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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.