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.

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.


The 49th Parallel – Where shall we draw the line?

May 20, 2013 by Martin Vernon

In this Victoria travel blog concerning tourism and hospitality it is quite acceptable to discuss geography and history but surely not politics. At our B&B breakfast tables we try to downplay discussions on two topics: religion and politics.

But politics will dominate here. Not boring local politics, even provincial or state politics (our province is now temporarily littered with undesirable multi-coloured election placards), but international politics. This is about power politics, of distant statesmen deciding our lives. They even decided on a part of your life when you thought of visiting Victoria, that pleasant city with its English and Scottish gentility…

The 49th Parallel

In an earlier blog post we referred to the fact that Victoria is sited south of the 49th Parallel. Victoria was established in1843 at the site of a Hudson’s Bay Company fort. Three years later the 49th parallel was accepted as the international boundary by the British and American governments. However they failed to recognise its implication (sound familiar?). One example was the question: were the San Juan Islands British or American? The map will explain why this question arose.

Victoria, BC - 49th Parallel

This proved to be not an academic question. In 1859 an American on the San Juans shot a Hudson’s Bay Company (ie British) pig. The British tried to arrest him, then the US Infantry turned up followed by the British navy. “The Pig War” was brewing – over a dead pig! Both countries faced each other for 12 years until 1871 when Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany was asked to arbitrate. Over a year later he ruled in favour of the United States, establishing the final boundary between the United States and Canada. So a German ruler decided, from several thousand miles away, who should live in which country.

Quirks still exist, as seen at Point Roberts since the 49th parallel cuts through the southern tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula leaving a small piece of US territory (population of just 1,300) which cannot be reached by land from the USA, only via Canada.

It is thanks to Kaiser Wilhelm that the international line dipped south of the 49th parallel retaining Victoria within Canada. Might the city you are visiting be much different had the 49th parallel border line been continued across Vancouver Island, as on the Tsawwassen Peninsula? Would you be taking afternoon high tea? Would people insert “eh” unnecessarily into their speech (listen for it)? Would Mr Butchart have set up his cement company here, resulting now in the Butchart Gardens?

We think this a good thing, for it is our accustomed home, and we are glad to welcome you to this south western tip of Canada, from wherever you came.

Little known facts about Victoria BC

April 10, 2013 by Best Inns of Victoria

This is the first real post on our Victoria BC blog so, before we get into news and events, let’s set the scene.

Victoria has its share of little known facts, some being sheer oddities. If you are planning to visit Victoria for a vacation break you may find these interesting.

1.    Everyone knows that USA is south of the 49th parallel and Canada north of that line of latitude. But not Victoria!

2.    Victoria is on Vancouver Island not on Victoria Island. You’d be surprised at how many people get rather confused. Some think they can drive here (I hope they have lots of air in their tyres.)

3.    We’d better add for that last point that you can reach Victoria easily by air to Victoria International Airport, by numerous ferry services from both USA and Canada, or even by float plane services into the Inner Harbour. If you want to swim you may have to dodge killer whales.

4.    The city is named after Queen Victoria and was established as a Hudson’s Bay fort in 1843. These days the area consists of 13 different municipalities all with their own bureaucracies – 13 mayors, 91 councillors and bylaws galore (do you really want to live here?). This affects visitors in two ways: taxes differ and your GPS may want you to replace “Victoria” by “Saanich” or “Oak Bay” etc.

5.    345,000 people call Greater Victoria BC home, in one of the most beautiful areas you could live. It is thus a popular retirement haven.

6.    In 1855 the B.C. gold rush increased Victoria’s population from 300 to 5,000 within a few days.

Early Victoria BC - Caleb Pike House

From this …

7.    100 years ago travel here was by dirt tracks or by three, yes three, separate railway routes between Victoria and Sidney. This is remarkable – think of a community 16 miles / 25 km from you and then imagine that 100 years ago (when the population was much smaller) there were three railway routes to it.

8.    Victoria has more restaurants per capita in North America than any other city, apart from San Francisco.

Inner Harbour Victoria BC

… to this.

9.    Average maximum temperatures in the summer are 25C / 75F and in winter 0C / 32F. Victoria is the second sunniest place in BC and its rainfall is the lowest on the BC coastline. This last winter most parts of Victoria had no snow at all though we usually expect a small amount. The plant zone of 7 results in an immensely wide range of plants thriving, as seen in the many public gardens and parks.

10.    Each February residents count their flower blooms, pointedly reminding snow-bound Canada about our climate. The record is 21 billion blooms in 2010.

So come and explore. Your Victoria BC B&B innkeepers will be glad to tell you more.

A new bed and breakfast blog

March 28, 2013 by Best Inns of Victoria

A new bed and breakfast blog! There are millions of blogs in the world today covering every conceivable topic, including over 62 million WordPress blogs alone. So why another one?

It is Spring and you are pondering where to take your vacation this summer. The options are vast but you narrow them down to a few places including Victoria, British Columbia.

“Perhaps we could go to Victoria on Vancouver Island?”
“Yes, I’ve heard that it’s a nice place but is there much to do there?”

Our Victoria bed and breakfast blog is here to answer that question … and it is going to take dozens of blog posts to get close to answering it.

So much to do, so little time

You want to cram in as much as possible, yet relax at the same time. This blog is here to present a wide variety of options to help you make your vacation in Victoria the very best it can be.

One note of caution. At our B&Bs we receive one complaint again and again. It usually pops up as guests are leaving. They say plaintively “We wish we’d stayed longer. If only we’d known there was so much to do here.” So do read on – this bed and breakfast blog will prepare you for a great visit optimizing your time in Victoria.

“So much to do, so little time” sounds like a line from my favourite comic strip character, Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes). A Louis Armstrong song “So Little Time (So Much To Do)” talks of insufficient time for dreams to come true yet offers the possibility of achieving this by sailing to a magic land and exploring its roads. So come and explore!

We will present an array of attractions, places to see and things to do, festivals and events, places to burn off calories and to load them up, places to make a dent in your credit card and others where you leave it untouched. In short … memories.

Additionally, when you are here, your Victoria bed and breakfast hosts will be delighted to pass on suggestions from their own local knowledge.

So why not add this to your Favourites or click on the RSS feed button (very bottom right of this page – it has a dot and two curving lines) to receive regular updates about Victoria from our bed and breakfast blog? We’ll write about three times a month with interesting articles and news topics to keep you informed and help you plan your visit to Victoria.

Victoria bed and breakfast blog - Best Inns of Victoria BC

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