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My wife and I are partial to the old elegant hotels that were Canadian Pacific and changed to Fairmont upon purchasing that hotel group.
Approaching the “Castle on the Cliff,” we felt we were stepping back in time.
Starting in the 1850s, riverboat trips from Montreal, up the St. Lawrence River, to the town of Pointe-au-Pic became very popular. By the 1890s, large estates had been built in the Charlevoix area. Especially one organization, the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Company, turned this resort town into Quebec’s number one resort.
From 1894 to 1898, the company’s president, Louis Forget, conceived and developed a plan for a great hotel on the riverside cliffs of Pointe-Au-Pic. Completely constructed of wood, the first Manoir opened on June 15, 1899. With 250 guest rooms, bathrooms providing both fresh and sea water, and, of course, the majestic St. Lawrence view, the hotel was truly a sight to behold. As with other hotels in the area, it would be accessible only by river, not land, travel.
In the first 30 or so years of the 20th century, Le Manoir Richelieu drew many prominent guests. Tourists who stayed nearby often visited, to dine and explore the hotel’s surroundings. To continue to provide top-notch services for its guests, the Manoir built a nearby golf course, which opened on June 18, 1925. Its design was intended to let players take in the magnificent view of both the St. Lawrence and the Laurentian Mountains. The course soon developed a reputation as one of the most beautiful in the world.
One prominent golfer was former U.S. President, William Howard Taft. For forty years, from 1895 to 1935, Taft spent all his summers in the Charlevoix area. Despite his girth, he was an avid golfer, who often enjoyed playing at the Club.
The great Manoir was completely destroyed on September 12, 1928, by a fire. Gigantic flames soon devoured the wooden structure. However, the next day, Canada Steamship Lines, the current owner, announced that work would commence immediately on a replacement hotel.
This time, the new Manoir was made completely of concrete. The architect drew on designs for the Chateau Ramezay in Montreal, such as an imposing entrance to the hotel, along with façade towers. One huge room combined exposed beams with fir from British Columbia. The rough concrete was considerably softened by numerous windows, doors, and verandas. An adjoining building, known as the “casino” (not a gambling casino) would be used for dances and showing films. With a completely rushed time table, the new Manoir opened in less than one year, on June 15, 1929.
Guests entering the rebuilt Manoir went up a great staircase to the main lobby. Halls off the main lobby led to a lounge, with a fireplace showing off the coat of arms of the famous French politician/churchman, Cardinal Richelieu. Now, 350 guest rooms were available for them.
William Coverdale, President of Canada Steamship Lines, the hotel’s owner, prepared a display for Manoir of paintings, engravings and other art and crafts from France and Quebec. Together with the majesty itself of the structure, the Manoir Richelieu soon gained a reputation as the most luxurious hotel in Canada. Some called the area surrounding the hotel as the Newport of Canada.
On Thursday of each week, white steamships of Canada Steamship Lines, starting from Montreal, would land at the Pointe-au-Pic wharf. Many arriving passengers would head for the Manoir. Some were wealthy enough to bring their own automobiles on the same ships.
In 1930, the Manoir started to stay open all year. It advertised the availability of winter sports, including a newly constructed ski jump. However, even with such a gorgeous winter setting, the hotel soon ended this experiment. Partly due to difficulties in travel to Manoir in the Quebec winter, and partly due to the general depression’s economic downturn, the venture was not sufficiently profitable.
After the 1930s and wartime, the Manoir prospered in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the makeup of guests had significantly shifted from individuals to conventions that used most room space. Then, after the 1965 season, the parent, Canada Steamship Lines, made the decision to end its steamship service. This was primarily for reasons of safety, now that large oceangoing vessels were crowding the St. Lawrence waters. This caused a substantial reduction in guest revenues.
During this period, hotel ownership changed hands several times. For five years, from 1993 to 1998, the Manoir stayed open all year and had succeeded in restoring individual guest loyalty. It was popular throughout Canada and the U.S.
In 1998, the Michel Coté group, who then owned the Manoir, wanted to enhance it further into a luxury hotel to attract tourists worldwide. To obtain necessary funding, they sold the Manoir to a consortium that included Canadian Pacific Hotels. The desired renovation and expansion of the Manoir and casino, from top to bottom, cost $140 million. “Sleeping Beauty Awakes” was the name given to the project.
The goal was to provide 400 guest rooms, while retaining the hotel’s original style. By installing large French doors in the lobby, this area was now accessible to the magnificent views of hotel gardens and lawns. The New York firm, Champalimaud & Associates, handled redecorating, and achieved restoration of the original Coverdale charm.
Additions included a spa, two heated saltwater swimming pools, a convention center and a genuine gambling license for the casino.
Today, Le Manoir Richelieu is actually one of the stars in the Fairmont collection. Even though not originally accessible by rail, there is now a private railway from Quebec City to Pointe-au-Pic. Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport is the closest. Many drive to the town of La Malbaie, 150 km (94 miles) east of Quebec City. Aeroport de Charlevoix is a private airport located at Saint-Irenee, which is about 15 minutes from Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu. It services private and charter flights and only operational in the summer. Guests may also arrive by ferry or boat in the summer.
It can be argued which is more overwhelming to hotel guests and visitors—its outside, the “Castle on the Cliff” overlooking the St. Lawrence River; or the luxurious décor inside, which seems reminiscent in the 21st century of both France and old Quebec.
This luxurious property caters to your every wish and it is easy to see why it has stood the test of time. Manoir highlights the past while being updated to the present to meet demands and desires of today’s guests. From its new Canine Ambassador, Jordy, to electric car charging stations, this is a world class resort. The casino that was once a dance hall is now the renowned Casino of Charlevoix. Activities abound such as golf, whale-watching cruises on the St. Lawrence River, downhill and cross country skiings, tennis and a wonderful spa and dining to equal any taste or pleasure.
We were fortunate to be hosted during our quick stay and enjoyment of this wonderful property and delightful dinner and breakfast. We look forward to returning and experiencing more of Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu.
Photos are the courtesy of Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu.