I’ve been chasing spring to the lush, green tulip haven of Victoria, British Columbia. My husband’s work event was the catalyst so we extended the visit and made a little holiday of it. Since we were installed at the historic Empress hotel for the conference we embraced the experience and called it home for our entire stay. We’re pretty casual travelers so it was a treat to immerse ourselves in it’s lux ambience.
The hotel was built between 1904 and 1908 in the Chateau style as evidenced by the steep slate roof and Gothic Revival gables. The CPR ( Canadian Pacific Railway) ocean liners linked with CPR trans-continental railway and a network right across Canada of grand “railway hotels” like the Empress.
It was such a different era in travel. The world moved at a different pace and the features in the hotel reflected that with amenities like a writing room, conservatory, library, and a ballroom to name a few. Changing times and two subsequent expansions have seen the detailed craftsmanship and general architecture preserved but most of the lavish original common spaces are now parceled off for meeting rooms or special events. Some ,like the writing room, were reincarnated. In 1954 it became the dark, exotic Bengal Lounge. In the past, it was all about luxury and leisure and I sense a different kind of dynamic now that it’s a hub for the hustle and bustle of many conferences.
The Empress is filled with beautiful black and white photos of days gone by,as well as, an archive. As I wandered the hotel I was able to piece together the original layout to some degree. I’d spy a feature like a stunning stained glass ceiling and remember it from an old photo of the conservatory filled with wicker chairs nestled amongst an array of foliage. A spectacular decorative treatment that looked like carved wood but was actually original horse hair and plaster relief carvings placed the area as part of a much larger elegant dining room. I kept imagining what it must of been like to stay there during it’s original splendor. Ladies would be trailing steamer trunks full of frocks to take them through days filled with high teas and evenings in the ballroom. Oh the glamor of it all.
The Empress continues their infamous daily high tea tradition and a rainy afternoon provided the perfect occasion for us to partake. The tea room used to be the hotel’s grand entrance and reception area. It would have been quite a welcome for those traveling for weeks and months crossing country and continent.
We sipped our tea and sampled dainty sandwiches and sweets while a pianist played softly in the corner. We watched the inner harbor through the rain and the steam roiling off our expertly brewed tea. It was lovely.
There was a richness and quality of experience you just don’t get with a giant “to go” thermos sitting in your car cup holder. Some of those old traditions can make you realize how nice it is to take the time to stop and smell the roses or enjoy the tulips as the case may be. Suddenly I want all my meals served on three tiers and prefaced with a bowl of fresh strawberries and cream. I also wonder how I could have missed the divine taste of a scone dolloped with cream and strawberry jam all this time. I feel inspired to work up my own version of high tea on occasion now that I’m home. I’ll miss the harbor view but at least I know the tulips will be popping up relatively soon in Edmonton. Anyone with a great scone recipe?