Dream Castles – Canada’s Great Railway Hotels

Since this blog is primarly a tool to help me improve my skills as a writer I have decided to start a new series.  I am inspired by the great railway hotels that were built across this expansive nation of Canada and which show up in some of the most iconic cities and tourist destinations.

William Cornelius Van Horne

Late in the 1881 the Canadian Pacific Railway, hired William Cornelius Van Horne as president to increase progress on the railway construction and by 1883 the increased progress got the line to the Rocky Mountains. On November 7, 1885 the last spike was driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia. It was 4 years behind the original schedule but 5 years ahead of the schedule given to Van Horne when he took over.

In order to build a market for tourist rail passengers across Canada, the railway offered dining service on its trains across the country.  In the mountains however, the heavier dining cars were not practical as the early locomotives could not pull them up steep inclines.  This is where the original stations were built to allow the trains to stop along the route to offer dining to guests.

The original three stations built were:

Fraser Canyon House – which was built in 1887 and was in use until 1927 when it burned down.  It was rebuilt as a CPR bunk house that was in use until the 1970’s.

Fraser Canyon House

Mount Stephen House – built in 1886 and in use until 1918, when it was turned over to the YMCA that used it until 1963.


Glacier House – built in 1887 and in use until 1925.

Glacier House (Source – Philip T. Timms, 1874)

The tourists were so impressed by the scenery at the dining halls that they wanted to spend more time there, and additional facilities were built to accomodate them.  Architect Thomas Sorby was hired to build the hotels.

Once the locomotives became more powerful and routes through the mountains were added; these hotels fell out of use.

The first of the “Dream Castles” as envisioned by Van Horne would be the Banff Springs Hotel, in Banff, Alberta.  I am going to stick to the hotels that still exist to this day and can be visited.  A couple of the hotels are no longer hotels, but the buildings have been re-purposed and still exist to see.  I am probably missing some, but from my research they are as follows:

1888 – Banff Springs Hotel                          1889 – The Algonquin

1890 – Chateau Lake Louise                        1893 – Chateau Frontenac

1908 – The Empress Hotel                           1911 – Prince Arthur Hotel

1912 – Chateau Laurier                                1914 – Pallister Hotel

1915 – Hotel MacDonald                              1917 – Digby Pines Resort

1922 – Jasper Park Lodge                             1927 – Lord Nelson

1927 – Hotel Saskatchewan                         1928 – Hotel Nova Scotian

1930 – Chateau Montebello                          1930 – Lakeside Inn

1932 – The Bessborough                               1939 – Hotel Vancouver

1946 – Lord Beaverbrook

Some of these hotels I have had the pleasure of visiting over the years, and others I am looking forward to seeing in the coming years.  I have not planned out every entry, so I may cover more then one hotel in a given blog.  I have found a series of books by Ron Brown (no relation that I know of) about Canada’s railways which have been informative.

The blogs will come out as I can get to them, as I want to make sure they are well researched.  I will create a special page for all the Railway Hotel Blogs on here to give easy access.  My normal travel blogs will come out regularly as well.

Rails Over the Mountains – Ron Brown

Vancouver Archives


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