The Fairmont Empress is a world-famous hotel, located in the heart of downtown Victoria on Vancouver Island. It was built in 1908 at a time when the capital city was still in its youth. Now, more than a hundred years later, it is a world-famous landmark, providing housing and dining for dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth II and Justin Trudeau.
The Empress was purchased by Nat Bosa, a Vancouver developer and philanthropist, as a gift for his wife in the spring of 2014. FestiLight began working with the Fairmont Empress just after it was purchased. The plan was to update the interior of the hotel, as it had not been renovated since the late 1980s and that winter, Mr. and Mrs. Bosa opened a temporary skating rink in front of the hotel, as an “early Christmas gift” to Victoria. It has been an exciting, creative journey from the very beginning.
We have been fortunate enough to work with Fairmont Empress on multiple projects over the years, but our first season decorating the hotel involved the lighting of a full-size skating rink under a white tent. We hung an assortment of different sized white wicker ornaments above the rink, which were wrapped with twinkling lights for extra effect. The rest of the decorations that year included twinkling mini lights in the ivy around the veranda, and a full trunk and branch wrap of the giant tree at the corner of Government and Belleville Streets, as well as many other landscaping features around the property.
As was the goal, the number of local visitors skyrocketed as people came from all over Victoria to go skating in the Inner Harbour. While the skating rink tent appeared white and simple on the outside, the inside was a winter wonderland of warm white light and ice.
Due to the success of our first project with Fairmont Empress, we were requested to come back year after year.
In our second season of working with the Empress, the southern half of the hotel was under renovation, and many landscaping features on the property had been removed or changed. We learned in September of 2015 that the skating rink would not be returning, and that the ivy had been removed from the front of the hotel in order for mandatory masonry work to take place. This meant that we had thousands of lights in need of new homes on the property, which gave us a fun and challenging project. We decorated multiple new trees that year and transplanted the white ornaments from the skating rink into the atrium on the Douglas Street side of the hotel.
Fast forward one year, and the southern half of the hotel is completely (and exquisitely!) renovated. After a summer of roaring business, renovations began on the northern half of the hotel, moving the entrance of the hotel temporarily to the southern side. This again meant that we had to change our design, as much of the northern half of the hotel was inaccessible to us. This allowed our team to get very creative and put lights in lots of new places!
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“We have been fortunate enough to work with Fairmont Empress on multiple projects over the years, but our first season decorating the hotel involved the lighting of a full-size skating rink under a white tent.”
– Claire Butterfield, FestiLight Team