Did you know that Toronto’s first luxury hotel – The King Edward Hotel – also housed one of the city’s first radio stations?
CKGW was a Toronto-based radio station owned and operated by Gooderham and Worts Ltd., a local distillery better known for its whisky. George Gooderham, co-owner of the distillery, was also the first financier of the grand, palatial hotel when it was built in 1903.
Following the latest technology trend of the turn of the 20th century, radio stations were turning up everywhere – including at The King Edward Hotel, as part of a growing group of companies who had realized the potential for self-promotion through radio. Gooderham and Worts set up offices and studios in the King Edward Hotel, and a 5kW transmitter in Bowmanville, Ontario – and CKGW began broadcasting on March 5, 1928.
(Bowmanville, Ontario transmitter)
CKGW at The King Edward Hotel was equipped for broadcast with all of the latest radio transmission equipment, and shared its wave length with at least one other station – Toronto’s CFRB – a radio station that still exists today. As a result its broadcast days were short, broadcasting on the air for only six hours every other day.
By 1929, CKGW appears to have acquired the exclusive use of a new radio frequency channel, expanding its programming schedule to seven days a week, to include quality home-grown content such as Betty’s Home Chats and Cooking School.
CKGW’s 5kW transmitter – one of only two in Canada at the time – made it one of the most powerful and most modern stations in Canada, with a signal not only reaching across Canada, but also having a particularly wide range in the United States.
Among some of it’s musical broadcasts were the Toronto Asphalt Roofing Orchestra, and Luigi Romanelli and his hotel house band, the Radio Syncopaters.
Romanelli and his musical ensemble were one of The King Edward Hotel’s longest-running big band orchestras that performed over the years (from 1923 to the early 1940s) in the hotel’s Oak Room and popular entertainment spot – The Crystal Ballroom.
Click the song link to listen to the style of easy-swing music Romanelli and the Radio Syncopaters would have performed – such as I want you morning, noon and night.
When The King Edward Hotel was opened in 1903 as Toronto’s first luxury hotel, it boasted having electricity, telephones and the latest luxuries for the care and comfort of all guests in every guest room. The richness of colors and the decorative touches with soft furnishings brought elegance to each guest’s stay – making it a comfortable and memorable experience. The King Edward Hotel was well ahead of many of the hotels of the early 1900s – and continues to be today – in providing a full-range of the comforts, room-styles and services we take for granted when staying in a hotel today. Guest rooms had private baths and showers, wall-to-wall carpets, a variety of restful beds and types, along with plenty of light and space to relax in a palatial home away from home.
1900s Guest Room:
(A typical luxury hotel guest room of the 1900s)
Brass beds, lace curtains and floral patterns on walls and carpets were more popular and considered more regal at the turn of the 20th-century.
1910s Guest Room:
(A typical luxury hotel guest room of the 1910s)
Other rooms had more simple walls and floor coverings – but focused on amenities. After almost a decade since it opened, The King Edward Hotel became renowned for its lavish decor outside and inside guest rooms – along with extraordinary service and amenities provided. The luxury hotel was designed to thoroughly pamper and impress guests during their stay.
1920s Guest Room:
(A typical luxury hotel guest room of the 1920s)
By the 1920s, guest rooms became more “practical” and comfortable with less clutter providing more space for guests – but still a sense of luxury and comfort away from home.
1930s Guest Room:
(A typical luxury “standard” hotel guest room of the 1930s)
By the 1930s, hotels began experimenting with new styles and room layouts to accommodate a variety of guests – mostly for an increase in more single travelers and single beds. Wood bed-frames and wood furnishings became more stylish. King-size beds were still uncommon in most hotels.
1940s Guest Room:
(A typical luxury hotel guest room of the 1940s)
In the 1940s, air-conditioned rooms were still a luxury waiting for hotel guests of the future – but the idea of an in-room honor/mini-bar became popular. Notice the electric fan to keep guests cooler – and bottles of “booze” on the side-bar to perhaps “heat” guests up.
