The return of ‘missing’ hotel goods
Two menus from a lunch in honour of The Prince and Princess of Wales in 1983. (Sian Griffiths)
Ottawa’s Fairmont Chateau Laurier, one of the city’s most majestic landmark hotels, is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a special amnesty. Until 31 May, former guests can return items that have gone “missing” from the hotel, no questions asked.
Built by railway baron Charles Melville Hayes, the hotel also has connections to another, more famous 100 year anniversary this spring. Hayes sadly didn't make the much anticipated grand opening of the Chateau Laurier in June 1912 because he was a passenger on the Titanic, which sank in April of that year.
The hotel, built to resemble a Gothic French chateau, still retains original features like brass banisters, oak panelling and a 1930s Art Deco swimming pool. A guest list spanning a century includes figures such as Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Ozzy Osbourne and Hilary Swank.
The hotel's amnesty already yielded the brass keys from Room 542, which had been lost for more than 80 years and were mailed secretly from Vancouver. A beer stein and a letter opener were left anonymously at reception. But other past guests and their descendants have descended on the hotel, all wielding past paraphernalia and all with a story to tell, adamant that no crime had been committed.
Shirley Van Dusen, an 86-year-old painter, said she was simply delayed "by 50 years" in returning one of the hotel's sterling silver ladles. She discovered it in a bedroom set she purchased from the hotel half a century ago. She used the spoon just once -- to impress family friend and former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who made her promise to take it back. The hotel’s amnesty allowed her to make good on that pledge.
"Cheers!" said Jean Graham to her husband, as she handed over a couple of sherry glasses on loan. She recently bought them in a charity shop for 20 cents. They ended up being antique glasses from the Grand Trunk Railway, Canada’s dominant railway system until it became part of today’s Canadian National Railways in 1923. Hotel spokeswoman Deneen Perrin said Hayes was also the head of the GTR during a period of great railway expansion, making items from that era very valuable to the hotel.
Sharon and Joel Edelson handed in a small mother-of -pearl knife, found among her late father-in-laws belongings. Mr Edelson's father had regularly dined in the hotel's cafeteria in the 1940s and they were certain he must have been given the item by hotel staff.
Derele Scarfe presented the hotel with a range of menus -- including one from a New Year's Eve party her mother attended in 1937. Wendy Wood also donated two menus which she had kept as souvenirs, from a lunch she and her late husband had attended in honour of The Prince and Princess of Wales in 1983.
For those who still have a pair of silver salt and pepper shakers or any other innocently pilfered items at home, there's still time to return them - no questions asked. The hotel will put the items on display in June, running through 31 December.