Victoria Gardens, Parks, and Neighborhoods

Victoria is like a breath of fresh sea air, laced with the heady perfume of blooming flowers, everywhere!

Victoria Gardens, Parks, and Neighborhoods

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by btwood2 on May 25, 2006

Victoria is obsessed with flowers. They are grown in every conceivable space and container, from traditional beds to window boxes to hanging from all the street lanterns. They are painted on electric boxes and garbage cans to pretty them up. In this ideal, moist, balmy coastal climate, it’s hard to go wrong as a gardener. Just throw out some seeds and they will grow—almost anywhere.

Tourists flock to Butchart Gardens to view the most well-known of Victoria gardens, and so did we. With its 55 acres of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, and lawns, it wow’d us with its spectacular flower displays. Though our visit to Butchart was certainly a highlight, I felt a peculiar disquiet there. At first I thought it was due to the crowds of tourists, but that was to be expected. Yet it had more to do with the gardens almost being too perfect, like a theme park about flowers. As much as I appreciated and enjoyed their loveliness, I realized that if given the choice, I prefer the real thing: a sub-alpine Sierra mountain slope in glorious nature-strewn wildflower chaos, or the southwestern desert in spring after heavy winter rains, where you can’t take a step without treading on tiny bud or bloom.

Many locals avoid Butchart Gardens for it is too touristy. They prefer the gardens around Hatley Castle, spread among 565 acres and also themed, rose, Italian, and Japanese. The 40-room mansion was built by coal baron James Dunsmuir, son of Robert Dunsmuir, who built Craigdarroch Castle. Royal Roads University manages the estate, a national historic site. Through 2005, admission was free; now garden entry for adults will cost C$8, youth C$5.

Locals also flock to Beacon Hill Park. From atop Beacon Hill, you can look out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards Washington. Besides enjoying the extensive landscaped gardens, there’s a children’s farm, bandshell for music and performances, lawn bowling, tennis courts, and cricket, soccer and baseball fields.

In many cases, the action’s in and on the edge of water. We found the Inner Harbour endlessly entertaining, from its ceaseless boat, ship, and seaplane traffic, to wonderful walking paths on water’s edge and across bridges, to heritage buildings and squares, to busker and people-watching. East to Oak Bay, we again found so much activity along the shoreline, we never made it to Oak Bay Village. ${QuickSuggestions} In hindsight, we regretted not visiting Hatley Castle and Park, preferred by many locals to the more touristy, more expensive Butchart Gardens. Even though Hatley’s has initiated an admission fee in 2006 (previously it was free), the C$8 they charge is considerably less than the C$23 entry fee at Butchart. It’s also closer to the city center, and almost ten times the acreage. As another plus point, you can also take a half-hour or hour-long tour of the castle interior. Castle and gardens are surrounded by old growth Douglas fir, Garry oak, and maple forest with almost 10 miles of hiking trails.

Get a good map and get going! The Victoria Visitor Information Centre in the Art Deco building across from the Empress Hotel, has good free maps, but we also used an AAA map with more detail. Victoria is a superb city for being outdoors, walking, biking, and boating. Follow the paths along the coastline in any direction.

Take the path from Inner Harbour west past posh new condos on Laurel Point, quaint houseboats at Fisherman’s Wharf, towards more fancy condos at Shoal Point. Or, go north, and cross the Blue Bridge (Johnson Street) taking Westsong Walkway through Vic West to Esquimalt. For quality shopping, stroll up Government Street. My favorite store was Munro’s Books. There are no less than three Christmas shops. And for mall-lovers, it’s hard to beat The Bay Centre, with its 80+ shops on four floors, covering two city blocks.

In a car, take Scenic Marine Drive from James Bay. Start at Ogden Point and follow Dallas Road around towards the east. There are many places to pull over and check out: parks, beaches, viewpoints, and historic cemeteries, most well-signed. Dallas Road eventually begins to change names, becoming Hollywood Crescent, King George Terrace, and finally Beach Drive into Oak Bay. Just hug the coastline and you can’t stray too far. Or do stray and you’ll be rewarded by fine views, as most of the roads inland lead upward on hillsides.${BestWay} You can pick and choose your form of transportation, based on inclination and pocketbook. We did a lot of walking, but for the longer stretches, had our own car.
Parking downtown is readily available, at varying rates, from free (1 to 2 hour limits), and metered street side, to lots of all sizes ranging from $5 and up daily. Most meters and lots stop being monitored after 6pm.

