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Beyond The Gender Divide At The King Edward Hotel

December 11, 2012

1900 woman & man

At the turn of the 20th-century, the gender divide between women & men was still very much a part of the transition from Victorian to Edwardian times – and The King Edward Hotel, opened in 1903 as Toronto’s first luxury hotel, was no exception.  Until the second world war in the mid-1900s, women’s and men’s roles had been basically the same for thousands of years, and social roles were even more strictly outlined during the Victorian era and into the Edwardian period.

1900 women's fashion

The social roles that 1900s men and women were expected to live up to may be offensive and objectionable by today’s standards, but it was a very different world than the one we have become accustomed to in our time.  It was a world dominated by men.  Women were expected to be “ladylike” and charming at all times, they were to be seen always properly dressed, and never alone in the company of another man – except their husband or family member. They could not drink alcohol – it wasn’t considered “ladylike”; they could not just casually go into a bar like many women take for granted today – they would have been ridiculed by the male patrons and thrown out.  So, the long-standing tradition of afternoon tea was established.

afternoon tea

Female guests staying at The King Edward Hotel in the early 1900s would find the hotel very accommodating when it came to dealing with such social sensitivities. Unlike the lobby guest check-in process at the Front Desk today for both men and women, The King Edward Hotel had a separate entrance (on Victoria Street) and check-in area on the main floor for ladies traveling alone – known as The Ladies’ Booking Room.

Ladies Booking Room

(The Ladies’ Booking Room)

Ladies Booking Office

Here, women could check-in and have their rooms assigned, book theatre tickets, receive mail, telegrams, telephone calls, calling or visiting cards – and generally a place where these ladies could receive any other guests or callers (male or female) in the clear presence and eyesight of other ladies and staff. This department also had lavatories and an elevator to all floors, parlors and dining rooms – which did away with having unescorted female guests having to cross the lobby to the Front Desk and Main Office. This was clearly understood to be the gentleman’s part of the hotel. 

If a husband and wife were staying together in the hotel, a woman would not be seen standing at the main office lobby check-in counter to check in with her husband (as she does today) – that was a man’s job!

main office

(The Lobby Front Desk & Main Office)

All ladies would be shown to the Ladies’ Parlor on the second floor of the hotel where they could discretely look down upon the gentlemen in the lobby until summoned by their husbands. The King Edward Hotel was staffed with well-trained younger maids attending to the female guests. In the Ladies’ Parlor, women could read books, write letters, and take tea and light meals – all without fear of being bothered or even observed by gentlemen guests.

Ladies' Parlor

(The Ladies’ Parlor overlooking the Main Lobby)

The ladies could even enjoy more “feminine” overstuffed furniture and admire some of the artworks of the hotel – like the ivory jewel box (seen under glass on the table on left-side of the photo above) that belonged to 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.

Edwardian gentlemen

For gentlemen guests, The King Edward Hotel served all of their many “manly” needs. The hotel was equipped with a magnificent glass and mahogany newsstand and cigar-store that filled one side of the main lobby, where men-of-the-day could purchase news-of-the-day and smoke their cigars freely. 


(The Lobby News & Cigar Stand)

Today, The King Edward Hotel is completely smoke-free for the convenience, safety and health of all guests. Another sign of the change in times and sensibilities.

While the ladies had the Ladies’ Parlor, the gentlemen had the oak-paneled Bar & Gentleman’s Café on the main floor, which later became known as the Oak Room – and is now Victoria’s Restaurant. This was the strict realm of men as they drank their scotches, whiskeys, gins and beers – and where women were forbidden to step foot into!

Gent's Cafe

(Bar & Gentleman’s Café)

Gent's bar

There was also The Grill Room, located in the basement of the hotel, for men to have a feast of the finest grilled meats and delicious “manly-meals” fit for a King like Edward.  After a delicious meal, men could then play a game of billiards in the Billiard Room also located in the basement.

Grill room

(The Grill Room)


The King Edward Hotel also provided male guests with a well-equipped and modern barbershop to keep the mostly upper-class gentlemen well-groomed and well-admired by the ladies (and possibly by other gents).

barber shop

(The Barbershop)

Although times have changed and the gender divide is no longer so strict – the same luxuries for both women and men continue to exist at The King Edward Hotel. There’s no separate check-in for guests based on gender – but guests are still given exceptional welcomes and old-world charm service that all guests have been given since the hotel opened in 1903.

King Edward Hotel

May 13th, 2013 marks the 110th anniversary of The King Edward Hotel, and both women and men can still dine like royalty on the delicious, mouth-watering and supremely-satisfying variety of dishes prepared by creative culinary chefs and served by attentive wait staff in Victoria’s Restaurant or by In-Room Dining


room service

Today, both men and women can enjoy a drink together in The Consort Bar.

consort bar

Today, both men and women can  sit comfortably relaxing together in the majestic and regal hotel lobby.

lobby 2

lobby 3

And both men and women can enjoy Toronto’s longest-running Afternoon High Tea Service that still provides a variety of the finest tea-blends, delectable sandwiches, and scrumptiously-delicious desserts – that’s not just for the ladies!

tea sandwhiches


The King Edward Hotel continues to update with the times – but has never lost touch with how to treat every guest like a lady or gentlemen.  We may have gone beyond the gender divide of the early 20th-century, but you’ll still feel the same royal treatment of a first-class, luxury hotel today – whether you’re a man, woman, or somewhere in between.

  1. Peggy Hryniowski permalink

    I loved reading the history of this wonderful institution. Only complaint is that the writer used American spelling in the description. I believe the journalist Gregory Clark lived at the King Eddy. Any further information would be appreciated.

    • Thank you for your comment and appreciation of this blog about the history of The King Edward Hotel. Yes, Gregory Clark did live at the hotel and I’m sure much of his writing has its origins there. Sorry about the American spelling of certain words. I still believe there’s honour in writing with the flavour of the English language. I only wish I could write in colour!

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