Happy Victoria Day! Beauty and culture of British Columbia’s capital

 

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Celebrated every year on the last Monday before May 25, Victoria Day is a Canadian public holiday in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday. For many, the date also informally marks the beginning of the summer season.

It’s the last day to ski in Banff at Sunshine Village. Tourism kicks into high gear with many bike, hiking and other shops opening for the summer season.

And one of the grandest celebrations is held in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. The Island Farms Victoria Day Parade is the largest parade of the year on Vancouver Island, so there is no better place to spend your Victoria Day holiday than there!

Previous years parades have featured nearly 150 parade entries – including Canadian and American marching bands, musical floats, cultural entries and festive clowns. It draws tens of thousands of attendees.

I’ve been very lucky, having visited this beautiful capital on several occasions. Victoria has the mildest climate in Canada with gardens that bloom all year.

The wild beauty of the Pacific coast and adventures in the great outdoors are within city limits and ocean and mountain vistas will follow you wherever you go.

My last visit was a couple years ago on a day trip at the end of an Alaskan cruise with Holland America. I enjoyed it so much, both my younger brothers and their wives are taking the cruise this week.

We all saw the fabulous photos from Pippa Middleton this weekend. Little George and his sister Charlotte were so cute!

kate

This fall, B.C. and the Yukon will host the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, better known as Will and Kate, with their two children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte at the invitation of Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

Their visit itinerary has just been released and Victoria will be their first stop on Saturday, Sept. 24 with subsequent visits on Sept. 27, 29 and Oct. 1.

If you’re a royal watcher, such as I’ve become after many trips to London, this is a wonderful chance to see the new royals up close and personal. And you don’t even have to take the 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to cross the pond.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer some travel advice gathered from TourismVictoria.com.

Kate graduated from the University of St. Andrews in 2005 with a 2:1 in History of Art. It was there that she met her future husband Prince William, who enrolled on the same degree before switching to Geography.

Kate has long been passionate about painting, photography and the arts. After joining the Royal Family, Kate chose to support charities and patronages that reflect her arty interests. She is patron of The National Portrait Gallery (which I love) and The Art Room, a charity that works with children who are experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties, to increase their self-esteem and independence through art.

Given her inclination to the arts perhaps Kate would enjoy a visit to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The Gallery, the largest on Vancouver Island, is housed in a combination of contemporary exhibition spaces and the remarkable 1889 Spencer mansion.

The Gallery has an outstanding collection of art from Asia including one of the only authentic Shinto shrines outside of Japan and significant works by celebrated Victoria artist, Emily Carr.

Prince William has a strong connection to the British military. After training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as a cadet, he earned his commission as a second lieutenant, later qualified as a pilot, trained with the navy and underwent helicopter training to work with R.A.F. Search and Rescue until 2013.

The Duke of Cambridge would be fascinated by a tour of Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse. The fort, a National Historic Site, is a West Coast artillery fortress built in the late 1890s to defend Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base and was on active duty from 1895 to 1956. Think of it as our own Fort MacArthur in San Pedro.

Visitors can tour through secret bunkers, explore gun batteries and underground magazines built a century ago, as well as searchlight emplacements and command posts.

He might also enjoy a day at the British Columbia Aviation Museum. Dedicated to preserving aircraft and artifacts, the museum’s society collect, restore and display aircraft and objects related to the history of aviation in Canada, with emphasis on British Columbia aviation history.

Located next to Victoria International Airport (YYJ), the museum is home a variety of historic civilian, commercial and military aircraft, all of which made contributions to British Columbia’s aviation history.

If your grandfather served in World War I and your father served in World War II like mine did, you want to visit the Memorial Room, where you will find artifacts from the wars in which Canadians fought as members of the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force, or Royal Canadian Air Force.

