Château Laurier Hotel, Ottawa

If I am asked “Where did you and Denis meet?” the answer is the Château Laurier Hotel in Ottawa. We were members of the Health Club. Though the official date of our alliance began on Saturday, February 24, 1996 when we arranged to go for a martini together after our swim and sauna, there is background leading up to the event. Upon reflection I have discovered that the Château Laurier Hotel insinuates many of the salient experiences of my life involving not only the obvious erstwhile health and current romantic features but also business, society, friends and family – even some curious happenings.

In 1975 I graduated from Dalhousie Law School and began articling in Ottawa with Macdonald, Affleck at 100 Sparks Street.  The office was within walking distance of the Château Laurier Hotel and for that reason I joined the health club.  At that time the health club was manned by Madam Juneau and her assistant Madam Chartrand both of whom regularly appeared dressed as though they were nurses in a wartime black and white movie. Because the Hotel was virtually adjacent the Canadian Parliament Buildings (on the other side of the Rideau Canal locks) it was nothing to encounter at the health club Members of the House of Commons, the Senate, the Privy Council and even the Prime Minister (Pierre Elliot Trudeau). I was then living in a small apartment in Sandy Hill.  Although I had an upright piano in my apartment I preferred escaping to the ballroom of the Château Laurier Hotel to play the grand piano. One day over the noon hour while playing the piano I discovered I was not alone.  Seated in the back of the ballroom was an elegant elderly woman clad in a long black dress, holding a parasol upright between her cupped hands, listening to me play.  After I had finished playing I asked her if she were staying at the Hotel.  She said she lived in the Hotel.  I later figured she was the wife of famed photographer Yousuf Karsh who then resided in the Hotel.

Karsh retired in July 1993, aged 84. His penultimate sittings in May 1993 were with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary. He closed his studio at Château Laurier and moved to Boston in 1997. He died on July 13, 2002 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston after complications following surgery. A private funeral was held in Ottawa. He was interred in Notre-Dame Cemetery in Ottawa.

The Canada Permanent Trust Company held its annual cocktail party at the Château Laurier Hotel for past and present members of the local Bar Association. Unknown to me at the time was Louis C. Audette, QC, OC who then regularly attended the foregathering. Subsequently I met Louis through a family acquaintance (Doug Peterson) and years later celebrated Louis’ 80th birthday at Zoe’s lounge in the Hotel. The lounge was named after Zoe, wife of former Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier after whom the Hotel is named. During the afternoon Zoe’s lounge was the seat of “high tea” at which the crustless sandwiches, ices, cakes and martinis were nonpareil! My mother regularly took our family there for tea.

The Canadian Club (the formal dining room) was situate in the Hotel.  Dancing was spirited by Moxie Whitney’s band.

After serving as bandleader in 1961 at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu, Whitney opened his own booking agency in Toronto in 1962 and was music director until 1971 for the CP hotel chain in Canada. He lived 1971-5 on Grand Cayman Island in the Bahamas as a hotelier, then was bandleader 1976-82 at the Chateau Laurier, Ottawa. Whitney, whose theme was the Isham Jones and Gus Kahn song ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams,’ made two LPs for the Harmony label, and others issued by Arc (Dancing Around the World, A-668), Columbia (Holiday in Banff, FS-252), CTL, and RCA.

I first attended the Canadian Club with Rosalyn Morgan (a friend and former legal secretary at Macdonald, Affleck). We had booked a private dining room along the side of the dance floor behind a heavy curtain through which the waiters came and went bearing such delicacies as turtle soup and lemon sorbet. While dancing we literally bumped into Don Johnson and his wife Lorna.  Don was an accountant.  Unknown to me at the time, he acted for John H. Kerry who became my most prominent client. Lorna – by further coincidence – was the daughter of Raymond A. Jamieson, QC whose law practice I took over when I set up my own law office in Almonte.

Another strange coincidence was that Rosalyn‘s father lived on the street adjacent my parents in Ottawa. We first became acquainted with him because he held an enormous house party in preparation for which letters were sent to all the neighbours apologizing for the anticipated noise and commotion. Years later I met Rosalyn’s father shortly after he was released from prison for having nefariously pedalled mining stocks. He was an engineer.

Denis and I attended a gala wedding of the daughter of Donald and Alana Abraham at the Château Laurier Hotel. It was a huge celebration beginning with a cocktail party followed by a sit-down dinner for hundreds.  Donald was the cousin of Paul Anka.  When Anka visited Ottawa to perform at the National Arts Centre I was asked to play the grand piano in the lobby of the National Arts Centre precedent to the private dinner party held upstairs for invited guests.

The only unpleasant incident at the Hotel of which I am aware was one involving Gordon Burroughs who was my mother’s interior designer.  Gordon was notoriously ostentatious.  One night after leaving the main lounge and going to his Rolls Royce parked in the Hotel he was accosted by vandals, battered and his gold Rolex watch stolen.

The Hotel was also the venue for private jewellery exhibitions (Robert Hutchings) and auctioneers (Dupuis Fine Jewellery) in addition to intimate cocktail rendezvous at the Cross Keys lounge; summer al fresco drinks on the terrace overlooking the Canal locks; surreptitious viewing of the July 1st fireworks on Parliament Hill from the secret turrets of the Hotel; and innumerable points of convenience for meeting family and friends when heading elsewhere in downtown Ottawa or the By Ward Market.  The Hotel (Fairmont Gold) afforded a pied à terre for us country folk when visiting the capital for dinner; we would invite our dinner guests to the private lounge afterwards for pousse-café.

One final serendipity is that Denis’ cousin Gerry Arial operated his florist shop The Silver Rose at the Hotel. Among his many other achievements Gerry planned all the floral arrangements for the Pope when he visited North America; and for the hotel scene in the movie Little Gloria – Happy at Last about Gloria Vanderbilt.