For many years, the Nova Scotian Hotel on Hollis Street was a big part of my family’s life. My father, Stanley Metie had worked there for almost 40 years.
Over the years, he had the opportunity to meet dozens of prominent politicians. He recalled premier Robert Stanfield, who my father described as a gracious, brilliant gentleman. He also enjoyed conversations with Henry Hicks, the influential Nova Scotia politician (premier, senator, and president of Dalhousie University).
Canada’s prime ministers also enjoyed the luxury and superb cuisine the hotel offered. My father met them all from Mackenzie King to Pierre Trudeau. He found Lester B. Pearson rather stuffy but had a special interest in John Diefenbaker, who always remembered his name when he delivered his room-service meals.
One of the most important guests during his time at the Nova Scotian Hotel was Queen (then princess) Elizabeth. Accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh , she had briefly stood on the balcony that overlooked Hollis Street and waved to the hundreds of people who came out to see the youthful heir to the throne.
My father also served wealthy businessmen like Lord Beaverbrook, K.C. Irving, Roy Joudrey, and Frank Sobey. Dorothy Killam, the widow of the industrialist Izaak Walton Killam, accompanied by a number of her pet dogs was also a guest in a luxiouous suite at the hotel.
Not all guests were the epitome of refinement. Dad told us about drunken guests whose bad manners often seriously irritated the hotel’s staff. He also joked about the people who had arrived with the air of a millionaire and who were later evicted because they couldn’t pay their bills.
One unusual guest gave my father and the hotel staff a great deal to talk about. Arriving at the hotel, looking utterly disreputable, the fellow demanded a suite and a sizeable amount of cash. The front desk staff did their best to be polite but they certainly were upset by the man’s demeanour, since it seemed to them that he couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee.
Quickly recognizing he was not making any headway, the man demandeda telephone. To staff’s great chagrin, he placed a person-to-person call to the president of the CNR, which then owned a the hotel. He loudly described the shabby treatment he was receiving.
Almost immediately, a call arrived at the front desk informing the startled staff that they “should give this gentleman anything he requested!” Taken aback, the staff learned that the dishevelled man they had been tempted to turf out, was a Canadian mining tycoon who had made an enormous fortune in gold in South Africa. Staff were soon enthusiastically meeting his every demand.
One of the most unforgettable moments came when he was in this wealthy man’s suite. A taxi driver who had been hired to chauffeur the eccentric fellow about town, sat nearby listening to his benefactor’s obnoxious behaviour. Suddenly, the boisterous and somewhat drunken guest, went to the window and tossed out several handfuls of money.
One of my father’s most favourite memories was of meeting and serving Field Marshall Montgomery. The British war hero seemed to enjoy sharing the limelight with the Haligonians he met while in the city.
At Camp Hill Hospital, he had his photograph taken with the medical and nursing staff. At the Nova Scotian Hotel, he generously gave autographed pictures of himself to those employees who had provided a variety of services. My dad was the recipient of one of the photos that remains one of our family’s treasured mementos.
My father retired in 1967. At his retirement party, he joked about the thousands of miles his legs must have logged during his years at the Nova Scotian Hotel. He teased some of the chefs about the language they were known to use when things became chaotic in the hotel kitchen. He also laughingly admitted that during his years in the hotel business, he had become fluent in a number of Italian, French, and Russian swear words.
The job also highlighed the class divide. During my father’s career, our family never ate at the hotel. It was too expensive for our budget but Dad predicted some day each of his kids would be guests at the hotel where he had spent most of his working life.
Years later, I was invited to have dinner at the beautiful Crown Suite where my father had once served some of the world’s most renowned people. It was like travelling back through his memories.