the Empress Hotel

The Empress Hotel, Victoria BC.

The Empress Hotel was built between 1904 and 1906, shortly after the death of the real Empress in 1901.  It was a CPR hotel, Francis Rattenbury the English architect, also the architect of the Parliament Buildings and the Crystal Pool.  Unless one is from Victoria, Rattenbury is better known perhaps for being killed on his wife's instructions, the story told in Terence Rattigan's 1975 play, Cause Célèbre.

The Empress is pinnacled and towered, looming and gothic, now covered in ivy.  One doesn't make architectural criticisms of it because it is such an institution: the archetypal outpost of Empire, like Raffles in Singapore but not so racy: the Empress is famous for tea.  Of course.  This is Victoria.

Next to it was the Crystal Pool where all little Victorian schoolchildren learned to swim up until the 1960s – either there or at Elk Lake in the summer in the Daily Colonist swim classes.  Yes, that was the name of the newspaper.  The Crystal Pool, built in 1925, was a large glass house: no curved pieces, all flat plate glass on cast iron structure, at the time known as the largest salt-water pool in the Empire.  It was a wonderful space for a child – light streamed into the pool, glittered on the water, the palm trees dripped, exotic as any Hockney pool in California.  

This was my Canadian childhood.


Crystal Garden pool. F M Rattenbury and Percy James, architects. Victoria BC 1925