What’s old is new at Fairmont Empress Hotel

Empress_2013-05-06 21.02.18The iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel is a staple of any visit to Victoria, BC, whether it’s taking a photo in front of the famed facade, having afternoon tea, visiting the spa or staying overnight in the century old grande dame.
The stately property recently changed ownership and the new owners have set about to renew and restore the property.  Some of the plans have been controversial, and generated major media coverage but it only shows the place that the Fairmont Empress holds in the hearts of Victorians.

Last winter, half of the rooms of the hotel were closed, and work was carried out to renovate and update the oldest portion of the National Historic Site. Through years of renovations, the 1908 wing of the hotel had become a hodge-podge of room shapes and styles over the years, the renovation stripped the property back to the bones.  Replacement of plumbing, electrical as well as cosmetic upgrades were undertaken and the results opened to the public in late spring.  While The Empress always maintained its grandeur and a sense of class, the new look wing brings those qualities into the 21st century.

I recently stayed in one of the updated rooms and was thrilled to see some of the changes. It’s surprising what a difference a change of colour palate can do to modernize the property.  The elegant new grey tones carry from the  common areas to the new rooms as well. The comfortable new furnishings and accessories felt modern but classic. The expected Fairmont amenities were still present, like coffee pod maker, fridge, flatscreen tvs, and Le Labo toiletries. Thought was obviously put into the design to make the rooms useful for the business traveller and today’s connected travellers.  The desks have been upgraded to include convenient power outlets and USB jacks.  An added bonus is found in the build in outlets beside the headboard, meaning one no longer has to shift the bedside table to get access to an outlet.

The biggest change in the rooms came to the bathrooms, in this wing, the bathrooms were often oddly shaped, after-throughts.  The new bathrooms is a luxurious, spa-like oasis, brightly lit with glossy subway tiles and marble with glass shower surround.  No longer an add-on, they bathroom is a memorable centrepiece of the room.

The renovated rooms make your stay at The Fairmont Empress feel even more like a home away from home. Hopefully you’ll get to see for yourself on your next visit.
I look forward to seeing more of the renovations throughout the property. Half of the rooms have been completed, the other half will be renovated over the Winter of 2016-17.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel is located at 721 Government Street, on Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour.


Halifax Citadel National Historic Site

Views of upper Halifax Harbour from the Citadel Ramparts

Perched 80 metres above the city of Halifax, standing guard over the historic naval city, is Fort George, more commonly known as The Halifax Citadel.
A number of fortifications have occupied the hill since the British founded Halifax in 1749, the current star-shaped fort was completed in 1856.  From the ramparts overlooking one of the largest natural harbours in North America, it’s easy to see why Halifax was the most strategic, and due to The Citadel – most secure, British Port on the east coast of North America.  Walking the ramparts, it’s easy to see from the views over the entire basin and

The site has been a fortress, barracks and command posts in defense of Halifax.

McNabs & Georges Island at the mouth of the harbour why the site was chosen as the British response to the increasing French presence at Louisberg just a few hundred kilometres up the coast.
Following the Second World War, once the threats of invasion and more powerful, modern arms made the fortress obsolete the, now Canadian

Step back in time with The Fort's living history.

Military run, Citadel was deemed a National Historic Site and turned over to the control of Parks Canada.
Now restored to it’s mid-Victoria era heritage, it is one of Halifax’s prime attractions and still retains it’s place in the daily life of Haligonians with the ceremonial firing of the noon gun.  From the moment one walks through the thick stone walls, you’re transported to the 19th century as members of the 78th Highland Regiment, 3rd Brigade of Royal Artillery, soldiers wives and local tradespeople participate in the Fort’s living history program by recreating life as it would have been.  During the Christmas holiday season, the Fort recreates a “Victoria Christmas” with crafts, carols and games.

Listen for the daily noon hour gun

Visible from almost everywhere in the city, The Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is easy to find and reachable by foot or vehicle.
Activities, reenactments and services are open from May through October. The grounds are open November to May but with no services.
Adult entrance fees range from $7.80 in shoulder season to $11.70 in peak season.
Check the Parks Canada website for further details on how to enjoy your visit to The Halifax Citadel.

