An August 2006 trip
to Victoria by btwood2
Quote: Steeped in history, vibrant and energetic, there’s no shortage of activities and sights in the fair city of Victoria, B.C.
Touring Craigdarroch Castle, high on a hill above Victoria, we got a glimpse into the lives of the very wealthy around the turn of the Century. The Dunsmuir family earned their fortune from coal and railroads, yet their lives were marked by tragedy as well.
One anticipated highlight that was not to be was high tea at the Empress, when I discovered to my dismay that this little tidbit would set us back . Ooh-la-la. Too late, I learned about less than half-priced alternatives in cozier but still classy locations, such as Gatsby Mansion (), and Point Ellis House ().
Getting out of the city: We ventured west from Victoria. At Fort Rodd Hill, a well-preserved defensive fort now serves as museum, picnic grounds, and home for Columbia black-tailed deer. Fisgard Lighthouse stands on a tiny island connected by causeway to Fort Rodd Hill.
Stepping back further into history, yet still a vital part of today’s Victoria, we viewed reproduced and new totem poles at Thunderbird Park, and older traditional totem poles housed protectively in climate-controlled Royal British Columbia Museum. There, we unexpectedly got to take a peek at Tibet, a temporary exhibit. And spent the better part of a rainy day delving into other forms of history, including natural, in the museum’s wonderful and extensive exhibits.
Though this journal features historical highlights, you can’t say "Victoria" without adding "gardens" in the same breath. At lower latitude than the San Juan Islands or Bellingham, Washington, Victoria and the southern tip of Vancouver Island stick out like a giant green thumb. A subsequent journal will ooh and ahh about Victoria’s gardens and neighborhoods.
Recommended websites prior to your arrival are Tourism Victoria, Travel Victoria, and Alternative Walking Tour of Victoria. Canada Border Services Agency gives good general information about border requirements. Crossing in the ferry was a piece of cake with our Drivers Licenses, birth certificate (for Bob), and passport (for me). We were required to complete a simple Canada Customs Declaration Form.
Legally nineteen: In our 50’s and 70’s, we hardly worry about such things. But in B.C., 19 is the magic age for legally purchasing liquor and enjoying nightclub nightlife. Persons age 19 and over are allowed to bring specified limited amounts of tobacco and alcoholic beverages across the border with them.
Money and exchange rates: Canadian banks will exchange your U.S. into Canadian, which is the way to go. Though most shops and restaurants accept U.S., at last summer’s rates, it was better to use Canadian. Major credit cards are accepted, and automatically convert charges to current rate of exchange.
Victoria’s coastal climate is unusually dry, with less than an inch of rain per month in the summer, only twice as much in winter. All we needed were sweaters or light jackets for the evenings. Attire was casual most everywhere we went.
Other ferries service Vancouver Island and Victoria from Seattle, Vancouver, and the B.C. mainland. They include B.C. Ferries, Victoria Clipper, and Washington State Ferries.
By air: Victoria International Airport is served by six carriers, with flights to and from Vancouver, Seattle, other major Canadian cities, and even one to Hawaii (Harmony Airways). Four car rental companies maintain offices at the airport.
Getting around while there: We had our own car, and had no trouble driving around and finding parking. Parking downtown is readily available, at varying rates, from free (1 to 2 hour limits), and metered streetside, and in lots of all sizes ranging from and up daily. Most meters and lots stop being monitored after 6 PM.
Victoria Regional Transit System operates 178 busses on 36 routes, and 40 vans provide accessible services door-to-door. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many varied transportation availabilities as were present around the Inner Harbor and downtown, on the water as well as on land. From brightly painted double-decker busses, to white and blue open-air Royal Blue Line Tours, to horse-drawn buggies and carriage tours, to pedi-cabs on land, all eager for passengers. On the water, water craft of all shapes and sizes, and seaplanes. Ironically, Victoria is a wonderful city for walking.
The Douglas Treaty in 1850 established Pellatsis, "place of cradles", a sacred village site for the Songhees in perpetuity. But perpetuity was short-lived when gold was discovered on the Fraser River and Victoria’s population boomed. By 1910, remaining Songhees families were paid $10,000 in exchange for their land. They resettled in more out-of-the-way Esquimalt, "place of shoaling waters" in Lekwungen language. The place of cradles is now a place of luxury condos and resorts.
Nuu'chah'nulth (Nootka) peoples lived from Victoria north, along the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island. Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl) peoples inhabited the eastern part of the island north of Campbell River. Click here for more information about the First Peoples of Vancouver Island.
