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Prior to the construction of the hotel this land was a huge squatters camp known as Galician Hotel named for the number of people from the Galicia Province of the Astro-Hungarian Empire who lived there.
The now defunct Grand Trunk Pacific Railway bought the land for a new hotel in 1911. The hotel was completed at a cost of $2.25 million ($51 million in 2022 dollars) and opened to the public on July 15, 1915. It was named after Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A MacDonald.
In 1919 when the Grand Trunk went bankrupt the hotel became the property of the Canadian National Hotels a division of the Canadian National Railway.
When Prohibition was repealed in 1924 in the Province of Alberta this hotel was one of the first two businesses granted a new liquor license.
King George VI and the Queen Mother stayed here in 1939 during their Royal Tour of Canada.
In 1949 the Canadian National Railway added a new section containing 292 rooms to keep up with the post-war tourism explosion.
In 1988 all Canadian National Hotels were sold to Canadian Pacific Hotels. Canadian Pacific spent $28 million and 3 years completely renovating the hotel and restoring the original façade.
In 2001 Canadian Pacific Hotels – now separated from the railway – changed their name to Fairmont thus changing the hotel’s name.
The most famous ghost of this hotel – and most often experienced - is not human but rather a horse.
The story goes that when the foundation for the hotel was being laid one of the horses bringing the concrete fell over dead from exhaustion. The phantom sounds of his hooves are now heard both on the 8th floor and in the basement; the horse is never seen though.
In one of the executive suites the ghost of a man sits in a wing chair and smokes a pipe. He is thought to be the ghost of a river sailor who used to sail up and down the North Saskatchewan River trading furs.
The night managers often get calls from rooms on the 6th floor only to find out they’re empty.
A room also on the 6th floor was found empty and locked. When maintenance finally got in, they found the room had been dead bolted from the inside.
Two employees working the switchboard found they were enjoying the radio playing songs from the 1950’s. When neither of them remembered turning on the radio they checked it and found it was not on at all. During the 1950’s the CBC Radio did broadcast from the building as it was one of the highest in the city.