Sitting in the central business district, right down in Victoria’s picturesque harbour, and with a clear view of British Columbia’s Parliament Buildings, The Empress Hotel is certainly one of Victoria’s most prominent and elegant landmarks. Commissioned by Canadian Pacific Hotels and designed by Francis Rottenbury, The Empress was built in the “châteauesque” style, a revival architecture style based on lavish aristocratic architecture of the French Renaissance. Construction began in 1904, but it was not until 1908 that it opened its doors.
The hotel’s design was inspired by Canada’s grand railway hotels, sumptuous accommodations built to mark major Canadian landmarks. With their impressive towers, turrets, and gabled roofs, these stately buildings were constructed to look like castles popping right out of Renaissance fairytales, and indeed, they do, commanding attention and standing out keenly against the landscape or other buildings in their environs. Some of these grand railway hotels include the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff and the Château Frontenac in Quebec City. Their stylish lodgings offered luxurious and fashionable accommodation for some of Canada’s early wealthy rail travellers.
Since its opening in 1908, The Empress has seen numerous renovations and restorations. Already an impressive sight upon completion in 1908, the hotel lost no time in making itself even grander. In 1910 it began expansion projects that lasted until 1912, and in 1928 the it underwent even more expansions. Today, The Empress offers 464 guest rooms and suites. Over the years, these rooms have hosted notable guests such as Edward the Prince of Wales, Shirley Temple, and King George VI.
In 1981 the hotel was named a National Historic Site of Canada. Today, The Empress is owned by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, but it still maintains its character charm. Its full tea service, served amongst warmly decorated rooms, is a popular draw, even for those not spending the night.