Friday, November 24, 2017

Omni King Edward Hotel

The Omni King Edward Hotel is located on an entire block that is bounded by King Street, Victoria Street, Colborne Street and Leader Lane in downtown Toronto, Ontario.  The King Edward was designed by Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb, known for his Richardsonian, Romanesque and Victorian Gothic styles and Toronto architect E.J Lennox, who was responsible for the design of many prominent buildings in Toronto.   The building was commissioned by developer, businessman and politician, George Gooderham for his Toronto Hotel Company.  The hotel cost $6 million to build. When the hotel opened it was billed as the most luxurious hotel in Toronto, equipped with electricity, telephones and all the modern facilities in each room for guests to enjoy.  All guests rooms had private bathrooms and showers and were beautifully carpeted and decorated with rich colours and soft furnishings.  

The hotel was named in honour of King Edward VII and opened in 1903 boasting 400 hundred rooms and 300 baths.  The hotel claimed to be fireproof. In 1922 an18 storey tower was added with 530 additional rooms.  The top two floors of the tower contain the Crystal Ballroom, the most lavish in the city. High above the city with floor to ceiling windows the Crystal Ballroom boasted the best views in the city. When stricter fire codes were introduced in the 1950s in Toronto the Crystal Ballroom didn’t comply and was closed.  As part of the luxurious style of the time four large murals depicting Canadian history, painted by American artist William de Leftwiche Dodge were commissioned for the hotel.  The four murals depicted the French fur traders, First Nations People, exploration of North America by John Cabot and General Wolfe’s victory at the Plains of Abraham.  The fourth of the mural depicting Wolfe and the Plains of Abraham was not to the liking of architect Lennox, and following a court ruling in favour of the artist, Lennox replaced the mural anyway with a work by Canadian artist Frederick Challener.  The mural painted by Challener was titled Trading at Fort Rouille.  Sadly these murals disappeared during the renovations of the hotel in the 1980s.

 The hotel became an exclusive destination for gentlemen to smoke cigars and women who sipped tea in the hotel's elegant sitting rooms.  In  accordance with the strict gender role expectations of the time, the King Edward was sensitive to females travelling alone and had a seperate entrance for such women for the check in process.  This entrance was known as the Ladies Booking Room and served as a place that women could use the telephone, make bookings for events and even receive guests.  A Ladies Parlour on the second floor was a place women could relax and look down at the going on at the hotel.  The Palour was furnished with beautiful soft furnishings and artworks, including an ivory jewel box owned by a French Noble woman during the renaissance in the 16th century, Diane de Poitiers. For men the hotel boasted a mahogany newsstand and cigar store, that was situated in the main lobby.  The Bar and Gentlemen’s Cafe, located on the main floor of the hotel was strictly for men only.  The Grill Room was a place that men could have the finest grilled meats and like the male only Billiard Room was located in the basement of the hotel.  A well equipped and modern barber shop was also located in the hotel for the use of its male patrons.

The artwork in the hotel is worth over $75 million.  When the hotel opened, the art installations in the hotel included, paintings, carvings, metalwork and pottery.  Some of the art work was purchased from the Clemenceau collection of Paris. Clemenceau was a physician, the Prime Minister of France  and reportedly a good friend of Monet.  Some of the artwork was purchased from a church in Bruges, Brussels. Other rare pieces include the terracotta statue of Venus dating back to 300BC and the Japanese Bronze Temple Lantern from the 15th century.  Paintings by John Constable, Jean Baptiste Regnault, Charles-Francois Daubigny, Adolphe-Joseph Thomas Monticelli and Caspar Netscher adorn the walls of the hotel.  

The Omni King Edward was also famous for housing one of the first radio stations in Toronto. CKGW, a Toronto based station, was owned by Gooderham and Worts Ltd, the local distillery that belonged to George Gooderham.  With Radio stations becoming a popular source of promotion, Gooderham and Worts set up offices and studios in the King Edward Hotel.  CKGW began broadcasting from the hotel on March 5th 1928.  Having the lasted equipment the station shared its wavelength and broadcast only six hours every other day.  

The hotel passed through a number of hands in the following years.  In 1933 the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company became the owners of the hotel.  Between 1941 and 1950 the hotel was owned by C.A Ripley and Vernon Cardy. The Mount Royal Hotel in Montreal, the Royal ConnaughtHotel in Hamilton, the General Brock in Niagara Falls, the Prince Edward in Windsor and the Alpine Inn in Sainte Adele Quebec were all owned by the Cardy's hotel chain.  In 1950s Sheraton bought the Cardy Hotel chain.  Following several years of decline the King Edward Hotel was bought by Trans Inc in 1979.  They paid 6.3 million dollars for the establishment.  The hotel was closed for a 30 million dollar restoration completed by Stanford Downey Architects Inc. The property reopened in 1981 as part of the Trusthouse Forte Hotels, after Forte had acquired the Meridien Hotels from Air France.  In 1994 the King Edward was renamed Le Meridien King Edward.  

