A May 2007 trip
to Victoria by moatway
Quote: Victoria has managed to maintain its small-town provincial feel despite the fact that it has drawn so many to share its blessings.
Many people come to Victoria to experience high tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel…to find out more about that and to find a fantastic selection of tours go to Empress. For the tours, click on "Sightseeing"
We were looking for a non-smoking two bedroom suite and your options in Victoria in a reasonable price range are fairly limited. There is this hotel and the Royal Scot just steps away down a pleasant street. Then the price goes up. We really liked the suite: a king bedroom with TV, balcony and full bath, a queen bedroom with balcony access and a half bath, a kitchen with a two-burner stove top, microwave and bar fridge, dishes and glassware. The main room was extremely large and divided into living room with balcony, sofa, armchairs, and TV as well as a dining area with seating for six. There is no air conditioning but all the windows open and there are ceiling fans in the living room and the king bedroom. I am inclined to believe that except in odd cases, that would be sufficient. Our eleventh-floor room had nice view over the city toward the Olympic Mountains and the harbour entrance.
Other features of the hotel included the restaurant and lounge, a gift shop and underground parking (2007-$7.42/night). There are also a pool, whirlpool, sauna, and a fitness centre. A sun tanning bed is available and there is a children’s play area. As a full-service hotel there is babysitting (with notice), same-day laundry and dry-cleaning. There is also free Internet in the lobby and safety deposit boxes are available.
In the final analysis it had everything going for it…the only sore point was the lack of speed during check-out. (A convention was leaving as we left…I ended up being about sixth in line with only one girl on the desk.) Otherwise, it was a clean, middle-level hotel, attractive, and in pretty good shape. (My 2007 Internet rate for a two bedroom room charges plus all the add-on taxes and service charges was about $202/night.) Look it up at Harbour Towers.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 8, 2007
Harbour Towers Hotel And Suites
345 Quebec Street
Victoria, British Columbia V8V1W4
The service was also a 10/10; who would have believed that the waitress was from our home town 3000 miles away? The menu? The menu is extensive; there are salads ($5 - $17), soups ($6 - $15) and an amazing steak menu (What cut did you want, how big and spicy or not?), for steak is what they do ($24 - $38). You can even add lobster or prawns to that big boy. You’ll also find chicken, lamb, and fish ($24 - $39) as well as pasta in the $20 range. Throw in the big wine list and there’s something for everyone. For sheer choice, let’s give Ric’s 10/10.
We placed three entrée orders: halibut, a 16 oz. spicy rib steak (That would be me, but even though we had arrived early, there was no rare prime rib left.) and a spinach salad with calamari (my daughter, the fussy vegetarian). With all the preamble, the meal was only fair…in fact it was a let-down. We are rarely critical with a restaurant, and with so many things going for it, we were prepared to love this one. I’m afraid I do much better on my own barbecue and that has never cost me $130 plus tip.
On the other hand, the next night we ventured out to the India Curry House at the foot of Fort Street (250-381-7427). Ambience and atmosphere: 5/10, service: 6/10 (and that might be a little generous), and food 8/10. Better, and for 2/3 the price.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on June 8, 2007
910 Government Street
Victoria, British Columbia
Attraction | "Swan's Brewpub"
The pub offers breakfast; the menu for the rest of the day includes soups and salads (to $10), snacks and food to share (avg. $8), pub fare (about $10), burgers, sandwiches, and wraps (about $11) and entrées of salmon, steak, chicken, pork , mussels, seafood, and pasta at $15. There are also desserts, coffees, martinis, and scotches but above all that, they offer friendly service, reasonable prices, and live music every night. You have an option of sitting inside or in the glassed-in Victorian patio setting that surrounds the building. It’s got atmosphere; it’s got it all. I wanted to take it home with me.
We chose to order nachos at $13 and a snack platter (wings, hummus, calamari, veggies, tortilla chips etc.) at $27 and simply snacked-out. It was all good. Did I say that the beer is excellent?
My only regret with Swan’s is that I didn’t discover it until our last night in Victoria; I’d put it high on a list of unpretentious fun-places to spend an evening if you’re in town.
506 Pandora Avenue
Victoria, British Columbia V8W 1N6
Upon entry, there are a number of war scenes…Canadians taking Caen in 1944, the Battle of Saratoga (1777) and the Battle of Bull Run…but then the really interesting displays begin. Follow the Great Canadian Railway on its journey from Vancouver in 1885 through the Rockies, past the scene of the driving of the last spike and on to the Red River and soldiers marching against Louis Riel. The train takes you through Toronto and past Quebec City to a fishing port in the Maritimes.
