Then and Now Montreal – The Second Empire-style hotel, designed by Architect William Boyington opened in January 1878. The opening gala, the largest social gathering Montreal had ever seen, was attended by Lady Dufferin (the wife of the Governor General), the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, Princess Louise and her husband John Campbell, the Marquess of Lorne. The Windsor soon became the centre of Montreal’s social and business worlds. Over the years the hotel has been host to international guests, celebrities, dignitaries and monarchs. Sarah Bernhardt, Mark Twain, Stephen Leacock, Winston Churchill, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Rudyard Kipling, Fanny Davenport, Oscar Wilde, Charles de Gaulle, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, John F. Kennedy, Jean Lesage, and Bruce Willis have stayed at the Windsor Hotel.
The Windsor Hotel, often considered to be the first grand railway hotel in Canada,was built between
1875 and 1878 by the Windsor Hotel Company, founded by Montreal businessmen Andrew Allen, A. Buntin, William E. Philipps, Horatio A. Nelson, James D. Gibb, Frederick W. Kay, and Mathew H. Gault. Although not being owned by a railway company, it was built to serve railway visitors from Windsor Station located just a block south of the hotel.
In 1906, a fire destroyed almost 100 guest rooms. After being renovated, a new wing, known as the Windsor Annex, was added to the north of the original building. The number of rooms went up from 368 to 750, and the hotel now occupied an entire city block. The new rooms were fitted with brass beds and mahogany furniture, and more than 225 of the rooms had attached bathrooms. The North Annex, also built in the Second Empire style, opened in 1908, and contained the famous “Peacock Alley”. A long distance telephone service was also installed in the hotel
In 1917, the owners of the Montreal Canadiens, the Quebec Bulldogs, the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Wanderers met in one of the Windsor’s restaurants to form the National Hockey League.
In 1939, during their first royal tour of Canada, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed at the Windsor Hotel. At a state banquet in the hotel, Montreal’s francophone mayor, Camillien Houde, remarked in his address to the monarchs: “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming. And my wife thanks you from her bottom too”.
In 1957, a second fire destroyed a third of the hotel. This time the damage was extensive, and the original hotel structure had to be demolished. Within the next five years, the CIBC office tower was constructed on the site of the original hotel. The North Annex was all that remained of the Windsor Hotel, and contained 200 guest rooms, two ballrooms and Peacock Alley. The Windsor Hotel continued to operate out of the North Annex for almost another 25 years, but competition from newer hotels lead to the Windsor’s slow decline. In 1987, the Windsor reopened as an office building called “Le Windsor”. Peacock Alley and a number of marble staircases have been preserved, and the two ballrooms are still used for banquets, wedding receptions and conferences. In 2006, the building was completely renovated. Today the office building houses the headquarters of Valeurs Mobilieres Desjardins, the securities and investment banking division of the Desjardins Group, and Claridge, the trust management offices for the Bronfman family.