by Peter G. Budnick
onstruction of the Royal York, the thirteenth hotel in the nationwide Canadian Pacific Railway chain, was a response to the competition threat posed by the C.N.R.
The building of the 1,100-room hotel began in the Autumn of 1927 and took over one and a half years to complete. On its’ completion, the Royal York was the largest and tallest building in the British Empire.
The hotel’s inaugural ball took place in the Concert Hall. This room also held a magnificent Casavant Freres pipe organ as well as two sound and motion picture projectors: the first of their kind in North America. In the years to follow, countless high society events graced the building’s public rooms. The Imperial Room, for example, defined the Toronto social scene for over six decades as the site of romantic dinner dances and big band shows – featuring such stars as Ella Fitzgerald and Mantovani. Similarly, the sumptuous Ballroom has seen its’ share of excitement, as the host of debutante balls each season, and as the set of numerous Hollywood films.
While the immediate popularity of the hotel inspired a 164-room addition by 1931, renovations on a grand scale became necessary by the late 1950’s. When it opened on February 21, 1959, the 16 floor East Wing boasted 400 new guest rooms with the more up-to-date amenities, including combination radio and television sets. Even so, the centrepieces of the 1959 addition were the entirely refurbished mezzanine and convention floors, which took total convention capacity to an impressive 8,000 persons.
The most recent and by far most expensive set of renovations to the hotel was carried out between 1988 and 1994. During that period, more than $100 million was invested in an ambitious project to restore the hotel to its 1929 grandeur, and with the installation of leading-edge technology, exceeded the expectations of the modern traveler. In 2001, a $12 million restoration program resulted in the transforming the new main lobby area and all public meeting areas on the mezzanine level. In the summer of 2002, a $2.5 million restoration program was undertaken to restore the famed Imperial Room, The Library Bar and its adjacent lobby foyer. The foyer became a pre-function space and much of the Imperial Room’s original splendour and decorative aspects were revealed.
This year marks The Fairmont Royal York’s seventy fifth year of continuous operation. Guests are invited to review the life of the hotel and it’s legends by touring a new photographic retrospective located on the hotel’s mezzanine level.
Not only has the Royal York hosted three generations of Britain’s Royal family in the hotel’s Royal suite but, it also makes room on the hotel’s guest roster for a few resident ghosts, floating around the corridors in red satin smoking jackets and steward’s uniforms.
Novelist, Arthur Hailey was a guest at the Royal York, while researching his book and subsequent movie “Hotel”. Mr. Hailey would study the operations of the hotel from 4 am til late at night.
Numerous movies have been shot at the Royal York, including “That Old Feeling” starring Bette Midler; “Murder at Sixteen Hundred”, starring Wesley Snipes; “Champs”, with Sylvester Stallone; “Bait”, with James Fox and John Cusack’s latest comedy “Serendipity”.
Our city’s grand hotel has always maintained a social consciousness, by assisting in fund-raising events such as the annual dinners on behalf of organizations such as the Canadian Safe School’s Network, a liason organization between schools and police departments. The support of the management of the Royal York with the regular participation of Toronto media personalities and regular keynote addresses from Toronto Chief of Police, Julius Fantino, have provided hope for solutions to the problem of school violence.