Artists and Artisans Shows and Tours

October 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Walking through an art show this past weekend reminded me how blessed we are in the Victoria BC with so much fine art. Artists and artisans shows and tours are held frequently, and galleries and markets present a wide range of artworks. What struck us most was the sheer high quality from nearly 300 artists at the juried Sidney Fine Art Show (see an award winner below). Yes, we have the big names like Robert Bateman but there are hundreds of leading artists in their differing fields.There’s something about the lifestyle on the West coast that draws those of an artistic mindset.

To discover these you can take three geographically-based tours which are appreciated on relaxed self-guided routes.Artists and Artisans Shows and Tours - Victoria BC - Deborah Tilby

  • The Stinking Fish Studio Tour is held every July throughout Metchosin, west of Victoria. Juried artists present paintings and photographs, pottery and sculpture, woodworking and printmaking, creative fibres and jewellery at over 20 studios.
  • The Saanich Peninsula Studio Tour takes place on 24th and 25th October 2015 at 18 studios on the Saanich Peninsula just north of Victoria BC.
  • Visit 28 artisans on Salt Spring Island on their self-guided studio tour on a day trip from Victoria.

In August Arts and Music in the Gardens at HCP showcases 60 local artists in a delightful setting.

The Stinking Fish artists have a fall show on 14th and 15th November 2015 at the West Mont Montessori School, 4075 Metchosin Road near Witty’s Lagoon.

Downtown VIctoria has galleries presenting west coast and aboriginal art,traditional and contemporary. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are certainly well-endowed with talent.

Day trips from Victoria

October 10, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Consider taking day trips from Victoria when planning your visit to Vancouver Island. Your base at a Victoria bed and breakfast gives the opportunity to explore so much more than the obvious tourist attractions. Yes, you’ll need a car but the flexibility this provides will reward amply. Here is our guide to day trips from Victoria BC, from half a day to very long ones.

You’ll visit the more populated east coast or the rugged west coast or go further afield. Forests are everywhere it seems, with small communities, farms and wineries here and there. Do adjust these personally, omitting some places and allowing time to make an impulse side-trip. And take a picnic.

A. The east coast of Vancouver Island

The #1 highway is our main route (starting along Douglas Street in downtown Victoria). After about 15 minutes you reach Goldstream Park, a local favourite. Walking through the old growth forest with its primeval atmosphere you may encounter waterfalls or even an abandoned gold mine. The stream is renowned for the annual salmon spawning run in November and December. Beyond it a flood plain opens up with an eagle viewing platform.

The highway goes north and rises along the Malahat Drive with scenic viewpoints towards the Saanich Peninsula. After a descent you enter the wine country of Vancouver Island in the Cobble Hill and Cowichan Valley areas. Stop for samples and liquid souvenirs. An easterly detour can take you to the community of Cowichan Bay or a westerly one to the impressive timber Kinsol Trestle bridge beyond Shawnigan Lake.

Duncan is the main town on the route, known for its totem poles in the downtown area. The Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre will give insights into the aboriginal life that is strong in this area. Just north of the town is the BC Forest Discovery Centre, a fascinating place for young and old alike. Take the train around its grounds and explore forestry artefacts.

Forestry brought the little town of Chemainus into existence and as the industry declined so did the town until it rediscovered itself as “The little town that did” largely through over 35 murals illustrating local history. Many of us in Victoria make a summer visit to the Chemainus Theatre Festival.

Day trips from Victoria - Chemainus murals

B. Tour A combined with Salt Spring Island

A full day circular tour takes in highlights of the east coast of Vancouver Island with a ferry ride to Salt Spring Island, then a ferry ride to Swartz Bay at the northern end of the Saanich Peninsular. This is described on this round trip from Victoria.

C. Salt Spring Island

The largest of the Canadian Gulf Island is a great setting for relaxed exploration. Here are some ideas for your visit to Salt Spring Island, perhaps on a Saturday to wander through the Ganges market.

D. The west coast of Vancouver Island

Start on Highway #1 but exit for Sooke after about 10-15 minutes. After an uninspiring drive through shopping centres and suburbs the road (Highway #14) suddenly opens up to natural beauty. This beauty is best seen at the various parks, mostly coastal, in the Metchosin and Sooke areas. Here’s a guide to exploring Sooke parks showing many places for gentle walks or stiff hikes. Continue past Sooke for about 20 minutes to French Beach and stroll along the beach-side path.

E. Do you like to drive long distances?

Two tours could be made by those who enjoy the long haul.

Firstly, Vancouver Island top to bottom, or, to be more precise, from bottom to top and back again (my school geography teacher said there is no top to a map but you know what I mean). I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this but our Saskatchewan friend Lawrence enjoyed doing so, 500km each way, Victoria to Port Hardy.

Secondly, visit the Canadian Rocky Mountains from Victoria (no need to live out of a suitcase staying at B&B after B&B). Ask your hosts if you can have a packed breakfast, make an early start and you could be in Hope in the mountains by coffee time. Take Highway #17 when reaching the mainland and drive through the farming lands of Delta and the Fraser Valley.



