Decorator of Canada's Grand Hotels
  • The Armour Family, Cobourg, Ontario
  • John Douglas Armour (father), Eliza Cory Clench (mother)

Background

Kate Armour, the eldest of ten children, was born into an upper middle class family in Cobourg, Ontario. Her father, John Douglas Armour, became Chief Justice of Ontario, later Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and chosen by Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1903 to represent Canada regarding the Alaska Boundary Commission. Kate's mother, Eliza Cory Clench, came from a line of American colonists with Scottish, English and Dutch blood running though her veins. One ancestor, Robert Clench, a British Drum Major, fought alongside George Washington during the French Indian War in 1755, and they remained friends for some time.

In 1880, young Kate visited New York City where she met one of the city's most prominent attorneys, Grosvenor P. Lowrey, who immediately fell in love with her, though twice her age. His many love letters beseeching her hand in marriage portray a brilliant, broad-minded and unconventional man. Lowrey was Edison's patent lawyer for electric light and the inventor's close friend and advisor. It was thanks to Lowrey that J.P.Morgan became one of the inventor's most important investors. After they married, Kate blossomed and hobnobbed with the elite of New York. Mrs Pierpont Morgan Hamilton, J.P. Morgan's daughter said of her: "Kate Lowrey was the most extraordinary woman I have ever met. As hostess to my brother, I had occasion to meet most of the great ones of my generation, and Kate Lowrey topped them all."

Kate Armour and Grosvenor P. Lowrey

When Lowrey died, Kate returned to Canada with their children and settled in Ottawa, the country's capital. Immediately a favourite of Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier and the Governor General and his wife, Kate was made one of the first governors of the Victorian Order of Nurses, and a founding member of the Aberdeen Association, now known as the National Association of Women of Canada - both associations are still in existence.

Kate and Hayter Reed, circa 1900

In 1894, Kate married her former fiancé - Major Hayter Reed, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs. When Reed lost his job with the department, he and Kate moved to Montreal where he became treasurer of the venerable St. James Club and they were welcomed by the city's Square Mile set. In 1900, Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, the CPR President, offered Reed the position of manager of the Château Frontenac, and in 1905, superintendent general of the entire hotel system.

  • Château Lake Louise, Alberta
  • Algonquin Hotel, St. Andrews, New Brunswick

Kate's first stylish touches to the Château caught Shaughnessy's attention. He asked her to bring her exquisite taste to the hotels being built along the CPR line to cater to the new tourism industry that arose at the turn of the twentieth century. Working with the company's architects: Bruce Price, Walter Painter, Francis Rattenbury, Edward and William Maxwell, Kate travelled from one end of the country to the other, often living on trains, as she decorated the hotels and mountain lodges. Kate's sense of style, and her eye for both luxury and uniquely Canadian history, soon made the CPR hotels a favourite destination for British, Canadian, American and soon, European travellers.

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