On the hotel's 100th anniversary Ontario Heritage Trust unveiled a commemorative plaque.  The Crystal Ballroom was also renovated with a $6.5 million dollar makeover. In 2005 Starwood Hotels purchased the property.  A huge restoration ensued and Omni Hotel assumed the management in 2013.  The hotel was renamed Omni King Edward Hotel buying it outright in 2015.  

Many notable people have stayed at the hotel including Mark Twain, Rudolph Valentino, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley and Ernest Hemingway, who lived there for a period of time.  The Beatles stayed in the hotel,.  Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor carried on a notorious affair in the hotel.  Leonard Cohen wrote a musical set in the hotel called "I am a Hotel".

The Omni King Edward is a source of many paranormal reports. The service elevator to the Crystal Ballroom behaves erratically, stopping for no reason.  Chandeliers have been known to swing with vigour for no apparent reason.  Guests staying in rooms below the deserted Crystal Ballroom have reportedly heard music and the sounds of celebration and people talking. 

I thought that the Omni King Edward Hotel was a beautiful place to stay.  My suite was huge and opulent with gorgeous views of Toronto.  The breakfast was served in an opulent room that was adorned with magnificent art and tapestries.  The foyer of the hotel is grand and luxurious.  I would definitely recommend this gorgeous hotel.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fulford Place, Brockville Ontario

Fulford Place is an Edwardian building situated in Brockville, Ontario on the shore of the St Lawrence River.  Formerly known as Elizabethtown, Brockville is a city in Eastern Ontario. It was first settled by English speakers in 1785 when refugees from the American Revolution fled north.  William Buell Sr was the first loyalist to settle in the area, resulting in locals calling it Buell’s Bay.  As the area grew the town was renamed Elizabethtown by officials from Upper Canada.  In 1812 leading residents of the town suggested naming the town Brockville in honor of Major General Isaac Brock, widely recognised as the saviour of Upper Canada during the war with America.  

By the nineteenth century Brockville had developed into a local centre of industry with a foundry, shipbuilding, a tinsmith, tanneries and a brewery.  In 1854 Brockville and Morristown NY, situated across the Lawrence River, became centres for the patent medicine industry.  Such medicinal products as ‘Dr Morse’s Indian Root Pills’ And ‘Dr McKenzie’s Worm Tablets’ were made.  It was the patent and creation of ‘Dr William’s Pink Pills for Pale People’ that resulted in Fulford Place being built.  

George Taylor Fulford was the proprietor of a drug store and also famous for owning the patent for ‘Dr William’s Pink Pills for Pale People’.  The Pills claimed to cure cholera, nervous headaches, palpitations, sallow complexions and partial paralysis.  The medicine contained iron oxide and magnesium sulfate. G.T Fulford & Company aquired the exclusive patent and the product came to be advertised in over 80 countries around the world.  

With his growing wealth Fulford commissioned NY architect Albert W. Fuller to design and build a summer home in Brockville.  The mansion was decorated in Beaux Arts style, characterised by French and Italian Baroque and Rococo formulas.  The building of the Edwardian mansion was begun in 1899 and finished in 1901 and the mansion was famous for its lavish design and decor.  The mansion has 35 rooms including a grand hall, huge verandah, a moorish smoking room and billiard room as well as a rococo style drawing room. The gardens, originally part of the ten acres of land on which Fulford Place was constructed, were designed by the Olmstead Brother.  The Olmstead Brother’s Company were an influential landscape architectural firm from the United States, established by brothers, John Charles Olmstead and Frederick Law Olmstead Jnr.  

At the age of 53 Fulford was the first person in Canada to die in an automobile accident. On October 8th 1905, Fulford was riding in a chauffeur driven open roadster in Newton, Massachusetts.  The car slammed into a streetcar, resulting in the death of the chauffeur and Fulford who died seven days after the accident.  Following his untimely death his socialite wife Mary Wilder White became fascinated with spiritualism and started to hold regular seances at the mansion.  Mary was close friends with the Prime Minister of Canada, William Lyon MacKenzie King, also an enthusiast of the occult.  In the 1930’s King met medium Henrietta Wreidt and it is reported that they attended a seance at the Fulford house and experienced Direct Voice Mediumship.  King was said to have participated in many seances held in Fulford Place.  He is even reported to have continued spending time in the house following Mary’s death.  While he was Prime Minister, King’s interests in the occult were kept secret.

Fulford Place is now a Museum, with the house and gardens preserved by the Ontario Heritage Foundation.  Mary White is said to haunt the mansion.  She was terribly afraid of thunderstorms and it is said that anytime there is a thunderstorm, loud and unexplained knocking occurs at the door as though someone is trying desperately to come in from the storm. 

When I went to photograph Fulford Place the Museum was closed.  The house has a strange feel about it and while I walked around alone taking pictures it was hard not to feel as though someone was watching from the empty house.  The garden also has some interesting statues.  This beautiful mansion is well worth a visit.