1950s Guest Room:
(A typical “double” hotel guest room of the 1950s)
By the 1950s, “motor hotels” designed for the increase in business and leisure guest travelers on motor-vehicle “road-trips” sprung up across Canada and the United States. The booming age of the automobile, television and air-conditioning had arrived – and The King Edward Hotel recognized the need to compete – soon putting television sets and air-conditioning in every room. Also notice the ashtray on the table. Smoking was accommodated for everyone everywhere – unlike the completely smoke-free policy of The King Edward hotel today for the health, safety and comfort of all guests.
1960s Guest Room:
(A King Edward Hotel guest room of the 1960s)
In the 1960s, experimental trends and colors like avocado-green and biege-brown became popular and were reflected in the guest room decorations. Guest rooms may have become more “color-full” but TV was still in black & white.
1970s Guest Room:
(A typical king-size luxury hotel guest room of the 1970s)
Lines & luxury became a decorating style in the 1970s for hotel guest rooms – with many of the dark-browns and olive-greens continuing from the previous decade now displayed in new patterned ways. Unfortunately, by the 1970s, The King Edward Hotel was beginning to fall into disrepair after going into receivership several times while competing against the changing world of big corporate hotel chains. During that dark-decade the hotel even faced demolition, but was saved after being declared a heritage-building. And – just like the dark styles of the 70s that faded away – so too did dark & drab hotel guest room designs.
1980s Guest Room:
(A King Edward Hotel guest room of the 1980s)
By the 1980s, The King Edward Hotel was temporarily closed down and completely renovated with guest rooms newly reflecting a return to the combination of classic comfort and style that set the hotel ahead of other hotels. The rooms were again filled with colorful overstuffed furniture, a relaxing sofa seating area, and luxuriously comfortable king-size beds – while also providing the latest up-to-date technology for an increase in international business travelers. Notice the in-room fax-machine on the desk.
1990s Guest Room:
(A King Edward Hotel guest room 1990s)
Returning to the classic and eloquent old-world charm that set The King Edward Hotel apart from other luxury hotels when it first opened, the 1990s guest room provided a space of color and floral patterns – with continued comfort and convenience.
2000s Guest Room:
(A King Edward Hotel guest room 2000s)
As the new millennium arrived, The King Edward Hotel addressed the needs of a variety of travelers from around the world who wanted royal quality and comfort with simpler sleek designs and value. A variety of different-styled rooms and sizes accommodated a variety of different-styled tastes and expectations, creating a feeling of tasteful home-away-from-home rooms – but with continued exceptional regal guest services.
Guest Room Today & Tomorrow:
The King Edward Hotel is once again undergoing exciting and extensive renovations – including the conversion of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors into private residences.
(Artist designs of new King Edward Hotel private residences)
Along with this highly-anticipated development, guest rooms at The King Edward Hotel are now beginning to model these renovations with eloquent and tasteful styles that reflect the dawn of a new and modern type of luxury fit for all modern guests with richness of colors, space and decorative touches – just as the hotel did when it first opened in 1903.
(Newly renovated guest room at The King Edward Hotel)
(Newly renovated guest bathroom at The King Edward Hotel)
Once all guest rooms are completely renovated at The King Edward Hotel, guests will continue to pamper themselves in royal luxury – that includes all of the latest amenities and comforts of quality & service.
Hotel guest rooms may have changed over the years – even at The King Edward Hotel – but all the modern conveniences of light, space, decor and design, along with up-to-date technology continue to make The King Edward Hotel a place of eloquence, comfort and exceptional service fit for a king, queen or those who just want to feel like a king or queen. Even the opulent King Eddy himself would approve!
When The King Edward Hotel in Toronto opened its doors to the public in 1903, it was clear that the many artworks on public display added to the elegance and great taste of the hotel. Many of the artifacts were not chosen as part of the grand opulence that was the Edwardian-style of the time, but rather as a sincere and important contribution to the existing art life and education of the growing city and guests. With the opening of Toronto’s first luxury hotel, The King Edward became a world-class showcase of fineness and reputation – as it still is today.
The art installments in the hotel included colorful paintings, magnificent carvings, metal work and pottery from many nations and historical significance. Some of the unique and precious curios were purchased from the famous Clemenceau collection of Paris.
