The nearest airport to Jasper National Park is in Edmonton, which rises from the Alberta prairies 140 miles east of the Rockies. Edmonton began as a trading post in 1795, expanded outside the fort over the next century and was incorporated as a city in 1904. It was named capital of Alberta a year later and grew modestly until oil was discovered nearby in 1947. As the oil and gas industry developed, the city boomed. Modern Edmonton has more than a million residents; thriving financial, high-tech and service industries; an unexpectedly vibrant arts scene; and one of the largest stretches of urban parkland in North America.
“The Mac,” as the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald is familiarly known, sits solidly on the edge of a bluff overlooking that parkland along the North Saskatchewan River, which bisects the city. It opened as a Grand Trunk Pacific Railway hotel in 1915, named for Canada’s first prime minister. The château-style structure narrowly escaped the wrecking ball in 1985 (saved by a special act of the city) and was restored and updated, reopening in 1991 with modern conveniences and its elegant period detailing intact.
At the front desk, we were immediately offered an upgrade, with the caveat that stairs were involved; well, we thought, why not? The caution proved apt. The entry to the King George VI Suite is on the 8th floor, but the suite itself is one level higher, up a steep flight of stairs. Were it not for the spectacular view of the river and what seemed like much of Alberta beyond, we might have reconsidered the upgrade. Our sitting room was comfortable in a grandmotherly sort of way, with furnishings that seemed left over rather than selected. Down three steps, the bedroom was on the opposite side of the suite from the large bath, which held, in addition to a walk-in shower, an oversized whirlpool tub that seemed oddly out of place. Yet we found a certain charm in being tucked up in the attic, under The Mac’s turreted, gabled and dormered copper-topped roof, looking down on a broad terrace garden.