After he inadvertently trashed one of its room with packs of pepperoni and a flock of seagulls, the Empress Hotel has granted a Nova Scotia man a pardon and lifted a lifetime ban.
Seventeen years ago, Nick Burchill stayed at the Empress for a work-related conference. He was in the Canadian Naval Reserve and his navy buddies asked that he bring Brothers pepperoni, a Halifax delicacy.
“Because this was the navy we were talking about, I brought enough for a ship,” Burchill wrote in a Facebook post about the ordeal.
His pepperoni-packed suitcase was misplaced by the airline and arrived in Victoria a day late.
Burchill felt the pepperoni was still edible but thought he should keep it cool until he turned over the goods.
His fourth-floor room facing the Inner Harbour was large but lacking a refrigerator.
“It was April, the air was chilly. An easy way to keep all of this food cool would be just to keep it next to an open window,” Burchill said.
He spread the packages of pepperoni on a table and along the window sill, then went for a leisurely four- or five-hour walk.
A surprise awaited when he returned.
“I remember walking down the long hall and opening the door to my room to find an entire flock of seagulls in my room,” Burchill said. “I didn’t have time to count, but there must have been 40 of them and they had been in my room, eating pepperoni for a long time.”
Burchill discovered that spicy pepperoni does not agree with a seagull’s digestive system. The room was covered in guano.
Burchill’s entry startled the birds.
“They immediately started flying around and crashing into things as they desperately tried to leave the room through the small opening by which they had entered,” he said. “Less composed seagulls are attempting to leave through the other closed windows. The result was a tornado of seagull excrement, feathers, pepperoni chunks and fairly large birds whipping around the room.”
Lamps tumbled to the floor and curtains were trashed.
Burchill waded through the flock and opened the remaining windows to let the gulls escape.
“One tried to re-enter the room to grab another piece of pepperoni and in my agitated state, I took off one of my shoes and threw it at him,” he said.
When the intruders were down to one remaining seagull, he chased it through the room as it held a “big hunk of pepperoni in its gob.”
He grabbed a towel, captured the bird in it and threw it out the window.
Unbeknownst to Burchill, the shoe and the towel-encumbered seagull fell to the Empress’s front lawn amidst a group of tourists walking toward the tea room.
By then, it was almost time to attend a dinner with customers.
But Burchill had only one shoe. He went out and found it, damp from landing in a wet patch of soil.
Back in his room, Burchill tried to dry the shoe with a hairdryer. When his phone rang, he was startled and the hairdryer fell into a sink filled with water.
“I don’t know how much of the hotel’s power I knocked out, but at that point I decided I needed help,” Burchill said. He called the front desk to ’fess up.
“I can still remember the look on the lady’s face when she opened the door,” he said.
He left the dismayed cleaner and went to his dinner. When Burchill returned, his items had been moved to a smaller room. Eventually, his company received a letter banning him from the Empress.
Years passed and Burchill wrote a mea culpa letter to the hotel.
“I have matured and I admit responsibility for my actions,” he wrote. “I come to you, hat-in-hand, to apologize for the damage I had indirectly come to cause and to ask you reconsider my lifetime ban from the property. I hope that you will see fit to either grant me a pardon, or consider my … years away from the Empress as ‘time served,’ ”
Tracey Drake, the Empress’s director of public relations, said as wild as it sounds, the story is true. Drake, who heard the news Sunday, initially thought it was an April Fool’s joke but long-term staff confirmed the tale, she said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t make this stuff up.”
Burchill visited Victoria and the Empress Hotel over the Easter weekend. Ryan Reardon, the hotel’s director of rooms, told him he is once again welcome as a guest.
“I bet it was the pound of Brothers pepperoni that I gave them as a peace offering that did the trick,” Burchill quipped.
– Katie DeRosa, Times Colonist