Yousuf Karsh: Karsh of Ottawa's Connection with The Fairmont Chateau Laurier



I'd never heard of Yousuf Karsh until I stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. It turns out that he and his wife Estrellita made the iconic hotel their home from 1980-1998. His presence at the hotel as a resident and legendary photographer is a big part of Chateau Laurier's identity. He also had his photo studio in the hotel from 1973-1992.

The association dates back to 1931 when Karsh moved to Ottawa to open a photo studio. Knowing that the capital city was a major crossroads for many prominent political figures, he was correct in assuming that government officials and visiting statesmen would contact him to be photographed. They did.

One of his earliest mentors was MacKenzie King. In fact, King orchestrated the infamous portrait of Sir Winston Churchill that was taken in the Speaker's Chamber of the Canadian House of Parliament in 1941. That one photo brought Karsh international fame. Churchill was quoted as saying to Karsh, "You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed," after Karsh surprised Churchill by grabbing the cigar out of his mouth. The Churchill portrait has been widely reproduced.

Other Karsh portraits include Albert Einstein, Georgia O'Keefe, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Pierre Trudeau, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. His photographs have become part of many permanent collections around the world, include the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

When Karsh and his wife left the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in 1998, Suite 358 was renamed to honor the couple. He donated 15 of his prints to the hotel, and today six of them hang in the Reading Lounge, including this one of Einstein. Others are in the Karsh Suite.

Photos by Sue Frause

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