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THE EMPRESS HOTEL - VICTORIA BC


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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 900 people per day come to enjoy a tradition that has been part of the hotel since it opened in 1908.

The Fairmont Empress has long been accustomed to entertaining Hollywood celebrities; Rita Hayworth, Jack Benny, Pat O'Brien, Douglas Fairbanks, Katherine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Tallulah Bankhead and a host of others have passed through its lobby. 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.

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.

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 1989, over $45 million was spent in the royal restoration; all the guest rooms were renovated, and a health club and indoor swimming pool 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 its original elegance.

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."

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