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CPR Lake Louise Hotel & Tramway


Lake Louise, with its curtain of mountains and emerald waters fed by the Victoria Glacier, is a crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies. A "matchless scene" is how Tom Wilson recalled his impression upon being guided to the site on August 21, 1882.:p.342 With the CPR having built its main line close by in 1883, the railway company was eager to develop the region as a prime tourist destination following the line's completion in 1885.

From a humble log cabin to a steel and masonry complex twelve decades later, the hotel underwent many alterations. Some were forced by a building burning down. But it was the steady increase in popularity of the destination that spurred a rapid succession of major increases in the number of available rooms. And as a consequence, the hotel also found itself needing early on to convey its guests from the train station to its location more efficiently. So the horse-drawn carriages were supplanted by trolleys, a unique feature amongst hotels at the time. They would in turn begin to be displaced by motorized vehicles after «...the road was extended to Lake Louise in 1926:p.54

This popularity motivated visitors to take many photographs and printers to produce various postcards. Accordingly, many phases of the hotel's history have been documented. However, only a few exact dates are available with most lying within guesstimated ranges. Thus it is difficult at times to ascribe these images to a specific phase.

In this article, we attempt to delineate and illustrate these periods as best possible. To that end, we have identified ten major hotel expansions. Inspired by the nomenclature for the occupation layers of Troy :p.134, we have simply labelled them as Lake Louise I  to Lake Louise X. And when quoting various authors, we have emphazied certain important statements.

Special thanks to the archive staff at the Glenbow Museum for informing us about the Gagnon-Pratte and Sandford publication.

Lake Louise I

The CPR's first tourist accommodation at Lake Louise (formely called Laggan) was a log chalet which opened in 1889 :p.321:

It burnt down in 1892.

Lake Louise II

The hotel was rebuilt in 1893 as The Chalet :

Fraser: «In 1894 the five-member Yale Lake Louise Club (as they grandly called it) found the manager, Mr. Astley, putting the finishing touches to the C.P.R.'s new little log chalet, where they paid the handsome sum of twelve dollars a week which included meals and the use of horse and boat. Mr. Astley's managerial duties were very diversified — after every storm the trail to Laggan was blocked by windfalls and his skill with an axe was required to open up the track so that baggage, mail and food supplies could be brought up for his guests.» :pp.126-127

The following image by Notman, dated 1897, shows the hotel along with some annexes, one of them probably being the carriage house and stable:

Lake Louise III

Gagnon-Pratte and Sandford: «... further changes had become imperative. The CPR decided to commission architect Thomas Charles Sorby to enlarge the building. ... Sorby was commissioned by the CPR to incorporate a structure similar to that of the dining stations, and Glacier House in particular, with the Lake Louise Chalet. He built a large two-storey structure with open verandas around the original chalet. Inside, there were beamed ceilings, polished floors and large picture windows with a “million-dollar view.”»

Sorby's external alterations closely adhered to the original design as the "Lake Louise II" hotel had surrounding open verandas and large picture windows. The side staircase is still present but has been moved closer to the font-side of the veranda. Finally, the second-storey addition conforms to the old first one.

One has to wonder if Sorby might not have been responsible for the design of the Lake Louise II building in the first place. After all, the selection of Macintosh-like picture windows points to someone well versed with the Arts and Crafts style. Moreover, he had classic versions of these windows previously installed for example at Fraser Canyon House in North Bend:

Lake Louise IV

As at other popular CPR Rocky Mountain destinations, the ever increasing influx of tourists quickly necessitated an expansion of the hotel facilities. With Sorby's modifications having become obsolete by 1899 , a further renovation task was assigned to Francis Rattenbury with the work described as follows:

Barrett and Liscombe: «Lake Louise Hotel, Lake Louise, Alberta. In 1902 Rattenbury designed the first of at least one wood-frame extension to the second chalet hotel by Sorby, in a picturesque Arts and Crafts style. This wing cost $31,288 and was further improved for about $5,000; C.P.R. Contracts and Proposals book, 1903-10.» :p.299

Barrett and Liscombe's statement would seem to confirm that Sorby was responsible for the designs of both "Lake Louise II" and "Lake Louise III".

Lake Louise V

No sooner had the above alterations been carried out that a somewhat incongruous four-storey wing was added by Rattenbury:

Hill: «LAGGAN, ALTA., new entry hall, bedroom wing and renovations to Lake Louise Hotel, 1903;...(Railway & Shipping World, vi, Feb. 1903, 53;...)»

Lake Louise VI

Despite the new wing, demand immediately surpassed availability and Rattenbury was again called upon to increase the number of accommodations significantly:

Hill: «LAGGAN, ALTA., ...major extension, 1905...(...C.R., xvi, 16 Aug. 1905, 5)»

For this project he opted for a «...pseudo-half-timbered style reminiscent of Tudor England.» :p.63

Note in passing that the Lake Louise V wing eventually got "Tudor-ized" with additional windows added to the ground floor:

All these windows allowed a lot of natural light to bathe the tea room:

Looks like a harmonium(?) might have been played to entertain guests and/or for Sunday prayer meetings. As to the neo-trapper decor...

Also note in passing that Buck states that the hotel opened in 1899 following these modifications by Rattenbury. :p.63 Clearly, this is a difficult date to accept. Regardless of what the correct chronology might be, the fact remains that the hotel grew by leaps and bounds within a few years. And yet, despite this major expansion, more rooms would soon be built.

