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Victoria

Capital of British Columbia.

sunny

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Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia. It is an absolutely beautiful city. It is sometimes known as the garden city. A very apt name, because everywhere we went we were surrounded by greenery, trees and flowers. Victoria is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. This area was originally home to several groups of Coast Salish First Nations people. Victoria is named after Queen Victoria and was founded by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1843 as a trading post and fort. In 1858 when gold was discovered in the Frazer River Valley, the population of Victoria rose greatly. Victoria decreased in importance when the Canada Pacific Railway chose Vancouver rather than Victoria to be its terminus city.

On the day we arrived in Victoria we looked at the provincial legislature building, Thunderbird Park, the Empress Hotel, Bastion Square, Market Square, Chinatown and City Hall.

On our full day we went to Craigdarroch Castle, the Governor's house and gardens, Ross Bay Cemetery, the absolutely stunning Abkhazi Gardens and Beacon Hill Park. On our last day we visited Fisherman's Wharf and fell in love with the wonderful wild seals there.

Many people get from Vancouver to Victoria using Pacific Coaches but it was much cheaper and really easy just to use public transport. We travelled on the Canada Line to Bridgeport Station then boarded bus 620 to Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. This bus was pretty crowded but then it was a public holiday. When we arrived at Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, we bought our ticket and boarded a BC Ferry bound for Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal. The ferry was very comfortable and the Gulf Island scenery was lovely so the one and a half hour ferry ride passed very quickly. At Swartz Bay you can take bus 70, 71 or 72 to Downtown Victoria. We had a female driver and she could not have been more helpful. She provided information for everyone about how to reach their hotel, calling out their stops or telling them where and when to transit. The last stop of this bus was very close to the Provincial Legislature Building. Buses in Victoria cost $2.50 and its $5 for a day ticket

We travelled to Victoria on Good Friday and stayed there till Easter Sunday. To get there we took a bus, then a ferry through the Gulf Islands, then another bus.

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Ferry to Victoria.

One of the first sights we visited in Victoria was the Provincial Legislature Buildings. These ornate, green domed buildings are located next to Victoria's Inner Harbour. They are spectacular both by day and at night when they are lit up. The Provincial Legislature Buildings were designed by Francis Rattenbury and were completed in 1897, ­Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee year. They were officially opened in February 1898. Tours of the inside of the buildings are apparently available, but we only viewed them from the outside. On the grounds there is a huge totem pole, a statue of Queen Victoria, other statues and fountains. Francis Rattenbury designed several buildings in Victoria and Vancouver. He was later tragically murdered by his second wife and her young lover.

If you visit the Provincial legislature Building in Victoria, make sure you walk all the way around it. I liked the fountain on its right hand side. This fountain had statues of several local animals and information about local history.

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The Provincial Legislature

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The Provincial Legislature

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The Provincial Legislature

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The Provincial Legislature fountain.

The Inner Harbour of Victoria is quite pretty and is filled with a variety of different boats. If we had had more time, we would have taken a water taxi trip across it. As we walked along the waterfront, we encountered several naval monuments.

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The Inner Harbour.

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The Inner Harbour.

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The Inner Harbour.

Towering over one end of the Inner Harbour stands the impressive Fairmont Empress Hotel. This hotel was also designed by Francis Rattenbury as a Canadian Pacific Railway hotel. It was opened on 25th January 1908.

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The Fairmont Empress Hotel.

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The Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Near the Fairmont Empress Hotel stands Thunderbird Park. Its name comes from the mythological Thunderbird of many First Nations' legends. The thunderbird is a legendary creature that causes thunder when it beats its enormous wings. Lightning is the light flashing from its eyes. This park has a large number of totem poles. Totem poles were first erected on this site in 1940 and the site was opened as Thunderbird Park in 1941.

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Thunderbird Park.

