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Hotel History

  • Fairmont Hotel Empress

The iconic Fairmont Empress opened its doors in 1908. Overlooking the sparkling inner harbour, the Empress was designed by Francis Rattenbury for Canadian Pacific Hotels as a terminus hotel for the Canadian Pacific Railway. (Rattenbury also designed the legislature building in Victoria, BC) The building has been designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.

Return of the Queen

We are thrilled to reveal a dramatic transformation at the Fairmont Empress, restoring the iconic Grand Dame to her former glory. Breathtaking design and thoughtful details are put into the memorable theme inspired by the West Coast and Vancouver Island’s lush natural landscapes. Reflecting the historic architectural heritage, guests will also find a modern twist on the classic. In May 2017, Fairmont Empress unveiled the completion of  a $60 million dollar transformation. The restoration of this iconic hotel on Victoria, B.C.'s sparkling Inner Harbour included:

  • A spectacular new lobby and porte-cochere to welcome guests
  • Revitalized pool & Health Club 
  • A beautifully renovated Willow Stream Spa 
  • 464 beautifully appointed guest rooms
  • Luxuriously updated meeting & event spaces
  • Q at the Empress & Q Bar - a must-visit culinary experience

Afternoon Tea
During the summer months, the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia, serves Afternoon Tea to more guests than most hotels in London, England. More than 400 people per day come to enjoy a tradition that  commenced when the hotel opened January 20, 1908.

Celebrity Stays
The hotel has long been accustomed to entertaining Hollywood celebrities; 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.

Edwardian Era Landmark
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.'

Ghostly Visitors
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.

Royal Visits
Throughout its history, The Fairmont Empress has played host to kings, queens, movie stars and many famous people. 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. 

Royal Restoration
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.

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.'

The Empress Book
Anyone interested in the history of The Fairmont Empress is welcome to visit The Fairmont Store in The Fairmont Empress and purchase The Empress Book. It is a coffee-table style detailed account of the rich and engaging history of this iconic hotel, the heart and soul of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Share Your History of The Empress
Visit Fairmont Hotels and Resorts blog,, to contribute your special memories and history of The Fairmont Empress and read other guests' stories.

Empress History Tours

Are you interested in learning more about the hotel's eleven decades of history? Now registered hotel guests can take hotel history tours. Guests who are interested should notify a member of staff at the time of check-in.

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