Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia. It is located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island and is typically accessed from Vancouver by ferry (BC Ferries, disembarking from Tsawwassen). The town proper has a population of 85,000 people but when its surrounding satellite communities are taken into account it is home to almost 400,000. Founded in the middle of the 19th century at the height of the British Empire’s colonial reach, Victoria (after the Queen of the same name) still retains a patina of that bygone imperial age through its architecture, its Anglocentric high streets, and the way in which it marketed itself – for the entirety of its incorporated existence – as a beautiful, Eden-like last bastion of Britishism; a place where cable knit sweaters and convertible MGs went together like peanut butter and jam for retirees who prefer Earl Grey and crustless cucumber sandwiches. It has largely – oh so thankfully – evolved beyond this constructed image to become a far more interesting place to both live and visit. The one thing that hasn’t changed in recent years is the weather: Victoria gets less than one third as much rain as Vancouver does between March and September, so its Springs and Summers are downright glorious. Check it out (again) as soon as you can, and let Scout be your guide…
THINGS WE’VE SEEN HEREABOUTS
THE COLOUR PALETTE
The two blues on the funnel of BC Ferries’ Coastal Celebration vessel; the brick interior of Habit Coffee; Hermann’s Dark Lager; thirsty August grass of Beacon Hill Park; smooth pebbles of Mile Zero (three greys); purple and orange starfishes; the green of Pagliacci’s exterior in Victoria; hair of the wooly mammoth inside the Royal BC Museum; six shades of a winter storm from Clover Point; red of London-style double decker buses; the stunning sand of Savary Island’s better beaches; the light blue of Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria; tri-colour of the Grand Central Building on Lower Johnson Street; the copper green dome of the provincial legislature.
THINGS TO CHECK OUT
Summer basking on Whiffin Spit.
The wide sweep on Gonzalez Beach.
Explore the grounds of Fort Rod Hill.
Deer and dead dignitaries at Ross Bay Cemetary.
Bike the Galloping Goose Trail to Swan Lake.
Wander the Royal BC Museum.
Squeeze through Fan Tan Alley.
Shop local beer and booze at Vessel.
Hike up Mt. Doug.
Open mic Hootenanny shows at Logan’s Pub.
Beachcombing at Mile Zero.
Walk the breakwater at Ogden Point.
Bargain hunt at Value Village and Lower Johnson St.
Crate dig at Ditch Records.
Enjoy the bibliophile’s dream that is Munro’s Books.
ESSENTIAL FOOD & DRINK
HOW TO GET THERE
BEST OPTION: BC FERRIES (HAS TRIPLE “O” BURGERS!)
THE NEW HARBOUR-TO-HARBOUR V2V EMPRESS
TAKE IT ALL IN FROM ON HIGH IN A FLOATPLANE
FULL-ON AWESOMENESS OF A HELICOPTER
RIDE THE VINTAGE COHO (FROM PORT ANGELES, WA)
FASCINATING THINGS OF NOTE
Historic Duck’s Block on Broad Street, built in 1892 for Simeon Duck, successful early local entrepreneur, MLA, and former Minister of Finance, was once home to a high-class brothel (1900-1912) run by Stella Carroll a madam originally from San Francisco.
In 1892 a young English architect named Francis Rattenbury won the competition to design the BC Legislature Buildings. He later went on to design numerous iconic buildings in the province including the majestic Empress Hotel in Victoria’s Inner Harbour and the Vancouver Court House (now the Art Gallery) in 1911.
Victoria’s is the first and oldest Chinatown in Canada and second oldest in North America after San Francisco. It also boasts the narrowest street in Canada – Fan Tan Alley – less than a metre wide at its narrowest point.
Victoria is the birthplace of the Raging Grannies movement; they celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2017. The “Grannies” are a politically conscious activist group of older women who use humour, costume, satirical songs and skits to highlight its causes.
Number of cups of tea served annually at The Fairmont Empress Hotel: 500,000.
Now a convivial (yet haunted) public space, Bastion Square was once home to a Police Barracks, Gaol (Jail), and Gallows (ca.1858-1885). The unclaimed bodies of prisoners who died there are still buried beneath the bustling square.
The Supreme Court Building (1889) is home to North America’s oldest still operating birdcage elevator. Installed in 1899, the elevator was ranked No. 2 in National Geographic’s Top 10 Elevator Rides in the World.
Six Mile Pub on Old Island Hwy at Six Mile Rd. has the distinction of being the oldest pub in B.C. This original tavern of the Parsons Bridge Hotel opened in 1855.
One of the most infamous Cetaceans in the world, Tilikum, the orca whale featured in the documentary Blackfish, once called Victoria’s now-defunct Sealand home.
Known as the “City of Gardens”, Victoria is home to the annual Flower Count, a light-hearted promotion sponsored and organized by The Butchart Gardens and Tourism Victoria.
The oldest building in Victoria is St. Ann’s schoolhouse built in the 1840s by the Hudson’s Bay Company.