The Fairmont Empress
The Fairmont Empress is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in Victoria. The hotel was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada due to its national significance. The Empress is located in Downtown Victoria on Government Street facing the Inner Harbour. The hotel has 477 rooms, a health club, an indoor heated pool, a spa, two ballrooms, and three restaurants, including The Bengal Lounge, The Empress Room and The Veranda. Afternoon Tea is served in the the majestic lobby of the hotel.
In 1919, Edward, Prince of Wales waltzed into the dawn in its Crystal Ballroom – an event considered by Victorians to be of such importance that almost 50 years later, the obituaries of elderly ladies would appear under headlines such as, ‘Mrs Thornley-Hall Dies. Prince of Wales Singled Her Out.’
In the 1930s, Shirley Temple arrived accompanied by her parents amid rumours that she had fled from California because of kidnapping threats, a story borne from the presence of two bodyguards who took the room opposite hers and always left their door open.
On May 30, 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth attended a luncheon at The Empress, as guests of the Provincial Government.
Other notable guests, include Queen Elizabeth II, Rudyard Kipling, Spencer Tracy, Princess Margaret, Rita Hayworth, the King and Queen of Siam, John Travolta, Barbra Streisand, Joan Lunden, Sarah McLachlan, and Nelly Furtado.
There is a local legend that The Empress is haunted. The apparition of thin mustached man walking the halls with a cane is thought to be of the building’s architect, Francis Rattenbury. A maid is seen on the sixth floor still cleaning after her death. A little girl who is often seen by guests haunts one room. During the 1960s, a construction worker working on the west tower’s top floor saw a shadowy form swinging from the ceiling; apparently another worker hung himself there a year earlier. Guests have reported an elderly woman in pajamas knocking on their door. When guests try to help her find her room she leads them toward the elevator before vanishing. She is believed to be a ghost that once haunted one room after dying of natural causes, but that room was demolished to make room for more elevators, hence, her journey to the elevator.
Francis Rattenbury designed The Empress hotel in an Edwardian, château-style for Canadian Pacific Hotels. The hotel was designed as a terminus hotel for Canadian Pacific’s steamship line, whose main terminal was one block from The Empress. Initially, the hotel served businesspeople and visitors to Victoria, and was later successfully remarketed as a resort to tourists when Canadian Pacific ceased its passenger services to the city. In the mid to late 1920s, Victoria emerged as a tourist destination because of the Empress Hotel and its stellar reputation.
The hotel was built between 1904 and 1908, opening for service in that year. Additional wings were added between 1909 and 1914, and in 1928. During this time, The Empress, as it was known then, played hostess to kings, queens, movie stars and many famous and infamous people.
In 1965, there was considerable debate on whether to tear down the faded hotel to make room for a more modern hotel. On June 10, 1966, a decision was announced that The Empress would not be demolished and it would receive a $4 million renovation and refurbishment, which was playfully named Operation Teacup.
In 1989, more than $45 million was spent in additional restoration known as The Royal Restoration. All guest rooms were renovated, and a health club, indoor swimming pool and guest reception were added. With an emphasis on craftsmanship, no attempt was made to give the hotel a new image. Instead, the goal was to restore The Empress to its original, pre-war elegance. During this renovation, the Tiffany-style stained glass roof of the Palm Court was discovered. The roof had caved in due to inclement weather and was restored.
During the 1989 renovation, the Victoria Conference Centre was built on the parking lot behind the hotel and connected to the hotel via the hotel’s conservatory. The hotel provides catering for the conference centre.
In 1999, Canadian Pacific spun off Canadian Pacific Hotels, along with all its properties to form a new company that was renamed Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. All former CP Hotel properties were renamed and rebranded with the prefix Fairmont. The renaming of the hotel was met with the disapproval of the citizens of Victoria. Although the new name stuck, Fairmont made no changes to the hotel’s original exterior signage, as a compromise to citizens of Victoria and in respect the hotel’s iconic heritage. Fairmont later sold the hotel on October 31, 2000 to the Legacy Hotels REIT for CAD $120 million. Fairmont has a long-term management agreement with Legacy Hotels.
During the centennial restoration in 2008, the hotel’s original Tea Lobby floor was replaced and the wood of the original floor was transformed into Afternoon Tea tables — one could say you are eating off the floor.
The Bengal Lounge
The Bengal Lounge overlooks the hotel’s stately gardens and is decorated in Victorian-era, Colonial Indian style. The restaurant is a popular destination because of its authentic curry buffet and live jazz on Friday and Saturday from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM. The curry lunch buffet is served daily from 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM, and a curry dinner buffet is served daily from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. The dress code is casually elegant. Reservations are recommended for Friday and Saturday.
The Empress Room
The Empress Room is well known for its impeccable service, exquisite menu, and superb wine list that is well supported by the sommelier. The restaurant is famous for its beautifully handcrafted wood ceiling and elegant dinner service with fine bone china, linen cloths and silverware. The Royal Table setting is an added refinement to the fine dining experience, providing guests with a heightened touch of elegance. From silver cloches and candelabras to customized wine selections from the sommelier and a few special touches from the chef, The Royal Table service provides a sophisticated refinement to an enchanted dining experience. The cost is a $30 CAD surcharge per person in addition to meal selection costs.
The Empress Room serves breakfast daily from 7:00 AM to 11:00 AM, and dinner is served daily from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. The Empress Room is closed on Monday and Tuesday in the Fall and Winter. The dress code is resort casual and dinner jackets are not required for men. Reservations are recommended for dinner.
The Veranda is a seasonal restaurant located under the famous Empress sign. The Veranda is the perfect spot to take a break to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Whether you come to lounge with a martini, have an afternoon nibble, or a sumptuous meal, guests enjoy the best view of Victoria from the famous Veranda. The restaurant is open May to September from 11:30 AM to dusk or chilly, which ever comes first. The Veranda provides heaters, wraps and sunshades for guests. The suggested dress code is resort casual attire.
Afternoon Tea at The Empress has been a well-loved tradition in Victoria for more than a century. The majestic lobby of the Empress and its antiqued tapestries and rugs, elegant wing back chairs, hand-carved tables, rich chintz fabrics, and vintage furnishings have served as an elegant backdrop to the daily tradition of Afternoon Tea. During the summer months, the hotel serves tea along with tea sandwiches, fresh scones, preserves and clotted cream to more than 800 guests and tourists daily. Nearly 100,000 guests are served tea annually with an estimated 500,000 cups of tea. Tea Service begins at 12:00 PM daily with the last seating at 2:15 PM. The dress code is casually elegant.