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Victoria: A City of Gardens
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Victoria: A City of Gardens
  Vancouver Island Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

Imagine living in a city where history is written daily and horse-drawn carriages and double- decker buses are a common sight. Where the view from the top (seldom more than seven stories) is a picturesque bay bustling with ferries and cruise ships, or totem poles, or a genuine castle on a hill, or three thousand sparkling lights. Imagine living in a city where twelve foot ceilings are quite ordinary and moonlight streams through stain glass windows. Imagine living in Victoria.

What pleasure it would be to host out-of-town guests. You can drop them off at a bright red double-decker bus where they can get a historical birds-eye view of the city from the upper deck and listen to the latest and earliest gossip -- the price of a house, for example, and who built Craigdarroch Castle. Or you can join them at the Pacific Underseas Garden for a unique encounter with a cavorting octopus and a deep sea diver. Or they can explore a 16th century village, where they can get a good look at a perfect reproduction of Shakespeare's wife Anne Hathaway's thatched-roof cottage and learn how familiar phrases such as room and board got their start.

Victoria is nicknamed the " City of Gardens". I remember in my youth ( while buried deep in Montreal's snowy winters ) reading letters from my cousin who was the first of the family to move out west. She would boast, " ... the grass is always green and flowers bloom all year." Perhaps not quite all year, nevertheless, imagine living in a city where fragrant vibrant color -- from the first blue crocus, to the yellow daffodil, to the violet rhododendron, to the pink azalea, to the blood-red tulip, to the delicate white rose -- covers the landscape most of the time.

How I envy Victoria's lunch crowd able to retreat to the Crystal Gardens -- a glassed-covered jungle oasis with a splendid variety of flowering and tropical plants and exotic birds. The multi- colored Toco Toucan, the endangered Bali Mynah and the Scarlet Macaw, all delightfully squawk and screech off key while guests sup on delicious English tea and dainty sandwiches served under glass. Indeed, Victoria is a potpourri of salt air, chocolates, espressos, teas, and fresh petal scents.

Downtown employees are steps away from the scenic waterfront. Back in the early 1900's, because of a deluge of merchants and gold prospectors, it was the busiest seaport north of San Francisco. Still lively today, street entertainers compete with sailing ships, horses, sea gulls, boat whistles, an underwater plant and sea life garden, a wax museum and a world class museum.

Inside the excellent Royal British Columbia Museum, located next to a forest of totem poles, stands an authentic replica of a pioneer town complete with cobblestone streets, store fronts and a train station. A gallery of history dating back 12,000 years, a gold mine, and a fish cannery are also on display.

Victoria, originally a fort, and named after Queen Victoria by the Hudson Bay Company, was established in 1843. Several of the pioneer homes still exist. The Helmcken House ( 1852 ) and the Craigflower Manor built in 1856 are two of the oldest. Bastion Square, located in the Old Town district is the site of the city's original jail and the first Provincial Court House. These two buildings were built in 1889, the same year the Craigdarroch Castle on the hill and the Parliament buildings overlooking the harbor were completed. The most recent building to be constructed right in the heart of the city is the Victoria Conference Center. Opened in 1989 the structure combines modern facilities with 19th century architecture.

Imagine living in a city where it's hard to detect what's old and what's new. There is a distinction, but the sense is that the whole town is Old Town. Of course, that's not possible in light of the three thousand bulbs that glow on the parliament buildings. That much sparkle not only relaxes the serious nature of government, it lights up your imagination.

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