We had a lot of fond memories of Vancouver Island but, as usual, we really enjoy exploring on our own. In this case, we had finished with our visiting and were exploring some of the Island in the few days that we had before returning. Our accommodations were based centrally in Port Alberni and for two days we drove from there to the Pacific coast. On the way, we enjoyed driving through the the central range of mountains - including a stop at this stream as we neared the coast.
Flowers at the Butchart Gardens
If you are into gardening or want to see a perfect floral landscape, go to the Butchart Gardens. Located just north of Victoria, these gardens offer a diverse collection of flowers in a park-like setting. You can also use a flower guide to help with the identification of the flowers. This is also a great place to relax and stroll.
Historic Chinatown in Victoria
Victoria's historic Chinatown serves as a visual reminder of Canada's first Chinese settlers. This Chinatown once had the largest Chinese community in Canada. Now it is a small and peaceful section of Victoria with old, interesting architecture. Many of the buildings are marked with their names and the year they were built. So I strongly recommend this architectural tour of Chinatown.
CITY of GARDENS
Victoria is world renowned as the City of Gardens.
With the mildest climate in Canada, Victoria and its gardens are in bloom year-round.
From the perfectly-groomed grounds of The Butchart Gardens and the city's signature flower baskets that grace downtown lamp posts to nearly every city park and neighbourhood, it is evident that Victorians are passionate about gardening.
Every February, while most Canadians are still shovelling snow and relying on heaters to keep warm, Victorians are counting flowers!
The Annual Flower Count encourages residents and visitors to report the number of blossoms in their flowerbeds or on their neighbourhood trees. The grand total is celebrated as a farewell to winter and as a welcome to an early spring.
While every year is a little different, Victoria's gardens tend to follow the same annual pattern over the long growing season.
In early spring, millions of daffodils bloom through March and April, followed by tulips in May.
Rhododendrons also begin to bloom in April and May also sees lilacs and flowering cherry and dogwood trees burst into flower.
Roses of all types are at their peak in June. In midsummer, gardens are bright with perennials and annuals.
Late summer and early fall see colourful hydrangeas, begonias, gladiolas, dahlias and chrysanthemums paint the landscape.
A city with multiple identities?
A Victoria resident explained to me that Victoria has three faces:
1. The touristy face
This is the Victoria that is marketed as being more British than Britain, where attractions such as high tea at the Empress, double decker bus tours, horse-drawn carriages, flower baskets, and quaint architecture define the city. This touristy face is also evident by attractions such as the Undersea Gardens, the Wax Museum, and shops that are immediately around the Empress Hotel. Generally this is the side of Victoria that plays little to no part in the daily lives of the majority of local Victorians.
2. The government face
Victoria is the capital city of the province of British Columbia, and it's where all the provincial politicians come to have their meetings. It's not so evident day by day, as the government workers and politicians are somewhat elusive, although perhaps it's more obvious on the seaplanes and helicopters where you'll occasionally spot nose-in-newspaper briefcase carrying politicians commuting to Victoria. Political protests that occur in front of the Parliament Building may also give you such a hint.
3. The local face
Once you get away from the Inner Harbour, you begin to see the real Victoria that the locals interact with on a daily basis. The supposed Britishness disappears and turns into a relatively scenic Canadian city on the water. Most Victorians don't identify with Victoria's British colonial history, but instead praise their city for the opportunities it provides. These include the relaxed atmosphere, the independent arts and music scene, the surprising amount of restaurants for a city its size, the non-touristy shops, the University of Victoria, and a wealth of year-round outdoor activities, whether that means sea kayaking, sailing, gardening year round (a rarity in Canada), hiking, mountain biking, skiing (on Mount Washington), camping, rock-climbing (at Strathcona Park), or even island-hopping to the nearby Gulf and San Juan Islands.