The Lord Elgin Hotel – A Historic Landmark in the Heart of Ottawa

All throughout Prime Minister Mackenzie King took a strong interest in the hotel and virtually designed the pillars in front of the hotel himself. He also insisted that the hotel be built of stone, not brick. Jack Udd agreed on a compromise and used stone at both ends and in the front, but he would put brick in the back.

The hotel is named after James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine (1811 to 1863) who became Governor General of Canada in 1847. He became the first Governor General to remove himself from the affairs of the legislature, which led to the essentially symbolic role that the Governor-General of Canada has today.

Bust of Lord Elgin

Ann also allowed me to have a look at some correspondence between Prime Minister Mackenzie King and the grandson of the original Lord Elgin, who donated two marble busts of his grandparents, Lord and Lady Elgin. The correspondence dates back to 1940 and talks about shipping the busts on warships during World War II from Scotland to Canada.

Ann also mentioned that during the summer a portion of the Changing of the Guards ceremony can be seen directly outside the hotel. And the starting line for the Ottawa International Marathon is located immediately in front of the Lord Elgin Hotel.

Bust of Lady Elgin

Being the nosy person that I am I wanted to get the real low-down on this property and Randy Battcock, Guest Services Manager at the Lord Elgin, agreed to take me on a tour through the property. Randy is an interesting individual himself, he hails from Newfoundland and worked for a local airline for 21 years. After running a guest house in Ottawa for 8 years he applied for the Guest Manager’s position and got the job the next day. It is obvious that Randy loves what he does.

During our tour through the building, Randy explained that the original building was H-shaped and that the back was filled in many years ago to enlarge the rooms. In some of the boardrooms on the higher levels you can still see the former street façade on the west side, now forming an inside wall.

A few steps down the street: the former Teachers College, now part of City Hall

Two 8-storey towers were added on the north and south side and they added 55 additional bedrooms, an inground pool and a restaurant. Another little known fact is that there is a 3 bedroom apartment on the 12th floor which to this day is the residence of the former manager of the hotel who spent 50 years managing the hotel and raised his children there. The apartment has the only patio in the building with a perfect view east towards the Rideau Canal.

Randy also enlightened me that of the four guest elevators, two are original and date all the way back to 1941. The fourth elevator used to be a smokestack for the furnace in the basement, but it was dismantled bit by bit to allow for the construction of an additional elevator. The building still has an original functioning mail chute where you can drop your letters from any floor and gravity will take them to the mailroom from where they will be sent out.

The historic mail chute from 1941

Although the Lord Elgin Hotel is one of the most renowned and venerable institutions in Ottawa, it has a cozy feel to it. During my stay it was hosting hundreds of people who were attending Winterlude, so you saw all these families with children dressed up in heavy winter garb walking through the hallways. I had several friendly chats with staff members, and in particular with one young bellman who was part of the Lord Elgin team in the 26th Annual Bedzz Race on Dow Lake.

The spot in front of the fireplace in the lobby was always taken by people relaxing, reading a paper, or conversing while warming up after a cold day. We noticed that the atmosphere was always relaxed and down-to-earth, never snobbish, as you might expect of a hotel of this stature. For us it was the perfect location for a weekend of exploration in Canada’s capital.

Historic Elgin Street architecture


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