Lake Louise VII

Rattenbury's modifications soon proved also to be unable to meet demand. This time, the task fell to Walter Painter to expand the hotel:

Hill: «LAKE LOUISE, ALTA., major alterations and addition to the Lake Louise Hotel for the C.P.R. Railway, 1906-11, including lengthening the wing originally designed by F.M. Rattenbury, refacing the lake front facade, and addition of a half-timbered wing at right angles to the original hotel (A. Barrett & R. Liscombe, Francis Rattenbury and British Columbia, 1983, 132, illus., 356, footnote No. 9).»

Lake Louise VIII

Walter Painter, with Joseph Thompson assisting with the layout , was again called upon to expand the hotel and its facilities, this time in a modernist style:

Hill: «LAKE LOUISE, ALTA., Lake Louise Hotel, addition of a five storey wing with 120 rooms, a water power plant, and laundry and steam plant, 1912-13 (C.R., xxix, 15 Dec. 1915, 1266-69, 1288, illus. & descrip.; dwgs. Glenbow Museum, Calgary, R.Millar Papers, M848, Item 1)»
Buck: «Painter designed a...steel and masonry addition for Lake Louise,...in the Château style. The addition was built in 1912, next to Rattenbury's wooden hotel, at which time the name was changed from the Lake Louise Chalet to Château Lake Louise:p.113

Interesting to note how the gentleman is illustrated as seen in the video whereas the lady has undergone a makeover being now more elegantly dressed in an evening(?) gown and coiffed more stylishly.

On July 3, 1924, Rattenbury's wing was destroyed by fire:

Lake Louise IX

Given the urgency in replacing the loss, Painter's wing was extended following a more brutalist than modernist design by Barott & Blackader:

Hill: «LAKE LOUISE, ALTA., Chateau Lake Louise, reconstruction of the hotel for the Canadian Pacific Railway, 1924-25 (Lethbridge Herald, 21 Feb. 1925, 15, illus. & descrip.; Railway Age [New York], lxxviii, 27 June 1925, 1651-52, illus. & descrip.; C.R., xlix, 25 Aug. 1925, 243-4, illus. & descrip.; Journal of the Engineering Inst. of Canada, viii, Sept. 1925, 377-8, illus. & descrip.; Const., xix, April 1926, 120-7, illus. & descrip.)»

Lake Louise X

Wikipedia: « The Mount Temple Wing, opened in 2004, is the most recent wing and features modern function facilities; these include the Mount Temple Ballroom...
In 1999, Canadian Pacific Hotels (a division of the Canadian Pacific Railway) acquired Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, and adopted the Fairmont name for all of its hotels, resulting in the Chateau Lake Louise being operated as a Fairmont hotel...
Originally built to function only in summer, the hotel was winterized in 1982...
The Chateau Lake Louise holds seven dining options within the hotel. This includes Fairview, Lakeview Lounge, The Wallister Stube, The Chateau Deli, Poppy Brasserie, the Alpine Social (formerly the Glacier Saloon), and the seasonal Italian cuisine kitchen Lago (usually opened regularly during summer). »


Starting with the original chalet, horse-drawn buggies conveyed guests. With more and more guests arriving over the years, larger carriages and the requisite horse teams were introduced:

It stands to reason that a freight system must have evolved in parallel in order to carry the guests' luggage and to provision the hotel with perishables, consumables and other operational necessities.

But, with Painter's wing about to open, the above transportation schemes were likely deemed economically unviable:

Buck, pp. 113-114: «To facilitate movement of hotel guests and their luggage between the hotel and station, a forty-two-inch-width, narrow-gauge railroad was constructed from the station to the hotel, a winding route slightly longer than 3.6 miles. Since conventional locomotives and rolling stock were too large, the line, often referred to as the Lake Louise Tramway, used small, self-propelled passenger and freight cars instead. The first two, numbered 40 and 41, were each powered by a gasoline engine coupled directly to the wheels. Luggage was carried in separate motorized baggage cars, and a small shed and maintenance facility built near the hotel serviced and stored the equipment. Operations began in August 1912, with a telephone line between the hotel and the station ensuring that each passenger train was met on time. The tramway, run by the CPR's hotel department rather than the railroad itself, operated only when the hotel was open, and so no service was available during winter.»

Luxton, p.107: «If people wanted to drive the two and a half miles in a tally-ho, their luggage went in the trolley. After automobiles arrived, the track was taken out; parts of the old track bed, now grass covered, are still visible from the road.»

As was the case for horse-drawn carriages, the trolley system also had to evolve to increase its carrying capacity:

Roster of Rolling Stock
404-2-0Open bench psgr.carReo engineBuilt CPR, Angus, Montreal, 1912
42""""Rebuilt from freight motor 48 in 1914
48"Flat freight car""Rebuilt to open bench psgr. car 42, 1914
50B-BClosed psgr. carSterling engineBuilt CPR, Angus, Montreal, 1925
All equipment taken off inventory November 1930, scrapped 1931.

In the later years, the frequency of operation was said to be as high as thirty round-trips a day.

The presence of a pup trailer attached to the rear of a trolley is intriguing. The hitch just looks to have been a scaled-down version of one used for CPR tenders:

So what did it ferry to and from the hotel and the station? Moreover, one has to wonder if the employees were made to ride the trailer even on cold, rainy days.


The old tramline is maintained by Parks Canada as a hiking/biking trail. And the old Lake Louise railway station is now a restaurant.

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University of Alberta - Peel Library - Prairie Provinces

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Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Wish You Where Here - Saskatchewan Postcard Collections


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Last Updated Monday, 22-Jan-2024 19:48:09 MST  ⚫ Visitor #