For getting across the harbor, consider taking the Victoria Harbour Ferry. These cute little 12-passenger tugboat-lookalikes can be seen chugging along in the harbor at all hours. Both the Harbour route and the Gorge route are narrated tours, making seven stops apiece. The nice thing is you can hop off the boat at any stop, catching a subsequent one. In peak season they run about every 15 minutes. Fares are $16 adult, $8 child.

On land, you can choose from horse-drawn carriages, double-decker buses, bike-taxis, or regular taxis. Six major car rental companies, including Budget and Thrifty, are located in Victoria. At Cycle BC Rentals, 747 Douglas Street, you can rent motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles.

Butchart Gardens I - Background

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by btwood2 on May 25, 2006

Nothing short of spectacular describes these famous formal gardens, covering 55-plus acres in lawns, paths, trees and above all, flowers, flowers, FLOWERS. Don’t sell yourself short and spend less than a full day here. The four major gardens are the Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, and Italian Garden.

Two restaurants, a coffee shop, and several snack bars keep crowds well-fed. Afternoon plays and evening concerts provide entertainment. During summer, the gardens are lit up after dark, and fireworks take place on Saturday nights.

We easily find the gardens, a leisurely 30-minute drive by car from Victoria up west Saanich Peninsula. At the entrance gate, we’re welcomed, charged C$22 (C$23 as of 2006), and handed a visitor guide and flower guide. Beyond, white-gloved traffic managers direct us to the large well-marked parking lot.

Walking past coffee shop, gift store, and visitor center, paper guide and signs clearly indicate where to begin. Posted here also, the events of the day and evening: an afternoon play in Waterwheel Square, evening concert performance at the outdoor band shell, night illumination of the gardens after dark, and plant identification center at the end of the tour. Plants are unlabeled as part of the effort to maintain "the graciousness of a private garden."

A brief history is in order here. Robert Pim Butchart of Ontario, and his wife Jennie Foster Kennedy of Toronto, married in 1884. They moved to Vancouver Island with two young daughters in 1902, to manufacture Portland cement. R.P. recognized the Tod Inlet area as ideal for cement production. All the materials—limestone, gravel, rock, clay, running water, and coal within 50-water miles—were present untapped and in abundance. Thus, an idyllic location was transformed into a rather ugly quarry and cement plant, filling the air with powdery, corrosive cement dust.

Yet out of this economically profitable ugliness, seeds of beauty eventually began to sprout. Jennie planted a rosebush and some sweet peas by their house, and was amazed by how well they flourished, apparently far enough away from the pollution. Her first major project was a Japanese garden in 1906, planted with the expert assistance of Isaburo Kishida on the slope down to Butchart Cove.

Three years later, the limestone quarry was played out, a ravaged and barren pit. For five years, Jennie and the Butcharts’ Scots head gardener, Hugh Lindsay, put their heads together to plan a sunken garden in this denuded depression. Gardener William Westby helped in the implementation stages. Tons of topsoil were brought in and Jennie herself, perched in a bosun’s chair, planted ivy in the cracks and crevices of the stark, rocky walls.

The cement business did well enough that R. P. and Jennie were able to expand their home, named Benvenuto, continue to add more extensive gardens, and frequently entertain on their estate. Though the Butchart home is now a restaurant, teahouse, and museum of sorts, descendants of the Butchart family own and continue to manage the Gardens.

(866) 652-4422 toll free

Butchart Gardens
800 Benvenuto Ave
Brentwood Bay, British Columbia, V8M 1J8
(250) 652-4422

Butchart Gardens II - Tour

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by btwood2 on May 25, 2006

Red arrows on our guide show the recommended route. The Begonia Bower, our first "stop" on this self-guided tour of Butchart Gardens, used to be an aviary for caged birds and ornamental fowl. Sun backlights through brilliantly colored begonias and fuchsias, causing shutterbugs to snap away in ecstasy. Glancing right, the Piazza is a hub of activity, with little ones climbing on bronze ponies and Tacca the bronze boar, in front of the old Butchart residence.