Thunderbird Park, adjacent to the Royal B.C. Museum, is a good place to view a bit of First Nations heritage. A small forest of totem poles, name posts, and grave figures stand among trees, near a Kwakwaka'wakw great house and carvers’ studio. Early totem poles, carved from cedar, represented family or clan, honored ancestors, or told a story. Often they were erected as part of the Potlatch ceremony, conducted for feasting, dancing, gift giving, and social status. Potlatching was declared illegal in Canada between 1885 and 1951, but took place secretively, when possible.
Thunderbird Park was established in 1940 on a vacant lot by British Columbia Provincial Museum. By the early 1950’s, the already aged poles were decaying rapidly. The museum invited Kwakwaka'wakw elder and master carver Mungo Martin to restore or replicate old poles, create new poles, and teach his art to young carvers. Though Mungo Martin died in 1962, the highly successful program continued on, with many renowned First Nations carvers.
Mungo Martin House anchors the park. A sea monster with giant teeth is painted across the front of it. The heraldic totem in front features pouty-lipped Dzunuk'wa. This non-human wild-woman of the woods searches for children to devour, but has poor eyesight and is easily fooled, so rarely catches any.
Three Haida poles stand more or less in a row, facing Douglas Street. Watchmen top two house poles, alert for danger or enemies. Halfway up the middle pole the Sea Chief’s eyes hang dangling from their sockets. This creature is said to live on a rock off the central coast of B.C. His eyes fall out of their sockets every night, but each morning his friends come by to replace them, so he can see to eat. The newest pole in Thunderbird Park was raised in 1999. During summers, the Echoes of Ancestry project provides mentoring for youthful First Nations carvers and artists.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 19, 2006
Corner of Douglas & Belleville Streets
Victoria, British Columbia
Young architect Francis Rattenbury entered and won the competition to build B.C.’s parliament buildings in 1893 shortly after his arrival from England, beating out 64 other architects, many greatly more experienced. Five years later, his "Imperial Garden of Eden", built way over budget, was ready for use. Rattenbury was to achieve further fame by building luxury Canadian Pacific Railway hotels, including the venerable Empress, just around the corner from Parliament, and lovely glass-roofed Crystal Gardens, a former bathing and amusement center built in1925.
Success didn’t bring Rattenbury happiness, however. After divorcing his wife and marrying his mistress, the much younger and talented Alma Pakenham, the couple moved to England. Sinking into alcoholism, Rattenbury was eventually beaten to death with a mallet by Alma’s teenaged lover. Alma committed dramatic suicide shortly thereafter, by stabbing herself in the heart and throwing herself into the River Avon.
Parliament is imposing from afar, viewed across a vast lawn and fountains, with its muted gray limestone and granite walls, arches and columns, and green copper domes. The tallest central dome is topped with a gold-gilt statue of Captain George Vancouver. A statue of Queen Victoria stands on a pedestal above street level at the edge of the lawns. Every night, more than 3300 light bulbs outline buildings, windows and domes of Parliament.
No less impressed by Parliament’s interior, we took one of the free tours that are offered every half hour during summer months. Tour guides range from the commonplace to would-be actors in period costume, affecting behavior and speech of imperial times. Beneath the gilded central dome lies an exquisite mosaic floor. Between the arched doorways are mural-style paintings depicting workers of the province, from farming and forest to fisheries. Virtually all the windows are stained glass and communicate some historically significant event or symbol.
On the walls near the entrance, hang 18 reproductions of architectural and technical drawings by Francis Rattenbury. In a nearby alcove, one can sit and view legislative sessions on a TV, beginning mid-September, when they reconvene. During summer, the red-carpeted multi-leveled legislative chambers sit empty.
501 Belleville Street
Victoria, British Columbia
Attraction | "Craigdarroch Castle – I"
We viewed Craigdarroch on a volatile Victoria morning, brilliant sun and piercing blue sky vying with white billowy clouds. It’s well worth the $11.50CD admission for self-guided tour. Its 29 rooms on four floors contain 17 fireplaces, extensive wood paneling, a profusion of fine stained glass windows, and period furnishings. Craigdarroch encompasses 25,572 square feet.
We learn from one of the circulating docents that the majority of paneling in the castle is actually pre-fab! More than 2000 white oak panels manufactured in Chicago, were shipped by railroad to the estate. The massive white Main Hall fireplace sports a Shakespeare quote from the tragedy Troilus and Cressida: Welcome ever smiles and farewell goes out sighing.
