QUEBEC CITY - The red-and-white icing covering the biggest birthday cake I’ve ever seen is making my mouth water in anticipation. I want to swish my finger across the top to taste the sugary sweetness, but I don’t dare.
Suddenly, my 7-year-old son Noah jumps too close to the gigantic masterpiece and I quickly pull him back to avoid turning it into an upside-down cake.
Soon the delicious creation will be cut into 1,000 pieces and 1,000 happy mouths will gobble it up as they do every July 1 when the renowned Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac Hotel gives away cake to celebrate Canada’s birthday. And, in polite Canadian fashion, locals and tourists orderly line up along the boardwalk outside for a free slice.
The castle-like Chateau Frontenac dominates the city’s fairy-tale skyline, perched like a crown atop a cliff over the mighty St. Lawrence River.
The boardwalk affords stunning views of the river and surrounding city and is usually packed with kids running around having fun, some climbing on the ancient cannon monuments. Happy couples walk hand-in-hand and visitors from all over the world snap photos of the oldest part of one of North America’s oldest settlements.
Left: Miriam Porter and her son Noah stand outside the historic Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. Right: Noah soaks up some of the French Canadian culture on the streets of Old Quebec.
When Noah first sees our hotel he shouts, “It’s gi-normous! All the people in the whole city can live in here!”
Well, not quite, but the hotel does boast 618 rooms on 18 floors, including 30 suites. The Frontenac is one of the most popular hotels in Canada, hosting more than 300,000 guests annually.
My little prince soon starts referring to the Frontenac as his “castle” and races to our open window and sings, “I’m the king of the castle,” to passersby below.
The Frontenac displays almost 2,000 sparkling windows and has more than 12 kilometres of corridors within its walls.
And oh, if its walls could talk, what a glorious tale they could tell. The Frontenac’s history includes great summits involving Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin during World War II, and it’s the place monarchs, presidents and prime ministers stay when they visit Quebec City.
The hotel’s story began in the late 19th century when Canadian Pacific Railways president William Van Horne wanted the perfect luxury stopover for his passengers. He hired New York architect Bruce Price (who had earlier designed Montreal’s Windsor Station), to create his visionary chateau.
The Frontenac’s structure incorporates Medieval and Renaissance elements in its design and the bricks that form its sturdy outer walls were imported from Scotland. Its stunning copper roof, turned a lime green by the elements, now acts as a beacon for weary travellers.
Above: Noah sits amongst the historic trappings of the famed Frontenac, which looks more like a lived-in museum.
The first wing opened in December, 1893, with 170 rooms, including 93 rooms with bathrooms and fireplaces — a first for the times.
Now, all 618 rooms have spacious bathrooms with travel sized toiletries and robes. Our room also had a mini bar, coffee maker, cordless telephone, WiFi, hairdryer and television. Noah discovered French cartoons and laughed himself to sleep most nights.
The Frontenac’s heritage and charisma has attracted celebrity guests such as Paul McCartney, Celine Dion and Steven Spielberg, and the grand lady of Canadian hotels was transformed into a movie set for the Alfred Hitchcock film I Confess in 1953.
The hotel’s old world charm still greets every guest in the main lobby with original décor. In 2013, the Frontenac celebrated its 120th anniversary and launched a $66-million makeover, which will be completed in 2014.
The latest revitalization of the Chateau Frontenac will increase its standing among the greatest hotels in the world and will give it another reason to bake a cake.
The Fairmont Chateau Frontenac: www.fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec
or call 1-866-540-4460 / For more information on Quebec City, go to www.quebecregion.com
or call 1-877-783-1608 / Porter Airlines flies direct from Toronto's Island Airport: www.flyporter.com
/ Air Canada and WestJet also offer daily flights to Quebec City / Quebec City offers many activities that appeal to family travel.