Victoria, British Columbia: Fort Victoria founded in 1843, incorporated in 1862, became capitol city of British Columbia when it joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871.
Victoria is not as old and historic as some of the cities on the East Coast, but it is still a city with many classic old buildings. The British Columbia Legislature Building looms solid and stolid over the wide expanse of lawn, harbor, and tourists. We took a tour and, while suitably impressed with the rotunda and the many beautiful panels of stained glass, we were a little disappointed that we could see so little of the massive building.
Just out of the downtown, we found another classic old building. This one actually lays claim to the title of “Castle”. The Craigdarroch Castle was finished in 1890. Prominent businessman and politician Robert Dunsmuir and his wife, Joan, built a lavish home for themselves, overlooking Victoria. It may have been an ostentatious display of wealth, but to me, the home feels lavishly appointed and furnished but never garish.
Among the classic old buildings we like to see are the cathedrals. Maybe it is the English influence, but these did not seem as ornate as many that we have seen in the States. Instead, we found them simple but elegant; more handcrafted wood than gold leaf.
The Royal BC Museum is full of exhibits chronicling the development of Victoria, from the First Nations, to the pioneer days, to the gold rush, to the modern industries. It is a bewildering maze of displays that wander and branch and climb up and down stairs. It was fun to explore, but you might need a guide to find your way out again.
One thing that sets Victoria apart from many cites is that it is on an island. The downtown harbor is a busy jumble of boats, water taxis, seaplanes, ferries, and cruise ships. It is also the starting point for whale watching tours. We booked a tour on a nice big, stable boat and went out to have a look. We saw humpbacks! They come to the surface, blow out a big spray, grab a couple of deep breaths, and then plunge down to the deep water for as long as 15 minutes before surfacing again.
The rest of our time was mostly spent wandering about the town. Victoria seems bigger than it really is. Downtown is a constipated maze of streets with most of them going one-way in the direction I am not. Bicycles are everywhere; both part of the congestion solution and a contributor to it. There is no place to park ANYWHERE, unless you happen onto a lucky spot.
We enjoyed our time in Victoria. The scenery was wonderful: brilliantly colored flowers; deep, dark ocean; tall verdant forests; oddly attired urbanites. We met with new friends and fellow travelers, Diana and Larry, for dinner and a nice sightseeing drive around the island. We enjoyed caesars with our gracious and cordial host, Gary. Great people, nice city.
Next up: Olympia, WA