Big City Tales

Victoria’s Crown Jewels

March 7, 2018
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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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On A Sunny Day Nothing Beats Vancouver

July 28, 2013
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An aerial view of Vancouver shows off the city`s abundant natural beauty and some of its unique architecture.

For a city that ranks amongst Canada`s most wettest locales, Vancouver is also one of the warmest major centres.  When the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the temperature is rising, nothing beats spending a day enjoying the sights and sounds of what is without doubt one of the most livable cities in the world.

Take in the Natural Beauty

Situated on the western half of the Burrard Peninsula in British Columbia`s Lower Mainland, Vancouver is blessed with an abundance of waterways and green spaces that locals and visitors alike flock to in droves…Stanley Park being the jewel in Vancouver’s parks crown!

With the downtown core in close proximity, Stanley Park is frequented by the business crowd along with nature lovers who relish in over 1000 acres of luscious land and a perimeter seawall that offers breath-taking views at each turn. Over 8 million people visit the park each year, with 2.5 million making their way around the seawall. Following an invigorating run, walk, bike ride or other mode of getting around the 22-kilometre paved path, it`s time to enjoy a well-deserved break at another water-based city attraction: Granville Island.

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The seawall around Stanley Park, with downtown Vancouver in the distance.

Take in the Arts

As a local hot spot of shopping and entertainment, Granville Island boasts a large public market and licensed buskers can be found in their appointed areas. Access to the island is as easy as taking a walk across the Granville Bridge or hopping on a mini tugboat ferry and chugging on over across False Creek.

Granville Island caters to an eclectic mix of artisans eager to demonstrate their crafts and sell their respective wares. Glass-blowers, print-makers, potters, jewellers, and boat-builders are just a few of the crafts people who add to the artsy-feel of this popular district.

The island also features a large indoor public market that is a haven for foodies that are seeking fresh produce and seafood to prepare themselves, but there is also a food court area and plenty of restaurants to choose from.

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Granville Market is a great place to eat, drink and be merry!

Take in the Urban Vibe 

If the crafty, casual crowd isn’t your cup of tea, head on over to Robson Street to mingle with the rich and famous (and the wannabes!).

Stretching from BC Place Stadium to the Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park, Robson Street serves up one guilty pleasure after another. Whether you have a hankering to consume an overly high-priced cup of coffee, or are feeling the need for some high-end designer shopping, Robson is the place to satisfy your cravings.

And, it’s an ideal place to do some serious people watching.  With the most expensive retail rental rates in the city, the likes of Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Tiffany & Co., and other upscale retailers attract the jet set along with the curious average Joe window shoppers eager to catch a glimpse of who’s out shopping and what they are buying.

Take in the Views

From any direction, Vancouver is a photographer`s dream and with so many vantage points to choose from, it`s not hard to obtain an incredible shot.  True, on an overcast, rainy day the view isn`t that grand, but when gray skies clear and Mother Nature kindly serves up ideal conditions, what is revealed is a city that is brilliant by day and spectacular at night. A city like none other that draws people back time and time again to experience all it has to offer, and then some!

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At dusk, Vancouver starts to sparkle!