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
Sauce Béarnaise, Merlot Jus
Beef Roulade with Succotash
Cured and grilled double Pork Chop
Creamy Barley and Apple Chutney
Beef Consomme/ Root Vegetable Julienne
Grilled Rib steak
Yorkshire Pudding and Seasonal Vegetables
Baked Escargot/garlic Butter
6 oz Beef Tenderloin Surf’s up
Whipped Potato and Seasonal Vegetables
Foie Gras Torchon
Brioche and Apple Marmalade
Roasted Chicken Supreme
Stuffed with Mushrooms and Spinach
Fingerling Potatoes and Madeira Jus
Lemon Meringue Pie
French Onion soup
Braised Lamb Shank
Whipped Potato and Seasonal Vegetables
Coquille Saint Jaques
Five spice roasted Chicken Supreme
Soba Noodles and Miso Broth
Green Tea Cheese Cake
Kale & Orange Salad
Roasted striped Bass
Beluga Lentils, smoked Tomato Jam and Saffron Cream
Triple layer Cardamom Chocolate Mousse
Crystallized Rose Pedal and Pistachio Brittle
Photos courtesy Fairmont Palliser