They originated in the castles of the Middle Ages. The word concierge derives from a French term meaning “keeper of the candles.” In addition to their candle-keeping responsibilities, concierges kept the keys to the castle rooms, managed the staff and ensured that guests had everything they needed during their stay.
Several centuries later, while their skill set has changed, concierges still demonstrate a willingness and devotion to service that today might seem to belong to that bygone era. They number about 3,500 worldwide, and they belong to a professional organization known as Les Clefs d’Or.
Étienne Bellemare is a member of Les Clefs d’Or. His “castle” is the Sofitel Montreal Golden Mile. He has worked there since April 2014, and, judging from what he says, there are many similarities between his present-day tasks and those of his forebears, including responding to the sometimes-unusual requests of clients.
“I remember a very important man who had to give a speech early the following morning. His luggage had been lost at the airport, so he had nothing to wear. I had a clothing store open in the middle of the night, just for him,” said this modern keeper of keys.
“Then there was this gay couple who, two days before they were scheduled to leave, decided to get married here, as it was forbidden in their country. I quickly found a wedding celebrant, and the ceremony took place in their room. I was their witness….”
Luckily for Étienne, not all the requests he receives are that unusual. “Mostly, people are looking for off-the-beaten track spots to visit or to eat,” he said.
The concierge’s suggestions?
“Goodness, there’s so much to do and see in Montreal! I do, however, like to tell visitors about surfing on the river or the Mural Festival, on Saint-Laurent Boulevard. As for lesser-known restaurants, I recommend Chez Doval, an excellent Portuguese eatery, for high-end Middle Eastern fare, there’s Damas, Alep and Su, and for local terroir cuisine, Manitoba is the place.”