Very close to Thunderbird Park stands Helmcken House. It is also near the Royal BC Museum. Helmcken House is an old wooden house that was the home of Dr John Sebastian Helmcken. He was the first doctor to work for the Hudson Bay Company in Victoria. Helmcken lived in this house from 1853 to 1920. There is a statue of him outside the house. When we visited, the house was closed, so we just viewed it from the outside.

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Helmcken House.

A bit further along the front is Bastion Square. This is located in an area that was originally established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1843 as Fort Victoria. From this Fort the Hudson Bay Company traded with First Nations people to acquire such things as furs, coal, salmon, gold and whale oil. Bastion Square was home to Burnes House which dates from 1886 and was one of Victoria's earliest hotels. It was also home to the first Supreme Court building dating from 1889. This building is now the Maritime Museum. The Board of Trade Building dating from 1892 and the Chancery Chambers dating from 1905 were also located here. At one time there was a jailhouse in Helmcken Alley. This area is believed to be haunted by the tormented souls of the poor people who were executed here. Nowadays as well as admiring the historic buildings you can find places to eat and drink here. In summer this square hosts a market, too.

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Bastion Square.

Victoria's Chinatown has the distinction of being the oldest Chinatown in Canada. It is the second oldest in North America after San Francisco. Victoria's Chinatown grew up to house the many Chinese miners who flocked there when gold was found in the Frazer River Valley. It increased in size again when Chinese workers arrived to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Victoria's Chinatown has a lovely traditional gate called the Gate of Harmonious Interest. Chinatown is also home to Victoria's narrowest street Fan Tan Alley. This alley was once home to many opium dens then when opium became illegal it became home to gambling dens. The alley is in fact called after a gambling game fan tan ­ that used to take place here. As gambling dens were illegal the alley had watchmen at both ends and the gambling dens had secret escape routes in case of raids. Sun Yat Sen the father of Modern China came to Victoria to build up support from the Chinese community here for the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty.

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Chinatown.

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Chinatown.

Market Square dates from the late 1800s. This was a time when Victoria was enjoying rapid growth and prosperity due to all the gold prospectors passing through on their way to seek their fortunes in the Frazer River Valley. This Square was once home to busy hotels, saloons, and shops. Nowadays it is home to shops and restaurants. There is a pretty fountain here, too.

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Market Square.

Victoria City Hall is located on Douglas Street and Pandora Avenue. It was completed in 1890 and was designed by architect John Teague. Outside there was a statue and a memorial to Victoria's firefighters who lost their lives saving others.

After visiting City Hall, we had a very pleasant dinner then went home for a much needed sleep.

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City Hall.

We were eager to see lots more next day. As soon as we said we were going to Victoria, everyone who had ever been there told we had to go to Butchart Gardens, but we did not. The reason for this was that I found so many things I wanted to do in Victoria itself that I did not want to devote a day to the Butchart Gardens. Maybe on a future visit.

The first stop on my full day itinerary was Craigdarroch Castle. We could have walked here, but as we had several sights to see that day we bought a day pass and took the bus. You can get there on bus 11, 14, 22 or 28 from Douglas Street. Each bus journey in Victoria costs $2.50 and a day pass costs $5, so you only need to do two journeys to break even. We asked the driver to tell us when to get off which he did and a passenger getting off at the same stop pointed us in the right direction.

When we reached the castle, the first thing I noticed was it was surrounded by trucks and looked a right mess. This turned out to be because there was a film crew in the castle to make a psychological thriller called "The Boy". Of course, that meant we could not go into the castle or even into the grounds, so we just had to make do with taking a photo from the street. Guess we'll have to watch the movie to see inside the castle.