Indeed, elements of tragedy reoccur frequently in the Dunsmuir family of Craigdarroch. Robert died in 1889, before the castle was completed. Contrary to what he’d promised prior to his death, he left nothing to his two grown sons, who’d been managing much of the family business on the island and in San Francisco. Instead, he left his entire estate to his wife. It took ten years of negotiations between Joan and sons before she gave them title to the San Francisco business, and allowed them to purchase the family coalmines on Vancouver Island.
Wherever you wander in Craigdarroch, you’ll encounter exquisite stained glass windows. All but one is original, considered among the finest collections of Victorian residential stained glass on the West Coast. Curiously, the pamphlet states they "are believed to be" produced by an American studio.
Craigdarroch today is an ongoing labor of love, adopted by Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society. Following Joan’s death in 1909, it was sold and served sequentially as a military hospital, college classrooms, offices for Victoria School Board, and home for Victoria Conservatory of Music. Over time, students carved their initials into the woodwork, rooms were divided up as seen fit, floors linoleumed over, and coat after coat of paint applied.
Since 1969, the Museum Society’s mission has been to restore and conserve the castle as an historic house, to its 1890 condition. A fine art conservator is restoring the hand-painted drawing room ceiling. It’s painstaking work using solvent applied with q-tips and cotton balls. Elaborate fleur-de-lis and lion head designs are once more seeing the light of day after being liberated from underneath five coats of latex paint. Continue tour and history in Craigdarroch II.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 20, 2006
Victoria, British Columbia
Attraction | "Craigdarroch Castle – II"
Joan Dunsmuir, three daughters, and two grandchildren began living in Craigdarroch in 1890. Lavishly furnished bedrooms and sitting rooms belonging to family and more modest servants’ quarters are found on the second and third floors.
But it’s on the fourth floor that you’ll discover the crowning jewel of Craigdarroch, its tower. Rounded doors fit perfectly in circular walls. The spectacular views include downtown Victoria, James Bay, and further out, Mt. Douglas, Mt. Tolmie, and Little Saanich Mountain. Colorful imported English tiles decorate the tower floor. Talk about feeling "above it all"!
Much of the fourth floor is a wide-open dance hall, with an 1879 Steinway piano which visitors with musical ability are invited to play. The self-guided tour takes you up all four floors on one side of the castle, and back down again on the other. Second and third floors house fully and partially restored rooms, as well as public washrooms and volunteer offices.
Specialized rooms are encountered on the first floor on the way out. In front of me, a (presumably) Canadian host was explaining some of the rooms to his foreign guest. "This is the smoking room"… "a room, just for smoking - ?" "Yes, and only for men. And this, is the breakfast room…" "You mean, this room, only for breakfast???" "Yes, the larger dining room was upstairs…" Though opulent and elegant, it does seem a bit redundant.
Exit is through the museum store, formerly the kitchen. As Bob was finishing up his tour inside, I wandered around the historic structure and thought about the castle, its creators and inhabitants. Robert Dunsmuir, self-made laird and entrepreneur, didn’t live to see Craigdarroch’s completion. Its architect, Warren Williams, died only four months after construction began.
Joan Dunsmuir, who lived at Craigdarroch until her death in 1908, reportedly had a strained relationship with her husband already years before his death, and ongoing conflicts and legal issues with her two sons. Delaying marrying his divorced mistress for 20 years due to his mother’s disapproval and financial clout, younger son Alex died only 6 weeks after finally wedding his lover. Older son James eventually became premier of British Columbia, but due to conflict with his mother over Alex’s will, they never spoke to one another again.
Craigdarroch is not handicap accessible. Open daily 10AM to 4:30PM. Extended hours June 15 – Labor Day 9AM to 7PM. Rates: $11.50CD adults, $10.75CD seniors, $7.50CD students, $3.50CD age 6-18, free 5 and under.
Attraction | "Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site"
Fort Rodd Hill was built in the late 1800’s, one of a much larger system of defensive artillery positions guarding Victoria and Esquimalt Harbours. Decommissioned in 1956, three batteries and many other very well-preserved buildings still stand on the grounds, overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait. Handed guide and map after paying admission at the entrance station, we begin our self-guided tour of Fort Rodd.
