New Year celebrations in Victoria BC

December 21, 2015 by Martin Vernon

New Year celebrations in Victoria BC have two distinct opportunities to roll out the old year and welcome in the new. As well as the calendar year, the Chinese New Year is more significant here than in many cities.

Parties and dinners are everywhere in Victoria on New Year’s Eve. Just about every restaurant, pub, club and hotel offers its own brand of celebrations. The sheer variety is impressive: elegantly formal or casual, themed, live music, dancing, and dining options galore. Check with your bed and breakfast innkeeper.

The Chinese New Year on 8th February 2016 is heralded as the new moon rises. New Year celebrations in Victoria BC - the Chinese New YearIn the earlier years of Victoria BC the Chinese community established the oldest Chinatown in Canada as a centre for their community and trading. After a decline, today the influence of the Chinese continues more broadly within the Victoria area and the Chinese New Year is as important as ever. On 14th February, you’ll see cultural demonstrations, displays and parades including dances such as the famous Lion Dance (about 11.00am), all set within the character of Chinatown around Fisgard Street with the Gate of Harmonious Interest and little Fan Tan Alley. Incidentally, the superb Chinatown display at the Royal BC Museum will form the basis of special tours on 2nd, 9th and 11th February at 11.00am.

BC West Coast History

April 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

A relaxing and very enjoyable four-in-one exploration of BC West coast history can be found just west of Victoria, one we recommend to our B&B guests. Combined on one reasonable entry ticket are Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse, both adjoining the Esquimalt Lagoon and close to Hatley Castle.

Fort Rodd Hill was built in 1890 to protect the naval base at nearby Esquimalt. A garrison of 300 were stationed to protect it – from whom you might wonder … Russia. Its military life was brief but some of the buildings remain including three artillery gun batteries with their original guns overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Personally, I get as much pleasure from the pleasing parkland which has softened the military setting and which occasionally plays host to special events. From here it is a short walk to a place everyone enjoys.

This stretch of the wild west coast can be very wild indeed, becoming known as the Graveyard of the Pacific, BC West coast history - Fisgard Lighthousewith hundreds of wrecks lining the west coast of Vancouver Island. Naval ships bound for Esquimalt Harbour passed by, as well as merchant vessels, so a beacon was a clear necessity. In 1860, Fisgard Lighthouse was built, the first on Canada’s west coast. It was automated in 1929. The more recent causeway allows us to walk to the lighthouse and examine its interior giving a sense of life for a lighthouse keeper, with displays of some of the more notorious wrecks.

The lighthouse sits just east of Esquimalt Lagoon, almost fully enclosed by a bar of stones creating a salt-water bird sanctuary, with views to the distant Olympic Mountains. A pleasing place to ponder and wander.

Then, if you’ve the time and inclination nearby Hatley Castle beckons, with an interesting interior and lovely gardens.

You’ll need a car although bus route 39 goes fairly close at its western terminus at Royal Roads University so that you can wander around Hatley Castle and its gardens. GPS co-ordinates for Fort Rodd Hill are Latitude: 48.434821, Longitude: -123.45212.

In a short day you’ll have amassed a sizable amount of our BC West coast history: naval and nautical, natural and nostalgic (four n’s for this four-in-one trip without even trying!).

Exploring parks near Sooke

March 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Last summer, some friends from the UK visited us briefly in Victoria. They like gentle hiking and wanted to get a sense of the natural beauty here on southern Vancouver Island so we spent an enjoyable day exploring parks near Sooke.

Sooke is just a 45 minute drive west from downtown Victoria. Once the suburbs are left behind it’s a pretty drive through pastoral Metchosin towards Sooke. We took Highway 14 but there is a more delightful semi-coastal route along Metchosin Road and Rocky Point Road. Either way, the first stop is to wander along the spit at the Esquimalt Lagoon Bird Sanctuary by Fisgard Lighthouse.

Going along Hwy 14 you’ll pass the 17 Mile House pub (yes, 17 miles from downtown Victoria) Roche Cove, East Sooke, Vancouver Islandand very soon afterwards you turn left at gps 48.393493, -123.629089 onto Gillespie Road, signposted for East Sooke. After a short drive you’ll see the road becomes a bridge over Roche Cove (photo on right) with a parking area before it (gps 48.372687, -123.632694) where there’s as flat a walk as you could hope for: a disused railway track! The 55km / 34 mile long Galloping Goose trail runs from Victoria to beyond Sooke, the route of a railway line built over 100 years ago. Enjoy a peaceful walk along it for a while following Roche Cove before heading back to your car.