Craigdarroch Castle was built by wealthy Scottish coal barron Robert Dunsmuir in the late 1800s. It was intended as a family home for him, his wife Joan, their two sons and eight daughters. Unfortunately, Robert Dunsmuir died in April 1889, 17 months before the castle was completed. After Robert Dunsmuir's death, a feud broke out between his widow Joan and her two sons over his will. He had verbally promised his businesses to his sons but actually left them to his wife. James Dunsmuir was on bad terms with his mother right up to her death. When she died, he unexpectedly turned up at her funeral and broke down with grief. James Dunsmuir later built Victoria's second and even bigger castle ­ Hatley Castle which we did not have time to visit. Craigdarroch Castle has thirty­-nine rooms. It is famous for its intricate woodwork and beautiful stained glass. Of course, it is haunted!!!! Admission costs $13.95. It is open from 10AM to 4.30PM daily.

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Craigdarroch Castle.

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Craigdarroch Castle.

A short walk from Craigdarroch Castle took us to Government House and Gardens. We could not go inside the house, so we explored the beautiful gardens instead. The gardens cover 36 acres. Some of them are formal gardens such as rose gardens, others are more natural. I especially loved the bluebell woods, the blossoming trees and the pond. There are beautiful views over Victoria from behind the governor's house. These gardens are amazingly beautiful and well worth seeing.

There is also a coach house and The Cary Castle Mews. As it was April when we visited nothing was open at the mews. The gardens are open every day of the year from dawn to dusk, free of charge. The Cary Castle Mews Interpretive Centre and Tea Room is open from May until September, Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 3pm.

Government House and Gardens are located in the Rocklands area of Victoria. This area has many stunning houses and beautiful gardens. Government House is the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. You can only enter the house on a tour and that tour is only available one Saturday each month at 10am and 11am.

The present Government House is the third to be built at this location. The first was Cary Castle which was built in 1860. Unfortunately, this mansion was destroyed by fire in May 1899. The second house was designed by Francis Rattenbury and Samuel Maclure. This was completed in 1903, but also caught fire and was destroyed on 15th April 1957. The current Government House was begun soon after the fire and was completed on 19th May 1959. Outside Government House there is a statue of James Douglas the first governor of British Columbia. We saw him again later in Fort Langley.

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Government House.

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Government House.

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Sir James Douglas, Government House.

After visiting Government House and gardens we walked to Ross Bay Cemetery. (That bus pass was really coming in handy at this stage, though we did use it later.) Ross Bay Cemetery is a historic cemetery next to the sea. We had a look at the war graves and war memorial. We found the grave of Robert Dunsmuir ­ owner of Craigdarroch Castle. Other famous people buried there include Sir James Douglas ­ BC’s first governor, Emily Carr ­ world ­famous artist, Billy Barker ­ discoverer of gold at Barkerville and Nellie Chapman ­ the "Miners’ Angel" who was featured on a US postage stamp. It is possible to print off a map of the cemetery on­line which we should have done as it is too difficult to find famous graves without one. You can reach Ross Bay Cemetery on the number 7 bus.

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Ross Bay Cemetery.

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Ross Bay Cemetery.

We walked from the Ross Bay Cemetery to the Abkhazi Gardens. These are also on the number 7 bus route. The sign outside the Abkhazi Gardens describes them as the gardens that love built because of the story behind them.

Marjorie Peggy Pemberton­ Carter, usually referred to as Peggy, had a very sad childhood. She was orphaned when she was just three years old. At first she was sent to live with relatives, but they did not really want her and put her up for adoption. After some time a rich, childless couple adopted her. She grew up in a cold, loveless environment. Eventually her adoptive father died and Peggy became the constant travelling companion of her domineering adoptive mother. She was in Paris with her adoptive mother in the 1920s when she met Nicholas Abkhazi.

Nicholas had also had a tragic life. Together with his mother he had fled the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1919. His father was the hereditary ruling Prince of Abkhazia, in Georgia. Nicholas and his mother settled in Paris and waited for his father to join them. This never happened as Nicholas’ father was executed in 1923. With the death of Nicholas's father, the family lost everything.

Peggy and Nicholas became firm friends in Paris and when she left Paris, they continued to write to each other. Peggy's adoptive mother died in 1938 and Peggy returned to Shanghai­ the city of her birth. When the Second World War broke out, both Nicholas and Peggy were interned in prisoner of war camps: Nicholas in Germany and Peggy in a camp near Shanghai.