Past ack-ack artillery and field guns, we enter the 2-story brick 1897-built warrant officer’s quarters. Inside, I’m surprised to find an extensive display about Canadian liberating forces in the Netherlands in 1945. I hadn’t realized that then Crown Princess Juliana took shelter in Canada, giving birth to daughter, Margriet, in Ottawa in 1943.
Also unknown to me was that 7600 Canadians perished during the last 9 months of World War II. I recall my mother telling me about jubilant partying following liberation, dancing till late hours with a handsome Canadian soldier named Roy. But no hanky-panky, she was already engaged to my father, who’d been immediately drafted into a temporary peace-keeping police force when it was discovered he’d fought in the Dutch Underground.
From the Battery Command Post we catch our first glimpse of a Columbia black-tailed deer. This sub-species, similar to mule deer but smaller, is native to Vancouver Island and parts of B.C. They thrive on the acorns of the endangered Garry oak, widely present on Vancouver Island before introduction of non-native plant species in the 1800’s. Later, we’ll see more does and fawns browsing and gamboling.
Passing well-signed, well-preserved barracks, kitchen complete with menu list (appears much superior to C-rations), we end up in the canteen, which now serves as store and snack bar. We learn soldiers enjoyed beer, pickled eggs and pigs’ feet here. We settle for a cinnamon roll.
Both lower and upper batteries were built between 1895-97. Belmont Battery, closer to the shoreline, was built in 1900, to defend against torpedo boats, which might slip under the guns of the two larger batteries. Bombs were stored in underground magazines excavated from solid rock. On shore, we examine remnants of anti-torpedo nets, and a cleverly camouflaged searchlight emplacement, made to look like a boathouse. Prior to radar, searchlights were used to detect enemy targets. We descend stairs to a searchlight engine room, where the soldiers were called glow-worms.
We end our tour at the upper battery, where a five-ton gun barrel (the 1897 original) sits on its emplacement in firing position. The battery also contains loop-holed gate and walls, guardhouse, electric light station, and three concrete pedestals, all that remain of the command post. Entry fee: $4CD adult, $2CD youth – fort and lighthouse
Fort Rodd Hill &Fisgard Lighthouse NHS
603 Fort Rodd Hill Road
Victoria, British Columbia
Attraction | "Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site"
Increased population and ship traffic due in large part to the 1858 Fraser Canyon gold rush necessitated the building of lighthouses to prevent accidents. Fisgard Lighthouse, the first one built, was named after Royal Navy ship HMS Fisgard, and its lantern and first lightkeeper came from England.
The 1860’s were a tumultuous time on Vancouver Island. California forty-niners who hadn’t struck it rich on the Mother Lode sought riches further north. British Columbia quickly became an official colony, with Victoria, only recently incorporated as a city, its capital. A fresh find of gold on the Leech River, near Sooke on southwest Vancouver Island, attracted yet more gold-seekers. Smallpox imported by whites decimated indigenous peoples of the island and coastal mainland: Nuu-chah-nulth (formerly Nootka), Coast Salish, and Kwak’wala.
The lamps shall be kept burning bright and clear every night from sunset to sunrise. First order of duty for lightkeepers, who needed to be natural night owls or keep strong coffee at hand. And this was but one of a long list of their duties, which also included dusting, cleaning and polishing all lamps and reflectors to a proper state of brilliancy, logging all ships that pass by, and taking note of any ships unfortunate enough to wreck. Fisgard’s fourth order Fresnel lens broadcasted its focused beam 10 nautical miles out to sea.
A wrought iron spiral staircase winds gracefully to the second floor, where lenses, lanterns, reflectors, and other lighthouse equipment are displayed, along with written descriptions of the scientific principles that make them work. Downstairs you’ll find photographs of other sentinels of the Canadian coast, the HMS Fisgard in full sail, and a volunteer happy to answer any questions. Additional exhibits tell stories of storms and shipwrecks. Because we were a bit pressed for time, we didn’t watch the video.
Fisgard Lighthouse is still in use as an active aid to navigation, but has been automated since 1929. The causeway connecting Fisgard Island to mainland was built in 1951. Fisgard Lighthouse is open daily year round.
Attraction | "Royal B.C. Museum I – Second Floor Galleries"
Two tall, massive wooden figures, Huu-ay-aht first man Nutchkoa, and first woman Ho-miniki, stand on either side of the ticket counter, arms outstretched in welcome. They were purchased for the museum in 1911, from Kiix’in village on southwest Vancouver Island. We find that the best rates are combined tickets for museum and IMAX film. (A National Geographic IMAX theater adjoins the museum.) But we opted out of that, wishing to devote our whole day to the museum.