Other treasures included two elaborate torso wood columns that had been purchased from a church in Bruges, Belgium – standing tall at the inside entrance of the hotel.
One of the more important pieces was a carved ivory jewel box of Diane de Poitiers – a French noblewoman, during the renaissance in the 16th-century, and prominent courtier at the courts of kings Francis I and his son, Henry II of France.
Also among the early treasures of The King Edward Hotel was an eight-inch ancient terra cotta statue of Venus – dating back to 300 B.C. – on display in the Palm Room (today known as the Pall Mall).
Included in the eclectic mix of art items was a life-sized wood-carved statue, heavily lacquered with gold, from the 15th-century of Prince Sakyamuni (who later became Buddha) – prominently displayed atop a stand adorned with palms in the hotel’s lounge floor – overlooking the lobby.
Adding to the majesty of this life-sized figurine stood a large and rare Japanese bronze temple lantern in the hotel’s main lobby. The brilliant lantern – also dates to the 15th-century – was from a Shintu Temple at Nara.
Also scattered throughout the corridors of the hotel were beautiful handicraft objects: such as Italian Fayence wares from Urbino and Castelli similar to the piece shown below…
… as well as ancient chests and cabinets decorated by Flemish and Belgian wood carvers, and exquisite metal work and pottery by artisans of Venice, Florence, and China.
Guests were also impressed by the inlaid clock case – carved out of solid mahogany logs – made in Paris in 1902, framing the fireplace in the hotel lobby.
Adorning the hotel walls were precious paintings. Among them was a river scene by the famous English romantic landscape artist, John Constable (1766-1834)…
… a painting by French artist, Theodore Rousseau titled, The Old Mill …
… a piece by French artist Jean-Baptiste Regnault…
… another by Charles-Francois Daubigny – Bords of the Oisie…
… and a piece by Adolphe-Joseph-Thomas Monticelli.
There was also a work by Caspar Netscher of the Duchess D’Angouleme – also known as Diane de Poitiers – portrayed as the Huntress Diana (similar to the painting below) whose jewelry box, you may recall (see above), the hotel had on display.
The King Edward Hotel showcased several pieces by artist Maxime Dastugue – a little-known, “modern” artist at the time when the hotel opened at the turn of the 20th-century.
Among other more obscure painters presented by the hotel were C.V. de Windt, Harry Vander Weyden, A. Brion, Anthony Ludovici, Szementowsky, Charles Pepper, A. Boucher, and Canadian artist William Brymner.
In 1906, The King Edward Hotel issued a guests’ book to visitors. The booklet – part information/part company advertising for merchants – provided an overview of the hotel facilities for the use of guests, including a description of the art collections mentioned above, and other objects of historic value.
The booklet goes on to describe various other artwork reproductions that can be found in the guest rooms. In the top centre of the page below is a photo of The Lamp that lights the traveller in. This is a stylish example of not only elegant and functional art design, but also the fact that The King Edward hotel was ahead of its time and other hotels in Toronto in 1907 by providing full lighting electricity for guests throughout the entire hotel.
(Click on the image above to enlarge)
Although tastes in works of art may have changed over the past 100 years since The King Edward first opened its doors, today the hotel still presents some spectacular works of artistic talent and beauty. Current artwork at the hotel will be presented in another upcoming blog – so more to come!
In the meantime, as the 1907 guests’ book concluded in it’s chapter on Art in The King Edward, “Altogether The King Edward Hotel is in a real sense a museum of the choicest in painting and of the fine arts”.
The King Edward Hotel has become “a museum” in its own right as Toronto’s first luxury hotel – but a museum with absolute grandeur along with regal comfort and excellent service – a place still fit for a king , queen or everyday guest to come and experience as a work of art!
When the hotel opened in 1903 as Toronto’s first luxury hotel, the Edwardian-style of opulence and grandeur was adopted by the hotel with four, life-sized paintings of early Canadian history scenes adorning the lobby walls – painted by renowned American artist William de Leftwich Dodge.