While she was interned in the Japanese prisoner of war camp, Peggy kept a secret diary of her war experiences. This was later published as 'A Curious Cage' in 1981. Peggy also hid travellers’ cheques in a tin of talcum powder. When she was freed at the end of the war, Peggy used these cheques to purchase a passage to San Francisco. From there in 1945 she made her way to Victoria where her closest friends, the Mackenzies, lived. Peggy used her money to buy the large rocky plot of land that would become Abkhazi Garden. The first building to be placed on her land was the little summerhouse.

Then in January 1946, Peggy received a letter from Nicholas. They had lost each other for the duration of the war and did not know that the other had even survived. They agreed to meet in New York. Their reunion, their first in 13 years, turned into an engagement. They returned to Victoria and were married in November 1946.

The Abkhazis devoted their married life to cultivating their beautiful garden. Nicholas died in 1987. Peggy died in 1994, at the age of 92.The garden still stands as a wonderful tribute to their lives and work.

I loved the Abkhazi Gardens because they were so beautiful, but I also loved the story. When you stand here, you know you are standing in the happiest part of two people's lives.

The Abkhazi Gardens is open daily from 11am to 5pm. Last entrance is at 4pm. The Abkhazis house is now a tearoom and a gift shop. There is also a washroom available there. Entry to the gardens was by voluntary donation.

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Abkhazi Gardens.

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Abkhazi Gardens.

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Abkhazi Gardens.

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Summer House, Abkhazi Gardens.

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The Pathway, Abkhazi Gardens.

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The House, Abkhazi Gardens.

After visiting the Abkhazi Gardens we took a bus back to the centre of Victoria; then later visited Beacon Hill Park. This park takes its name from the fact there were two beacons located on Beacon Hill overlooking the sea here. The park has many ponds, a children's play area, a petting zoo which had closed before we got there, a cricket field, lots of ducks, squirrels and peacocks. There was also a statue of Queen Elizabeth II and of Robert Burns.

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Beacon Hill Park.

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Peacocks, Beacon Hill Park.

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Rush Hour Beacon Hill Park.

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Peahens, Beacon Hill Park.

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Rabbie Burns Statue, Beacon Hill Park.

On our last day we spent the morning strolling along the waterfront to Fisherman's Wharf. Fisherman's Wharf is a great place to visit. It has restaurants, colourful houses on the water, boats and best of all wild seals which will come to the shore to be fed fish. I could have watched these adorable creatures for hours. We also watched seagulls fighting over a crab. You can go on whale watching trips from here or hire a kayak. It is well worth visiting.

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Fisherman's Wharf.

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Fisherman's Wharf.

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Fisherman's Wharf.

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Fisherman's Wharf.

I liked the look of The Church of Our Lord, I first passed this beautiful church on the bus then went back to see it, because it looked so lovely. The Church of Our Lord dates from 1876 making it the oldest church in Victoria. It is located on the corner of Humbolt and Blanshard Streets. It is a carpenter gothic church, meaning it has features of traditional gothic churches, but is made of wood. This church was founded by Reverend Edward Cridge, the first Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church in Canada. Next to the church stands the Edward Cridge Memorial Hall. At the side of the church there was historical information about this building. We had a quick look inside but there was a very well attended Easter Sunday service going on, so I could not take any photos.

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The Church of Our Lord.

We were sad to leave Victoria. We really loved visiting here.

Posted by irenevt 03:59 Archived in Canada Tagged victoria.

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Comments

Your night photo of the Provincial Legislature is magical. We've never gotten to Victoria and it looks like we should start planning a trip. The Abkhazi Gardens were beautiful and I loved the story.

Really interesting blog. I love all your detail.

by Beausoleil

Thank you, Sally. I'd strongly recommend a visit to Victoria. It is really beautiful and peaceful and there's lots to see.

by irenevt

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