From museum map and brochure, we see that there is one temporary exhibit gallery and four permanent galleries: First Peoples, Modern History, Natural History, and the new Living Land, Living Sea Gallery, spread out on the second and third floors.
Tibet: Mountains, Valleys, Castles and Tents, on loan from Newark Museum from March to October, is our first stop. Photography is not allowed inside the exhibit. We view a fascinating documentary film about early Anglo travelers to Tibet, home of the mysterious Dalai Lama. Objects displayed range from decorations and household items used by nobility, made of precious metals and encrusted with gems, to exquisite textiles, to elaborate tents used by nomads. Tibet remains occupied by China, the Dalai Lama in exile since 1959.
Living Land, Living Sea is simply spectacular and draws the interest of all ages. A lifelike wooly mammoth welcomes us from the past, but before we know it we’re immersed in the disturbing present. It’s all about greenhouse gasses, fossil fuels, and climate change. A happy future for the mountain pine beetle, whose range is continuing to extend, thanks to warming winters. At least until all the pine trees are gone… The if ewe only knew room offers wiser choices for eco-friendly living and a more sustainable future. Wonderful, lifelike forest and coastal dioramas round out the exhibit, with additional detailed wall descriptions of the myriads of life forms living in all the coastal zones.
British Columbia is British are headlines on an enlarged 1900 New Decade wall hanging at the entrance of the Modern History gallery. We learn that the 1846 Oregon Treaty made this so, and that Vancouver Island was declared a colony in 1849, territory of British North America, governed by Hudson Bay Company. Mainland and island gold rushes of the 1860’s saw rapid expansion and competition between those who would have the territory annexed by Canada, versus the U.S. Though the gold rush fizzled, Canada made the better offer. British Columbia became a province in 1871. Queen Victoria named the new province, not after Christopher Columbus, but for American sea captain Robert Gray’s ship, Columbia Rediviva.
Royal British Columbia Museum
606 Douglas Blvd.
Victoria, British Columbia
Attraction | "Royal B.C. Museum II – Third Floor Galleries"
Multi-leveled Old Town is just that, reminiscent of old Victoria at the turn of the century, appearing authentic to the smallest detail. From richly carpeted and elegantly furnished living quarters to offices of commission merchants to an apothecary store and Chinatown, it’s interesting to imagine what life was like then.
Past cannery and water wheel, I find myself boarding the HMS Discovery, a mini-reproduction of Captain George Vancouver’s ship. This sturdy oak and hardwood sloop carried 100 sailors and ten 4-pound cannons. Vancouver’s voyage from 1792-1794 accomplished scientific and military goals – surveying the coast and making efforts to befriend (or intimidate?) Spaniards and indigenous peoples.
First Peoples Gallery does not allow photography, so I stash my camera. Beyond the entry, lies a reproduction of a 50-foot kekuli, or pit house. These type of dwellings were reportedly used by interior Salish people for at least 3000 years. These winter houses were covered by roofs of grass, pine needles, cedar bark and earth, but the display kekuli’s partially open framework reveals a cozy interior with mats, baskets and hides for bedding.
Pre-contact/post-contact are the predominating themes of this gallery. Coastal First Nations people lived a fishing culture, also hunting sea mammals and gathering inter-tidal shellfish, seaweed and plants. Salish people were known for their weaving of mountain goat wool. Cedar was extremely useful and sacred to many of the tribes. Cedar bark and roots were used to make baskets, robes, skirts, and blankets. Wooden tools used to shred, crease, strip, sew and weave cedar bark are displayed.
Some larger items exhibited are a canoe and many totem poles, standing in front of a Kwakwaka’wakw big house, reminding me of Thunderbird Park, outside the museum.
A small gallery is entirely devoted to Haida argillite carvings. This dark, dense glossy rock, transitional between slate and shale, has been carved on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) since traditional times, into representations of animals and mythical beings, and ceremonial pipes. With the coming of the Europeans, the carvings began to reflect their influence. Tableware and musical "pipes" (recorders) appeared. The First People’s Gallery ends with an exhibit of the Nisga'a, people of the Nass River of Northwest British Columbia.
Open daily 9AM to 5 PM, closed Christmas and New Years Day. Rates: Adults - $12.50CD, Seniors, Youth, Students - $8.70CD, Combined museum + IMAX - $21CD/ $16.95CD.
Rodeo, New Mexico