– By D.J. Wilson –
Searching for a unique vacation in picturesque North America? Victoria, capital city of British Columbia, Canada is your answer. Known as the “City of Gardens” for its natural beauty, Victoria’s temperate climate and relaxing pace make it a most desirable place to go. Hop aboard a high-speed passenger ferry in Seattle Washington and travel across the Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Head toward the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada’s Pacific Coast, where your beautiful vacation awaits. Let the city dazzle you with its intimate British charm. Explore intriguing castles, glorious parks and splendid gardens. Let the lovely architecture sweep you off your feet as you visit this family friendly city.
Victoria is one of the most “British cities” in North America; therefore it’s only fitting to begin our tour with the Parliament Buildings. Creation of the buildings resulted from economic, social and political growth, whereby the province engaged in an architectural competition to create a new legislative building in Victoria. A 25 year old English immigrant architect entered the competition under a pseudonym and won. Construction began in 1893, under the direction of this youthful man named Francis Rattenbury. Though the project ran over-budget, the end result is grand. A dramatic 500-foot long front façade, impressive central dome, two end pavilions and interior rich white marble beautifully detail a combination of architectural styles, combining Romanesque Revival, rustication and Neo-baroque. The grand-scale project, completed during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, led to many future commissions for Rattenbury, including the Legislative Library and design of the impressive Empress Hotel.
Tours of the Parliament Buildings can be arranged or visitors may simply stroll along the 12.5 acre section of land and visit well known monuments which adorn the legislative grounds. A favorite of many is the front lawn statue of Queen Victoria. In 1919, while visiting the capital, The Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, laid the first stone at its base to honor his great grandmother. Close by is a statue of a soldier honoring the province’s casualties from World War I, II and the Korean War. Atop the central dome of the Victoria Parliament Building is yet another notable figure, a gold-gilded statue of Captain George Vancouver which deservedly overlooks the Inner Harbour. The Parliament buildings and grounds in Victoria are among the most beautiful in the world. Right next door is Victoria’s Inner Harbour, home to the Royal British Columbia Museum, the Undersea Gardens, the Empress Hotel and more.
The Inner Harbour is the true heart of Victoria, centering on marine and tourist activity. It’s a great place to wander about and enjoy the street entertainers and kiosks on the lower walkway. You’ll have an abundance of dining options, from fine restaurants to casual fare. It’s an exciting place to watch yachts and sailboats glide into the marina and see ferries come and go. It serves as a cruise ship destination for tourists and visitors of the city. Floating seaplanes serve as a reminder of Victoria’s popular seaplane route to and from Vancouver. Stroll along the pathways lining the shores and wander the docks of the Fisherman’s Wharf to experience life at a working harbour.
Visit the Royal British Columbia Museum for an introduction to the culture and natural history of the province. The museum houses the National Geographic IMAX Theatre, a 406 seat theatre over 6 stories tall which brings powerful images to life. Check out the Undersea Gardens to see what extends beneath the tide-line and uncover the mysteries of the underwater world. Visitors to the lower level display area descend 15 feet beneath the ocean to view marine plants and animals. Enjoy a dive show where you’ll meet a diver and be guided on a narrated journey through the deep.
A trip to Victoria is not complete without a stay at the Empress Hotel, where history and luxury meet at one of Victoria’s most distinguished landmarks. The historic hotel is one of the oldest and most famous in Victoria and has been designated a National Historic Site in Canada. Overlooking the Inner Harbour and featuring rear courtyard gardens, a stained glass ceiling in the lobby and stunning Victorian architecture, you’ll enjoy the lovely ambiance. Enjoy an afternoon tea in the world renowned lobby of the Fairmont Empress Hotel. A time-honored tradition since 1908, the Empress has served famed royalty, celebrities and dignitaries from all over the world in a regal atmosphere, with elegant wing-backed chairs, hand-carved furniture and fine tapestries, linens. Adding to the ambiance are the fine china, sterling silver service and enchanting music flowing from the fingertips of a live pianist. Enjoy delectable pastries expertly prepared by award winning executive pastry chefs along with your seasonal quality teas made exclusively for the Fairmont Empress. The tea is not inexpensive, but considering that it may be a once in a life-time experience, it’s worth the splurge.
From your hotel, consider a day trip to a nearby park, such as Beacon Hill Park, where you may walk, hike or cycle. Most trails are level and are baby stroller and wheelchair friendly. The park is decorated with well-maintained walking trails, benches, green grass areas, birding ponds, floral gardens and more. Due to its beauty, it is often the backdrop for wedding photos. It is common to view horse drawn carriages providing sightseeing tours. Plan time to explore beautiful castles like Craigdarroch, built for a Scottish immigrant named Robert Dunsmuir who made his fortune from Vancouver Island coal. The Ivy covered Hatley Castle in Colwood is worth seeing and is best visited by car. Built for British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor James Dunsmuir, son of Robert Dunsmuir, it was later sold to the Government of Canada and currently serves as the administrative center of Royal Roads University. The castle is expansive and boasts lovely extensive gardens to enjoy. Both castles serve as symbols of the Dunsmuir’s societal affluence and offer a glimpse into their elegant lifestyles.
Victoria provides countless places of interest to visit, from a steamship terminal turned wax museum to an old courthouse converted to a maritime museum. Chinatown was established with the first Chinese arriving in 1858 on their way to the Fraser River Gold Rush. Walk the narrow historic passage of Fan Tan Alley, with high brick walls and cozy shops which harken back to Chinatown’s early history. Set against the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains and perfectly positioned off the Pacific coast, Victoria has great visual appeal. Come nightfall, the illuminated Government buildings cascade light into the harbour and keep Victoria’s old world charm shining brightly for all to see.