New look for the Ritz-Carlton

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, one of Sherbrooke Street’s most recognizable landmarks, will soon be transformed with a $100 million renovation and expansion. Over the next two years, the number of hotel rooms will be reduced and new condominium units added in an effort to modernize the hotel’s offering. What might interest Montrealers, however, are the changes planned for the hotel’s exterior, which will include the construction of a new glass wing on the building’s west side as well as the addition of two floors to its roof.

Last week, the Globe and Mail looked at the history of the hotel:

The Ritz-Carlton, at the corner of Sherbrooke and Mountain Streets along Montreal’s Golden Square Mile, was designed by famed New York architectural firm Warren & Wetmore. An imposing neoclassical building with terra cotta trim, it was inspired by the architecture of Robert and James Adam.

It was the first hotel to bear the name Ritz-Carlton, (although it isn’t part of the global chain) and at the turn of the 20th century, it epitomized opulence. Swiss hotelier César Ritz allowed his name to be added to what was to be just the Carlton Hotel, but with a number of conditions: Every unit had to have a bathroom, there had to be a kitchen on each floor, 24-hour valet service, a concierge and a sweeping staircase so that guests (gowned ladies in particular) could make a grand entrance.

The Ritz-Carlton enjoyed many decades of prestige but by the 1950s it was showing its age. In 1957, a wing was added, and in 1970 the bedrooms were revamped.

It also shed some light on the motivation behind the makeover and the goal of its architects:

The new luxury residences and condo suites will form an inverted L-shaped, glass and stainless steel shell across the top and west side of the hotel building – an addition that will contrast to the imposing limestone and terra cotta exterior of the original.

“In doing this renovation, we didn’t just want to imitate the old style,” says Claude Provencher of Provencher Roy + associés, the lead architectural firm on the project.

“So often that leads to a banal, pale imitation, which, frankly, doesn’t respect the integrity of the original building. These faux add-ons tend to look awkward and we wanted to avoid that.

“We wanted to preserve the integrity of the original Ritz-Carlton and to that end, we have designed something that is subtle, elegant and delicate. The look inside the hotel, though, will have the same ambience as the original. We wouldn’t dream of tampering with that,” Mr. Provencher says.

The exterior stonework will be cleaned and the windows replaced, but the public spaces – the lobby, the Palm Court, the Oval Room and the popular Jardin du Ritz with its flowerbeds and duck pond – will remain much the same as before, albeit brought up to 21st century building standards.

As you’d expect with such an historically important building, heritage watchdogs and the city and provincial governments are keeping a close eye on the project. So far, there hasn’t been any public outcry against it, but if the discussion on the urban development forum is any indication, not everyone likes the high-contrast approach taken by Provencher Roy.


  1. What I love about the Ritz is that, if ever you forget/lose something there, they will never call you to tell you if they’ve found it.
    The reason?: When you stayed there, you might not have stayed there with your significant other, and the phone call might alert your SO as to your shenanigans.

  2. In my opinion, they shouldn’t imitate the old style; they should assume the old style. Glass and steel is not “subtle, elegant and delicate”, but rather radical, disgusting and overused. Our cities are being built for the short haul with no attention to detail. Will this addition be beautiful in 100 years? Will it be interesting as we walk by it?

  3. This is vandalism plain and simple. While there is no doubt that the Ritz needs to be overhauled and restored, these add-ons are a mistake of epic proportions. What’s more, this Ritz is one of three original Ritz hotels that are still independent of the ever growing, diluted chain, Ritz-Carlton. These guys should take a cue from the London Ritz and Paris Ritz. The London Ritz in particular has a similar size, overall scale and urban context as Montreal’s. It also only has 130 keys and it has retained its stutus and exclusivity without needing condos. From what I understand, Montreal’s will be reduced to this number from the current 229. Leave it at that. This idea of condos and condotel suites is a trend du jour and because of the heritage of this hotel, the owners should not be jumping on the bandwagon. Leave the old building alone. In fact, I would also drop the Carlton and play up the exclusivity and originality aspect linking it with its sister hotels in Paris and London by naming it simply, The Ritz. ( I have often heard people say that our Ritz Carlton isn’t a real Ritz… no doubt as a result of the chain’s global brand expansion).

    Sadly, if this project goes ahead, we will look back on this project in 20 years and wonder what they were thinking.

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