721 Government Street, Victoria, BC

(250) 384-8111

Status: Historical Railroad Hotel



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Fairmont Empress, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 08.jpg

By <a href="//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Podzemnik" title="User:Podzemnik">Michal Klajban</a> - <span class="int-own-work" lang="en">Own work</span>, CC BY-SA 4.0Link


Opening on January 20, 1908 this Inner Harbour hotel is one of the oldest and most beautiful in the city. It was built by Canadian Pacific Hotel a branch of the Canadian National Railway (CNR). It was originally designed for visitors and business people to stay in upon reaching the terminus of the railway.

Although the CNR would discontinue passenger service to Victoria, the city was becoming a major tourist destination by the 1920’s. The grand hotel switched gears to providing 5-star accommodation to these new tourists very quickly.

Its hard to believe now; but in 1965 there was a debate as whether to keep The Empress or tear it down and built a new modern hotel. There was a large outcry from the public and the media – it seems the people of Victoria had fallen in love with their hotel in the harbour.

In June of 1966 the owner of the hotel confirmed it would not be demolished but rather receive a $4 million renovation and refreshment.

In 1989 the hotel received another refurbishment – this one costing $45 million – updating all the guest rooms and adding a health club, indoor pool and new reception. The long known urban legend that there is a tunnel between the hotel’s basement and James Bay – that is accessible at low tide – was officially confirmed. It is thought it was once part of the hotel’s sewage system.

I've been in this tunnel. It is rather creepy, very wet and not the place to get caught at high tide as the tunnel fills with water.

In 1999 all Canadian Pacific Hotels were rebranded as Fairmont.


Paranormal Activity

The ghost of the original architect – Francis Rattenbury – still wanders the hotel. He is a slender man with a moustache and has a cane. He is most often seen in the hallways and lower lobby.

On the 6th floor the ghost of an elderly woman in pyjamas who knocks on guest’s doors asking for help in finding her room. She leads people toward the elevator before suddenly disappearing. Her name was Margaret and she was found dead of natural causes in her room in the late 1940’s.

The hotel continued to use Margaret’s room for guests until the reports of continued – and possibly increasing – paranormal activity made that impossible. The room was locked and remained unused after that; which is one of the reasons an elevator was installed here during renovations.

Also, on the 6th floor a maid continues to be seen cleaning despite the fact that she died in 1909. Her name was Lizzie McGrath – she lived on site as most staff did at the time – and she had a habit of sitting on the fire escape stairs but they had been removed for a renovation and she fell to her death just to right of the hotel’s main entrance. Lizzie’s apparition is also seen where she landed; often clutching her rosary.

While working on the top floor of the west tower a construction worker saw a shadow of someone hanging from the ceiling; right at the spot where an employee had taken his own life.

A little girl is said to haunt the room she died in but we were unable to track down that room number.

Other Activity: apparitions and shadow figures; cold spots and unexplained breezes in the building – no open windows or AC in the area; movement in the corner of people’s eyes; disembodied voices; electrical disturbances; phantom footsteps; light anomalies and feelings of being watched and not being alone.