The Implications of a Hotel

I’m working this week in St. Andrews by-the-Sea, a gorgeous little town on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. The Conference of Atlantic Baptist Churches is hosting an evangelism conference, and your servant is their main speaker.

We’re enjoying the Fairmont Algonquin Hotel, a grand old resort built a century ago. I’ve had the privilege of staying in most of the Canadian Fairmonts, some of which are “railroad hotels” built as destinations for the rich by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Château Frontenac in Quebec City, the Banff Springs Hotel, Château Lake Louise, and the Empress in Victoria are particularly famous examples.

As I looked into the history of this hotel (hey, I’m a historian by preference, as well as profession!), I found that this hotel originally catered mostly to influential Canadians and also Americans from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. And these well-heeled folk, called the “Summer People” by the residents of St. Andrews, came for two things:

1. Scenery: This place is truly gorgeous, and no more so than right now as the leaves are turning.

2. Health: Salt water and fresh air were understood as balms to the sick, and hotel bathrooms once were equipped with four taps, for hot and cold salt and fresh water respectively.

The hotel has had its ups and downs. Fairmont is a fine chain, and the staff here have been as excellent as I expected, both friendly and competent. But even Fairmont hasn’t been able quite to keep up this hotel, as paint peels in my room and outside on the window sills. The Algonquin more and more caters to conferences (it’s the largest hotel of this sort in eastern Canada, I’m told), rather than vacationers, but few rooms yet have desks at which businesspeople expect to work. (I’m writing this sitting in a plushly-cushioned wicker chair.)

It’s clearly a hotel in transition and it’s made me think about hotels and the cultures that support, or no longer support, them.

Who would travel anymore just for good air? I wonder: Was the air so bad in New York and Boston back then that people had to get out of the city, and ‘way out, to breathe properly? “No hayfever here” was actually an advertising slogan for The Algonquin in decades past. Were respiratory problems so common back then, or are they just as common now but more easily treated with inhalers, steroids, antihistamines and the like?

I wonder what the newly rich in Shanghai or Beijing do nowadays, or those in Delhi or Mumbai. Do they head out to resort hotels offering fresh air and healing water, too?

I also thought of the new destination hotels in that Destination of Destinations in North America: Las Vegas. No one travels there for fresh air and certainly not for scenery. What does it say about our culture that Las Vegas is the vacation of choice for so many people in so many walks of life?

It seems far, far away from St. Andrews by-the-Sea, a place that I’m finding already is contributing to my wellbeing in its beauty and freshness.

Does anyone feel that way about Las Vegas? Is it good for anyone’s health?

0 Responses to “The Implications of a Hotel”

  1. SursumCorda

    I’ve made it a point to avoid Las Vegas, so I can’t tell you what good might be there. My husband, who has at least seen more than he has desired of the Las Vegas airport, reports that the people passing through look mighty unhealthy. Unhappy, too.

  2. Thomas

    The newly rich in Shanghai and Beijing head over to Banff for fresh air, when they’re not in Richmond or Burnaby.

  3. Jeff Loach

    Thomas said, “when they’re not in Richmond or Burnaby.”

    And I would add, “…or Agincourt!”

    But seriously, John, “those were the days” when we think of the great hotels, and particularly those built on the vision of W.C. Van Horne. I write this from a retreat centre in the middle of Ohio – and our room is just like a stock Comfort Inn, except there is no television (for obvious reasons, though curiously there is WiFi).

    My wife’s parents are the sort who will pay Top Dollar for a very nice hotel room; I sense there are more people who, like us, would rather spend the money on something we can see, rather than something that we will experience principally with our eyes shut.

  4. Paul+

    John, I know the Algonquin well. I served in a parish only 40 minutes from St Andrews until last year, and was down there for clergy gatherings often. If you have the time, All Saints Anglican Church on King Street is worth a tour. One of the earliest United Empire Loyalist churches, it is a sight to behold…AND (best of all) it is still a very active parish.

    Monika and I would often take the girls for drives down to St Andrews during the summer to walk on the rocky beach (reminded us of Vancouver Island).

    Blessings on your stay there. One of the pastors at your conference is one of my best friends: Scott Kohler. Enjoy that beautiful part of the world!

  5. Rob

    Two words for the thrill of Las Vegas: Pagan Culture. I’ve been there one time and did enjoy the “Blue Man Group”, but find the whole concept of a town founded on vice to be pretty scary. In the U.S. we are predominantly a people who worship our possessions, our stomachs or our sexual desire. Las Vegas caters to all three. By the way, this is what you would expect. Some might disagree and be upset, but the fact is that a large part of America is Christian in name only while being practically pagan. The ad campaign, I think, makes this point for me. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” I’m not saying that a nice restaurant now and again is at all bad, or that fun entertainment is in itself bad either. In Las Vegas, however, those things are ancillary to the real draw, and that is vice without (seeming) consequence.
    Contrast that with the the desire to get away and enjoy nature (as in a country/beach vacation) or enjoy culture (as in an urban vacation) and you see the point. One side refreshes and edifies, the other only pretends to refresh, but actually drains.

  6. Randy

    John’s reflections ring so true. I am currently two-thirds of the way through Walker Percy’s “Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at at Time Near the End of the World.” Dr. Tom More, a descendant of that Thomas More, is awaiting the possible end of the world (1970s style) in a deserted Howard Johnson’s hotel with three women, one of whom has a thoroughly romanticized history of “the old auto-age” in her head. They have stored goods to stay for a month. At the point I am at, Dr. More, the fallen Catholic, is trying to decide which of “his” three girls he wishes to marry.

    Randy Gabrielse


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