Victoria / Vancouver Island actractions and tours - West Trek

Victoria

VICTORIA & VANCOUVER ISLAND

The city of Victoria is located on Vancouver Island.

The island is the largest island off the west coast of North America – it’s 500 km long and is about the size of Holland.

It is named in honour of George Vancouver, who explored much of the area between 1791 and 1794.

The island is separated from the mainland by the Georgia Strait and it is separated from the US by the Juan de Fuca strait.

The population of the island is about 700 000.

The mountain range that runs the length of the island is called the Vancouver Island ranges. The highest point is Golden Hinde which is over 2000m.

There are many fjords on the west coast which is why it is difficult to access and remains very remote.  Few people live on the west coast, except for at Tofino, which is a large tourist destination due to its famous surfing at Long Beach and its old growth forest.

The island is covered in temperate rainforests of Douglas fir, red cedar, spruce, and western white pine with some of the largest trees in the world.

The west coast is the wettest place in North America and one of the wettest places in the world besides southern Chile.  Tofino and Ucluelet have over 330cm of rain per year!

In terms of wildlife it is like the mainland although there are no grizzly bears, mountain goat, porcupine, moose, skunk, and coyote however there are many elk, cougars, and many kinds of fish – the Vancouver Island Marmot is endemic to the Island.

Victoria is the capital of BC and the location of the provincial government.

The primary industries are government and tourism

Victoria is closer to the USA than to mainland Canada.

It has a population of about 320 000.

It has a mild climate with a lot less rain than Vancouver – very little snow, always warm, and usually sunny.  The average July temperature is 14 C (57 F.)  The average January temperature is 4 C (39F.)   The average annual rainfall is 120 cm (47in.).  The average annual snowfall is 29 cm (11.4 in.)

Victoria is Western Canada’s oldest city.

Before the Europeans arrived in the 1700’s it was home to the Coast Salish peoples, who still live there now.

The Spanish and British explored the coast with Captain James Cook being the first in 1776

The city of Victoria was founded by the Hudson’s Bay Company on March 14, 1843, as a trading post and fort.

When gold was discovered in BC in 1858 Victoria became the supply base for miners on their way to the Fraser Canyon and its population grew from 300 to over 5000 within a few days.

In 1866 Victoria was politically united with the mainland and in 1871 British Columbia joined Canada

With the completion of the CPR terminus in Vancouver in 1886, Victoria lost its importance as a port and so began to cultivate its “gentility” with a “castle”, Butchart Gardens, the Empress Hotel etc.

Attractions

Beacon Hill Park:  The land was set aside in 1850 as a public reserve.  The park was established in 1882 (older than Banff!).  It is home to many acres of flowers, ponds, a petting zoo, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, a 100 year old cricket field, and the tallest 1 tree totem pole in the world.

Empress Hotel:  Built in 1908 – it started the tourism blitz that has been with Victoria ever since. Originally part of a chain of famous hotels across Canada built by the railway to house its wealthy tourist trade.  Rooms are anywhere from $250 and up per night.

It was designed by Francis Rattenbury ( he also designed the Parliament buildings).  He later returned to England where he was murdered by his chauffeur who was having an affair with his wife.

A Who’s Who of royalty and celebrities have stayed here.

  • Shirley Temple hid from kidnappers here
  • Bob Hope joked about using the corridors as a putting green to practice his golf
  • Barbara Streisand was turned away from Afternoon Tea as she didn’t meet the dress code
  • Rita Hayworth, John Wayne and Lassie (yes, the dog) all slept in the Vice Regal Suite.
  • Peter Lawford (part of the Rat Pack) was kicked out for going overboard in his attempts to seduce a room-service girl.

In March, 1992 a 60 kg cougar was found in the indoor parking lot.  It was initially chased by a hotel employee who thought it was a dog.  He quickly realized his mistake!  It was tranquilized and taken back to the wilds (the cougar that is, not the employee.)

The Tea Room was refurbished for the Centennial celebrations.  Replacing the white oak floor cost $175,000 on its own!

