Hotel Macdonald’s ‘antiseptic’ upgrade to iconic lounge ignites passionate debate

Efforts to upgrade Fairmont Hotel Macdonald’s famous Confederation Lounge has sparked heated discussion on the hotel’s social media platforms.

Hundreds of patrons took to social media to express fear a planned upgrade will scrub out the hotel’s iconic features. 

“Please reconsider! To lose the charm of the way the lounge looks would be so upsetting for so many!” reads a comment on the hotel’s Instagram page.

Edmonton architect Darrel Babuk said he understands why the proposed upgrades ignite such passions. 

“It’s the hotel that’s symbolic of our city,” he told CBC in an interview Wednesday. “This is our heart. This is our soul.”

He has his own reservations about the new look. 

“It’s not the sort of very traditional heavy wood furniture that one has associated with the building or with the chateauesque style,” said Babuk. “This is relatively antiseptic.”

Hotel general manager Garett Turta says the heavy furnishings in the Confederation Lounge are difficult to move and aren’t functional for larger groups. (Peter Evans/CBC)

The historic hotels in Western Canada are tied to the construction of the railway that united the country, he said, and represent the class and etiquette that were desired at the time.

“It’s something that society yearns for,” Babuk said. 

“I don’t think you’re going to be seeing anyone sell travel tour tickets to Edmonton so they can be put up in a hotel that looks like an airport lounge in Montreal.”

‘You will not be disappointed’

Hotel Macdonald general manager Garrett Turta wants to reassure patrons the historical space will retain its character. 

“It’s nice to see that people care,” he said. “Every aspect of history and who we are will be maintained. We will certainly not have bright blue lights, or be a funky bar by any means.”

The large Fathers of Confederation painting that hangs above the fireplace, the ceiling mouldings and the wood paneling will remain fixtures in the room, he added.

The space is currently filled with heavy chairs and tables that make it hard for staff and patrons to maneuver, Turta said. 

“We want to just make sure that we’re creating an environment that’s more conducive to a great experience.”

The last major renovation of the hotel lounge was in 1991. 

Turta is confident that the hotel will continue to attract guests and locals alike with its traditional charm. 

“I can assure Edmontonians that it will be maintained and you will not be disappointed.” 

The renovations to the Confederation Lounge will start in September, part of a larger $22-million-upgrade project which includes guest rooms, meeting rooms and the outdoor grounds.

The large Fathers of Confederation painting by Frederick Challener will remain on the wall above the fireplace in the lounge. (Peter Evans/CBC)

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