The Empress (hotel)
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|The Fairmont Empress hotel|
721 Government Street|
Victoria, British Columbia
|Opening||January 20, 1908|
|Management||Fairmont Hotels and Resorts|
|Design and construction|
|Developer||Canadian Pacific Railway|
|Number of rooms||412|
|Number of suites||52|
|Number of restaurants||3|
|Official name||Empress Hotel National Historic Site of Canada|
The Fairmont Empress (most commonly known as The Empress) is one of the oldest hotels in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Located on Government Street facing the Inner Harbour, the Empress is an iconic symbol for the city itself. It has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada due to its national significance.
The hotel has 412 rooms and 52 suites, with 76 rooms and suites overlooking the Inner Harbour. Since the completion of a $60 million restoration in 2017, the hotel has three restaurants, including Q at the Empress, Q bar with views of the inner harbour, and the Lobby Lounge which serves the "world renowned" Tea at the Empress. The Veranda, part of Q at the Empress, is open seasonally, and is located under the Empress sign at the front of the hotel.
The hotel has gym facilities, a whirlpool bath and an indoor swimming pool. Willow Stream Spa was added in 2002 and was listed by Conde Nast as one of the world's best spas. The hotel has received several accolades including a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and Travel + Leisure Best Hotels of the World and recognized on Conde Nast Gold List. The hotel became Victoria's first Five Green Key hotel as acknowledged by the Hotel Association of Canada for sustainability practices.
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.
As of April 2016, the Bengal Room (formerly the Bengal Lounge) is no longer one of the hotel's restaurants. It now operates as private function space, often used for weddings and private events.
May 2017 marked the completion of the hotel's most recent restoration, named 'Return of the Queen'. Nearly the entire hotel, including all guest rooms and suite, spa, function spaces, dining outlets, and reception lobby were renovated. The only spaces which were left renovated were the Crystal Ballroom and the Palm Court.
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The Edwardian, château-style hotel was designed by Francis Rattenbury for Canadian Pacific Hotels as a terminus hotel for Canadian Pacific's steamship line, whose main terminal was just a block away. The hotel was to serve business people and visitors to Victoria, but later as Canadian Pacific ceased its passenger services to the city, the hotel was successfully remarketed as a resort to tourists. Victoria emerged as a tourist destination beginning in the mid-to-late 1920s.
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 people. 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 huge bodyguards who took the room opposite hers and always left their door open.
For many years the hotel did not have a sign above the front entrance. The strong emotions the hotel evoked in Victorians and its guests and protectors is exemplified in the statement made by an irate gentleman, as workers raised the sign above the front entrance: 'Anyone who doesn't know this is The Empress shouldn't be staying here.'
In 1965, there was much debate on whether to tear down what was becoming a faded, dowdy hotel, to make room for a more modern, functional high-rise hotel. One local newspaper warned that, 'Without this splendid relic of the Edwardian era, literally tens of thousands of tourists will never return. This is the Mecca, this is the heart and soul of the city.' A decision was announced on June 10, 1966: The Empress would not be demolished. Instead she would embark on a $4 million campaign of renovation and refurbishment, playfully dubbed 'Operation Teacup.'
In 1989, over $45 million was spent in additional restoration known as The Royal Restoration. All the 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.
Until this renovation, the engineering staff from the hotel confirmed that there was what has been described as a tunnel that ran from James Bay into the basement of the Empress. At high tide one was able to visit the basement and see the salt water flood the opening. It is not clear what the purpose was. Some have suggested that it was part of the hotel's waste management system and that at one time the sewage from the hotel was being flushed into James Bay.
In 1998, Ian Powell took over as the General Manager of the hotel. He was there through 2004 where he oversaw many of the changes to the hotel both esthetically and internally through staff and management.
In 1999, Canadian Pacific spun off Canadian Pacific Hotels, along with all its properties. The new company was renamed Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in an effort to reflect its growing global presence and ambitions. As such, all former CP Hotel properties were to be renamed and rebranded with the prefix 'Fairmont'. This led to a loud uproar and consternation by Victoria's newspapers and its citizens, a decision they viewed as sacrilege. Although the new name stuck, Fairmont made no changes to the hotel's original exterior signage, as a compromise to soothe local anxieties and respect its iconic heritage.
Fairmont later sold the hotel on October 31, 2000, to the Legacy Hotels REIT for CAD $120 million. However, Fairmont has a long-term management agreement with Legacy Hotels, and as of August 2005, held an 11.14% ownership in this REIT.
The hotel was sold on June 27, 2014, to Vancouver-based owners, Nat and Flora Bosa. They invested more than $60 million dollars in renovations.
Tea at The Empress
The hotel is known for its classic Victorian afternoon tea service. During the summer months, the hotel serves tea (along with tea sandwiches, fresh scones, preserves and clotted cream known as Empress cream) in its "Tea Room" to more than 400 guests and tourists daily. Afternoon tea is approximately CAD $75 per person, and reservations are often required in advance.
- Empress Hotel. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
- "Food Services". Victoria Conference Centre. Retrieved 2008-05-23.
- Luxton, Donald (2003). Building the West: The Early Architecture of British Columbia. Vancouver, British Columbia: Talonbooks. p. 515. ISBN 0-88922-474-9.
- Wilson, Carla. "Nat Bosa spending $30 million to renovate Victoria’s Empress Hotel".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fairmont Empress.|
- The Fairmont Empress, Victoria hotel website
- Emporis Listing
- The Empress Hotel (first wing) nearing completion, 1908 (British Columbia Archives, call number B-04739)
- Construction of the Humboldt Street wing of the Empress Hotel, 1928 (British Columbia Archives, call number G-03999)
- Inner Harbour and Empress Hotel, 1975 (British Columbia Archives, call number I-21018)