Saturday, January 23, 2016

One Last Time...

One Last Time

I was on my way to work early on Monday morning, January 4th, and with time to kill, procrastination slowing my step, as well as the need for a washroom, I made my way through the Empress Hotel, Victoria, BC. I, along with everyone else, was getting back to my usual routine, post-holidays and was dragging my feet at bit. Even though foreboding about returning to work gnawed at my gut, at the same time I felt a sense of ‘new beginnings’ in the air; self-reflection and plans for self-transformation are on the minds of many at that time of year.

I slowly made my way through the grand hotel I make every excuse to meander through; and yes, they have a lot more to offer than the use of their washrooms,

The outside of the hotel has been under wraps for a while – but it’s not a secret. With the recent change in ownership came time for a face-lift for the old hotel – not to CHANGE the historical structure, but to give it’s apparently softening, sagging joints a bit of a lift (I know how it feels – could use one myself). The scaffolding on the outside of the building has been covered with tarp, but not the ordinary blue tarps. These tarps have been painted to match the exact exterior of the hotel with red bricks, columns, lighted windows, the whole bit. I love it.

Inside, however, there are to be changes as well, as I would soon learn. But I was on a mission you see, and as I bee-lined my way through the hotel straight for the washroom downstairs, I passed the tea lobby – the roomed famed for serving ‘high tea’ since 1908 to royalty, dignitaries, celebrities and nowadays-commoners like me. I stutter-stopped at what I saw in the tea lobby, but my urgent mission had me promising to return.

And I did.

The tea lobby overlooking the harbor always furnished with heavy, dark wood tables and chairs was empty; furniture-less. Not a teacup, a plant, a sideboard, nor scone was to be seen (and I would have eaten it, too – I was getting kind of hungry); only the grand piano sitting eerily alone, waiting. The vast space usually fully furnished with tables, chairs, privacy partitions and potted plants didn’t feel like its usual ‘cozy’ tea room right then, but more of an empty ballroom with only the ghosts of visitors-past to dance with. Something eerie and raw was in the air – and not the lingering scent of perfuming teas. I got the sense I was invading its space; invading the room’s moment of being nothing other than a room. It was as if it was willing me to go away so it could just be, and not, for once, something for someone else.

The sun had barely started to make its daily appearance. It was still dark outside and the overhead lights cast questionable shadows in century-old corners, warning me to hurry along. The hotel was still asleep and on her hardwood floors I felt I should tip-toe, the church-like atmosphere suggesting I whisper should I dare talk and interrupt its moment of just ‘being.’ Empty and not at-the-ready for once – no expectations, demand for ritual, or need for order – she could take a deep breath and sigh her secrets tighter within her walls. Without any furnishings save for the two pictures over the fireplaces and the heavily tasseled drapes, it was her chance to show everyone what else she could be – herself, simply as she was.

Yes, I know that all sounds over-the-top in giving the old room human-like attributes, but something about the grand space had me honoring it like a person. I felt as though I was in the presence of a great woman with lifetimes of experience in her walls. I was invading her time, space, and moment of just being alone. I had to respect her.

A passing hotel employee broke the spell I was under, and we exchanged pleasantries. I said I was enjoying taking a few pictures of the rarely-empty room and she, too, agreed there was something eerie yet magical about the space. We stood in silence admiring the room that although empty of furniture, was not truly empty. There really was a lot to see in the seemingly empty space - if you looked hard enough.

After another moment of shared silent yet appreciative admiration of the majestic women we so brazenly stared at, the hotel employee hurried on her way, encouraging me to stay as long as I liked. And I did. I suspected, along with the hotel’s other renovations/updates, that the room was destined for the maintenance and up-keeping work it most likely needed. I knew I was likely the last person to enjoy the room as it was. I took as many photos as my cellphone could hold, and was sure to take in as much of the room as she was willing to give me.

At last it was time to go, and when I passed through later that morning (I can’t stay away from the place!) workmen were convening on her floors, their work boots scuffing the hardwood floors. Take it easy on her, I thought as I watched a few men carrying in partitions they would later erect to hide their work-in-progress from prying eyes such as mine. So as if the workmen weren’t there I purposely made my way through the crowd and across her floor so I could enjoy her as she was – one last time.

But I’ll be back....

(I was later assured that the work involved is only maintenance and upkeep to ensures the graceful hotel stays in tip-top shape - the architectural and historical integrity will be maintained. I look forward to going back and seeing her again.)


  1. How interesting that you went in that day! I know there are big changes planned for the interior. Well, renovations at least, including the room the tea is served in. The owners have repeatedly said, though, that they won't change the structure, so hopefully all that glorious wood stays. I especially liked walking through there, the old wood floor creaking as you passed. How eerie it must have been seeing it so completely empty!

    1. Change is good, but I know there won't be drastic changes. I am through the gorgeous hotel lots and I just see little nips and tucks (I could use a few myself), so nothing drastic will happen! I love the hotel and can't wait to see it's fresh face! Thank you so much for stopping by! xo