Around a bend we find ourselves on the brink of the Sunken Garden. It’s awe-inspiring enough to warrant a sharp intake of breath at the sight of all that perfectly groomed color below—flowerbeds, bushes, lawn and trees bisected by neat walkways. These lead to Quarry Lake, a large pond. The demure Nude Girl statue presiding over the west side of the garden is constructed of Portland cement, as are stone-looking paths and wood-looking handrails.

Descending into the garden, beds of petunias in shades of purple, red salvia splendens, and striking tubular white nicotiana sylvestris alternate with yellow fremontodendrons. One remaining cement stack looms half-hidden behind trees. A rusted ore bucket and cable remind us of this garden’s "roots."

Around the bend, Ross Fountain comes into view below. Created by grandson Ian Ross in 1964, this moving fountain shoots jets of water from floating platform, causing the display to constantly change. Exquisite, brightly colored dahlias lining the pathway draw the eyes away from the fountain momentarily.

The soda fountain beyond, serving ice cream and beverages is extremely welcome; strawberry-kiwi bar for me, ice-cream cone for Bob. Past bog garden we turn towards newly carved Salishan-style totem poles. The 30-foot poles created by First Nations master carvers, were erected last year, celebrating Butchart Garden’s 100th anniversary.

At the nursery overlook, rows upon rows of baby plants grown for the gardens. More incredible dahlias in riotous solid and variegated colors line the curvaceous pathway to the Rose Garden.

Armies of rose bushes (more than 6,000), their blooms a bit past prime, surround hedged circular lawn. Tree-roses entwine a long arbor.

In front of the Japanese Garden, we pause to admire glistening bronze sturgeons forever encircling a fountain, an enlargement of a casting by sculptor Sirio Tofanari. Across the lawn, people are seen enjoying afternoon tea on the porch at Benvenuto.

Stepping underneath the red tori gate, we’re in the calm quiet of the Japanese Garden. Small ponds and streams run through it, crossed by stepping-stones or arched bridges. Maple leaves are barely beginning to turn red. On the far side of the garden lies sheltered Butchart Cove, in Brentwood Bay. Peek through a window in the thick hedge, or walk a short distance out to the cove, where boats lie anchored.

Steps lead up to Benvenuto via a unique twelve-pointed star pond, with white latticed "duck house" on one side. Formal Italian Gardens surround a cross-shaped pond, and are decorated by statues. Here you can buy gelato at Gelateria Benvenuto.

Gardens are largely handicap accessible.

Butchart Gardens
800 Benvenuto Ave
Brentwood Bay, British Columbia, V8M 1J8
(250) 652-4422

Beacon Hill Park

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by btwood2 on May 25, 2006

This beloved hillside park has been cherished by its humans for many centuries. In Lekwungen language, the hill was called Meegan, roughly translated, bellies warmed by sun. Partly, Beacon Hill got so much sun because Straits Salish people unobtrusively cultivated the land, growing camas, an onion-like food crop. Their yearly spring weeding, and fall burning of grasses and bushes led to a very open landscape dominated by Garry oak and vast fields of thriving blue camas.

Meegan was a favorite place for playing qoqwialls, a hockey-like game, played with spoon-ended oak sticks, ball, and goals. The first activity we saw in Beacon Hill Park was also a game, croquet, played by locals on a grassy field. But soon our attention was drawn away by a brilliant blue peacock who didn’t seem to mind being photographed at all.

May and June, when the camas fields bloomed like a sea of blue, were the months for gathering bulbs. Traditional preparation of this important root vegetable included roasting the bulbs in grass-lined stone pits, then drying and pulverizing them. They were used as flour, or mixed with berries to make cakes. Besides growing camas, playing qoqwialls, netting duck, and using the area as temporary camp and lookout, Straits Salish people buried their dead in cairns on the hillside, some dating back to 1000 years ago.

Fur traders and white settlers in the area were highly attracted to the open meadows of Beacon Hill. They didn’t recognize camas as a legitimate "crop", and didn’t understand the land management practices being so effectively used by Lekwungen-speaking people to maximize their crops.

In 1844, first nations people of Beacon Hill were forced to "share" their land with white men, their cattle and horses. Hudson’s Bay Company decided to plow and plant a portion of the camas prairie that in their view was sitting fallow. With every acre plowed and planted, every animal put out to graze, the camas fields diminished. To make matters worse, an abrupt stop was put to burning of fields, and invasive plant species began to take over.

