< CANADA | VICTORIA: Fairmont Empress
Majestically overlooking Victoria's Inner Harbour, the Fairmont Empress has played host to royalty, celebrities, and guests from around the world, ever since it opened its doors on January 20, 1908. The Edwardian, château-style hotel was designed by architect Francis Rattenbury for Canadian Pacific Hotels, as a terminus hotel for Canadian Pacific's steamship line.
Since its inception, Fairmont Empress has been a celebrated destination for unforgettable events. From a black-tie ball in the Crystal Ballroom to an intimate affair in the Library Room. In 1919,
Edward, Prince of Wales, waltzed into the dawn in the 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 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed at The Fairmont Empress as part of their cross Canada Royal Tour. It was the first time in history that reigning monarchs had visited Victoria and stayed at The Fairmont Empress.
The most recent Royal Visit of HRH Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip was in 2002. Prince Charles and Camilla visited in 2009 while the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited in 2010.
The hotel has long been accustomed to entertaining Hollywood celebrities as well; Rita Hayworth, Jack Benny, Pat O'Brien, Douglas Fairbanks, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Tallulah Bankhead, Roger Moore, John Travolta, Barbra Streisand, Harrison Ford and a host of others have passed through its lobby. Shirley Temple arrived accompanied by her parents amid rumors 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.
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." The decision was announced on June 10, 1966: The Fairmont Empress would not be demolished. Instead she would embark on a $4 million campaign of renovation and refurbishment, playfully dubbed 'Operation Teacup.'
The walls of the hotel contain stories of unusual guests and employees. In 1987, a woman wrote about her wonderful stay at The Fairmont Empress and asked if other guests had received a similar late night visitor: a little girl who had watched over her bed and then floated across the room. There are also the stories of an early 20th century maid, who shows up now and again on the sixth floor to help with the cleaning.
In 1989, over $45 million was spent in 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 Fairmont Empress to her original elegance.
During this restoration, the Tiffany-style stained glass roof of The Palm Court was discovered behind wood. It appeared the roof has caved in due to inclement weather. The beauty of the roof needed to be restored for guests to enjoy. Guests now enjoy the sparkle of light on the marble foyer for weddings and special events.
A few years later, the award-winning Willow Stream Spa was added to the delight of Victoria residents and hotel guests alike. Most recent renovations include the Fairmont Gold Lounge and Fairmont Gold guest rooms.
During the summer months, the Fairmont Empress serves Afternoon Tea to more guests than most hotels in London, England. More than 800 people per day come to enjoy a tradition that commenced when the hotel opened in 1908.
The strong emotions the Fairmont Empress evokes in many of her 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.'
#Terry Reksten: The Fairmont Empress: The First Hundred Years
Douglas & Mcintyre Ltd, 2008 | ISBN-10: 1553651928; ISBN-13: 978-1553651925
English language | 152 pages | Paperback
| Buy it at Amazon | Buy it at Alibris |
#Terry Reksten: The Empress Hotel: In The Grand Style
Douglas & Mcintyre Ltd, 1997 | ISBN-10: 155054604X; ISBN-13: 978-1550546040
English language | 136 pages | Hardcover
| Buy it at Amazon | Buy it at Alibris |