I enjoyed a walking tour of this beautiful city on my last trip. Want to learn more about Victoria’s regal connections? Take a walking tour with Come See Victoria and hear stories about the royal family’s connections to the city, from Queen Victoria herself, Edward (of Mrs. Simpson fame), and Elizabeth, of course

Or what could be more British than a ride in an authentic London cab? Flag down The Victoria London Taxi, an original 1970 Austin FX4, and take a tour of the city, head out to Butchart Gardens or sample local wine in the Cowichan Valley.

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If you love gardens as much as I do, be sure to stop at Butchart Gardens. It’s amazing how they transformed an abandoned quarry pit. Maybe we can do something like it in the gravel pits in Irwindale!

Robert Pim Butchart, a pioneer in the thriving North American cement industry, was attracted to Canada’s West Coast by rich limestone deposits. In 1904, he developed a quarry and built a cement plant at Tod Inlet (on Vancouver Island) to satisfy Portland cement demand from San Francisco to Victoria.

His wife, Jennie, became the company’s chemist. As Butchart exhausted limestone deposits, his enterprising wife made plans to create something of beauty in the gigantic exhausted pit.

From farmland nearby, she had tons of top soil brought in by horse and cart and used it to line the floor of the abandoned quarry. Little by little, the quarry blossomed into the spectacular sunken garden.

Between 1906 and 1929, the Butcharts created a Japanese Garden on the seaside, an Italian Garden on their former tennis court and a beautiful Rose Garden. The renown of Mrs. Butchart’s gardening quickly spread. By the 1920s more than fifty thousand people visited her garden each year.

In 2004, The Gardens was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

Back in Victoria, you can also walk back in time with a Discover the Past tour. Author, historian and lecturer John Adams guides three sets of tours – Ghostly Walks, Chinatown Walks and Discovery Walks – that will introduce you to Victoria’s rich history in an unforgettable way.

So, why not make Victoria your summer destination? Chances are a festival is already happening, or just about to happen. Check out Symphony Splash – Canada’s largest outdoor symphony event – this summer

Not on a cruise and need a place to stay? I love the grand historic hotels run by the Fairmont chain.

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You can experience the royal treatment at the newly restored Fairmont Empress. The hotel’s regal connection stretches back to 1919 when Edward, Prince of Wales, waltzed into the dawn in the Crystal Ballroom.

In 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth experienced afternoon tea at the historic property.  The Fairmont Empress Tea China was originally presented to King George V in 1914 upon the opening of the Booth factory in Stoke-on-Trent, England.

The china was first used by The Empress in 1939 for the Royal visit and is still used to this day. The pattern is now produced by William Edwards exclusively for The Fairmont Empress.

More recently the hotel welcomed Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for a Golden Jubilee luncheon in 2002.

Regarded as a Condé Nast Readers’ Choice and Gold List hotel, and honored with the Travel + Leisure distinction as a top Canadian hotel, the Fairmont Empress graces Victoria’s sparkling Inner Harbour. The luxury hotel offers 464 beautifully appointed guest rooms and suites.

Of course, there are many things to do and see in Victoria. At the Royal BC Museum, the largest museum in British Columbia, you can follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs or slide back in time to the Ice Age, see how the fur trade touched and forever changed the lives of BC’s First Peoples.

Or climb aboard Captain Vancouver’s ship as she anchors in the Nootka Sound, then stroll through a forest for a visit with a cougar or grizzly bear. Lose yourself in British Columbia history at the BC Archives: a collection of photographs, documents, maps and historical records.

With its mild weather, Victoria is the bicycling capital of Canada. According to the Government of Canada, more people commute by bicycle per capita than any other Canadian destination, as it is truly the best way to see the city!

You can explore Victoria on your own by using the city’s many bike lanes and cyclist-friendly streets or along the Galloping Goose and Lochside Regional trails – a massive trail network streching for over 90km from Swartz Bay ferry terminal all the way to Sooke – or by using one of the following rental and tour companies: CycleBC.ca, Cycle Treks and The Pedaler.

Happy Victoria Day!

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