The Empress Hotel


The Empress Hotel, 235 E. Hastings St.

The Empress Hotel


The Empress Hotel, located at 235 East Hastings St., is a distant relative to other hotels of the same name.  Even though she was likely a debutante in her day, she is now a haven to those trying to carve out an existence in the Downtown Eastside.  Her glitz and glamour have faded, but she is still a stalwart symbol of the strength of those who now call her home. 

The building itself is very tall and very skinny, and of the many times I walked the halls of hotels in the DTES as a patrol officer, few were at the Empress.  The exception is one call from late 2003. 

On that date, my partner and I were dispatched to attend The Empress for a disturbance.  Someone called in to 911 saying a female on the fourth floor was ‘freaking out’ and was in the process of throwing her belongings out of her window  (it was the window depicted in the photo above – the 4th floor was really the fifth floor at the very top of the picture, the window closet to the blue ‘Empress’ sign).  The woman’s suite faced Hastings St. and the sidewalk below was reported to be littered with debris.  When we pulled up and saw the sidewalk covered in broken glass, clothing and the remains of a clock radio and small television, we knew someone was in crisis.  How much of a crisis was yet to be determined.

After a brief discussion with the desk clerk, we were joined by Car 10 and three people dressed in civilian attire. 

Car 10 is a senior officer of the Inspector rank who is in charge of the entire city for the shift.  That day, Car 10 had three members of the Police Board along for the ride.  They had shown up at our call so the members of the Police Board (all civilians) could see first hand the type of call patrol officers attended to.  Well, they were in for a treat – they picked a good call to come to.

The six of us rode the elevator to the fourthfloor.  As the elevator came to a stop and the chime announced our arrival, both my partner and I stepped in front of the civilians.  Some would call it luck, but I call it acting on instinct – my partner and I knew something was wrong.  There was no need to talk – we were in tune with one another and we reacted to the situation, placing the civilians behind us.

The doors opened on a scene right out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The walls and floor were streaked with blood, and gore coated the door frame of the room at the left end side (street side) of the hall.  As we stepped out into the emtpy corridor and motioned for those in the elevator to stay put we were greeted with the banshee scream of a woman.

The woman, a petite dark haired ball of fury, came racing at us from the other side of the hall.  She sprinted full tilt towards the open door and the big picture window at the far end of the room within.  In the split second I took to look at her destination, I saw that ragged pieces of blood coated glass made a rough opening in the window.  The woman had already tried to jump out of the window and was clearly headlong into her second attempt.

My partner threw an arm around her waist as she streaked passed us, and I was able to catch her flailing arms.  It was like holding onto a greased pig at the carnival – she was very slippery and very strong.  As we struggled to contain this small woman without hurting her, I looked up at the elevator and saw three pairs of wide open eyes.  The three Police Board members were getting a good look at the segues our job throws at us, and the last glimpse I had was of their shocked faces as the elevator doors slid shut.

For what felt like an eternity but in reality was only about a minute, my partner and I struggled to tame the woman.  She screamed, and writhed, and begged to be let go, all the while straining towards the broken window.  My leather gloves, meant for protection against edged weapons, were no match for this current situation – it wasn’t until I left a bloody palm print on the wall in a quest for balance did I realise my gloves were spongy with the woman’s blood, and I remember praying that I did not have a hangnail.

By the time we handcuffed the woman she had collapsed with exhaustion.  The ambulance attendants were there within a few minutes, and it was determined the woman had several lacerations to her arms and abdomen, likely caused when she got wedged in her window after trying to jump through the glass.  She was carted off the hospital to be treated for her serious but non-life threatening injuries.

Meanwhile, my partner and I returned to the station. That incident is the only call, so far, where I have thrown out every article of clothing I had been wearing.  Everything except for my boots and my bullet proof vest went into a bio-hazard bag and into the trash.  Even the carrier for my vest got tossed.  Blood had soaked through my jacket, my shirt and the vest carrier.  My gloves, pants, socks and undies all went into the trash – when dealing with blood exposure, I believe in sanitizing, and there was no way any of that clothing was going to touch me again.  Better safe than sorry.  As for for my boots – I think I petrified them with the bio-hazard treatment.  As far as I know, my partner did the same.

Last I checked, which was a couple years after the incident, the woman was still with us.  I hope she’s found whatever it was she was looking for, and that she’s in happier place.

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