It’s the same property he oversees as vice president of Operations for Pursuit Banff Jasper Collection, the hotel’s owner and operator.
Located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies and close to countless outdoor recreational activities, Banff, Alberta, is a popular tourist destination that averages more than 4 million visitors annually.
As Stuart Back and members of the Banff Fire Department approached the hotel, they saw that the fire had already overtaken a section of the roof and was beginning to infringe on the top floor. With the help of three nearby fire departments, the team prepared to fight the blaze from within.
“A fire of this magnitude in your own hotel is very tough to see and experience,” recalls Back. “But that doesn’t mean you think twice about breaking through a door or ripping down a ceiling. We had to attack the fire and make sure it didn’t take over the entire building.”
That night the Mount Royal Hotel was busy with 297 guests; hotel staff safely evacuated and cared for them, allowing fire crews to focus on saving the building. Crews were concerned the fire would spread to other high-density historic buildings along Banff Avenue, the town’s bustling main street.
Back and the other firefighters worked for 10 hours in the freezing cold conditions of a Canadian winter to battle the blaze. “Ten hours is a long time to fight a fire,” explains Back. “You have to focus on what you’re doing, but in those quick moments as I was replenishing my air, I considered the impact of the fire, the guests staying at the hotel, and what this was going to mean to us as a company.”
Finally, with peace of mind knowing the fire was out and guests were safe and accommodated, crew members left the scene to get some well-deserved rest. Back removed his fire helmet and turned his attention to the rebuild ahead.
“We immediately sought out PCL to be our construction partner,” says Back. “Within 24 hours of the fire, their Special Projects division was on-site helping to secure the building, and by Jan. 3 they’d begun the remediation work on the hotel.”
There was extensive damage to 12 guestrooms and a quarter of the roof, and water and smoke damage throughout the entire building, prompting Pursuit to move ahead with a full renovation.
PCL’s Special Projects division focuses on unique construction projects and has significant expertise in hospitality, building remediation and heritage renovations. With experience revamping historic properties such as the Fairmont Banff Springs, the Fairmount Chateau Lake Louise, and Calgary’s Fairmont Palliser Hotel and Hillier Block, the Special Projects team was well-positioned to rebuild the second-oldest hotel in Banff.
Back says that PCL’s previous work with Pursuit on the Banff Gondola upper terminal renovations and Glacier Skywalk located at the Columbia Icefields influenced the company’s decision to hire PCL for the Mount Royal Hotel project.
“PCL teams have the ability to figure out complex problems, succeed in difficult environments, and they do this on time and on budget – which is rare.”
Properly securing and abating the building were the first priorities. “In an emergency construction project like this, work happens quickly,” explains Brad Ludwar, project manager. “We were doing abatement at the same time as site reviews; it was a constant balancing act.”
While historic renovations pose a unique set of challenges in the best-case scenario, discoveries made during abatement of the fire-ravaged hotel added an extra layer of intricacy.
“As we peeled back the walls, we uncovered four distinct eras of construction throughout the building,” says Ludwar. “Looking at the building’s exterior, we had expected two at most; four was surprising.”
Construction and renovations done throughout the hotel’s history revealed building techniques and materials used in times past: the 1900s–1920s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Many project team members had never seen straw and hay mixed with concrete, uncovered in the 1900s–1920s section, or the 1950s flooring system built with laminated two-by-sixes.
A MODERN MOUNT ROYAL HOTEL
Rather than adopt a cookie-cutter approach and rebuild in a uniform trendy style throughout, PCL and the design team at DIALOG embraced the historical nuances of early-to-mid 20th-century construction. They reimagined the space in a way that would pay homage to each era uncovered in the aftermath of the fire.
“We incorporated many design elements and period details that highlight the hotel’s rich history and Banff’s uniquely Canadian culture,” says Ludwar. The design team brought together color palettes and furniture evocative of each era so guests can experience the building’s past with a contemporary twist.
In addition to updating the visual appeal of the Mount Royal Hotel, PCL made structural upgrades to meet current seismic and safety requirements, refreshed the hotel’s exterior, revamped the rooftop lounge, installed a decorative brass feature at the hotel’s main entrance, and added the guest-favorite, outdoor, rooftop mountain-view hot tub.
The Mount Royal Hotel officially reopened July 1, 2018, on Canada Day, and has since welcomed a steady flow of new and repeat visitors. “We’re very pleased with the renovation,” says Back, looking back on the hectic 18-month, $45-million project (CDN). “This landmark property has been well received by guests, employees and locals and since we reopened, guest response has been so positive that the hotel’s ranking has climbed 12 positions on TripAdvisor’s ranking of Banff’s best hotels.”