The Art Tour of Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth: A rare perspective on an iconic Montreal address

How one local tour opens up new ways to discover Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth’s glamorous maze of curated permanent art.

The Main

The Main

June 18, 2024- Read time: 6 min
The Art Tour of Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth: A rare perspective on an iconic Montreal addressJust as Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth offers a gateway out into the city, it invites the city in through its own permanent public art collection. | Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg

As the hotel industry continues to grow and evolve, it’s become more deeply interactive. At the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, it does this through how it directly connects with—and embodies—all of Montreal’s hallmark moments of shopping, dining, and drinking:

Lavish rooms, spa treatments and experiences; boutique products and plates from the Marché Artisans; Sunday brunches and afternoon tea at Rosélys; taking in precision café culture and panoramic views of downtown at Kréma; or showstopping drinks from Nacarat enjoyed late into the night.

But then there’s exploration of the hotel itself.

Just as Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth offers a gateway out into the city, it invites the city in through its own permanent public art collection.

Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg
Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg

A glamorous maze

The site of some of the city’s highest profile and most historic visitors since its opening in 1958, the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth’s grown to include a substantial amount of art over the years.

Back when the hotel closed for a year for $140 million of renovations by Sid Lee Architecture and a reopening in 2017, the revamp derived inspirations from mid-twentieth century designs and interiors, and created a glamorous maze of artwork: Today, the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hosts over 120 works of art by 37 contemporary artists from Quebec and Canada acquired with direction from Massivart—a collection large enough to culminate in features like a small gallery on the 21st floor.

Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg
Enhancing the aesthetic appeal of its space and guests’ experience of it, one can spend hours wandering the floors of the hotel to find all of its art, but the tour offers a particularly rare and focused way to explore its cultural offerings.

These pieces range from James Carl’s sculpture of Venetian blinds Jalousie to oil and acrylic paintings by Nicolas Grenier, François Morelli’s Chinoiserie I & Chinoiserie II, and the mindbending work of acrylic and gesso on plexiglass by Julie Trudel, Polarités NNB.

Led by ITHQ-trained tour guide Mélanie Renaud who specializes in the discovery of public art in Montreal, Carpe Diem Montreal Tours takes small groups of tourgoers on a curated walk through this hidden drawcard of downtown Montreal over 90 minutes.

Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg

Like a chocolate on your pillow

“It's really rare that you get to have a tour like this in a hotel, let alone in Montreal,” Mélanie says.

Enhancing the aesthetic appeal of its space and guests’ experience of it, one can spend hours wandering the floors of the hotel to find all of its art, but the tour offers a particularly rare and focused way to explore its cultural offerings.

Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg

Just as guests can take the tour and make it a special add-on that enriches their stay, the public is free to take the tours as well.

“The hotel is iconic for the city. A lot of people have been there for different reasons and the tour’s an interesting way to rediscover its space in a different way, to see different aspects of it,” Mélanie explains.

Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg

What to expect

Starting in the lobby, Mélanie begins with the history of the hotel and explains when the collection arrived and its focus on artists that are either Canadian or based in Canada.

“We start with a first piece that's behind the reception; it's well integrated in the architecture and a lot of people may not even realize it,” Mélanie says about Typographie A1 by Alexandre Berthiaume,  the wood and steel 3D mural that was assembled on site by Futil Studio.

Typographie A1 by Alexandre Berthiaume, the wood and steel 3D mural that was assembled on site by Futil Studio. | Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg
A recovered ‘Q’ from the hotel’s original façade. | Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg

The tour then expands in different pieces, each telling historic and artistic stories: A recovered ‘Q’ from the hotel’s original façade, projection artwork, stained glass recovered from the hotel’s original restaurant called the Beaver Club, or integrated details like elevator doors, carpets and staircases, and visiting the entrance of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Room 1742—the site of their 1969 anti-war Bed-In and recoding of "Give Peace a Chance".

Between these features lie a wide range of paintings, sculptures and drawings that fill numerous spaces.

“We finish up on the 21st floor, which is the highest floor of the hotel and has an amazing view of downtown where there’s even more art,” Mélanie adds.

“To see how much beauty there is everywhere”

Born in Vancouver and a Montrealer since the age of two, Mélanie’s spent a long period of her life fascinated with Montreal and its art, and leading tours was a way to share that passion.

Involved in Montreal’s artistic community since 2013, “I became a tour guide in 2019. I've been very interested in public art, street art, graffiti, murals—all that world has to offer—for a while now. Volunteering with the Under Pressure graffiti festival since 2013, helping run a little art gallery called Fresh Paint for years… and I started giving tours to talk about and share public art here,” Mélanie says.

She’s also taught future tour guides of Montreal about public art at ITHQ since 2022, a 24-hour course lasting three weeks which covers the public art that can be found in the city and how to talk about it to tourgoers.

Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg

What started with tours of murals and taking circuits of the Sud-Ouest’s western and eastern sides has since expanded to include Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth.

“It's so interesting to have art in the streets that is accessible to everyone, but that some people might just pass by it without even really noticing it. I like to share what I know about it so that people can understand it better and engage with it, and that extends to the hotel’s collection.”

“It’s all to kind of open people's eyes to see how much beauty there is everywhere.”

Photograph: Daniel Bromberg / @daniel.bromberg

Explore the art of the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth with Carpe Diem Montreal Tours—tours are available in English and French.

Discover more hidden drawcards in the city.

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