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At the Omni King Edward Hotel, an anchor for the powerful and prestigious in Toronto’s urban core, the glamour of the past is alive and kicking. Especially interesting for Vietnamese Canadians and anyone else who might want to brush up on the city’s history and colonial roots can now walk through the front doors and bask in a revitalized atmosphere fit for royalty thanks to a recent $40 million renovation.
The King Eddy, as it is affectionately known, has always been a magnet for celebrities. Richard Burton proposed to Elizabeth Taylor in the corner of the Sovereign Ballroom in 1964. The same year saw the Beatles camped out in room number 869 during their first tour of North America. Mark Twain, Rudolph Valentino, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley and Ernest Hemingway are just a handful of other big names that have bedded down here.
“This hotel has a soul. We have a sense of responsibility to carry that legacy forward for the next generation,” notes Christophe Le Chatton, the hotel’s Paris-born general manager.
Built in 1903 by distillery magnate George Gooderham, the hotel was billed as one of the finest hotels in North America. No expense was spared. Marble was imported from Europe, as were the glittering crystal chandeliers. The furniture came from England and plaster curlicues worthy of a wedding cake covered the walls and ceilings of the majestic ballrooms. The décor may have changed since then, but the palace-like grandeur has not. Enter the lobby, where giant chess pieces loom over deep indigo, high-backed sofas, and a refined comfort and ease comes over you. Service is warm. Smiles abound.
The King Edward Hotel is afloat with memories, mine included. When I was a child my grandfather treated the family to sumptuous meals in the ornate dining room. As a teenager, I had a part-time job in the gift shop. By the late 1970s, though, the grand hotel was starting to look a little threadbare. Over the years it changed hands a few times but the mega makeover didn’t begin until Omni Hotels & Resorts took over in 2013. Renovated from top to bottom, the 301-room hotel now sparkles with modern amenities while maintaining its aristocratic look. Guest rooms glint with ruby red accents, and walls feature prints of famous Toronto architecture. Throughout the hotel’s public spaces hang huge black and white photos of British royalty, transporting viewers to the turn of the last century.
One long-standing tradition that visitors will enjoy is afternoon tea from Friday through Sunday. Ladies come in fancy hats and white gloves, and often girlfriends come in groups to celebrate special occasions. Sandwiches are dainty yet packed with flavour. Scones are velvety, cakes decadent and the exotic blends of tea are divine.
“We serve a traditional English tea that emphasizes the flavours of each season. I change the menu four times a year,” explains Daniel Schick, executive chef.
The hotel’s magnificent architecture and time-tested tea rituals are reminders of the country’s colonial past. “That’s why our foreign visitors love coming here,” explains Le Chatton. “This is an iconic Canadian destination.”
More Historic Hotels
Westin Nova Scotian, Halifax:
One of the original Canadian National Railways hotels opened in 1930. Queen Elizabeth visited twice and Princess Diana hosted an official Royal dinner in the early 1980s. thewestinnovascotian.com
The first Ritz-Carlton in the world went through an opulent classic-meets-contemporary redesign by Hong-Kong-based designer J. Lee Rofkind in 2012. ritzcarlton.com
The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver:
Opened in 1939 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the hotel lobby, bar and restaurant recently underwent a $12 million renovation. fairmont.com