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The Empress Hotel Victoria.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

French Beach, just outside Victoria.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Natural Bird Sanctuary near Fisgard Lighthouse. Mary feeding the mallards and swans.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Parliament of Victoria
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Victoria: Charming Get A Way with a Taste of Olde England

By Rhonda Spivak, November 1, 2009

When British fur trader James Douglas, first set his eyes on Victoria in 1842,  he  referred to it as “a perfect Eden,”   and wrote that “one might be pardoned for supposing it had dropped from the clouds.”

Today, few visitors to this delightful city with a moderate climate, located on Vancouver Island, would disagree with Douglas’s apt description.  The city, which is the capital of British Columbia, is one where the Pacific  Ocean has carved bays and inlets alongside of which elegant hotels and  meandering walkways have been erected.

Victoria, which Douglas founded,  is built around  the serene waters of the Inner Harbour, where one can walk along the  central causeway and  look out to see sailboats,  classic yachts,  fishing boats, ferries, and others  pass in and of  the harbour. On my visit, the sight of a lone kayak meandering through Inner Harbour stirred up feelings calmness and relaxation.  Visitors are also encouraged to explore the city by taking one of the  Victoria Harbour Ferries, which dock in Inner Harbour.

Victoria’s landmark hotel, which was commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, is  the ivied Empress Hotel, offering  luxurious accommodations.  The hotel, where afternoon teas is still a major tradition, was opened in 1908.  For those not staying at the  Empress, it is worth walking inside it  to get a sense of its opulence, grandeur, and ‘Olde English’ charm.  Other hotels along Inner Harbour, such as the Delta Hotel where this traveler stayed, offer visitors quality accommodations with views of the harbour.

In  front of the  Empress Hotel one will notice the famous street lamps that first appeared in 1913, with  seasonal colourful hanging flower baskets.   It is worth taking a  stroll along the houseboats of  Fisherman’s Wharf  in Inner Harbour, where the  overly well-fed  seals  actually jump out of the water  in anticipation of  their  next supper.

Near the Empress Hotel, is another centerpiece attraction of Victoria, the  provincial legislature.  This superb structure was designed by Francis Rattenbury, a master architect of the late nineteenth century, who was also the architect for the Empress Hotel.  The wrought-iron gate at the main entrance to the legislature wad brought from England, but most of the materials were quarried or mined in British Columbia. A large bronze statute  of Queen Victoria, the city’s namesake, is located in front of the legislature.  When the outline of the legislature is lit up at night,  the Harbour takes on  a majestic feel.

Down town Victoria is dotted with quaint one of a kind  stores, painted in a variety of colours.  Visitors will also notice the hundreds of graceful Victorian era heritage homes in the city, which give it a unique atmosphere.

The heart and soul of Victoria is its expansive ocean vistas that frame all quarters of the city, and have made it a retirement haven for an increasing number of Canadians.   On clear days, the snow capped Olympic Mountains in Washington can be seen in the distance.  The city offers many opportunities  for those who want to engage in water recreation- be it sailing, fishing, or  going on  Orcha whale-watching journeys.

For those with a car, it is recommended to take a drive a little outside the city to discover secluded coves and beaches. This traveler happened upon French beach, about a half hours drive  north of the city. Walking aimlessly down this gorgeous beach to the rhythmic sounds of the ocean’s waves was one of the most authentic and memorable moments of the trip. 
Another personal favourite was a visit to Victoria’s restored Fisgard  Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse on  British Columbia’s coast, first operated in 1859.  But ,  the best sight this visitor came upon is one  that is not  recorded in any travel book.  Near the lighthouse there is a natural bird sanctuary where hundreds of mallards and  white swans congregate.  A retired islander named “Mary” has been coming to this  spot for over ten years  at 12 noon every day to  feed these birds, (whom she can identify one by one) as  amateur and professional photographers  try to  capture this remarkable sight.

It is all part of the magic of  Victoria.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.