Another series of dioramas features the American West including a model of Custer’s last stand with a whirl of Indians surrounding the doomed soldiers. Lest you think that much of this is beginning to sound all a little bloody, we pass to flights of whimsy…Santa’s Workshop, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Gulliver in Lilliput, the dwarf’s diamond mine and Tatiana’s castle. There are a number of scenes from different Dickensian novels, a group of complex dollhouses and then it’s on to 17th and 20th century London.
Perhaps the best is saved for last…the circus displays. From the Florida winter quarters we travel to a city to see the circus train unload and side-by-side we find the big top, a fair and a rodeo. The detail in this last display is absolutely staggering. There are dozens of moving parts, and only the closest examination will reveal them all. Tourist trap? Not at all, a visit to a beautifully crafted miniature world.
649 Humboldt Street
Victoria, British Columbia
The Maritime Museum is particularly noticeable for the building in which it is housed. A handsome, Italianate design; it was once the Provincial Courthouse (1887) and while the building is attractive, it has an operating birdcage elevator (1889) and on the third floor, the Court of Vice Admiralty has been lovingly restored. But, I’m ahead of myself, so back to the first floor.
Your wander through this museum begins with a discussion of the native use of the sea and then the coming of the Europeans. In 1789, we find that the Spanish Viceroy established a fort at Nootka to stop incursions of Russians, Britons, and Americans… it resulted in agreements to share the west. Russia would claim rights to the West Coast for 126 years, but it would be the British who would move in during the 1850s and who would eventually move British Columbia into Confederation in 1871. The story is all a bit dry and is told in artefacts and what I tend to refer to now as "stuff to read." As I grow older, I grow less enamoured with "stuff to read," but if you need to know, then you need to know. There are also presentations on seal hunting which was limited in 1911, fishing and whaling and then there is a good story.
In 1901, John Voss and Norman Luxton decided to sail a canoe around the world. They found one abandoned on a beach and modified it, giving it a cabin and a mast. Naming it Tilikum, a native word meaning friendly; they sailed the 38 foot, 50 year old canoe across the Pacific to Australia then across the Indian Ocean to South Africa. From there, they sailed to Brazil and then to England…technically not really around the world, but an amazing voyage nevertheless. The Tilikum, if you haven’t guessed at this point, is the prized possession of the museum.
No western maritime museum would be complete without a gallery dedicated to Canadian Pacific Steamships, the British Columbia Coast service, and the Empress Service. And this is British Columbia, so there is another gallery devoted to "Bennett’s Navy"…BC Ferries. These galleries contain a number of the museum’s 400 ship models. Apart from that, the collection is fairly ordinary… there are representations of wartime vessels and working vessels…a model gallery for models that don’t seem to fit into a category. The collection is fairly extensive with no pretension of being world class. I would think that you would have to have some interest in Maritime history or ship models before you ventured through these doors. If you want to see if you would enjoy a visit, they have a great website at Maritime Museum.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 8, 2007
Maritime Museum of British Columbia
28 Bastion Square
Victoria, British Columbia V8W 1H9
Our mid-May visit saw a profusion of tulips in every colour imaginable set in the midst of a number of other varieties of annuals and perennials. Near the beginning of the visit, we made our way into the sunken garden, and it is, indeed, sunken…in the deepest part of the quarry. The quarry walls that were once a hardscape of stone were softened by Mrs. Butchart who planted them with ivy. Now, the green walls are broken only by a small cascade of water. The area is filled with rock features, one of which is a mound covered in plantings that almost obscure the stairway to the top. From that vantage point, you can overlook a large pond and much of the former quarry floor. We learn that Mr. Butchart once stocked a second pond with trout that would rise to feed when he clapped his hands. Beyond that is another vista and yet another pond which houses the beautiful Ross fountain.
Every turn in the walkway opens up a new scene, whether it is a sculpted plant or a massive redwood rising out of swaths of purple, red, and green. For the rose lover there is a larger rose garden with countless varieties, each of which has a small plaque containing the name of the rose and the country and date of its conception. May was too early…we would love to return just to see them in bloom.
From the rose garden we passed into Mrs. Butchart’s first formal garden, the Japanese Garden which can be entered through a torii gate. You can expect understated beauty, winding paths, water features, and stands of bamboo built into a gentle hillside leading down to a small cove where the Butcharts once kept their boat. Once through that garden, we passed the Star fountain and enter the Italian garden… a pleasant, classical place to sit and perhaps have a gelato.
