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Empress Hotel

721 Government Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1975/11/27

Exterior view of the Empress Hotel, 2004.; City of Victoria, Steve Barber, 2004.
west elevation
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Other Name(s)

Empress Hotel
Fairmont Empress Hotel

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1905/01/01 to 1908/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2005/03/10

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Empress Hotel is a large, six storey, Chateau-style building prominently located within Victoria's Inner Harbour Precinct.

Heritage Value

The Empress Hotel is valued as one of the greatest landmarks in the Canadian hospitality industry. As one of the finest hotels which manifested Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) general manager William Van Horne's dream of a chain of Picturesque hotels across the country, the Empress Hotel established Victoria as an acceptable port of call for the CPR Company's world-class cruises and first class tourists, and established the city's modern tourism-based economy.

Initiated in 1905, after the construction of the Inner Harbour Causeway and the filling in of the James Bay mud flats, this building is a monument to the expressive city planning which shaped the Inner Harbour precinct in the early twentieth century. The hotel's prominent location as a landmark in the harbour - and its juxtaposition with the British Columbia Legislature - reflect noted architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury's vision for this area, which intended to manifest Victoria's refinement, and economic and governmental prestige, through the development of architecture and landscape.

Rattenbury's original section of the Empress Hotel, in the mature Chateau style, is of particular importance. Although designed to emulate and reflect the precedents established by other CPR hotels such as the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, Rattenbury's decidedly eclectic detailing acknowledges the Empress's west coast setting. The combination of Gothic, Tudor, and Second Empire elements - and reflections of elements of Rattenbury's nearby Legislative buildings - respectively acknowledge the hotel's English and French Canadian cultural heritage, while complimenting its significant location in British Columbia's capital city. Rattenbury's original design dictated the subsequent design of additions to the hotel in 1912 by architect W.S. Painter, and in 1929 by J.W. Orrock.

The Empress Hotel's massive picturesque asymmetrical form, and lavishly appointed interior spaces, such as the Palm Court and the Crystal Ballroom, reflect the historic first-rate standards of what has continued to be the most famous hotel in the city and one of the most famous hotels in the province for almost one hundred years.

Source: City of Victoria Planning and Development Department

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Empress Hotel include:
- the spatial relationships between the hotel, the Inner Harbour Causeway, and
the BC Legislature
- the picturesque silhouette of the building, accentuated by its roofline
- the slate roof
- the unimpeded views and prominent position of the hotel in the Inner Harbour Precinct
- elements of Rattenbury's Chateau-style design, such as the flat, unadorned wall surfaces, steep broken roofs, Gothic dormers, a concentration of detailing in the upper parts, and accentuation of the building's verticality
- evidence of the eclecticism of Rattenbury's design, seen in such elements as the quatrefoils on the cornice, stylized low Tudor arches, and the influence of the Second Empire style in the main roof
- elements of the 1912 and 1929 additions, which relate to their original designs, which reflect on the original design of the 1908 portion of the hotel
- intact interior spatial configurations and finishes, which relate to the original designs of each portion of the building



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

Local Governments (BC)

Recognition Statute

Local Government Act, s.967

Recognition Type

Heritage Designation

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1912/01/01 to 1912/01/01
1929/01/01 to 1929/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Architecture and Design

Function - Category and Type



Commerce / Commercial Services
Hotel, Motel or Inn

Architect / Designer

J.W. Orrock


Gribble, Skene and Barrett

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Victoria Planning & Development Department

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




Related Places

General view

Empress Hotel National Historic Site of Canada

The Empress Hotel is an early-20th-century stone hotel, constructed in the Chateau style. It is prominently located at the head of the inner harbour in the city of Victoria. The…


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