Next stop is East Sooke Provincial Park – continue along Gillespie Road into the East Sooke peninsula until you reach a T junction at East Sooke Road where you go left until you turn right on Becher Bay Road at gps 48.340081, -123.631685. The road ends in the lands and orchards of former Aylands Farm, where old meadows combine with natural West coast beauty.  You can select several paths from the park map – our favourite is a coastal one with pleasing views to the Olympic Mountains but it is a bit rugged at times though without climbs.

The last place on our wandering tour is Sooke Potholes (photo below), a ravine of deep potholes in the river bed created during the Ice Age. Return to Hwy 14 and turn left (west) towards the little town of Sooke. Just after you pass Edward Milne Community School take a right turn at Sooke River Road. You will reach several parking areas to access the river and these deep sinkholes which are a popular, though cold, swimming spot in fast-running water. You’ll also see a folly, a partly built stone lodge overlooking the Sooke River. Then either drive west into Sooke or head back to Victoria.

Exploring parks near Sooke - Sooke Potholes

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.


The Top 10 Attractions in Victoria BC

May 10, 2013 by Martin Vernon

This is the time of year when trips are being planned so we think this insider’s guide to the top 10 attractions in Victoria BC is timely.

Attractions in Victoria BC

This list may help you with two key questions:

Is it worth including Victoria in our trip?
How long should we spend there?

Naturally, this has a subjective element but as a rule of thumb we reckon these ten will feature high on the “to do” lists for most of our visitors. You will need a few days to fit in the right balance of activities and rest.

The Butchart Gardens

Over 50 acres of floral drama. The Butchart Gardens evolved from a limestone quarry and fields into a series of beautiful gardens. You will not forget the Sunken Garden or the Japanese Garden. Ask your bed and breakfast hosts about their special events – concerts, illuminations and fireworks. GPS: lat 48.4284207, long -123.36564440000001

Sunken Garden - Butchart Gardens

The Royal BC Museum / IMAX Theatre

Victoria is proud to have one of the top museums in North America. You will be impressed as you enter into life in the pioneer days, even the Ice Age. The First Nations display is exceptional. This is history come to life. GPS: lat 48.42020669999999, long -123.36716130000002

Craigdarroch Castle

From the era when tycoons built their status, Craigdarroch Castle was placed in a commanding position overlooking Victoria. Tour its 1889 Victorian splendour. GPS: lat 48.422507, long -123.34341

Craigdarroch Castle

Inner Harbour

Victoria’s Inner Harbour is the focal point of the city. Here you’ll find the Tourism Victoria information centre adjoining the causeway with its musicians and artists. There’s always an interesting selection of moored boats and you can take a harbour ferry or water taxi. Tour the impressive BC Parliament Buildings.

Whale watching

An unforgettable experience. The three local pods of killer whales (orcas) are sometimes supplemented by transcient pods who conveniently pass through the waters of Vancouver Island during our tourist season. You may also see humpback whales, even a grey whale. Seals and sea lions will fascinate on Race Rocks as your skipper takes you through the Juan de Fuca Strait or Haro Strait in search of more memories.

Orcas - Killer whales

Afternoon tea

Treat yourself to some quintessentially English elegance. There are several venues for Victoria afternoon high tea. Ask your B&B innkeeper for recommendations.

Parks and beaches

The natural beauty of south western Vancouver Island is best seen in its stunning ocean settings and many parks.
For beaches visit: Willows Beach in Oak Bay, Cordova Bay, Witty’s Lagoon and East Sooke Park, and others.
For hiking trails (easy to reasonably arduous): explore Gowlland Tod, Goldstream Park and other parks near your B&B base.

Gowlland Tod park - Vancouver Island parks

Hatley Castle and Gardens, combined with Fisgard Lighthouse / Fort Rodd Hill.

These are all close together so worth a joint visit.
Hatley Castle was built by the same family as Craigdarroch Castle. It’s a pleasure to wander through the gardens, especially the Japanese Garden.
Fort Rodd Hill’s parkland has original gun batteries from the military defences. It overlooks Fisgard Lighthouse, built in 1860 and now with a exhibit about life in a lighthouse.
The mariners lives have been preserved and shipwreck folk lore is still documented at the marine museum called the Fisgard Lighthouse. Hatley Castle GPS: lat 48.4393656, long  -123.47697260000001.

