Category Archives: Victoria – setting the scene

Travelling to Victoria, Vancouver Island

November 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Travelling to Victoria, Vancouver Island is made easy by numerous routes whether travelling by car or plane. Let’s clarify though that there is no bridge connecting Vancouver Island to mainland British Columbia or Washington State, instead several regular ferry services operate year-round.

In August 2015 alone, over 170,000 people came through Victoria International Airport (YYJ) Travelling to Victoria, Vancouver Island - ferriesand 400,000 arrived at BC Ferries Swartz Bay terminal. These visitors, year-round, bring about $1.8 billion dollars revenue to the area (so you are very welcome!). Tourism is important so there are ample services to meet every need. Rental cars are available at the airport or nearby Sidney, and buses and taxis connect both terminals to downtown Victoria.

The BC Ferries terminal is 30km / 20 miles north of Victoria and the airport a little closer, both on the Saanich Peninsula on the SE tip of the island. From Victoria and the peninsula there’s good access to the rest of the Vancouver Island via Hwy 1. As a result, visitors can stay in this area near most of the area attractions and take day trips from Victoria to explore the east or west coasts of the island.

Ferry services also come in to Sidney and to the Inner Harbour of Victoria, some for cars, others passengers only. The Inner Harbour is also served by floatplanes making a dramatic entry to the city.

This blog has much information to help you plan your travel, accommodations and activities. Guide books and the internet will ensure you do not miss any highlights on the island or anywhere else in British Columbia. Incidentally, do check the passport entry requirements before you travel. This article about passports may be handy but be aware that regulations change periodically.

Vancouver Island BC

November 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker which neatly described the character of Vancouver Island BC: Relax! This ain’t the mainland. (Residents of Vancouver Island refer to the rest of BC as “the mainland”.) The relaxed lifestyle is central to our lives on the island; something visitors soon pick up.

The early European explorers in the late 18th century, the Spanish led by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra and the British under George Vancouver seem to have fallen under its spell. Instead of fighting they amicably named it Quadra’s and Vancouver’s Island. Today its indigenous peoples, settlers and tourists happily enjoy the natural beauty and tranquillity.

Its mild climate makes the residents generally content too. Frost and snow are not common and summer temperatures reach a maximum of about 30C/85F with rainfall on the east coast much less than on the “mainland”. My wife and I are trying to grow lemons.

The 800,000 people who call Vancouver Island home live 50% in the greater Victoria area on the south-eastern tip of the island, most of the population being on the eastern side of the island while the west coast retains its rugged isolation. Access to and from the mainland is through ferry routes as well as being well served by airlines.

Saanich Inlet, Vancouver Island BC

460 km (290 miles) north–south and up to 80 km (50 miles) wide, Vancouver Island BC has a reputation for its natural beauty with diverse ecosystems – an abundance of rainforests, mountains, lakes and beaches awaiting exploration. Outdoor recreation is naturally widespread – enjoy some of the thousands of hiking trails in stunning scenery or forests, play golf year-round, take vineyard and winery tours (with souvenirs), visit gardens, make a driving tour or cycle leisurely around the backroads, try zip-lining. Marine adventures are never far way – take a fishing trip, go whale-watching or sailing, see the coast close-up on kayaks or stand-up paddleboards. Then there are museums, art galleries, cultural centres, arts and music festivals, and artisan studios. The cuisine is inspired by the freshly grown, caught or reared. Morning to night (maybe at a B&B) opportunities for activities and inactivities abound.

 

Gold Rush! El Dorado in BC

April 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Victoria can draw some excellent exhibitions since it has one of the finest museums in North America (yes, really) and has the summer crowds to enjoy them. Gold Rush! El Dorado in BC is the major 2015 summer exhibit at the Royal BC Museum, from 13th May until 31st October 2015.

Displays at the Royal BC Museum are always of the highest quality, creatively interesting. So we can enthusiastically anticipate exploring BC’s Gold Rush in the 19th century and view such rare artifacts as the 52oz (1,642 g) Turnagain Nugget.

