The Empress Hotel - Places to Visit in Victoria BC.
The Fairmont Empress
Situated opposite the Inner Harbour in Victoria BC, The Empress Hotel (The Fairmont Empress) is a wonderful turn of the century masterpiece. The chateau style hotel was originally built, in 1908, to serve business travellers and passengers travelling the Canadian Pacific Steamship line, located one block away. The hotel has undergone expansion over the decades and today serves both international and local visitors.. It is also home to the Victoria Conference Centre.
Today the hotel reflects the elegance of a bygone era and has been restored to reflect its early heritage and timeless elegance, to provide comfort and convenience to today’s guests.
Exterior and Interior - The Empress Hotel
Guests and Traditions
Afternoon tea is available daily at the Empress in the Traditional style of Tea served in Britain. Tiered plates of dainty sandwiches, freshly baked pastries and scones served with jam and cream, accompanied by a selection of fine teas.
The hotel has hosted many famous guests including Royalty, Movie Stars and World Leaders. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11 and Prince Philip, King George V1, Rita Hayworth and Shirley Temple have all enjoyed a stay or fine dining at the hotel.
Updating the Empress
By 1965, the hotel building had become shabby and required significant repairs. There was a call to tear it down and replace it with a modern structure. This did not go down well with locals who campaigned and petitioned to have the building designated a historic site. Plans to tear it down were replaced with a refurbishment to restore it to it’s former grandeur. The Empress went through further expansion and restoration in 1989 to the tune of over $40 million (Canadian). The outside of the building was cleaned and repaired in 2009. Today the ivy-covered building stands proudly part of the historic downtown landscape of Victoria.
The exterior sign, though part of Fairmont Hotels, who manage the hotel, still simply States “The Empress”.
Favourite Places to wine and dine
Whether you are looking for a simple cup of tea, vintage champagne or fragrantly spiced curries, The Empress serves it all. The Bengal Lounge offers cocktails, drinks and a buffet of curries, enjoy a casual tea on the verandah or more formally in the impressive front lounge. Breakfast, lunch and diners are served in style in the two interior restaurants. At Christmas, the hotel hosts a fundraising event and the corridors and lobby are all filled with a multitude of decorated Christmas Trees.
Take a Tour
If you aren't staying at The Empress, visitors to Victoria and residents are still welcome to take a tour of the hotel, and peek into the restaurants and guest areas. Pre-booked guided tours, hosted by a local in Edwardian costume, takes guests through the hotel and describe some of the ins and outs of the hotels famous and infamous history thanks, in part due to it's architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury.
Francis Mawson Rattenbury was born in England in 1867. An entrepreneur, Rattenbury won, lost and re-won fame and fortune. He is the architect of both The Empress Hotel and The Parliament Buildings, kitty corner to The Empress, also overlooking the inner harbour in downtown Victoria.
Rattenbury moved to Canada in 1892. By falsifying his work history and experience, Rattenbury competed for and won the contract to create the legislative building in Victoria, which, after many delays and contract disputes opened in 1898. Rattenbury earned a 40,000 commission. Hoping to further his Rattenbury invested his dollars in various schemes connected to the Klondike gold rush.. None of the schemes worked out and Rattenburylost his fortune.
Rattenbury returned to architecture and earned a reputation as the province of BC’s foremost architect of civic and institutional buildings. He built a home for his family in Oak Bay and earned architectural commissions in Vancouver, the interior and Victoria.
Rattenbury re-built his fortune and in 1903 won the CPR contract to build The Empress. His contract was terminated in 1907 due to a conflict of interest caused by his investments in the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad a competitor to CPR. Rattenbury turned his hand to building residential homes and engaging in urban planning. By 1913 his reputation and fortune were both assured.
In 1914, when Britain declared war on Germany, put an end to the Grand Trunk Pacific scheme. Rattenbury’s land and holdings became worthless when, in 1919, the GTP declared bankruptcy. Rattenbury was also being highly taxed on his land and he began to drink heavily. His marriage to his wife Florrie was also on the rocks.
There was little work for architects during the war years and Rattenbury closed his office. However his fortune seemed to be on the rise again in 1923 when he was commissioned to build a civic pool and leisure centre – The Crystal Gardens.
It was at the celebration of the announcement of the commission, held at The Empress, that Rattenbury’s fortune was about to change again. He met and fell in love with Alma Packenham. The 26year old beauty captivated him and despite social stigma and alienation Rattenbury left his wife to pursue and marry Alma.
Shunned by Victorian Society and with no further commissions, Alma, Rattenbury and their son John left for England in 1930. They made home in Bournemouth where they hired a maid and, later, when Rattenbury was no longer able to drive, George Stoner became their chauffeur.
Alma and the chauffeur began an affair. She was a lot younger than Rattenbury. George Stoner, the chauffeur, was eighteen. Stoner fell hard for Alma and was jealous of Alma’s relationship with her husband. In 1935, Stoner bludgeoned Rattenbury to death with a mallet. Stoner was initially given the death sentenced, which was later changed to life, following public outcry. Alma was found not guilty in the murder although she was publicly admonished as an adulterer. Four days after Stoner’s original sentence and herself being released Alma entered the River Avon and fatally stabbed herself.