - and watch 24 ducklings frolic in a flower-fringed pond. One unusually chilly summer night, a kind-hearted waiter took the ducks inside. The following day, during lunch, a busboy opened a roastbeef wagon and to his surprise, all the ducks waddled out. Amused guests helped waiters round them up and returned them to the garden.
In 1957, a new wing, consisting of sixty-seven individual rooms and suites was added. The mood and style of the decoration, which was partly Louis XVI and Regency, was not changed. The “Grand Hotel” quality already had quite a story behind her. After having undergone a major renovation in 1957, the Ritz entered a period of tranquillity.
Between the years 1959 and 1969, the hotel kept a rather low profile. During those years, its image was one of a private club and, as with most private clubs, publicity was very low key. In 1962 “La Grande Dame” celebrated her fiftieth anniversary. In October 1970, work on the 58-year old hotel began. The renovations were executed carefully so as not to inconvenience patrons. The estimated cost of this face-lift was $3 million. In 1912, the Ritz-Carlton was built at a total cost of $3 million. The first phase of the face-lift comprised the redecoration of 100 rooms and suites. Guests would now benefit from the newest conveniences coupled with traditional Grand Hotel quality and service. Upon completion of these renovations the Ritz-Carlton boasted a larger lobby and a reception area, a new air conditioning system, and new colour schemes. The renovations were finally completed in 1979 the costs surpassing $5 million.
Many leading figures of the 20th century have stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, including Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, George Bush Sr., The Rolling Stones and Celine Dion, as well as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who celebrated their first marriage at the hotel in 1964.
In January 1992, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel was sold and became affiliated with the European-based Kempinski group of five-star hotels.
Today, the Ritz-Carlton is independently managed and is the only hotel of its time still in existence. “La Grande Dame”, an historic landmark, continues her proud tradition in Montreal of enriching the lives of all those touched by her grace, elegance and old world charm.
Since 2007, the Ritz-Carlton Montreal has been owned by a consortium comprising Mirelis Financial Group, Torriani Group and Rolaco Group. It is managed by Torriani Luxury Hotel Management Canada, a subsidiary of Monaco Luxury Hotels and Resorts. Following its transformation, the Ritz-Carlton Montreal will have 130 rooms and suites, 35 condo-residences and 15 condo-suites.