A panorama of French fur traders, First Nations Peoples, the early exploration of North America for England by John Cabot, and General Wolfe’s victory on the Plains of Abraham were all part of the original four early-twentieth century romantic-realism style murals.
Interestingly, this last mural mentioned was the cause of much disagreement between the American mural artist Dodge and the Toronto-based hotel architect E.J. Lennox.
The dispute was not because of the subject matter, but because of its design. Lennox argued that this particular mural was too dark, gloomy and big for the space over the hotel’s original elevators (now the entrance way to the hotel’s Consort Bar) beside the Grand Staircase. Dodge would not be persuaded to alter his “artistic-license” – even taking the matter to an American court and winning his case. However, the artist’s Canadian employer disregarded the ruling – and ultimately replaced Dodge’s mural of General Wolfe with another painting by well-known Canadian muralist Frederick Challener.
This new mural was titled Trading at Fort Rouillé and depicted part of Toronto’s own early history with the French Fort Rouillé being established for trade with the First Nations before the British established the town of York – that later became Toronto.
(Challener’s mural Trading at Fort Rouillé above previous elevators)
(The entrance to the Consort Bar and Grand Staircase today)
Dodge’s other three remaining murals depicted young French women sent to Quebec by Louis XIV as wives for soldiers, traders, and other settlers (over the main desk); the 1497 landing of John Cabot in Canada’s Newfoundland; and First Nations Peoples protesting the invasion of both French and English settlers.
Unfortunately, all of these treasured works of art have been lost – either taken down or covered over by the current wood-panels that are now on the lobby walls as part of the renovation in the early 1980s. No one is quite sure what happened to them or the condition they may be in if uncovered today.
(The King Edward Hotel Front Desk and current wood panels today)
Despite the loss, the King Edward Hotel lobby still remains a regal work of color and artistry for guests, and the hotel remains a place of regal luxury and grandeur. Sadly – the lost murals of the hotel are royal treasures that may never be fully recovered.
Whether you’re a tired old queen…
or bi in-between…
a beautiful butch or daddy bear…
leather lad or lipstick lesbian…
trendy tranny or tantalizing twink…
muscle mary or big and hairy…
gay and grey or gay for pay…
or just born this way…
or just simply want to party like a pink princess or prince…
The King Edward hotel is the place to stay for World Pride. Why? Because The King Edward hotel has been host to gay “royalty” throughout its history – including myself and my husband as the first same-sex couple to have an official commitment ceremony at The King Edward Hotel.
When my husband David and I were calling around to various hotels and venues to find a place to host our commitment ceremony in 1998 (before same-sex marriage actually became legal in Ontario 2003 and in all of Canada in 2005), there were still many places that were hesitant and even confused about what we were intending to do. However, when we contacted The King Edward Hotel, they were not just welcoming – saying right away that they would be very happy to host our memorable event – but the hotel staff went above and beyond in service and style to ensure everyone was comfortable and every part was a regal celebration – and this was way back in the 90s! This type of excellent guest service continues today.
We did legally become married in 2004, but our commitment ceremony in 1998 was more of a celebration as over 100 of our family & friends joined us in The Windsor Ballroom at The King Edward Hotel. The photo above shows us cutting our wedding cake after an amazingly delicious eight-course dinner in which we interspersed the exchange of our vows, rings, and various toasts, speeches and stories from loved ones.
Although we may have been the first openly gay couple to celebrate in that particular open-style at the hotel, we certainly weren’t the first gay people to feel such acceptance and ease in being ourselves at the hotel – or meeting others of similar mind.
As I mentioned, The King Edward Hotel actually has a long history as being a place for gay people to meet and enjoy each others’ company. It’s known that gay men as far back as the early 20th century – shortly after the King Edward Hotel was built in 1903 – would discreetly meet in the hotel lobby, making careful contact – since being gay was still quite illegal.
The Toronto historian Rick Bébout has written extensively on the history of gay Toronto. He states in one of his many books that the King Edward Hotel was well-known for gays and lesbians to meet through the years – well into and after the year 1969 when being gay was no longer considered a crime in Canada.