As a bonus, a big bonus, the exhibition has a further feature, Allure of Gold, showing the role of gold in the lives of indigenous people in Columbia before the Spanish invasion. This will be the only opportunity to view over 100 Colombian gold treasures from the Museo del Oro in Bogota anywhere in North America. This morning I was chatting to a visitor who once lived in Bogota who told me that the Gold Museum is superb, so we have a treat here this summer.

As the above video says “Gold has transformed lives, broken dreams and built empires”. This was certainly true in Victoria. Our sleepy town changed enormously when news of gold in the Fraser Canyon leaked out in spite of attempts by the fur trading companies to keep it a secret. 30,000 hopeful prospectors poured into Victoria harbour in the spring of 1858 to buy supplies and mining permits, many from economically depressed California. They vastly outnumbered the existing population, and the city’s population, demographics and economy changed forever.

Do I need a passport?

April 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Most of us like to travel but few enjoy travelling; the process of getting to our destination is seen as “short term pain for long term gain”. It’s like overcoming a lengthy obstacle course: complying with the growing list of rules and regulations, paying increasing surcharges, passing through ever-more demanding security, waiting for unpredictable times, sitting in cramped planes. Then on arrival there are uncertainties – did our baggage travel with us, did the rental car arrangement process properly, how do we negotiate our way to the blissful place where we can collapse on a bed (such as one of our bed and breakfasts)?

Those rules and regulations include the necessary documentation we need to carry. One of our mental questions in this world of free trade zones is still “Do I need a passport?”. Do I need a passport?The answer is likely to be found for you in one of these Government websites:
Government of Canada – visiting Canada
U.S. Department of State

Passports have an interesting story, going back to the days when travel was much more arduous than today, yes really. We have it easy.

The means of transport for travellers 100 or more years ago were slow, inconvenient and uncomfortable beyond our comprehension with additional bureaucratic issues we do not face. For example, before 1852 a British passport was merely a sheet of paper bearing the royal coat of arms and a signature of the Foreign Secretary, not inconvenient if you knew him or someone he trusted but what if you did not? It was expensive too. At the same time other European countries required descriptions of height, eye colour, eyebrows, nose, mouth and complexion, more like a criminal record check.

On arrival, even for just an overnight stop, until recently, passports were taken away by police for examination. Even some nationals had passports restricting their movements within their own countries. Then to leave the country to go elsewhere one’s passport had to be signed by the foreign ministry so visiting embassies was a frustrating necessity. At this time Germany and Italy were a mass of small states, all with their own regulations; imagine that mess. Occasional terrorist outrages tightened rules all the more (familiar?). The Times wrote “Never was a more senseless custom instituted than that of passports”. Ah the bureacracy! I’m intrigued to see that our own Canadian federal bureaucrats have written an interesting History of Passports in a “Games” section of the Government website. It isn’t always a game.

Take a Peek at Homes in Victoria

March 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

On vacation we often wonder what it is like to live in the area we are visiting. We stop at realtors store windows and compare homes on offer with our own area or with our dreams. We look with curiosity at properties for sale on our travels. It’s fun though rarely taken seriously.

So how can we see behind the facades? Can we take a peek at homes in Victoria? Yes, why not.

Victoria is not an inexpensive place to purchase a home; hardly surprising with our climate, natural beauty and lifestyle. At the time of writing the most expensive real estate in Victoria is a 15,000 square feet waterfront (of course) home on 2.5 acres on the market for $17 million. You won’t get a peek into there easily but how about “everyday” homes where “everyday” Victorians live? Here are some suggestions.

1. Visit Open Houses. Many properties for sale can be seen at an open house, generally on Take a peek at homes in VictoriaSaturday or Sunday afternoons. The Victoria Real Estate Board have listings and a map detailing these. As you drive around visiting attractions, wineries, gardens and the like you’ll pass roadside signs inviting you in tour homes. Accept the invitation. (Though do respect the realtor’s time with serious parties.)