A round trip from Victoria

September 30, 2014 by Martin Vernon

A visit to Victoria is so much more memorable when you drive around southern Vancouver Island and see the context in which the city is placed. A round trip from Victoria, including visits to Chemainus and Salt Spring Island, will do this superbly. So consider taking this tour, but be flexible: if somewhere along the way takes your fancy, explore it.

We’re going to start with a drive along Highway #1 (it begins in downtown Victoria as Douglas Street), heading north “up island” (as the locals say). Once out of the suburbs you soon pass Goldstream Park which is particularly good for a stroll in December when the salmon spawn. But we’ll press on, up “The Malahat Drive” as the highway climbs offering a couple of good scenic viewpoints looking down onto the Saanich Peninsula. 7km south of Duncan you could stop at Whippletree Junction to browse through the crafts and furnishings stores in a dozen 100 year old houses.

Duncan, “The City of Totems”, has a boring thoroughfare so turn off to the left to view some of the 80 totem poles in the town, a recognition of a significant First Nations presence. Next you’ll pass the BC Forest Discovery Centre as the highway continues north on Vancouver Island.

Chemainus murals on Vancouver Island
After about ten minutes we come to a delightful place to explore: Chemainus “The Little Town that Did”. This little town’s life was dependent on forestry and the pulp mills so its future looked grim as the mills closed and forestry slumped in a recession 35 years ago. The solution? Tourism. The means? Murals.

Today the town has a steady dual economy to the benefit of locals and visitors alike. Following the murals trail takes us to over 40 murals illustrating the history of the town: its origins, people and the forestry. Fascinating.

It is possible that you’ll want to do no more than take further explorations of this part of southern Vancouver Island, visiting lakes, beaches and vineyards.

Or you can move on to complete a round trip from Victoria that will now see us driving a short distance south to Crofton to catch the 20 minute BC Ferries route to Vesuvius Bay on Salt Spring Island.

Below we see that little ferry arriving at the island. Does the thought “I wish I was there” come to mind? It was taken while we had a beach picnic after a self-guided driving tour around some of the artisans studios.

If time is short you could just drive to Ganges the main village where there are artists stores selling locally made ceramics, clothing, glass, jewellery and much more, for Salt Spring is an artistic haven. Your visit might coincide with one of the markets – the Saturday market is excellent. Three vineyards may be visited too and, if you should have time, do visit the natural scenery of Ruckle Park not far from your exit point, the little ferry terminal at Fulford Harbour where you’ll take the 35 minute cruise back to the Saanich Peninsula to complete your round trip.

Vesuvius Bay - Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island almost seems to live in the past; I love that feeling created by the farmsteads, cabins, pretty churches all set in rolling countryside. You may fall in love with it too.

It will have been a packed day bursting with memories. You’ll want to come back in the future to explore our beautiful land more fully.



A day trip from Victoria

September 20, 2014 by Martin Vernon

When visiting southern Vancouver Island you’ll soon discover that there’s much to see and do but sometimes it’s good to get away on a day trip from Victoria. So let’s hop on a short ferry ride Salt Spring Island vineyardto spend a relaxing day on delightful Salt Spring Island.

The trip begins at the BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay on the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula, 40 minutes from downtown Victoria (yes, you’ll need a car today). The 35 minute crossing to Fulford Harbour slows you down in preparation for the charm which awaits. On arrival you soon discover this, passing farmsteads, pretty churches and the rolling, ever-rolling, picturesque countryside.

But let’s step back a moment to consider the historical context of our trip. Salt Spring Island is Coast Salish territory (one reserve remains) on which white settlement began in 1859. Named after the salt springs found there, with the main village of Ganges named after a battleship which carried out land surveys prior to the settlement. It is the largest of the southern Gulf Island with a population of 10,000+.

Salt Spring Island rightly has a reputation for a relaxed lifestyle in a pastoral setting. It has attracted interesting people, something of a hippy haven, who have settled on the 200+ farmsteads or in quirky cabins – painters, jewellery designers, potters, basket weavers, woodworkers, glass makers and the like. Discovering these is well organised with a studio tour and markets. We took the short drive to Ganges for the Saturday market and were so impressed. About 140 artisans were proudly presenting their wares which were of a consistent high quality. Note: do not bring food with you, buy it from the food booths which will make you salivate! Then we were faced with many purchase temptations as we wandered around some of the artistic stores in the village.

Next was the Salt Spring Studio Tour. This self-guided tour passes by 30 local artisans throughout the island so it’s a good excuse to take a snoop too. We discovered that the Saturday bustle was restricted to Ganges while the rest of the island was wonderfully quiet. We passed the northern point called Southey Point (my italics). So after a while we found a beach for a picnic and snoozed to the lapping waves. Driving back to Fulford Harbour there are three more pleasures to enjoy. Firstly, sampling wines at two of the vineyards and then driving to scenic 530 hectares Ruckle Park on the SE tip of the island with its 7 km of shoreline.

We brought back bottles of wine and a handwoven basket as souvenirs of our trip but you might consider something very unique to the island. Remarkably, the island has its own legal currency, the Salt Spring dollar, for use in local businesses as an option to the Canadian dollar with which it is always on par, so you might choose to leave with this unusual memento.


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