In mid-October, we wrapped up our Vancouver Island adventure with a few days in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. It’s kind of like traveling to England without having to cross the Atlantic. Afternoon tea, flower-filled gardens, and horse-drawn carriages trotting along streets lined with grand Victorian architecture are reminders of Victoria’s British colonial past.
But there are other facets of Victoria that we find even more intriguing—the totems in the downtown area, for example, honoring the First Nations that were the original inhabitants here.
We visited Victoria about 15 years ago (pre-RVing), and our most vivid memories were of the excellent Royal British Columbia Museum. We’ve been wanting to return, and that’s where we headed first.
There’s a lot more to the museum than just the First Nations exhibits, but this was the most captivating part for us. The museum focuses not only on the past, but also the present and future of the First Nations peoples.
Victoria is an exceptionally walkable city. Some of the most famous attractions—The Royal British Columbia Museum, the Parliament Buildings, and the Fairmont Empress Hotel—are within a couple of blocks of the Inner Harbour.
It’s also an enjoyable walk along the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf. If you get tired, you can catch one of the cute little water taxis back across the harbour. Or ride one just for fun.
On another day, we joined a free hour-long tour of the ornate BC Parliament Building. Our tour guide was engaging and informative, and even taught us how to greet the Queen, which I’m sure will come in handy someday.
A traditional cedar canoe graces the rotunda in the Parliament Building. It was carved by the Honourable Steven L. Point, the former Lieutenant Governor as well as a former Skowkale First Nation chief, provincial court judge and treaty negotiator. (The canoe is named Shxwtitostel which means “a safe place to cross the river” in Halq’eméylem.)
“Shxwtitostel is a gift to all peoples in British Columbia as a symbol of my belief that we need to create a better understanding amongst all people that we are in the same canoe,” said the Lieutenant Governor. “No matter where you are from, we all need to paddle together.”
It’s worth taking a stroll downtown at night, when the Parliament Building sparkles with thousands of lights. The buildings were first lighted for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and were meant to represent jewels in the night sky.
We got hooked on the tradition of afternoon tea during our weeks on Vancouver Island. It’s such a civilized thing to do, taking a break in the afternoon. We considered high tea at the famed Fairmont Empress Hotel, but changed our minds when we discovered the cost would be $75 per person. Instead, we made our way to Chinatown, where we had organic tea and a slice of flourless chocolate cake at the charming little Venus Sophia Tea Room for about $15, total.
Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada, and the second largest. The colorful buildings and bustling streets speak to the resiliency of the culture and traditions brought to Canada by Chinese immigrants in search of gold (and later, to work on the railroads) more than 150 years ago.
Victoria is famous for its gardens, and of course, Butchart Gardens tops the list. We went to several gardens, but we passed on Butchart. We were there 15 years ago, and while it’s worth a one-time visit, our taste runs more to less formal, less flower-basket filled gardens.
This time we explored the lovely gardens of Beacon Hill Park (conveniently downtown and free), the Government House Gardens (residence of the Lieutenant Governor and free), and the gardens at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. All different, and all definitely worth seeing.
During our stay in Victoria, we also made a couple of day trips to explore nearby areas. On a crisp, early fall day we set out to see Fisgard Lighthouse and Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Park.
Our other out-of-town excursion was a biking adventure. The bike trails in and around Victoria are wonderful repurposed rails-to-trails. There are many miles of trails—we rode about 20 miles on the Galloping Goose Trail near Sooke, some of the prettiest and least urban of the trails.
Our few days in Victoria was the perfect ending to our five week Vancouver Island tour. Would we return to the island? Absolutely. This was one of our top RVing experiences in our four-and-a-half years of full-timing.
About the campground:
There aren’t a lot of options close to Victoria. We stayed at Fort Victoria RV Park, conveniently located just a few miles from downtown Victoria. It’s nothing fancy (although it should be for the price!) but it’s clean, quiet, and offers full-hookups and free internet. Ask for a site away from the highway—it’s much quieter.