Victoria British Columbia may be formally part of Canada, but it appears more to be a British city. It has double-decker buses, horse-drawn carriages, tea rooms, a huge, formal, ivy-draped hotel (The Empress), parliament buildings, and flower-lined streets with china, crystal, woolen, and Irish linen shops. And it does all this while retaining totems and other emblems of its native culture.
Victoria was founded in 1843 as Hudson’s Bay Company fort. The island became a crown colony in 1840 and the primary passage to the Fraser goldfields in 1858. The city was designated the capital of the British Columbia Crown Colony in 1868 and the capital of the province in 1871.
The city is very lovely, although a little too sleepy for our tastes. However, we did explore and enjoy several areas.
The Inner Harbor around which the city was built, is lined with stone walls that overlook the marina and its boats and provides views of the huge, impressive, Parliament and Empress Hotel buildings.
Government Street (parts of which are pedestrian-only) and neighboring commercial streets that are lined with stores, galleries, and restaurants with several very British flairs including Victorian-style streetlamps with flower pots hanging from them. Shops that specialize in British goods and pubs that appear more traditionally and ornately British than most we have seen in England (especially Bard & Banker). Bastion Square (just off Government street) is lined with bars and Johnson Street has several late 19th and early 20th-century buildings.
Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, the seat of the provincial parliament, has beautifully carved facades and 12 acres of statue-studded lawns and gardens.
Fairmont Empress Hotel, the primary city landmark since its 1908 opening, is the place for formal afternoon tea. We passed on the large, $90 per person tea with cucumber and watercress sandwiches, scones, jam, pastries, etc., in favor of a more traditional lunch. The lobby of the formal building is also home to a lovely, very non-traditional, multi-piece, cloud-like sculpture whose thousands of facets shimmer in the light.
Government House is the home of the Lieutenant Governor. it has 36 acres of lawn and formal and informal English country gardens, including a lovely rose garden. The estate also has a teahouse and a costume museum. The museum contains uniforms that commemorated the role of indigenous people in the World Wars and a special homage to Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee.
Beacon Hill Park, a fun, nicely landscaped retreat with a wide range of children-friendly attractions and a lovely shore walk along ocean cliffs and driftwood-strewn beaches.
Royal BC Museum which explores the province’s natural and human histories and a large First Peoples gallery (much of which was unfortunately closed for renovation when we were in town). Its grounds also house the island’s first schoolhouse, the 1852 log Helmcken House, a 62-bell carillon and a large collection of Northwest totem poles.
Miniature World, with its dozens of miniature dollhouses, recreated period rooms, dioramas and models of the Canadian Railway European, European castles and circuses (which we chose not to visit).
Craigdarroch Castle, a 39-room castle built by a 19th-century coal baron.
Christ Church Cathedral, a Gothic-style cathedral founded in 1856 with the current structure dating from 1986.
Fisherman’s Wharf with its brightly painted buildings, floating homes, and mostly fast-seafood restaurants.
Chinatown’s Fan Tan Alley is entered on each side by passages that are less than four-feet wide (although it opens somewhat in the center). This made it ideal for housing opium dens, gambling parlors, and other illicit ventures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today is primarily lined with shops that cater to tourists and the Chinese Canadian Museum.
- Bard & Banker. This beautiful Scottish-style pub has a lovely outdoor patio and friendly, helpful service. Unfortunately, our meal was disappointing. The seafood fettuccine, while pretty, was starchy and dry. The pork chop was overcooked. And the sockeye salmon was as rare as the chef was allowed to cook it, but was still overcooked for us. And it was one of the few times on this trip that we had a very disappointing wine from Okanagan Valley—a Summerhill Spadefoot Toad Sangiovese which had strong tannins (despite decanting) and virtually no fruit. Our server felt so badly about our experience that she volunteered suggestions of other restaurants she thought we may prefer.
- Nubo Japanese Tapas, We had hoped to escape the requirement of having to thoroughly cook food here. But, as we learned, all restaurants—even sushi restaurants—have to use flash-frozen fish. While the toro was rather tasteless, we did enjoy the unagi. We were less than impressed with the rest of our dishes. The avocado tempura sounded like a good idea, but the avocado was tasteless and there was far too much tempura breading for our taste. We ran into the same issue with a combination of tempura prawns, scallops, and squid. The chicken thigh yakitori was fatty and the seafood pancake had way too much pancake and too little seafood. While disappointed with the food, we did enjoy a bottle of Dessai 39 sake and the service was very good.
- Nautical Nellie Steak and Seafood restaurant is where we had a lobster roll with bacon. While it was good, we would have preferred less tarragon mayonnaise. The huge summer fruit salad with strawberries, mandarin orange, avocado, gorgonzola cheese, and more on romaine lettuce with charred onion vinaigrette was good. Overall, it was probably the best of our meals in Victoria.
- Commons Kitchens is where we stopped for a Happy Hour with Kusshi and Paradise Cove B.C. oysters. Both had some brine but are a bit more creamy than we prefer.
Overall, our record with Victoria restaurants wasn’t very good. And to make the situation even worse, we didn’t find any place that offered ice wines by the glass. We, therefore, took matters into our own hands by giving ourselves a Canada farewell present: A bottle of 2019 Gehringer Brothers Riesling Ice Wine. A very nice going away gift indeed.