More British Than Britain? “To realize Victoria,” Rudyard Kipling wrote, “you must take all that the eye admires in Bournemouth, Torquay, the Isle of Wight, the Happy Valley at Hong Kong, the Doon, Sorrento, Camp's Bay, add reminiscences of the Thousand Islands and arrange the whole around the Bay of Naples with some Himalayas for the background.”
Yet the capital of British Columbia remains quintessentially British. Along with its tearooms, double-decker buses, horse-drawn tallyho carriages and shops that sell china and woolens, Victoria proudly claims another, much older culture. Totem poles can be seen throughout local parks, reflecting the destination's dual heritage.
Regarded as Canada's gentlest city, Victoria has uncluttered streets, gardens that bloom year-round and hotels that have been serving high tea for decades. Sharing a passion for gardening, Victoria residents tend their prim English-style gardens. The city's innumerable flower beds and hanging baskets, nurtured by its mild climate, bloom in bright displays while the rest of Canada shivers.
The heart of the city curves around the stone-walled Inner Harbour, alive with pleasure craft, fishing boats and coastal shipping vessels. Facing the harbor are the parliament buildings and the block-long, ivy-covered Empress Hotel, a destination for afternoon tea.
Emily Carr, a native of Victoria, devoted her artistic career to capturing on canvas the majestic totem poles carved by the vanishing First Nations civilizations of the Pacific coast. Like those she found in deserted tribal villages, the totems in Thunderbird Park evoke the highly developed ancient culture that dominated the area long before Victoria was settled in the mid-19th century.
Fort Victoria was built by Hudson's Bay Co. in 1843. Six years later Vancouver Island became a crown colony, and as British Columbia's only port, it became a passage to the Fraser Canyon goldfields on the mainland in 1858. Thousands of European and Asian miners descended on the city, forming the nucleus of today's diverse citizenry.
Violence around Bastion Square was so commonplace during this rowdy boomtown period that the Victoria Gazette reported no deaths “from natural causes in the city during the last 30 days.” Local politicians supposedly settled their debates with fist fights.
After the gold fever broke, Victoria began to assume its characteristic cool reserve. Lured by modest land prices, English settlers developed their queen's namesake city into a thriving government and commercial center. In 1868 Victoria became the capital of the newly joined crown colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia and, in 1871 when British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation, it became the capital of the province.
Since commercial supremacy passed to Vancouver after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Victoria has adopted a slower pace with few heavy industries. The city is a center for commercial trade as well as the home of Canada's West Coast naval operations.
The city's strong tourism industry is buoyed by the stream of travelers who come by cruise ship or by ferry from Washington and throughout British Columbia. Those travelers come year round, thanks to Victoria's scenic setting and delightful climate. Flowers bloom all year, and the city only occasionally sees snow.
Victoria's climate and proximity to the Pacific Ocean also provide its citizens an opportunity for an active lifestyle. Marine-based activities such as fishing, sailing, kayaking, canoeing and whale watching are popular, as are bicycling, hiking and exploring neighborhoods and parks.
Whether or not Victoria is more British than Britain remains an ongoing debate among Victoria's residents. Few would contest, however, that nature's blessings have endowed the city with ample charm. No one understood this better than its native First Nations people, the Saanich Nation of Coast Salish, whose totems continue to speak the land's wonder.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
British Columbia has a 5 percent goods and services tax (GST) and a 7 percent provincial sales tax (PST). Expect to pay an additional 3 percent for alcohol. Restaurants and admission fees are exempt from the 7 percent PST. Automobile rental sales tax is $1.50 per day.
Royal Jubilee Hospital, (250) 370-8000; Victoria General Hospital, (250) 727-4212.
812 Wharf St. Victoria, BC V8W 1T3. Phone:(250)953-2033 or (800)663-3883
Victoria International Airport
Hertz, 1640 Electra Blvd., North Saanich, phone (250) 657-0380; and 548 David St., Victoria, phone (250) 952-3765, offers discounts to AAA members. Contact your AAA travel advisor for help with adding a rental car to travel packages.
The BC Ferries Connector, 721 Douglas St., provides daily bus service between Vancouver and Victoria via ferry. The vessels transport personal vehicles; reservations are required. Phone (888) 788-8840.
Taxis charge $3.30 minimum plus $1.93 per kilometre (.6 mi.). Companies include Blue Bird Cabs, (250) 382-2222; Yellow Cab of Victoria, (250) 381-2222; and Victoria Taxi, (250) 383-7111.
BC Transit buses serve Greater Victoria's downtown area 6:30 a.m.-midnight. Fare $2.50 (single boarding); $5 (day pass); free (ages 0-5). Buses run frequently between downtown and the ferry terminal. For route information, phone (250) 382-6161.
Several ferry systems make connections with mainland Canada and the U.S.