In 1980, photographer Yousuf Karsh and his wife, Estrellita, moved into a suite in the Château Laurier. They would live at the glamorous address for 18 years. Today the Karsh Suite pays homage to the icon By Janet Uren
THE ARMENIAN-BORN PHOTOGRAPHER Yousuf Karsh was a household name by 1980, when he sold his house on the Big Rideau and moved into the Château Laurier. He and his second wife — the American-born Estrellita — remained there for the next 18 years. Today their former rooms — living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and dressing room — comprise one of the hotel’s Signature Suites, where guests the likes of Nelson Mandela have stayed during visits to Canada. The mark of Yousuf Karsh remains in the form of nine richly shadowed and finely textured portraits of the rich, talented, and powerful men and women who were once the distinguished subjects of Karsh’s work.
Karsh built a reputation in Ottawa in the 1930s as the photographer of choice for society debutantes. During the Second World War, however, he caught the eye of the world when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill paused for a moment in talks with Canadian leaders to glare into Karsh’s lens. The resulting photograph has since become an icon of the times. When the Karshes left Ottawa for Boston in 1998, the hotel renamed the couple’s rooms “The Karsh Suite” in honour of this extraordinary artist and his charming wife. Yousuf Karsh died in Boston in 2002.
After the Karshes left Ottawa for Boston, the suite was redecorated in light colours of the kind Estrellita had also favoured. Of the hotel’s four Signature Suites, this is the lightest and airiest in design. The view has changed significantly since 1998. The large living room windows, now overlooking a relatively new condominium at 700 Sussex, would have shown the old Daly Building when the Karshes lived here.