2. Your visit may coincide with a tour of homes in aid of a local charity. (There are some good garden tours too.) Buy a ticket and see some wonderful homes and gardens which will give good insights into ways of life in the Victoria area. For example, Young Life Canada have their 25th annual design self-guided tour of ten homes on 11th and 12th April 2015 to support their work with teenagers in our community.

3. Stay at a bed and breakfast. The property is foremost a home into which guests are offered accommodation. Over breakfast you’ll have the opportunity to learn much about life in Victoria.

 

Guide books and the internet

March 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

What are the roles of guide books and the internet for our travels? Today we are fortunate to have every possible piece of necessary travel information readily accessible. Personally, I like to use both guide books and the internet when planning trips and when travelling.

The word “guide book” came into use in the early 1800’s as a result of early tourism and as a factor which was to shape it. In 1820 there were 13 travel books published in Britain about Italy alone. These guide books were intended originally for use when travelling but soon became indispensable for forward planning. Thus they became very influential in determining where and what people chose to visit. Popular guide books in the Victorian age included Murrays and Baedeker much as we might use Rick Steves or Lonely Planet today.

Guide books and the internet - visiting Victoria on Vancouver Island

How to get there, where to go?

Travelling details were added later so that information about every aspect of a trip, including accommodation recommendations, were presented to the would-be visitor. The author Anthony Trollope wrote in 1861 “In travelling these are the things which really occupy the mind. Where shall I sleep? Is there anything to eat? Can I have my clothes washed?” One reader of an early 19th century guide-book wrote that he was “never at a loss what hotel to go to, what to look for, what to do”.

Then along came the internet! The role of guide books today remains valuable, even if superceded for many by the handiness of smart devices.

In this blog, the Best Inns of Victoria endeavour to provide broad information about Victoria and Vancouver Island, BC, not just about our bed and breakfasts. Do browse through the categories on the right or use the Search box facility. As well as a wide range of tourist articles about the places and events in the area you’ll find a wide variety of blog posts: the weather, interesting facts about Victoria, history – such as the pioneers, prohibition or the 49th Parallel, washrooms (an important topic sometimes), local architecture, and the wildlife of southern Vancouver Island. Our website has much more too, information about accommodations, an area guide including attractions and travel.

Then, when you are here, you’ll have the further benefit of concierge guide information from your bed and breakfast hosts.

The Architect of Victoria – Francis Rattenbury

February 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

We might dispute who is the architect of Victoria – Francis Rattenbury or Samuel Maclure but residents and visitors alike should be grateful to them both for the distinctive stamp they placed on our city. Rattenbury designed a few dominating buildings in significant settings whereas Maclure created many fine homes in residential areas. They were contemporaries working in the same environment though rarely collaborated, partly due to the emphases of their work and partly for reasons of personality.

Francis Rattenbury was born in 1867 and trained as an architect with a leading firm in Yorkshire. BC Legislative Buildings Victoria - Francis RattenburyHe sailed to Vancouver BC in 1892 where he saw a newspaper announcement of a competition to design new buildings for the Legislative Assembly in Victoria. Cunning and manipulative means enabled his entry to defeat the other 66 entrants. At the age of 25 he had grasped the plum commission which led to future prominence and was indicative of his grand architectural style of public buildings. This 500 feet long classical domed building was opened in 1898, proudly overlooking the Inner Harbour of Victoria.

At that time the Inner Harbour consisted of James Bay flowing onto mud flats. These mud flats obstructed access to the Parliament Buildings from the commercial areas, not only an inconvenience but a smelly one too. The City failed to recognise that this undesirable land was prime real estate. They offered the land to the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1903 at no charge and with no taxes for fifteen years, if they would reclaim the land and build a “tourist hotel”. The C.P.R. selected Francis Rattenbury as architect and the Empress Hotel was born.