Fort Langley – National Historic Site

Fort Langley
Step Through The Gates & Back In Time

History comes alive at Fort Langley, National Historic Site, with original and replica buildings, costumed guides, entertainment and activities.
In response to the active interests of American fur traders on the Pacific Coast the British Hudson’s Bay Company established a base at Fort Langley in 1827. Located strategically near the mouth of the Fraser River just north of the 49th parallel and close to a large aboriginal population the

Costumed Guides Greet Guests Throughout The Fort
Fort Langley Big House
Visit The Birthplace Of The Colony Of British Columbia
Fort Langley Buildings
Last Orginal Building - The Storehouse (foreground, white)
Gold Panning
Interactive History Is Throughout The Fort

Fort was in prime territory for success as a trading post, the Fort was never a military fort.  With the arrival of the Steam Ship Beaver, which acted as a mobile trading post the HBC was able to keep the American competition at bay.
Fort Langley served as the prime junction for trade between the north Fraser regions and the Pacific Coast.  Ships brought in supplies for traders and left loaded with furs and other local commodities to be taken back to Britain. With the arrival of the Gold Rush in 1858 Fort Langley was ideally situated for further success and fame as the starting point for the Fraser River Gold Fields. The influx of American gold panners brough fears of American annexation so the Fort’s governor and the British Government established the colony of British Columbia, signing the declaration in the Big House at Fort Langley.  After the fur trade and gold rush passed and trade moved into a more retail atmosphere in the growing nearby village the Fort was sold into private hand for a number of decades as a working farm.  In 1923, with just one original building intact, the Canadian Goverment recognized the significant historic value of the Fort Langley and  in 1931  opened the site to the public.  restoration and redevelopment has continued ever since.
In recognition of Parks Canada’s 100th anniversary, Fort Langley has had an update of bother property and programs.  Eleven buildings plus rebuilt palisades and bastions are not contained within the historic Fort.  Kitchen gardens, livestock and interactive areas have been included as well.  Stepping through the Fort gates for the first time really does feel as though you’ve passed into another time, the buildings and site feel authentic and genuine.  The costumed guides and attendants lend an added authenticity to the surroundings.  The staff seem to possess a passion for sharing their stories and knowledge about the Fort, that comes across as genuine interest not an act for the tourists. The site is well laid out, following the original site plans minus a few of the original buildings,  that even with an abundance of day camp children around, there was plenty of room and time to take in the activities and watch the reenactments.  A tea shop is located in one of the buildings for those who want a break in their visit and a gift shop is located in the modern Parks Canada administration building outside the palisades.

Parks Canada Fort Langley, National Historic Site is located at 23433 Mavis Ave , 2 blocks from downtown Fort Langley. Free parking is available on site.
The Fort is open year round except Christmas, Boxing and New Year’s Day.
Children under 5 are free and adult admission is just $7.80.

The Distillery Historic District Toronto

Amongst the renovated century old Victorian buildings of Toronto’s former Gooderham and Worts Distillery lay a National Historic Site with the charm and energy of relaxed European cafe culture and the hipness and vibe of New York’s SOHO or Chelsea neighbourhoods.
In the late 1800’s Gooderham and Worts was the largest distillery in the world, producing over 2 million gallons of whiskey and spirits annually. After 150 years of operations, changing times and economies meant the closure of the distillery but a new life soon followed as the site became one of the largest film locations in North America.  In 2001, restoration of the site began and within two years the present Distillery Historic District opened, becoming one of the top tourist attractions in the City.  In addition to the Victorian distillery and industrial buildings a growing collection of modern city homes and condominium building are bring more ‘life’ to the District as people live/work nearby.
Strolling through the pedestrian-only cobblestone lanes and into the restored heritage buildings one finds an eclectic array of offices, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, galleries and entertainment venues.  The public plazas often play host to varied events such as Toronto International Jazz Fest or Mountain Bike Festival.  It’s the perfect way to spend a day shopping, eating, learning and being entertained.