Wildlife Photographer of the Year

January 30, 2016 by Martin Vernon

The Royal BC Museum has welcomed back the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition from the Natural History Museum, London.

The quality of these stunning back-lit photographs becomes apparent when you discover that theyWildlife Photographer of the Year - Royal BC Museum are the top 100 selected out of over 42,000 entries. Many are nothing less than “awesome” (badly over-used word): of which we full of awe.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is open daily until 4th April 2016 at the Museum, by the Inner Harbour in downtown Victoria.

The Royal BC Museum is one of those “must-see” places to visit in Victoria. So much more than a typical museum it brings the past alive through its permanent displays, major summer shows and its ongoing exhibitions. The 2016 summer show will be Mammoths – Giants of the Ice Age.

Allow two or three hours at least just for the floors of permanent displays. An adjoining IMAX big-screen theatre adds to its impact with a continually changing programme of dramatic presentations.

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.

The Inner Harbour of Victoria

January 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

As the kitchen is the heart of the house so the Inner Harbour of Victoria has been its heart for over 150 years. The early pioneers who came to Vancouver Island centred their defences around it and settlements steadily grew out from there. Travelling by water was the easiest option so it became the major trading centre of the region. Today the Inner Harbour has traded trade (ouch!) for tourism attractions and festivals yet it has never left the heart of its people: it is where we celebrate.

Some have the good fortune to enter Victoria’s Inner Harbour by ferry, seaplane or helicopter or they return to it The Inner Harbour of Victoria BCfrom a whale-watching tour. Beyond the busyness of the harbour are some imposing buildings with wonderful character. For these we owe much to Frances Rattenbury who designed the domed British Columbia Parliament Buildings, the classical columned Steamship Terminal now housing the Robert Bateman Centre and, front and centre, the Empress Hotel. Nestled among them, but rectangularly modern, is the Royal BC Museum with its IMAX theatre. Visiting all those will occupy a couple of days so many of our guests pick one or two (the Museum should not be missed) and soak up the vibrant life of the causeway and moorings. You can walk around the harbour and beyond; a lovely stroll on a sunny day. Do pop into the Tourism Victoria Info Centre to gather information about the many places to see and things to do in the Victoria area.

That vibrant life really comes to life with the sights and sounds of the many festivals such as these favourites. In May the Victoria Harbour Boat Show fills the Inner Harbour with 200 vessels and the Swiftsure International Yacht Race brings distant thrills and occasional spills. Street-life is celebrated with the Victoria International Buskers Festival on the causeway and Government Street in July, and the next month everywhere is crowded as 40,000 people and small boats cram in for our biggest annual party, Symphony Splash. The Dragon Boat Festival in August brings vigour and colour. Throughout the summer you can enjoy a browse through the artisan markets at Ship Point and Bastion Square. September visitors may see remarkable art created at the Victoria Chalk Art Festival and, lastly, there’s the fun of the Victoria Lighted Ships and Trucks Parades in early December. One thing is guaranteed: there’s never a dull moment at the Inner Harbour of Victoria.

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.


Victoria’s Chinatown

July 10, 2014 by Martin Vernon

Victoria’s Chinatown, though small, has claims to fame and a bustling character that make it well worth exploring.

  • It is the oldest chinatown in Canada
  • It has the narrowest street in Canada
  • The population 100 years ago was larger than the Victoria downtown population ten years ago

The origins of Victoria’s Chinatown lie in the gold rush of 1858 when Victoria was an entry port for immigrant workers. The Chinese community Victoria's Chinatown - the Gate of Harmonius Interestbecame established servicing the mining operations and later providing a merchandising foundation supporting Victoria. Today’s Chinatown is centred on Fisgard Street with the central feature of the Gate of Harmonious Interest with its stone lions donated by Suzhou, Victoria’s sister city, in 1981.

On Wednesday evenings in the summer, the Chinatown Night Market is held here from 5.00 – 9.00pm – enjoy the entertainment, vendors and, of course, the food.

You can also get the flavour of Chinatown in a favourite section of the Royal BC Museum. As you walk through the reconstructed lanes and houses it is easy too imagine oneself in the teeming life of Victoria’s Chinatown with its shops, gambling dens and opium factories.

Royal BC Museum

November 10, 2013 by Martin Vernon

Step back in time to the Ice Age through to the last century and experience the life of the First Nations and the pioneers at the Royal BC Museum. Victoria is privileged to have one of the finest museums in North America and we guarantee that you’ll enjoy it even if museums are not your style. Forget boring display cabinets, here the past comes alive.

In 1886 there was concern that First Nations archaelogical artifacts, then called Indian Antiquities, Totem Gallery - Royal BC Museumwould be removed from the province so the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria was created to store them, forming the basis of the present First Nations collection of 14,000 native art items and a remarkable 200,000 artifacts. This whole floor at the museum is just one of the reasons you’ll want to spend several hours living in the past of the Pacific North West – perfect for a rainy day!

I love the human element of this museum. You find yourself surrounded by the past, Royal BC Museumwhether among creatures of the Ice Age like this Woolly Mammoth, alongside the early adventurers and pioneers of what became British Columbia, or living with the townspeople of early Victoria with its China Town, merchants and farmers. For a bonus, the museum features special exhibitions; your B&B innkeepers can tell you more about current exhibits.

Afterwards take a break in the museum cafe before sitting down at the BIG screen of the Royal BC Museum IMAX theatre. As you leave, explore the Cultural Precinct just outside the museum including Thunderbird Park and Helmcken House:

Cultural Precinct - Thunderbird Park



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.

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