Calgary’s iconic hotel the Fairmont Palliser celebrates its centennial

A lot can affect tourism in 100 years. Two world wars, prohibition, and an oil boom are just a few highlights The Fairmont Palliser can tell you about as they celebrate their centenary this month. In June 1914, The Palliser, as it was called in the beginning, opened its doors, putting the hotel’s best foot forward to welcome the world to its doorstep.

Functioning as a hub for travelers, and built primarily to attract tourists from the already established Banff Springs Hotel, The Palliser was a beacon in a young, western Canadian city.

“It really connected Canada and it was the gateway to the Rockies,” says Jacqueline Tyler, Communications Manager at The Fairmont Palliser. “Some people today forget that’s why we originated – we’re a castle by the tracks.”

“Being a Calgarian, I love showing people who we are here,” Tyler adds. “Looking at Calgary, and seeing how special this property is and seeing how true it is to Calgary’s spirit and our western hospitality, and food is very close to that.”

Food is the best way to showcase a region and a culture. A century ago Calgary was finding its identity, with The Palliser making a name for itself as the new cornerstone of the city’s cultural foundation.

“At the time it was the only place to go in Calgary,” Tyler says. “It was the tallest building in the downtown core, so this was a hustling and bustling place. This is where everybody met. You’d stop in and get your crusty French loaf of bread and hop on the train.”

Business meetings, banquets, and weddings were all held at The Palliser over the years and the ability of the service staff – upwards of 350 strong – to accommodate all guests is what made them special.

“When people came to purchase and make decisions on stocks, they’d have their meetings upstairs,” Tyler points out. “There were a lot more meetings that took place here, just because it used to be the most formal place to meet as a group.”

“Even today we’re specialized as a business traveler hotel,” Tyler adds. “Monday through Wednesday we’re sold out, and then on the weekends we’re really trying to gain, as a city, more festivals and conferences that take place over the weekend to fill up the hotels.”

Any high-end restaurant you’ve heard of in the past five years, preaches a local and sustainable mantra to craft their menus around, but 100 years ago you didn’t have a choice. Out-of season fruits and vegetables were not available at a neighbourhood market, making you wonder how The Palliser pulled off their menus every day.

It’s even more remarkable when you consider the lengths the hotel would have to go to source not only produce, but staff as well in the beginning.

“Everything would come by horse and buggy,” Tyler says. “Think how far the chef at the time would go to a farm and build a relationship with the farmer to source something direct. But it would all be local.”

“And that was true for the way we would receive new towels and bed sheets too.”

Harry Sanders, local historian and former Historian Laureate of Calgary, says that since The Palliser was a part of Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Hotels, they had a detailed manual of service that established this service benchmark. Staff were sometimes transferred between properties, which explains the presence of an established service standard.

Drawing from their far-reaching talent pool, The Palliser was able to steal many of their first staff away from CPR Hotels across the country as well as across the world, the first chef, Chef M. Dematties, hailed from France.

One of Chef Dematties’ original recipes can still be found on the menu today – the Clam Chowder. That same recipe has lasted through many chefs who value tradition and preserving some of Calgary’s heritage, but make no mistake, they are more than happy to accommodate current food trends too.

The Palliser’s, recently implemented Whatever You Want option dares guests to challenge the kitchen to create, keeping staff on their toes and eager to try something new.

“We just started that a few months ago,” Tyler says. “Chef will order certain lobsters just in case we get the question. He did a Mac & Cheese grilled cheese recently as well.”

The Palliser was and still is, in many respects, a benchmark of culinary and hospitality excellence.

The service staff, built upon a century of tradition, is the kindest, most professional staff a hotel or restaurant could hope for. They have to be, and they have only themselves to blame for such high standards.

“I just love the whole idea of welcoming the world and creating that guest experience, turning moments into memories and just seeing how everyone can make that so authentic,” Tyler says.

100 Years of Dining at the Fairmont Palliser – A Historical Look at Menus

1914-1923

Appetizer

Oysters Rockefeller

Main

Chateaubriand

Sauce Béarnaise, Merlot Jus

Dessert

Crème Caramel

 

1924-1933

Appetizer

Shrimp Cocktail

Main

Beef Roulade with Succotash

Dessert

Peach Melba

 

1934-1943

Appetizers

Caesar Salad

Main

Cured and grilled double Pork Chop

Creamy Barley and Apple Chutney

Dessert

Baked Alaska

 

1944-1953

Appetizer

Beef Consomme/ Root Vegetable Julienne

Main

Grilled Rib steak

Yorkshire Pudding and Seasonal Vegetables

Dessert

Cherries jubilee

 

1954-1963

Appetizer

Baked Escargot/garlic Butter

Main

6 oz Beef Tenderloin Surf’s up

Whipped Potato and Seasonal Vegetables

Dessert

Floating Island

 

1964-1973

Appetizer

Foie Gras Torchon

Brioche and Apple Marmalade

Main

Roasted Chicken Supreme

Stuffed with Mushrooms and Spinach

Fingerling Potatoes and Madeira Jus

Dessert

Lemon Meringue Pie

 

1974-1983

Appetizer

French Onion soup

Main

Braised Lamb Shank

Whipped Potato and Seasonal Vegetables

Dessert

Grasshopper Pie

 

1984-1993

Appetizer

Coquille Saint Jaques

Main

Osso Bucco

Creamy Polenta

Dessert

Cannoli

1994-2003

Appetizer

Tuna Crudo

Main

Five spice roasted Chicken Supreme

Soba Noodles and Miso Broth

Dessert

Green Tea Cheese Cake

2004-Today

Appetizer

Kale & Orange Salad

Boursin Vinaigrette

Main

Roasted striped Bass

Beluga Lentils, smoked Tomato Jam and Saffron Cream

Dessert

Triple layer Cardamom Chocolate Mousse

Crystallized Rose Pedal and Pistachio Brittle

Photos courtesy Fairmont Palliser

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