When Victoria was Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty by Walter Crane, Courtesy of Wikimedia

Sleeping Beauty by Walter Crane, Courtesy of Wikimedia

When the Empress Hotel opened on January 20, 1908, poet Captain Clive Phillips-Wooley referred to the City of Victoria as Sleeping Beauty and the hotel as “Prince Charming” in his address, saying “Victoria waited for the kiss of love and now comes into her own.”

Victoria had a reputation for drowsiness. Rudyard Kipling visited the city in 1889 and wrote about the “quiet English town of beautiful streets”, noting a “colony of old men doing nothing but talking, fishing, and loafing.” The famous architect, Francis Mawson Rattenbury, wrote in a letter to his uncle in 1894, “I could never imagine a country with so many inducements as this has for lotus-eating.” In Greek mythology, the hero Odysseus arrived in the land of the Lotus-eaters who ate a flowery food, possibly the seeds of the opium poppy. The food led the people to live a sleepy, peaceful life.

The Empress Hotel was designed by Rattenbury who must have shed his lethargy and got to work. His inspiration for the CPR hotel came from the châteaux of the Loire Valley. One of the châteaux in the Loire Valley, the Château d’Ussé, served as the image for Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the 1697 fairy tale by French author Charles Perrault about the beauty sleeping in the woods. Among the most beautiful castles in France, Château d’Ussé has blue-slate roofs, white walls, dormer windows, delicate towers, and Gothic turrets set against the backdrop of the Forest of Chinon. Today it is a tourist attraction with scenes from the Sleeping Beauty tale illustrated with wax figure tableaus.

The Empress Hotel woke up Victoria up. Even Kipling came to stay at the Empress and this time he was so impressed with Victoria that he called it the most beautiful place in the world. The wordsmith could not find enough words to describe the place, noting, “I tried honestly to render something of the color, the gaiety, and the graciousness of the town and the island, but only found myself piling up unbelievable adjectives, and so let it go with a hundred other wonders.”