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Around Town: Holiday spirit fills the Empress


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You couldn’t blame Cory Young for appearing so surprised by the multitude of Christmas trees that awaited him at the Fairmont Empress on Thursday.

For the Seattle-based newlywed, whose family flew here from Chicago to celebrate his marriage to his Canadian bride, Brenna, their wedding day coincided with the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, after all.

“I didn’t expect to see all these Christmas trees,” said the dapper groom. “In America, we don’t start thinking about Christmas Eve until after today.”

Their fashionable entourage’s arrival a week after the 25th annual Victoria Festival of Trees got underway at the Fairmont Empress and the Bay Centre, with 85 trees combined, was a bonus, he said.

“This beautiful scenery has added to our wedding day,” beamed Young, whose bride chose the Fairmont Empress as the venue for their 30-person wedding party.

“It’s a beautiful place. It has that old-timey kind of feel, but at the same time it’s kind of elegant,” he said. “So we both immediately fell in love with it.”

The B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation fundraiser invites visitors to browse and donate as they vote for their favourite trees creatively decorated by community sponsors, organizations and businesses.

Participants compete for the People’s Choice award by collecting votes and raising funds. A new feature, Text-To-Vote, now lets voters even text donations from their smartphones.

Funds raised, including $138,000 last year, contribute to the Excellence in Child Health Fund, which supports research into childhood diseases, life-saving equipment, rehabilitation and other hospital needs.

This year’s Times Colonist entry — an elaborate Grinch Whoville-themed tree displayed in the walkway between the hotel and Victoria Conference Centre — was selected as first place in the Judge’s Choice category.

Runners-up in this category were trees decorated by Save-on-Foods and Broadmead Care Society, with the Reid’s Choice award going to the Victoria Disabillity Resource Centre.

The Spirit of Giving category, which encourages team fundraising, recognized the Bay Centre, which donated $5,000 toward the purchase of new machinery for the hospital’s cardiology program.

Fairmont Empress director of operations Cole Millen said it has always been an honour for the hotel to participate in the holiday tradition.

“The Empress has been part of the community since 1908 and we have many traditions, and this is one of our favourites,” he said.

“People get to come and see what we have to offer, and we also get to give back to the community through sharing our property and our space.”

There were plenty of American tourists in the hotel Thursday, including two men from Seattle who decided to celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving by treating themselves to the newly renovated hotel’s high tea.

“It’s Thanksgiving at home but we decided it would be good to come because it’s during a quiet period, and it’s not a holiday here,” said Jason Hunke.

“It’s such an iconic hotel. It reeks, in all the best ways, of the beautiful colonial vibe that is so wonderful in Victoria.”

And no, they joked, they weren’t secretly plotting to move here because of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s victory.

“No, we’re just thinking happy thoughts while we’re here,” quipped Rich Nolle.

Ryan and Marie Herdt, visiting from Puyallup, Washington, encountered the festival trees while here to celebrate their 15th anniversary.

“We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, so we really don’t celebrate Christmas,” said Ryan.

“But we do think they’re beautiful,” added Marie, noting it was the couple’s first visit to Canada.

Their itinerary included high tea, a “food crawl,” checking out local castles, shopping and “soaking up everything Victoria has to offer.”

The couple was relieved that because of their beliefs, they wouldn’t have to weigh in on Trump’s election victory.

“One thing about Jehovah’s Witnesses is that we’re politically neutral,” said a smiling Marie.

“It doesn’t affect us one way or another,” said Ryan. “We put all our faith in God and believe He is our Saviour.”Read more at:year 12 formal dresses


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