Today, though lovely, Beacon Hill Park has few native grasses or species. It’s been largely Europeanized, from its naming after the actual beacons (masts) placed on the hill to alert mariners, to its plant, animal, and human occupation.

As we walked around, we saw people of all ages thoroughly enjoying themselves, letting the sun warm them, and in some cases, also their bellies. Clearly two older ladies who’d brought their lawn chairs were sitting in their favorite spot in front of a pond, conversing and watching Canada geese, mama duck with ducklings, and black squirrels. Babysitter and two young girls were playing a game surrounded by a riot of blooming flowers, looking flower-like themselves in brightly colored clothing and caps. Preschool boys in swim trunks were running repeatedly through fountains near a playground full of kids enjoying climbing, sliding, and swinging structures.

Beacon Hill Park
Beacon Hill Park
Victoria, British Columbia

Crystal Garden Memories

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by btwood2 on May 25, 2006

The roaring '20s gave birth to this classic structure, long a Victoria landmark, on the block behind the Empress Hotel. It was one of Francis Rattenbury’s last works, in conjunction with architect Percy James. Initially conceived of as a public amusement center by Victoria city fathers, the Crystal Garden was not the first joint effort between Rattenbury and James. Reminiscent of ancient Grecian and Roman temples, the architects designed Crystal Garden in the tradition of the great glass halls of Europe, with modernistic touches. A steel and glass roof provides continuous skylight throughout the building. Exterior walls are composed of red brick and white molding. White Ionic columns frame the entrance.

At its completion in 1925, Rattenbury and James were no longer on speaking terms. Though Rattenbury conceived the design, it fell to James to work out countless details and negotiate with Canadian Pacific Railroad, who funded the project. James did not receive the recognition he was due, much less the pay, and never worked with Rattenbury again.

Victoria society, however, couldn’t have been more delighted with their newest playground. The centerpiece and main attraction of Crystal Garden was a huge, tepid saltwater pool. There were changing rooms, lockers and showers for the swimmers, and bleachers for observers. Tea could be enjoyed on the mezzanine level. Separate men’s and women’s hot Turkish baths were on the north end, gymnasium, dance floor (complete with alcoves for orchestra), and banquet hall on the south end. A beauty shop and soda fountain rounded out the Garden’s offerings.

For more than 40 years, Victoria citizens enjoyed swimming lessons, play, and dancing in their pleasure palace, but by 1971, humidity and time had taken their toll, and a new municipal pool was built on the outskirts of the city.

In 1980, under the management of the Provincial Capital Commission, Crystal Garden, reconstructed and revitalized, was reborn as a "tropical paradise under glass." At the re-named Crystal Garden Conservation Centre, endangered species of birds, mammals and reptiles resided among luxuriantly growing exotic plants in this oversized greenhouse. While in Victoria in 1999, my daughter and I visited the conservatory, particularly to experience the butterfly room, housing 60 varieties of colorful butterflies. In the open, airy environment, both plants and animals seemed to be thriving.

Little did we know that, much to many Victoria residents' sadness and disapproval, only five years later, this second incarnation of Crystal Garden was to end. During our stay in Victoria in summer 2005, we learned that the bathhouse/zoo/botanical gardens were being replaced with a multi-media attraction, the BC Experience. Promoters describe it as an innovative, interactive, multi-sensory geographic tourism attraction that will incorporate high definition theatre, relief maps, object theatre, performers and children’s learn and play areas. This newest incarnation of Crystal Garden is due to open early summer 2006.

Pictorial Victoria

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by btwood2 on May 26, 2006

In one week, we barely were able to scratch the surface of the varied and many-faceted neighborhoods of Victoria, but what we saw and experienced delighted us and kept us out there exploring all week long. Not only is Victoria a very pretty city overall, but it’s divided into distinctive areas each with their particular charms. This photo tour will highlight some of our favorite places.

Water, water, everywhere: As the Coho Ferry pulled into The Inner Harbour on our arrival, we got our first impressive views of Victoria. Actually, these were Bob’s first views and my second "first" views, since our three-generational (Oma-me-Saskia) cruise ship visit of 1999. Big cruise ships dock at Ogden Point, south of the harbor. Here’s the Holland-America Oosterdam docking late one afternoon.


On the Coho, the captain orders all vehicle drivers and riders below about halfway into the harbor. We dawdled as long as we could. On the departure trip, however, once parked, we were free to scurry up topship. The Inner Harbour teems with constant activity – in the water, above it, and on its edges and bridges. Several times from shore, we saw the Coho coming and going.

