We loved our time on British Columbia’s mainland, but more adventures awaited us as we headed to Vancouver Island and BC’s capital city of Victoria.
We had rented a car while in Vancouver and now we had a challenge – how do we drive our car across the water? Our vehicle was not amphibious (though that would have been AWESOME!), so we tried out another form of public transport by taking a ferry.
It was a very comfortable and seemingly short 1.5 hour ferry ride to Victoria. During the voyage there was a Nature Interpreter from Parks Canada who was a marine biologist and told us all about some of the different animals that live in the waters along BC’s coast. These included Orcas, Whale Sharks and otters. It was very interesting and a nice way to pass the time on board.
After smooth sailing we arrived in Victoria!
Using Trusted Housesitters, Katina applied for an assignment in Langford, about 20 minutes from Victoria. Kyla and Warren are a lovely young couple with two very affectionate cats named Loki and Lucky. These cats were “cuddle monsters” and would start up their purr-engines almost as soon as you started to pet them! Sometimes they’d let you hold them and would just sit in your arms purring away! We all enjoyed taking care of, and playing with the cats! Zoe even built them a cardboard condo to play in!
Unfortunately, we missed Kyla when we arrived as she had already left for her travels to the East Coast. However, we learned something very interesting about her place of work…let’s see if the X-Men fans can identify this place:
Yes, it’s the school where Dr. Xavier trains the X-Men to understand their powers. I don’t think Kyla is one of the X-Men, but maybe she’s doing a great job at keeping a secret from everyone!
Victoria is a lovely and picturesque city which has a real homey feel to it. The heart of the downtown is Victoria’s inner harbor. From here you can find whale watching tours to see Orcas and Humpback whales that are currently in the area.
Water taxis are available to take you around the harbour and provide a unique view of the city.
We did a walking tour of historic Victoria with a company called Discover the Past. The tour was very interesting with some very enjoyable stories.
Like…why is Victoria the capital of BC and not Vancouver?
When the gold rush occurred in the mid-1800’s, Victoria became the main stopping point on the way to the gold fields further north. The port was excellent for ships filled with prospectors and supplies, and soon the population jumped from 300 to 5000 almost over night. The city grew and grew.
While Victoria continued to grow with the gold rush, so too did Vancouver – at the time called New Westminster. When Vancouver Island joined the mainland in 1866, both Victoria and New Westminster were in competition to become the new provincial capital.
There were many in the legislative assembly who were passionate about making New Westminster the capital, but the job as spoksman/lobbyist went to Nanaimo MLA Captain William Hales Franklyn. During one critical debate in 1867, Franklyn was to deliver a fiery speech to parliament to convince everyone that the capital should be moved. However, before he was to speak a fellow MLA, William George Cox met with Franklyn and suggested they go to a local pub that morning to have a few drinks to celebrate Franklyn’s pending victory. While Cox drank water, Franklyn drank alcohol and soon was intoxicated. Undeterred, Cox helped his friend to get to parliament so he could present his arguments.
It all started out well, with Franklyn reading his speech with passion. As he completed the first page he reached for a cup he thought was water – the water had been replaced by scotch. As he took a drink, Cox took the first page that Franklyn had completed reading and replaced it at the top of his speech. Franklyn proceeded to re-read the entire first page again! Similarly, when he reached for his cup of water, Cox again moved the read page back to the top of the speech…which Franklyn proceeded to read again without even realizing it.
By this time the house was in chaos with MLA’s openly laughing at what was going on. To Franklyn’s dismay he was cut from completing his speech and a vote was called…and the movement to relocate British Columbia’s capital to New Westminster – now Vancouver – was defeated by a large margin.
We heard stories about other historical buildings as well. Such as…
This building – The Bard and Banker – is a pub which at one time was a branch of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. One of its employees, and a resident of a room in the top floor of the bank, was Robert W. Service, the poet who penned “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. In previous days, banks would install their vaults on the upper floors of their buildings. This was to keep robbers from using the classic tactic of buying/renting the store next door to the bank, tunneling underground to the vault, and then popping up in the middle of the night to empty the vault of its contents! Yes, this actually used to happen! One of the storefronts along the street used to be where caskets were made. One night Robert was coming “home” to the bank after an evening of drinking and noticed that the door to the casket shop was open. He warily went in to investigate, and imagine his surprise when he tripped over a dead body lying on the floor, and when he looked up saw the image of another deceased person. He fled the store in terror and swore he saw ghosts.
What he didn’t know at the time was that there had been a boat accident with many fatalities and the morgue did not have sufficient room to store the bodies…so they used the casket shop as an alternative. It is said that Robert asked to be transferred after this incident and ended up in the Yukon.
One of our more delicious stops along the way was the Rogers Chocolate store. This shop still has many of the original wood and fixtures and gives a good sense of what the shops were like at the time. The chocolate recipes have not been changed since they were created in 1885.
We tried some of the classic Rogers chocolates – strawberry and maple – and they were absolutely delicious!
In addition to the stories, there were many simply beautiful buildings and streetscapes to enjoy.
The Empress Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Victoria. It was designed by Francis Rattenbury – the same architect who designed Victoria’s parliament buildings.
The Empress was named after Queen Victoria, who was at the time also the Empress of India while India was under British Colonial rule. The hotel retains its British charm, including the opportunity to attend High Tea. I was immediately struck by the similarities in the general design of the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
Being in Victoria didn’t mean we were restricted to only exploring the town. We took advantage of our natural surroundings and climbed up Mount Finlayson. This hike was about 6 km round trip and took us up 419 m. Some of the spots were quite steep…but this was great training for our upcoming Machu Picchu trek!
It was a nice start to our hike…seemed easy enough at first…
But soon the path grew steeper…
And more beautiful…
After 45 minutes we were rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view…
As well as the satisfaction of completing the climb!
On another day we made our way to Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, about 25 km from Langford. Here, along the Sooke River there are several areas where deep, clear pools have been carved out of the rock over time. We parked our car what we thought was about 2km from the park so we could walk the Galloping Goose Trail into the park and to the pools. Turned out it was more like 6km from the park! In either case we were all quite warm from the walk, so the plunge into the cold pools was quite refreshing!
Another great place to visit in our own country, Victoria has the charm of a smaller city with access to some great outdoor activities. We all enjoyed our time here and would certainly return!