By now his commissions usually ended in court wrangling as Rattenbury’s unscrupulous ambitions brought him wealth and status but not personal respect. His nickname “Ratz” was doubtless ambiguous. Two buildings of his design now dominated the Inner Harbour, with a third to follow 20 years later; the very different columned Victoria Steamship Terminal, now housing the Robert Bateman Centre.

Rattenbury’s determination and over-riding ambition saw him win conflicts again and again including the commission in 1901, against the odds, to design a new official residence for the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. Cary Castle burnt down in 1957 but its later replacement in the Rockland area, Government House, can be visited today.

One more major project, just behind the Empress Hotel, was to receive his grand interpretation of past architectural traditions: Crystal Garden. The Victoria Chamber of Commerce wanted what we would call today a recreation centre focussing on a swimming pool. Rattenbury’s design was inspired by London’s Crystal Palace with the swimming pool set under a grand greenhouse-style roof. The Crystal Garden proved to be immensely popular, gaining repute by Johnny Weissmulle of “Tarzan” fame setting an indoor swimming world record for 100 yards freestyle in 1925. This is all history now but it is a wonderful setting for part of the Victoria Conference Centre.

His admiration for past architectural heritage, set in a fast growing young city, led him to two conclusions which make him a man for today. One was a concern to preserve trees and create adequate parks. The other, which we have not come to terms with, was a desire to see some civic oversight over the designs along with height restrictions – artistic taste, though subjective, should be implemented.

Success never brought him happiness, with Rattenbury’s marital life bringing his final downfall; no less than his murder in England in 1935 by the lover of his second wife. His wife Alma and her lover received a sensational trial: he was found guilty and sentenced to hang, she committed suicide, then he was reprieved – a sad messy end for all concerned.

The beneficiaries of his inspired but unhappy life are … us. We can appreciate the character of the buildings at the centre of Victoria’s life, the Inner Harbour, and tour his legacies.

Variety is the Spice of Life

December 30, 2014 by Martin Vernon

If, as they say, variety is the spice of life then Victoria is a hot spot. I have been struck by the immense variety of things to see and do in this part of Vancouver Island. If you are thinking of visiting Victoria BC in 2015 you’ll find this array of information helpful for your planning.

For convenience, let’s divide them into:
– things to see, ie the attractions of Victoria, and
– things to do, ie the activities.

Things to see in Victoria

Not all are in the downtown area so it’s good to have use of a car.

The Inner Harbour – strolling the causeway next to the moored boats is always a pleasure. Here you’ll see the Royal BC Museum, a fascinating must-see top-quality museum, with an IMAX theatre too. You can tour the neighbouring BC Parliament Buildings and visit the harbourside Robert Bateman Centre with its collection of wildlife art. The Maritime Museum of BC in Bastion Square presents our rich nautical heritage.

Take a bus or horse-drawn carriage tour for an informative introduction to Victoria or a guided tour on foot. Hop on a harbour ferry or taxi to explore the Inner Harbour and Fisherman’s Wharf.

The best shopping is in the streets running off Government Street as far north as Chinatown.

East of downtown is baronial 19th century Craigdarroch Castle with its restored Victoria interior.

Relax in charming Beacon Hill Park with its old-style stone bridge and its petting zoo. The temperate climate of southern Vancouver Island is perfect for gardens; two of the most popular are The Gardens at HCP and, of course, The Butchart Gardens whose 55 dramatic acres are generally considered the top attraction in British Columbia. Nearby you’ll discover 3,000 butterflies and moths in the tropical jungle at Butterfly Gardens.

The Saanich Peninsula vineyards and wineries offer samplings and excellent souvenir opportunities. Buy a bottle to enjoy at your Victoria B&B in the evening.

Discover the importance of Fisgard Lighthouse to mariners and see the gun batteries at Fort Rodd Hill. These are west of Victoria close to Hatley Castle which was built in 1908 and set in lovely gardens.

Our small communities have their own character – visit the “book town” Sidney-by-the-Sea, or drive to Sooke on the rugged west coast.

