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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?

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