Coho Ferry


The Empress Hotel vies with Parliament for most eye-catching, harbor-front property. Both historic buildings were creations of architect Francis Rattenbury, a colorful and eventually tragic figure in this city’s history. Originally a Canadian-Pacific Railroad hotel, the Empress is now owned and run by mega-luxury resort giant Fairmont. Though its packages and even its famed afternoon high tea were beyond our budget, wandering around the Empress indoors and out is free and enjoyable.

The Empress Hotel


Buskers in Victoria provide entertainment on the streets to passersby every day. Prime and presumably profitable busking locations are the lower level walkways alongside the Inner Harbor, and along Government Street. We enjoyed viewing balancing acts, jugglers, an elaborately costumed statue-still mermaid who suddenly came to life to play the accordion, a lovable clown in puppy dog slippers, and musicians of all kinds. Certainly worth ridding your pockets of change or even a bill or two.

Buskers in Inner Harbour


Bastion Square is between Wharf and Langley Streets, overlooking the Inner Harbour. Old Fort Victoria was erected here in 1843. The cobblestoned square is lined with heritage buildings serving as restaurants and shops, and though we seemed to always miss it, street vendors frequently set up booths to sell their wares. We were sorry we didn’t get a chance to sample The Garlic Rose, a Bastion Square restaurant with a big outdoor patio and great views of the harbor. The Mediterranean menu was reasonably priced, and looking at the meals on people’s plates made us hungry.

Garlic Rose, Bastion Square


A few block north of Bastion Square and directly opposite the blue Johnson Street Bridge lies Market Square. Colorful and quirky, the square houses some unusual shops, most notably, Rubber Rainbow Condom Co..

Market Square


North of Market Square, you’ll find Victoria’s Chinatown. Chinese immigrants from San Francisco first arrived in Victoria in 1858, drawn by the increasing opportunities associated with both coal and gold mining, and later, construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Despite prejudice and discrimination from the dominant society, the Forbidden City thrived, becoming the largest Chinatown in Canada up until the 1920s. More stringent anti-immigration policies and movement to other locales caused Victoria’s Chinatown to decline until the 1980s. In line with revitalization of Victoria’s historic areas, a beautiful new Gate of Harmonious Interest was constructed on Cormorant Street in 1981, a gift from Victoria’s sister city in China, Suzhou.

Tong Ji Men

This is a fascinating area, full of shops, businesses, schools and rebuilding. Fan Tan Alley, four feet wide, three stories tall, and 200 feet long, is anything but new. But instead of the gambling and opium dens of the past, it’s lined with interesting shops. Further into Chinatown, we weren’t the only ones who snapped photos of this crazy art car.

Gummy art car


Yet more watery diversions await us in Victoria. We were moteled at the Travel Inn on Gorge Road. We headed out along the Gorge one afternoon, and found it to be a waterway lined with parks and nice homes. As we watched canoes racing, I was amused by the explicitness of a posted sign along the pathway: Dog owners required to move excrement left by their dogs. Use bags provided. Deposit waste in garbage container. I’d like to hear what excuse a violator of this bylaw would give for not following these step-by-step instructions!

Canoe racing in the Gorge


Another day we checked out posh Oak Bay, taking a scenic drive along the coastline. At Willows Park and Beach, we walked along the Esplanade, where busloads of school kids in red caps and blue T-shirts were frolicking under the trees and on the white sand beach alongside the water. The bay was full of boats, from rubber rafts to kayaks to a group of sailboats out for a sailing lesson. All were basking in the glorious sunshine and invigorating sea breeze.

Sailing lesson

At Oak Bay Marina, the big attraction is feeding the harbor seals. You can buy fish to drop into the water for them; hand feeding could lead to the loss of fingers or worse. These chubby mottled seals are curious and really quite elegant circling one another in the murky blue-green water.

Harbor seals

On Ross Bay, closer in to downtown, people are flying kites, beachcombing among the driftwood, and engaged in other pursuits, such as the two guitarists below being accompanied by percussion of pounding surf, accented by seabird calls.

Bayside concert


Far from being all-inclusive, this pictorial tour offers just bits and pieces of our impressions of a few Victoria neighborhoods. In this kaleidoscopic city there are countless more.

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