What to See & Do in Victoria?
Victoria feels like a bit of Britain, with the same temperate climate, lots of pubs clustered around the Inner Harbour, and High Tea. The city is the western terminus of the Trans-Canada, and prizes its proximity to pretty Oak Bay, Brentwood Bay’s Butchart Gardens, and rugged Sooke to the west. This city is the jumping off point to visiting the rest of Vancouver Island, with its lowland wineries, its interior forests, and Tofino’s west coast waves and whalewatching.
Victoria is located on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island, and is the capital of British Columbia. It is western Canada’s oldest city and is home to the provincial legislature. Its Island location gives it both a temperate climate and natural beauty The City of Victoria has a population of approximately 74,000, but over 300,000 live in the Victoria metropolitan area, which includes several municipalities.
The climate makes the city a sports lover’s paradise, with many activities available year-round including golfing and most water sports (Canada’s Olympic rowing ream trains here). It has excellent sports facilities as a result of hosting the Commonwealth Games a few years go. The city is home to University of Victoria, in the community of Oak Bay, which attracts a lot of young adults to this active city. Not far away are the unequaled splendours of Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast. Macleans magazine recently rated Victoria as the number one city in Canada in which to locate a family business.
Governments at all levels provide a major employment base in the City with 18 of the largest employers coming from the public sector. Many provincial government offices are located in the city, and the Canadian military maintains its Pacific fleet at Esquimalt. This provides for a very stable economic base in a province usually affected by fluctuating resource prices.
Whether it’s a visit to a park, an art gallery or the Island’s mountains, Victoria offers its visitors and residents lots to do every day of the week.
In 1778 James Cook, the famous British captain, first landed at Friendly Cove in Nootka Sound on the western side of Vancouver Island. In 1793 Alexander Mackenzie, working for the fur-trading Northwest Company, took an overland route to reach the Pacific from the eastern side of the Rockies. By 1821, when the North West and Hudson’s Bay companies merged, there were significant forts and trading posts in the area, with farms growing fresh produce to supply travelers, traders and the Royal Navy.
In 1842 HBC Factor James Douglas arrived in Victoria on his ship, the Beaver, arrives and surveys the are in Victoria harbour, and built what became Fort Victoria. Victoria is on the lee (downwind) side of Vancouver Island, and had wide deep harbors and a sheltered location making it an ideal Pacific base for the British Navy. In 1846, the Treaty of Washington establishes the international boundary at the 49th Parallel, and down the middle of the Juan de Fuca Strait. The Royal Navy settles into Esquimalt Bay.
In 1849 the settlement officially became a British Colony, and in 1856, Vancouver island’s first legislature meets. In 1858, gold was discovered in the lower Fraser River, bringing more than 25,000 prospectors (including many who gave up after the California Gold Rush of ’49) , followed by gold finds in the Caribou, and on the Columbia River’s Big Bend, near Revelstoke. Victoria was the jumping-off point for prospectors and grew significantly..
By 1866, the BC and the Victoria Island colonies were united, and in 1871, four years after Canada was given its independence by Britain, BC joined Canadian confederation. On the condition that Canada build a trans-continental railroad. The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885 at Craigellachie, extending as far west as Port Moody, and extended 20 kilometres into Vancouver the following year. Even before the mainland line is connected, the 120 kilometre long Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway is completed in 1884.
Here are a couple of the more interesting neighbourhoods around Victoria (from
North to South, to West):
This charming seaside town of 10,000 is the largest community on the Saanich Peninsula. The town is 2 kilometres south of the Washington State Ferries to Anacortes and the San Juan Islands and to the Swartz Bay BC Ferries Terminal to Tsawwassen. The town is home to the Sidney Marine Mammal and Historical Museum. Just 3 kilometres offshore (and accessible by passenger-only ferry) is the Sidney Spit Marine Park. For those looking for a closer-in marine adventure, take the Sidney Harbour shuttle (250-385-1998) which connects downtown Sidney with the Blue Peter Pub in Tsehum Harbour (on Harbour Road) and then continues to Canoe Bay to the north.
More info about Sidney and North Saanich
This 3,000 person village is appropriately, at the foot of Brentwood Bay. There is a 25 minute ferry to Mill Bay, to get you up-Island without having to drive south through Victoria (it runs every hour and 10 minutes until early evening). The oldest part of town, close to the ferry dock, is known as “Moodyville” and has many weather-worn seaside cottages and even an old English pub. On the southern edge of town alongside Tod Inlet is Butchart Gardens.
More info about Brentwood Bay and Central Saanich
Colwood, Langford and Metchosin
These communities are 18 km west of downtown Victoria. This 13,000 resident town is one of BC’s newest municipalities being incorporated in 1985. The town began as one of four large farms established outside Fort Victoria by the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company, a subsidiary of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The town is named for the residence of EE Langford, who was the operator of the 243 hectare farm. There is a small Goldstream Regional Museum beside the town’s infocentre.
More info about Colwood
This 9,000 inhabitant village sits on the pretty Sooke Harbour, and lies about 25 kilometres west of Colwood. The town is named after the local Indian tribe T’Soke. This is western Canada’s southernmost harbour, protected from the ocean seas by narrow Whiffin Spit. In 1864, miners were dropped off here to work the gold mines on the Sooke and Leech rivers, about 16 kilometres upstream from the sea. The gold rush lasted a year with $100,000 in gold extracted from the area. Sooke continued to grow as a logging and fishing community, and hosts the All Sooke Day (third Saturday in July) which trumpets its logging heritage. The Sooke harbour is about 5 kilometres long, before the waters widen into the larger Sooke Basin. The harbour is excellent for paddling. Often fishermen sell their catches fresh from their boats.
More info about Sooke
Esquimalt’s name comes from a native Indian expression “Es-whoy-malth” which means a shoaling place. Esquimalt is the home of Canada’s navy on the West Coast. The natural harbour was used by ships of the Royal Navy as early as 1837, with the Naval Base formally authorized on June 29, 1865. The base was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1910. The municipality was incorporated in 1912, and today has 17,000 residents. Esquimalt has several heritage buildings and great beaches with Victoria views.
Fisgard and Herald streets at Government
Chinese immigrants in the mid 1800s not only helped exploit the early gold mines but helped build the toughest stretches of the transcontinental railroad. At the turn of the century, opium production was one of Chinatown’s biggest industries. The area, now known as Fan Tan Alley was the centre of the gambling houses. The entrance to Chinatown is guarded by the 11 metre tall Gate of Harmonious Interest which was built in 1981. The two hand-carved stone lions are from Victoria’s sister city in China, Suchow.
Oak Bay, Saanich
The community of Oak Bay is said to be more English than England. The community has lots of little tea houses, many of which offer “snug tea”, a concoction with ameretto and apricot brandy, which was served during prohibition days. Willows Beach is the recreational centrepiece of the community, and hosts the annual Tea Party each June. North of Willows Beach is Uplands Park and the posh Uplands Estates district, which was once a sheep farm for the Hudson’s Bay Company.
More info about Oak Bay and Saanich
Inner Harbour, James Bay
This is the part of Viotoria that most people consider “Victoria” which lies on the west edge of the harbour, with daily ferries to the USA. This part of Victoria, features tons of old colonial era homes and buildings (and post colonial ones, too), government offices, shopping streets (including Chinatown, above), and of course) lots of pubs. At the southern end is Beacon Hill Park and the Trans-Canada’s “Mile 1” (and great views of Washington State’s Olympia Mountains, as well as Victoria’s Cruise Ship Terminal.
More info about the Inner Harbour