Afternoon Tea has been served since the hotel opened.  It now costs $60!  It’s not about the value of what you are getting as it is about the ambience, history, and experience.  The Empress sells more than 115,000 “teas” every year.  That’s $6.9 million in Afternoon Teas alone! It is not necessarily served in the afternoon. “Afternoon tea” is often served at 9:30 pm.   What do you get for your $60?  Seated in an early 20th century room, served with Royal Doulton china and silver tea service, with a piano player for background music.  On top of tea, there is a three level food platter – “dainty sandwiches”, scones, and pastries.  The scone recipe hasn’t changed in 100 years.  There is a special Centennial Tea on Fridays from May to October in the Library.  It costs $100. It will feature a harpist and upgraded food with lobster and caviar.

Royal British Columbia Museum:  It is Canadas’ most visited museum.  Exhibits include Natural History, First People’s and an Open Ocean exhibit.  It also has an IMAX theater which shows movies every hour on the hour.

Emily Carr house:  Victoria’s most famous artist.  Carr House was built in 1864 and is the birthplace of Emily.  One of Canada foremost painters and writers, she was born in Victoria in 1871.  She studied art in San Francisco, London, and France.  She died in 1945.  The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has a large collection of her work.

Chinatown & the Gate of Harmonious Interest:  Established during the aforementioned gold rush days.  In the 1870s this was the largest Chinatown north of San Francisco – it had a population of nearly 10,000!  It is also the oldest Chinatown in Canada.  The Gate is decorated with ceramic tiles from Taiwan and the two stone lions are from China.  Chinese immigrants came here for the gold rush, stayed to provide services for other workers and settled here long term.  13 factories began producing opium until the turn of the century when it was outlawed.  It is home to Fan Tan alley, the narrowest commercial alley in North America.

Craigdarroch Castle:  This 39 room mansion was built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and completed in 1890.  Unfortunately, Robert died just months before it was completed so he never got to live in it.  It has been used as a military hospital, a college, offices for the school board, and a conservatory of music.  It has four and a half floors and is 25000 square feet.  Dunsmuir arrived in Canada from Scotland as a poor miner but made a fortune in BC in the coal industry.

Helmcken House:  It is the oldest house in BC still on its original site and dates back to 1852. It s fully restored with furniture from the period and provides an interesting look at the life of early pioneers in Canada.  It belonged to a pioneer doctor by the name of John Helmcken.  He married the daughter of James Douglas, Cecilia.  James had the house built for the newlyweds.  John lived to the ripe old age of 96!

Market Square:  It was the centre of the boom town of the later gold mining days.  Saloons, hotels, and shops lined this historic square.  It is still an interesting spot to shop or relax.  It has a restored 19th Century courtyard surrounded by a jumble of shops, restaurants, and offices on three floors.

Bastion Square:  This is the oldest part of Victoria and dates back to the mid-1800s.  It was the original site of Fort Victoria.  It used to be where the jail, courthouse and gallows were located. Now its pubs and shops plus the Maritime Museum.

Parliament Buildings:  They were completed late in 1897.  The formal opening took place on February 10, 1898.  It was the work of Francis Rattenbury.  This building cost nearly one million dollars to construct and it took five years to build.  At night they are lit up by 3,333 light bulbs.  There is a free tour every 30 minutes (during the summer May-Sept).  This is where the government of BC meets.

Butchart Gardens:  It was a limestone quarry excavated by Mr. Butchart until his wife Jenny decided to refurbish it in 1904.  She brought top soil from other places around the island.  To reflect their travels they built a Japanese garden by 1908.  Later they added an Italian garden and a rose garden as well as a sunken garden.  Over the years they acquired sculptures and fountains from around the world.  At present it has a restaurant, a café, and a gift shop and in the summertime has fireworks every Saturday.
There are fifty-five acres of floral displays offering spectacular views as you stroll along meandering paths and expansive lawns.
In 2004 the Gardens were designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
Each year over 1,000,000 bedding plants in some 700 varieties are used throughout the Gardens to ensure uninterrupted blooms from March through October.
Well over a million people visit each year.

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