– For further information view this summary of attractions with a Victoria BC map.

Inner Harbour Victoria BC The Butchart Gardens - Sunken Garden

 

Things to do in Victoria

It’s so beautiful here: the parks, lakes and beaches cry out to be explored. Take a look at some hiking trails, from easy to moderately challenging. Favourites include Elk / Beaver Lake and Gowlland Tod, and to the west East Sooke and Sooke Potholes parks. Get out and about to discover the natural beauty.

Play golf year-round on over a dozen courses.

Marine recreation is important to the locals (I’m often surprised at how many people own boats) so plan to join them: kayak along the shoreline such as in calm Brentwood Bay or the ocean, take a fishing charter or go scuba diving, discover how sailing tours are sooo relaxing AND don’t forget memorable whale-watching.

Clamber up walls in the world-class Boulders Climbing Gym, or try zip-lining.

Walk or cycle along trails such as the 55km Galloping Goose Trail. There’s horseback riding too.

After all that it’s easy to justify indulging in afternoon tea at one of several venues.

–  –  –

The phrase “variety is the spice of life” was coined by the poet William Cowper some 250 years ago. He was a lover of his natural surroundings and would, I feel, appreciate the beauty of southern Vancouver Island.

 

Public washrooms in Victoria

August 10, 2014 by Martin Vernon

Public washrooms in Victoria may not be the most appealing consideration when visiting our city but at times they may be the most important. You need not have young children in tow or be elderly or have a urinary problem for, as we all know, when the urge comes nothing else matters. So, as a break from chatting about local attractions and events let’s get down to the basics.

“We call it washroom mapping” said my urologist as I told him about driving around Victoria in search of a washroom. We were talking about the need to go, and soon. Fast food restaurants, some cafes, restaurants, hotels and stores may oblige, but they may not. So it’s handy to know where public washrooms, toilets if you will, are located. When planning my last overseas trip, to London and Paris, I included research into these venues as well as the many other places we might like to visit.

Gone are the days of dirty, smelly and unsightly “facilities”. The City of Victoria spent $90,000 for one of them so let’s hope more are coming. However, they are not always easy to find so here’s a guide to help find the public washrooms in Victoria, focusing on the downtown area.

  • Langley Street near Bastion Square – one of those European-style works of art, with hand-washing facilities. Voted Canada’s best restroom.
  • Nearby, in Centennial Square near City Hall
  • Government Street / Pandora Avenue near the McPherson Playhouse. A male urinal but one the ladies will enjoy peeking at with its striking green tubular design.
  • The old standby has always been under the Tourist Information Centre in the Inner Harbour. You may be in line for a while.
  • Fisherman’s Wharf in James Bay just south of downtown
  • Beacon Hill Park near the play area
  • The Bay Centre, in the largest downtown shopping centre
  • Greater Victoria Public Library on Broughton Street

My your visit to Victoria be flushed with success!

 

 

 

 

Best Victoria bed and breakfasts

May 30, 2014 by Martin Vernon

Are you looking for the best Victoria bed and breakfasts? You can’t go far wrong in searching for accommodations in the new Best Bed and Breakfasts of Victoria website.

You’ll find twenty B&Bs located throughout the Victoria area, from downtown to pastoral settings north and west. Best bed and breakfasts of Victoria BCHere you’ll find heritage houses or contemporary homes, urban or rural, with ocean or farmland views, large or small.

All “Best Victoria Bed and Breakfasts” are inspected, licensed and approved with our experienced innkeepers offering warm hospitality (not just “heads in beds”).

Whether you are visiting Victoria and southern Vancouver Island for a vacation break or business, for a celebration or romantic retreat you should check the B&B accommodations listed on this smart new website. The website has guides to travel information and the weather, Victoria attractions and events, gardens and golf, wineries and adventures, museums and the arts, plus recommended places to dine. It’s not only handy but a pleasure to browse through its new-look pages … so take a look and let us help you make your visit an unforgettable one.


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