Stately Victoria, British Columbia sits on the southeastern end of Canada’s second most populous island, Vancouver Island, with the Olympic Mountains as backdrop. This city, with its lovely Inner Harbour, has a population of over 80,000 people in a metro area of over 360,000, and is quite cosmopolitan.
It’s also the capital of Canada’s third largest province, British Columbia. But for us, what makes it stately is its British flair – double-decker buses, horse-drawn carriages and lots of tearooms and formal gardens.
One downside: no WiFi. But there was a Tim Hortons, a fast food restaurant that offers free WiFi, nearby. Fortunately, there are Tim Hortons Restaurant locations all over Canada.
Our first excursion was to the Fisgard Lighthouse, the first lighthouse on Canada’s west coast. We were just checking out the exterior of the lighthouse, intending to return to see the interior (there are no tours) at a later time.
There was a side road that we thought would give us a nice view of the lighthouse but it turned out the view was only so so. But the road also led to the Esquimalt Lagoon on the Coburg Peninsula.
Next we headed to the city for a walking tour. I was driving, and as we were leaving the campground I hesitated for a moment before changing lanes and the guy behind me honked his horn. Being from Miami, I assumed he was being impatient. Then as I turned, he honked again. Now Hector and I were thinking either we left something on top of the car or that there was something wrong.
So I pulled over, and the guy pulled over behind me. When Hector got out to inspect the car, the guy said “can I help you find something?”. He thought we were lost and wanted to help. That was our first Canadian kindness moment of the summer.
Our first stop in the city was the Victoria Public Market at the Hudson, a high end farmers market in a repurposed department store building near Victoria’s Chinatown.
We continued our tour by the harbor, Inner Harbor. When parking our car we experienced our second Canadian kindness moment. A couple of women had several hours left on their all day parking tickets and instead of just driving away were offering the tickets to cars entering the parking lot. So we got free parking!
Once out by the harbor we watched a pretty funny busker performing by the water. There was a fairly large area dedicated to these street performances, and perhaps this was a warm up to the Victoria International Buskers Festival scheduled to take place on the weekend. Pretty cool.
Next we walked over to the British Columbia Parliament Buildings, the most stately looking buildings on the waterfront, and home to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.
Many beautiful materials are incorporated into the Neo-baroque structure including marble, stained glass, fine woods, and mosaic tile. There are paintings honoring the four industries of the time on the rotunda’s ceiling: Farming, Fishing, Forestry and Mining. Definitely worth a look.
We continued to the 106-year old Empress Hotel, another iconic building. It’s a Chateau-style hotel that is a National Historic Site and Landmark. Although we found the hotel’s exterior quite beautiful, we weren’t too impressed with the interior lobby area that’s accessible to the general public. But for $60 per person, you may have afternoon tea in the restaurant, which I imagine is lovely (too rich for us).
Next we walked to Thunderbird Park, outside the Royal British Columbia Museum, for a look at a very nice collection of totem poles.
And then on to Beacon Hill Park, with gardens, lawns, fountains and lots of birds. Another lovely green space where we found the world’s largest totem pole.
We had lunch at Red Fish Blue Fish, located in a metal storage container on the dock. It’s known for excellent fish and chips and for serving only sustainably harvested local fish. One of its chefs was featured in Canada’s Top Chef Canada on the Food Network.
The place is popular, with people lining up to order food. But the wait was totally worth it, the best fish and chips we’ve eaten and some delish tacones – fish tacos wrapped in flour tortillas Japanese handroll style. Highly recommended.
The one place that everyone told us we had to visit in Victoria was Butchart Gardens. I do enjoy formal gardens, but even though he loves flowers, plants and trees in nature and loved to garden in our past homes, Hector is not so much into formal gardens. But he grudgingly came along.
And although we found the gardens to be overpriced, we still enjoyed them very much.
There are a number of farms that sell to the public using the honor system (you pick up the product and leave your money) on route to Butchart Gardens, as well as a permanent farmers market. So there are lots of opportunities for fresh, local food around.
We most highly recommend the Royal BC Museum. There is no way for me to even list every category of exhibits and displays. And fair warning, the booklet that they hand out when you pay the entry fee doesn’t come close to capturing the enormity of the galleries.
The museum’s feature exhibition was “Vikings, Lives beyond the Legends” which “challenges our commonly held beliefs and provides new insight into Viking domestic life, death rituals, the significance of their craft, the power of mythology and the symbolism of their ships”. The first challenge is that of the definition of the word viking – which is “to go on a vIking” or an expedition. No photos allowed.
The second feature exhibition, in the First Peoples’ Galleries was “Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in BC”, where you can hear various First Peoples’ languages and find out what these various communities are doing to preserve those languages.
The Natural History Galleries feature impressive displays on the Ice Age and various ecosystems including coastal forest, tidal pool, seashore, and the ocean. Another informative exhibit explains how climate is changing as a consequence of global warming.
The Modern History Galleries include displays from ten decades starting in the late 19th century, an old town featuring a hotel, a railway station, a ladies’ fine boutique, and businesses in Chinatown, and a replica of a ship, plus exhibits of a mine, a sawmill, and the gold rush.
Well, after all of this activity, we didn’t get to return to the lighthouse. There really is lots to do in Victoria but it was time for us to leave the city and travel to a moe remote place.