The Empress Hotel is like an archetypal clever old woman who hides the most sleazy, magical secrets within her walls. Behind the ivy vines and maroon wild creepers that snake up her skin lies the cold-blooded mystery of the ghost of its creator.

 

Strolling through Victoria, in Canada’s British Columbia, can take you back through temporal landscapes to the British era. In 1891, the feisty 24-year-old architect Francis Rattenbury brought Edwardian English aesthetics into grand Victorian hotspots, such as the Canadian Pacific and Railway steamship. Perhaps the most well-known of his works is The Fairmont Empress Hotel, a neo-classical masterpiece.

The Empress came to life between 1904 and 1908 and grew into global fame. Today, it breathes a colonial afterlife, with Victorian activities such as afternoon teatime in 800 clinking cups, dinner at the colonial Raj-styled Bengal room and royal archives ringing with stories of the young Prince of Wales dancing all night in crystal rooms under star-studded skies.

The Empress Hotel is like an archetypal clever old woman who hides the most sleazy, magical secrets within her walls. Behind the ivy vines and maroon wild creepers that snake up her skin lies the cold-blooded mystery of the ghost of its creator.

By the early 1920s, Rattenbury had two children and a plan for Victoria’s pool, which was eventually accepted. When he went to The Empress to celebrate this achievement, he eloped with Alma Pakenham to Bournemouth, much to the discomfort of the conservative Victoria.

However, their love and happiness were short-lived as he was found murdered in his drawing room in 1935, with his head caved in by a croquet mallet. Though Pakenham initially confessed to the murder, she changed her tune to blaming the chauffeur. She later claimed that he had gone ‘high’ with her. Acquitted, she stabbed herself in the heart six times.

The secret revisits gothic fiction in many ways, for it has all the tropes and the makings of one. Maybe ghosts really do shapeshift into characters, which is why many people remember Rattenbury today as a dapper man walking the halls of The Empress in an Edwardian suit, smoking a cigar.

And, The Empress does almost well to hide this treasure in her breast.

 

Anushka Sivakumar

Anushka Sivakumar

Anushka Sivakumar has been a journalist with The Deccan Herald. She received B.A. in English from Christ University, Bangalore, and her postgraduate degree in journalism from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.

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