Butterfly Gardens

Enter a tropical jungle full of life; not just 3,000 butterflies but also moths, flamingos, parrots, koi and more. Look for the Great Atlas Moth somewhere within the 200 species of plants at Butterfly Gardens. GPS: lat 48.5644863, long -123.4391642.

Flamingos - Butterfly Gardens

As we wrote, this is a very subjective selection. Your interests may be quite different. Regardless, you will find plenty more information available at your Victoria bed and breakfast.

Go West young man

April 30, 2013 by Martin Vernon

Most people would consider Victoria to be about as far west as one can go but residents here consider Sooke to be the west. In fact, the suburbs of Victoria en route to Sooke are called the Western Communities

In 1865, after the American Civil War, author Horace Greeley encouraged soldiers to “Go West young man”, ie head west and colonise the country. Now arrivals to Victoria are mostly transcient: killer whales, geese and tourists.

Guests at our Victoria B&Bs soon discover that the Victoria area is compact with a great deal to see and do within a short drive. We recommend you rent a car so that you can enjoy all that Victoria offers since there is much more to Victoria than the downtown Inner Harbour.

Sooke and SW Vancouver Island

Sooke is just 45 minutes from downtown Victoria. We do not suggest you merely drive to the little centre of Sooke and return since you’ll be disappointed. But if you add some of these itinerary stops along the way you will have a delightful, memorable day. Your innkeepers can help you prepare the route if you are not pre-prepared.

Hatley Castle

Hatley Castle was built in 1908 by the same family responsible for Craigdarroch Castle. The gardens are particularly enjoyable, once with over 100 gardeners. Compare the Japanese Garden with that in The Butchart Gardens, designed by the same man. GPS: lat 48.4393656, long  -123.47697260000001.

Hatley Castle

Hatley Castle

Fisgard Lighthouse and Fort Rodd Hill

Nearby is this two for one visit. Fort Rodd Hill was established in the 1890s to protect the Esquimalt Naval Base (from whom, one wonders?) and is now a pleasing parkland with gun batteries and assorted military buildings remaining. You then walk down to Fisgard Lighthouse, with the lighthouse in the foreground and Olympic Peninsula rising beyond it. It was built in response to the hundreds of wrecks which occurred along the south western Vancouver Island coastline, “The Graveyard of the Pacific”. The now non-functioning lighthouse houses an exhibit about the life of a lighthouse. GPS lat 48.427085, long -123.46162600000002. You can then walk or drive aling the spit enclosing Esquimalt Lagoon.

Fisgard Lighthouse

Fisgard Lighthouse

Witty’s Lagoon

Follow Metchosin Road to Witty’s Lagoon with its enclosed beaches. Do note that the lagoon changes character significantly with the tides; sand dunes appear when the tide is out. Look for the Sitting Lady waterfall. GPS: lat 48.382005, long -123.53784999999999.

East Sooke Regional Park

You will get an excellent feel for the natural beauty of the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island. East Sooke Regional Park has numerous coastal trails accessed at three places. If you park at Aylands Farm your trail may take you to petroglyths. GPS: lat 48.4284396, long 48.4284396.

East Sooke Regional Park

East Sooke Regional Park

Sooke Potholes

Return to the Sooke Road, Hwy 14, and go west (what else?). If you drive east you will encounter a centre for zip-lining – great fun flying through the trees. Take a right along Sooke River Road for the Sooke Potholes. These deep sinkholes are a popular, though cold, swimming spot in fast-running water. The Galloping Goose trail runs nearby, from Victoria to beyond Sooke – we’ll doubtless talk about this in a future blog post. Look for the ambitious remains of a partly built stone lodge overlooking the Sooke River. GPS: lat 48.4284396, long -123.71239200000002.

Sooke Potholes

Sooke Potholes


Sooke at last! Just beyond the little town, with lunch stop-offs, you turn left onto Whiffin Spit Road to walk along Whiffin Spit. GPS: lat 48.3583483, long 48.3583483.

That’s the end of our Sooke tour but you could consider omitting most of the above places and simply continue your drive past Sooke along the west coast to French Beach, China Beach and more, but that’s another story.

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