Canada’s 1st African American Executive Chef
Algonquin Hotel, New Brunswick, Canada. 2013
Before we talk about Chef George Braxton let us have a brief look at the Hotel. The Algonquin has always been either a Four Star or a Five Star property. It was built in 1889 by the St. Andrews Land Company; opening with 80 rooms. In 1903, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company purchased the Algonquin. With this acquisition, the Algonquin became a member of the most-renowned hotel chain in the world. The President of CPR was Cornelius Van Horn an American visionary who also built the Banff Springs hotel in Alberta.
Ownership of the hotel changed in 1970. However, it was continually managed and marketed by Canadian Pacific Hotels. In 1999 CPR purchased Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. In 2001, Canadian Pacific Hotels and Resorts were consolidated under the Fairmont name.
At this time, the Government of New Brunswick owned the hotel. A large investment was required to bring the hotel up to Fairmont’s current day required standards. The two parties could not reach an accommodation and Fairmont withdrew its association with the hotel. The Algonquin hotel was sold by the Government to New Castle Hotels, an American company based in Connecticut. The new owners closed the hotel, which then underwent extensive renovations. The Algonquin reopened in 2013 with 234 rooms now flying the flag of the Marriott Autograph Collection. Whereas the hotel flies the Marriott flag it is managed by the present owners New Castle.
Algonquin Hotel Staff. Group photograph 1896
This review of Chef George Braxton’s life and career is short on facts and long on questions. Here in the Champchefs Retrospective I am inclined to record events that are related to chefs or to the chef’s activities. I am not writing George’s biography; if I were to undertake this challenge, I would require more time and skills than I presently command. In addition, research costs money. Sadly, I do not have any friends at the gates of heaven or in the Mormon Church.
George like his mother and father was born in Virginia in the late 1850’s or early 1860’s. We have not traced his early career. We first locate him in as Chef at the prestigious Wellesley College in the town of Wellesley, Massachusetts. The College was built in 1870 and it has a stellar reputation to this day. We know that George was Head Chef at the College for at least three years from 1883 to 1886 years and perhaps beyond.
Tantalizingly George next comes into focus as the subject of our story in 1896 as Head Chef of the Algonquin Hotel, New Brunswick, Canada. When did he commence his employment at the hotel and how long did he remain with the hotel? This is a mystery. He would have reigned supreme over his Dining Room which was called “Passamaquoddy Restaurant” named after a local tribe of indigenous people who have a long history in the region. The new owners have renamed the dining room to “Braxton’s Restaurant” At this time there were few Canadian born chefs in executive positions in hotels. These positions were the domain of European Chefs, mainly German or Swiss. I wonder how George landed this plumb job.
I have made enquiries at both Wellesley College and at the Algonquin Hotel requesting them to search through their archives for documentation that would certainly have been generated when George went through the intake process required for all employees. Both establishments initially replied and then lost interest; these contacts yielded no information or enlightenment. Recently and subsequent to the posting of this story I was contacted by the Archivist of Wellesley College whose sharp eye came across the splendid photograph of Chef George that you see below. My thanks to Laura Reiner.
George Braxton was widowed by 1900. In January of 1901 he remarried a lady named Rose McBride. George and Rose were married in Boston, Suffolk, Mass. Rose’s parents’ names were James and Margarette McBride. There is no indication that George had children from either marriage. It is highly probable that Roses ancestors, just a few generations earlier, fled Ireland for Boston during the Irish Potato Famine of 1741.
George Braxton Wellesley College Archives 1886
Braxton’s Practical Cook Book. Inside Cover
Braxton’s Practical Cook Book. Introduction
Braxton’s Practical Cook Book. Index
It now becomes apparent that Chef George Braxton had many talents. He was a published Author. This factor further builds the aura and mystery around our chef who is emerging as a man of many talents. Where did he receive his education? Publishing a book is a costly endeavor. Where did he get the money? Did he have a sponsor? I have obtained a reproduction copy of the book. It should not be compared to “A Guide to the Fine Art of French Cooking” by Escoffier but never the less its’ content is a comprehensive guide and an effort to: “give the public a good substantial cook book both for family and hotel use. I have written this book for their benefit” George F. Braxton. 1886.
George F. Braxton, Proprietor City Hall Café Cambridgeport.
We say farewell to Chef George as he busies himself in his very own Restaurant. (There is still a restaurant at this location to this present day.) He placed this advertisement in The Cambridge Chronical in November 1901. We know far too little about Chef George but what we do know tells us that he was a man of purpose driven by a clear vision for his life’s destiny. We should respect his memory.
Reproductions of Braxton’s Practical Cook Book available: Nabu Public Domain Reprints.
Location of Algonquin Hotel: