Western Canada: To Victoria, Again

Continued from One Night in Calgary

Our first journey to Victoria, British Columbia, during the especially dreary December of 1997, was socked in by gray fog and freezing rain. Thankfully, much of town is festooned with Christmas lights that time of year…or we wouldn’t have been able to see anything at all.

We spent most of our time indoors, hiding in bookstore stacks, Miniature World, and what was then a Canadian novelty to us, Lush Cosmetics.  (Bless those little bath bombs.)

We’d stayed in a sad little B & B on a nondescript residential street, run by a woman with a lazy eye and seven ponytails.  She made us feel uneasy, and killed romance with her very step. We’d heard Victoria was charming, and felt that someday we’d like to give it another chance.

In May 2008, thank goodness we finally did.

Back then, we’d come over from our Seattle vacation for a side trip, taking the interminable (3 hours) and expensive (about $150) Clipper over so that we could (ostensibly) glimpse the San Juan Islands along the way. At that time of year, not so much; through the heavy gloom, the boat’s steward sheepishly indicated the islands with a hand wave in their theoretical direction. The 1-hour seaplane journey back was far more rewarding, with actual views.

This time it was late May 2008, and we flew in on a prop plane from Calgary after a few days in the Canadian Rockies. Our short, extremely early Air Canada flight soared over several parks’ worth of Rockies, and when we arrived an hour-and-a-half later, the Victoria airport, a small, clean gem, couldn’t have been easier to navigate. At the Hertz counter, we were easily able to upgrade our reserved car rental from an economy Yaris to a tricked-out Volvo with power everything — and for four dollars less a day, yet.  Here at last was the car we should have asked for in the Rockies.

Victoria’s airport is set at the end of a long, lush country road bordered by tall pines and cedars, with huge bayside vacation homes visible in leafy patches through the woods. There are properties for sale all over, and you could do a heck of a lot worse than to live here all summer.

Just past a much scruffier First Nations community, we reached the somewhere-in-between neighborhood of Brentwood Bay. The prettiest part of town sits down a hill by the eponymous bay, but on a weekday morning little to nothing is open. When we arrived, at 8am on a Wednesday, more life could be found up the hill in a series of mini-malls. I needed Claritin (late Spring in British Columbia is like a pollen party) and Adam needed coffee and an omelette. The Claritin had to wait until 9am, so we shuffled over to a diner, Ryan’s, for breakfast.  While their decor is early 60s, their tea caddy is an old 1920s stove, and their omelettes are hearty and delicious.  Had I been able to breathe during breakfast, I’m sure it would have been even better.

Antihistamined and fed, we headed to the spectacular Butchart Gardens to at last see it in bloom.

We’re garden people, endlessly excited by perennials, and assure anyone who feels the same that this place is nothing short of dazzling.  Butchart is the product of one wealthy woman’s early 1900s vision of turning her husband’s defunct cement pit into a floral glory.

Rare yellow wisteria, brought here from China, drips over rows of arbors by the entrance. There are azaleas and rhododendrons of every color imaginable, even bright orange. Begonias are as big as your hand. Himalayan poppies glow light blue and lavender in the light.

In late May, the magenta peonies were just blooming, and the first blue delphiniums had started their spires. And we can assure you that even in winter, the Japanese garden is a triumph of composition.

Whether you have a meal here in the English country house of a dining room or are just here to walk around holding hands with your mouths hanging open, it’s a must-do in Victoria.

On this go-round with downtown Victoria, we chose to indulge in the legendary afternoon tea in the garden room of the famous Fairmont Empress Hotel. (Fairmont apparently has a head-lock on the Physically Huge and Iconic Hotels of Canada.)

Turns out they not only have a gorgeous view of Victoria Harbour through the tea room’s arched windows, but also a gluten-free tea service; both my wheat allergy and I got to enjoy ourselves without guilt.  Sadly, the potato bread used for the finger sandwiches was not actually good — when compared to Adam’s normal-people bread — but there were a few tasty cookies.  So why quibble?  It’s not like we didn’t eat everything in front of us.

When I mentioned that we’d done so well cleaning our tiered plates that we should get a prize, our kindly waiter presented us with containers of the Empress’s Anniversary Blend tea to take with us. Now that’s added value.

After tea we left Victoria and headed up into Southern Vancouver Island, only returning once a few days later to see the fancy homes along Beach Drive.

A winding street overlooking the ocean, you’ll find a park for strolling, some Tudors, some Georgian, some Arts & Crafts, some ultra-modern — it’s like a combination of Nantucket, San Francisco, LA, and Kennebunkport.  But with Canadian flags…and socialized medicine.

* For more photos of this leg of our Canadian journey, click here.

Continued in Up to The Aerie, Vancouver Island


  1. […] in To Victoria, Again #dd_ajax_float{ background:none repeat scroll 0 0 #FFFFFF; border:1px solid #DDDDDD; float:left; […]

Speak Your Mind