Haunting of the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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An old hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, offers much more than a place to stay. Entering it is a journey through time with a twist. The Fairmont Empress has been charming visitors since 1908 with elegance and hospitality. Today, it offers a mix of history and modern amenities, with a legendary tea service, all housed in a building with architecture that could make the Stanley Hotel jealous. That twist? Well, there may be a few guests who checked in but never checked out and may still roam the hotel grounds today.

Where Is the Fairmont Empress Hotel?

The southern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, is the city of Victoria. It's a bustling place, dotted with natural beauty among the types of buildings you'd expect from any big city.

A Google Map showing a pin where Victoria is located.
That's zoomed out pretty far. There's an island there. I swear.

Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and was named after Queen Victoria. It's one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, dating back to an 1843 British settlement. There's a long history of dark tales in Victoria, from clandestine opium dens to run-running during Prohibition. The city was once an epicenter during a gold rush, and some say the spirits of fortune seekers from across the world still linger in the old town's alleys.

A Google Map showing Vancouver Island.
There we go. Now you can see Vancouver Island.

In downtown Victoria, overlooking the Inner Harbour, the Fairmont Empress Hotel stands. It's a landmark that's watched over the city for over a century. Like nearly all purportedly haunted places, Legend Has It™️ that the hotel was built on an ancient burial ground. I don't know if that's true or not, but I suspect that if you dig deep enough anywhere in the world, you're bound to discover something buried there. Even without the burial ground bit, the actual documented history of the hotel is interesting enough and is linked to some of the ghostly tales.

History of the Fairmont Empress Hotel

The hotel began as a grand vision by a division of the Canadian Pacific Railway to construct an addition to their series of Châteauesque grand railway hotels.


Châteauesque is an architectural style inspired by the grand châteaus of the Loire Valley in France during the Renaissance. Popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it features steeply pitched roofs, gables, pointed arches, elaborate towers, polygonal turrets, and decorative masonry. It aims to evoke the romanticism and grandiosity of French castles, often used in luxurious homes, hotels, and public buildings to convey wealth and sophistication.

Construction began under the guidance of Francis Rattenbury, a prominent architect of the region. He'd already made a name for himself with Parliament buildings (among other projects) that brought an expectation of prestige to the plans.

A black and white photo of a white man in a black suit, holding an open book or magazine.
Francis Rattenbury, 1924.

His design was ambitious and incorporated extensive Châteauesque elements with luxury accommodations. The result was a hotel that instantly became a landmark for Victoria, encapsulating the elegance and ambition of Rattenbury himself and the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Black and white photograph of the front of the multi-story hotel building overlooking the water.
The Empress Hotel in 1930. What is it about old photos that instantly make things creepy?

The hotel opened in 1908 under the name "The Empress Hotel." It was met with widespread acclaim, and its strategic location by Victoria's Inner Harbour (coupled with Rattenbury's stunning architectural design) made it a must-see destination for locals and travelers. The Empress became synonymous with a high standard of hospitality, attracting worldwide visitors eager to experience its charm and sophistication firsthand.

Photograph of the hotel during the daytime, a large multi-story building overlooking the water.
The Fairmont Empress Hotel.

While Rattenbury enjoyed professional successes, his personal life was fraught with scandal and tragedy. After moving to England, his life took a dark turn when he became entangled in a love triangle that ultimately led to his murder in 1935 by his and his wife's 18-year-old live-in chauffeur. By then, Francis and his wife Alma's relationship had deteriorated, and Alma and the chauffeur George Percy Stoner began an affair.

Photograph of the hotel in the evening, showing a darkening sky and streetlights around the building.
The Fairmont Empress Hotel in the evening. Little spooky.

On March 23, 1935, Francis Rattenbury was found in the sitting room with severe head injuries. Upon closer inspection, he'd suffered a series of blows with a carpenter's mallet. The blunt impacts were so forceful that the back of his skull had cracked off, and his false teeth had fallen out. Shockingly, Francis was still alive. However, unsurprisingly, he died only four days later, at the age of 67. Alma confessed to the murder, but their chauffeur, George Percy Stoner, told a housekeeper that he'd been the one to strike the blows. Alma and George were both charged, but Alma later retracted her confession.

A photograph of the hotel at night, showing a dark and cloudy sky with numerous streetlights illuminating the building.
The Fairmont Empress Hotel at night. Throwing off some serious Overlook Hotel vibes.

George Stoner was convicted and sentenced to death. Over 300,000 people signed a petition to commute his death sentence because they felt he'd been manipulated by Alma into murdering Francis. His death sentence was commuted, and George Stoner spent seven years in prison and was released early to fight in World War II. After the war, he led a relatively quiet life and died in 2000 at age 83.

As for Alma, she was acquitted but was found dead by suicide a few days later, on June 4, 1935, at age 37. She stabbed herself six times in the chest with a dagger and then threw herself into the River Stour at Christchurch. Three of the stabs directly penetrated her heart.

Ghostly Legends of the Fairmont Empress Hotel

Several legendary ghosts haunt the Fairmont Empress. Based on the story you just read about the architect, it should come as no surprise that one of the more prominent tales is about the ghost of Francis Rattenbury. Employees and guests have reported seeing Francis Rattenbury walking the halls, sometimes with a cane. But, since he died so far away, why does he haunt the Fairmont Empress? One theory suggests that he believed the hotel to be his greatest achievement. However, he left the project unfinished and passed it along to William Sutherland Maxwell, the chief architect for the Canadian Pacific Railway. William saw the project through to the finish. So, I'm not so sure about this one. If anything, perhaps it's a case of mistaken spectral identity, and the ghost is actually that of William Sutherland Maxwell.

Another tale lines up better with typical hauntings. A chambermaid named Lizzie McGrath was working around when the hotel opened. She was Catholic, and every night, she'd step out onto the fire escape on the sixth floor to say the rosary. One night, she opened her usual window, stepped out, and plummeted to her death—the fire escape had been removed for renovations, but no one had been notified about its removal. Aside from a few minor details, ​this story of Lizzie McGrath seems pretty accurate​, and there are reports of her ghost wandering the halls of the Fairmont Empress even to this day. ​More about Lizzie McGrath and the Fairmont Empress here​.

Other tales that aren't reported as often are a little girl who haunts a specific room, a spectral construction worker who hanged himself, and an elderly woman named Margaret who knocks on guests' doors and then vanishes.

The Fairmont Empress has seen its fair share of events typically associated with hauntings, and enough people have reported on the same ghostly encounters that it makes you wonder if you might see something during your own visit.

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