“Over on King East was The King Edward Hotel, very grand, with its Pickwick Room and Times Square Lounge serving a discreet gay clientele“
Promiscuous Affections: 1971 – Rick Bébout
The following is a more in-depth video on same-sex marriage in Canada.
Gay World Pride 2014 may be two years away, but it’s never too early to start planning for a world-class and gay-friendly place to celebrate. My same-sex husband and I definitely recommend staying at this majestic and regal hotel that has been welcoming people from the LGBT community of all stripes and colors throughout its history. Hope to see you there!
Underneath the majestic and luxurious King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto is the little-known beginnings of an underground tunnel that heads south along Victoria Street into Scott Street towards Wellington Street. The tunnel was supposedly started to allow underground transport carriage service for hotel guests arriving from trains and ships at Union station – long before the current Union and TTC subway stations were opened in 1954.
The first serious proposal for a subway system in Toronto was made in the early part of the 20th century, with a series of proposals to bury the streetcar line on Yonge Street. A number of proposals emerged between 1909 and 1912 – just shortly after The King Edward Hotel was built in 1903 – and the development of this underground guest passage began, but was never finished.
(Excavation of Union Subway around 1949)
Just down the street to the east of the tunnel connected to the King Edward Hotel is the Gooderham Building – now commonly referred to as the “Flatiron Building“. The Flatiron building was previously the downtown head office of hotel founder George Gooderham – of Gooderham & Worts Distillery fame. George Gooderham and his company made their money selling some of the finest and most popular distilled alcohol, and selling it worldwide at a great profit.
(Gooderham Flatiron building in 1895)
(Gooderham Flatiron building today)
Tunnel construction was eventually abandoned but access to the tunnel still exists in the basement of the hotel. Some hotel staff call it “the Twilight Zone” for its current damp, eerie and other-worldly existence. The entrance to the tunnel is from an unsuspecting door leading from the hotel’s audio-visual department in the basement.
On the other side of this door one finds a floor covered with puddles of water with a Danger Construction Zone sign as a safety precaution, along with damp and rusting pipes.
I felt very privileged to be able to have been given access to the tunnel to see it for myself. Although it was very damp and dark, one can see the supporting steel beams that actually help support Victoria Street above from caving in below.
More importantly to our story is the speculation that this tunnel may have been used secretly to smuggle alcohol during the years of prohibition between 1916 and 1927. Of course, there’s no evidence to support such a claim but it does make for a fascinating story!
Supposedly, the plan was to easily connect Gooderham & Worts Distillery staff from the Flatiron building to the basement of The King Edward Hotel by using this “secret tunnel”.
Further rumors are known to question how the hotel, during the years of prohibition, could have built the towering and costly 16-storey addition by 1922, when Gooderham’s wealth and company – a major financier of the hotel – were at great risk due to financial losses during prohibition (it needs to be pointed out that George Gooderham died in 1905 – two years after the hotel was completed and a decade before the start of prohibition).
Gooderham & Worts Distillery came under siege by the prohibitionists around 1915 who sought to legislate the company and the rest of the “liquor traffic” out of business.
Prohibitionists claimed that “booze” was the root of all evil and actively campaigned across Canada – particularly in Toronto – where the very lucrative Gooderham & Worts distillery was located.
As the Legion Magazine points out, “As a result of this propaganda campaign, the prohibitionists managed to pressure provincial legislatures to pass “dry” legislation. Saskatchewan was first in 1915. Then, in 1916, came Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, followed in 1917 by New Brunswick and British Columbia. The Yukon Territory and Quebec climbed aboard the wagon in 1918. The temperance acts in each of these provinces closed drinking establishments and forbade the sale of booze.”
Further speculation is that this tunnel was secretly being used to smuggle, hide or make boot-legged alcohol for the hotel for those “privileged guests” who were secretly willing to pay for it.
Of course, it’s all still great speculation…but it does make a fascinating story adding to the colorful and important history of The King Edward Hotel – where you can still enjoy a wide-range of timeless classic alcohol drinks in the elegant and comfortable atmosphere of their Consort Bar…of course – legally!