End, or start, your day in the plant identification centre (Take a picture of that mysterious plant with your digital camera and they will be able to identify it for you.), one of the restaurants or in the large, well-stocked, up-scale gift shop. Regardless…no description of Butchart Gardens can truly do them justice; they simply must be seen.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 8, 2007
800 Benvenuto Ave
Brentwood Bay, British Columbia V8M 1J8
At that point, we were interrupted by Amor de Cosmos (played by an actor, of course). He had been lured to the California gold fields from his home in Windsor, Nova Scotia and it was there that he had his name changed from the more prosaic William Alexander Smith to Amor de Cosmos. Arriving in Victoria in 1858, he started a newsletter in which he was highly critical of Douglas (How could Douglas be the premier and the head of the HBC at the same time? Conflict of interest.) and his cohort, the "Hanging Judge", Begbie.
Amor de Cosmos would sit in the legislature and push to have British Columbia made a part of Confederation (1871) long before either Saskatchewan or Alberta. One of British Columbia’s most colourful figures, he was a true eccentric. Actually, perhaps a little too eccentric; he was declared insane two years before his death in 1897.
The rest of the visit was somewhat less exciting…a look at the stained glass windows celebrating Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee and Victoria’s 60 years. The Legislative Assembly was in session, so only the galleries were open, and the security is intense enough that I was not inclined to go in. So the visit was somewhat limited, but of course, the actor made a piece of British Columbia history come to life.
501 Belleville Street
Victoria, British Columbia
The natural history section starts with a little intensity, a lot of information, first on pre-history and then on climate change. (Sorry, when I’m in tourist mode, it’s hard to turn on my let’s-learn-about-science mode.) From hard-to-learn, we pass through a series of life-size dioramas of wildlife in various areas of British Columbia. Finally, they are wonderful, really well done. Then it’s on to Ocean Station to board Captain Nemo’s Nautilus to take a look at the undersea world. (It’s not an aquarium, but more of a species identification site.)
Up the escalator, on the third floor, we pass through a display of Tsimshian objects. Well, once they may have been objects, today they present as art. Then the collection passes through the ages of native work…Stone Age technology, a pit house, stoneware, fishing and hunting instruments and techniques. There is a mass of material, but the best part of this collection is that with many of the artefacts there are explanations of how they were created or how they were used. There is an impressive gallery of totems and your journey takes you through the clan house behind them.
Eventually, you will pass through the maze of the aboriginal gallery into the maze of the 20th-century gallery…I kept getting lost. I’m sure that small children and 90-somethings can pass through these exhibits without wandering about, doubling back or consulting the map, but I found it all confusing. Think of that as a challenge…me to you. The 20th-century gallery is social history, not so much dates and documents. Walk through a late-19th century town; look in the shop windows, go upstairs at the Grand Hotel to see a room, step into the captain’s cabin of H.M.S. Discovery, see Chinatown; it’s history for the whole family. From there, we passed through a series of dioramas celebrating British Columbia’s industries: farming, mining, forestry, and fishing. It’s all really well done. You can finish your visit in the gift shop which is much better than average.
Royal British Columbia Museum
606 Douglas Blvd.
Victoria, British Columbia
Attraction | "Royal B.C. Museum Titanic Exhibit"
The journey through the exhibit space takes us through design to the launch. We see a reproduction of a first class cabin ($4500 ticket in 1912!) and a third class cabin (only $35... $630 today). An actress in costume plays the part of a first class passenger and she tells her story of the fateful night’s events. She introduced me to Lawrence Beasely, another survivor, who would later write a book about the voyage and sinking. And then there are the artefacts, a surprising number of artefacts.
We will see ship’s fittings: a couple of sinks, tiles, a cherub that once held a light and a spittoon, for instance. There are bottles, dishware, a steward’s jacket and the side armrest from a bench. And then there are the personal possessions, many of which have provenance. It is poignant to see an object and learn about its owner. Oddly, there are papers and paper money. Packed into leather suitcases, they survive.
Arriving in a room containing the names of the saved and the lost, we see the toll: in first class, 201 saved, 123 dead; second class, 118 saved, 166 perished; third class, 183 saved, 527 perished; crew, 212 saved, 698 perished. My conclusion? Rich is good. In the final room, we see the stories of passengers with links to British Columbia and that just about does it. I have heard it said that museums bid on artefacts and that each Titanic exhibit might be different from other Titanic exhibits. The Royal B.C. Museum has put together a particularly fine exhibition but it will close during the fall of 2007.
Oh yes, Masabumi Hosono? I survived.
Riverview, New Brunswick