Big City Tales

Victoria’s Crown Jewels | March 7, 2018

Named after Queen Victoria of England, the city of Victoria, British Columbia has its fair share of crown jewels to boast and brag about. From historical buildings to a picture-perfect postcard worthy inner harbour and glorious gardens, the city attracts people of all ages eager to soak up its beautiful landscape and relaxed pace of life.

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British Columbia Parliament Buildings

Whether it’s being used for celebration or protest purposes, one of the premier spots for people gatherings in Victoria is at the parliament buildings.

Commissioned in 1893 and opened in 1898, the Neo-Baroque design of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings features a large central dome, two end pavilions and numerous historical and allegorical sculptures carved into the stone exterior. The main dome is topped with a golden statue of Captain George Vancouver, the famed British British Royal Navy officer who explored and charted the Pacific Northwest between 1791 and 1795.

In addition to a regal statue of Queen Victoria that graces the front lawn, a soldier’s monument honors British Columbians who served and died in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

At night, the building’s exterior is lit up by over 3,000 bulbs that cover its full width and height.

Royal British Columbia Museum

Adjacent to the parliament buildings is another gem of a building that is of prime importance to British Columbians.

Containing three permanent galleries and the provincial archives, the Royal BC Museum is comprised of approximately 7 million objects.  The three galleries explore natural history, modern history, and local First Nations’ history.

One of the most popular exhibits in the Natural History Gallery is the life-sized woolly mammoth that roamed the Fraser Valley region in prehistoric times.

The Modern History Gallery features the Old Town exhibit that showcases what life was like in Victoria between 1870 and 1920.

Many of the artifacts in the First Peoples Gallery come from the Haida nation, as well as other communities such as Kwakwaka’wakw, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Gitxsan, and Nuu-chah-nulth. Along with Totem Hall, the central exhibit that showcases a variety of indigenous carvings, the gallery depicts technologies, ways of life and First Nations art. A traditional longhouse (residential building) where Chief Kwakwabalasami lived in the community of Tsaxis (Fort Rupert) can also be found in the gallery along with masks, garb and other ceremonial items.

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Thunderbird Park

Located behind the Royal BC Museum, Thunderbird Park contains many totem poles as well as other First Nation monuments. One of the most elaborate monuments is an authentic Kwakiutl house created by Mungo Martin, the famed chief, artist, singer and songwriter from the Kwakwaka’wakw community.

As part of the museum’s ‘Cultural Precinct’ district, the park also contains other historical sites and monuments such as an old schoolhouse (St. Anne’s built in 1844) and Helmcken House, one of the oldest homes in British Columbia that was built in 1852.

The Empress Hotel

Occupying prime real estate on Government Street that faces the inner harbour, the Empress Hotel is one of Victoria’s oldest and most iconic buildings. Recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada since 1981, the hotel has been in operation since 1908 and over the years has hosted monarchs and celebrities along with general tourists.

Known for its spacious rooms and suites, many offering a lovely view of the waterfront, the hotel is also famous for its Victorian-era afternoon tea service. Offered during the summer months, ‘Tea at the Empress’ will cost you a pretty penny but it’s an experience not to miss from the formal china to the sandwiches, scones and clotted cream that are served in the Tea Room to over 400 daily guests. Reservations are recommended well in advance to guarantee a seating.

Chinatown

Heading north of the inner harbour, another National Historic Site of Canada is soon encountered. Victoria’s Chinatown has the distinction of being the oldest of its kind in Canada and the second oldest in North America after San Francisco.

The neighbourhood dates back to the late 1850s when the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush resulted in a mass influx of immigrants. An estimated one-third of newcomers to Victoria at this time were of Chinese descent who were seeking not only wealth, but a more safe and secure environment than their war-torn and natural disaster riddled homeland.

Some of the main attractions in Chinatown are the old Chinese School, the Gate of Harmonious Interest, Fan Tan Alley, and other well-preserved buildings and Chinese businesses.

Craigdarroch Castle

From one end of the social ladder spectrum to the other, Craigdarroch Castle reveals what life was like for the privileged elite in the late 1800s. In stark contrast to the trials and tribulations of Chinatown’s poor immigrant population, the wealthy Dunsmuir family lived a life of ease and elegance in their Scottish Baronial mansion located high atop a hill in the prestigious Rockland district.

With 39 rooms covering 25,000 square feet, the mansion (referred to as a “bonanza castle”) features an eclectic array of building materials and architectural styles. From sandstone, granite and marble to wrought iron, slate and terracotta tile, no material expense was spared. Per the bonanza castle/symbol of success mentality of the day,  the more costly and opulent the better in an effort to show off and flaunt the family riches. Design-wise, the exterior is noted for its steep roof, spires and gables towering four stories high; the interior for its lavish furnishings, elaborate stained glass panels and ornate wood carvings.

When the house was first built, the grounds totaled 28 acres and its formal gardens were immaculately attended to.

Today, Craigdarroch Castle is a house museum and is a designated National Historic Site of Canada.

Victoria Harbour

All roads lead to the waterfront in Victoria and whether you’re interested in an aquatic or land-based adventure, the harbour is truly the place to be.

Discovered by Captain James Cook on the last of his Pacific Ocean voyages in 1778, one of the harbour’s showcase pieces is the Monument to Captain Cook that stands high above the water on the boardwalk looking toward the Empress Hotel.

In addition to several docks and marinas, the harbour is a seaplane airport and serves as a cruise ship and ferry destination.

The boardwalk offers indoor and outdoor shopping and dining options, as well as a variety of buskers showing off their talents. On a warm, sunny day it’s an idyllic place for catching some rays while people watching.

The harbour is also a popular place for whale watching. Offshore tours run from spring until early fall in Victoria, but for those who can’t stomach the idea of being tossed about in choppy waters to catch a glimpse (or not!) of magnificent killer whales and other large marine species, the next best thing is enjoying creative artistic renditions. Photo opportunities of Orca statues along the boardwalk and in the inner harbour area are guaranteed and you can get as close as you want without fear of being splashed or upsetting a mother with her offspring.

Butchart Gardens

Victoria is known as “The Garden City” and one of the best examples of its fertile soil and long growing season can be viewed at Butchart Gardens.

Located 30 minutes from downtown, the gardens are open year-round and offer visitors a spectacular array of flora, fountains, rock formations, arches and bridges among other features. Each of the six main areas has a unique theme and design: admire the view of the Sunken Garden from the lookout; visit the Wishing Well in the Rose Garden; follow the streams in the Japanese Garden; or nuzzle the snout of Tacca, the boar statue in the Mediterranean Garden. Along the way, the kaleidoscope of colourful flowers will dazzle your senses and linger long in your memories of one of Victoria’s loveliest crown jewels.

 

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