The Other Side of Victoria

This is an account of our visit to Victoria, BC in 2013. Unfortunately, I cannot find the photos we took.

In August 1981 my wife and I honeymooned in Victoria, our first visit to the city. We did the usual touristy things – saw the legislature, strolled through the Empress, saw the Royal London Wax Museum, Miniature World,  Sea World, the Butchart Gardens and Fable Cottage Estate.

Over the years we visited the city several times, sometimes with our children. But the routine was much the same. We confined our visit to the downtown except for trips to Butchart Gardens or Butterfly World. We did the whale watching thing one year, but didn’t actually see any whales. Wrong season.

In February, my wife and I decided to take a short vacation to Victoria again. What could we do that wasn’t a run-of-the-mill repeat of previous visits? Hadn’t we seen it all? We thought we might see Fable Cottage Estate again, but it actually closed down around twenty years ago. Who knew?

We stayed at a time share on Michigan Street, a couple of blocks from the legislature. It’s nestled in with a lot of B&Bs in the area in a series of streets named after the Great Lakes.

At breakfast the first morning, a discussion about high tea had someone tell us about some place other than The Empress – a place on some farm. Kind of vague, but when we wandered into town, the lady at the tourist office looked it up and told us it was at a place called Mattick’s Farm out on Cordova Bay Road. She showed us on the map – right near the end of the road where it meets the highway.

After some shopping downtown, we took our first walking tour. We went past the former location of the Royal London Wax Museum which was forced to close its doors in 2010 when the building underwent seismic upgrading. We passed a number of bed and breakfasts including a beautiful old Victoria house called the Gatsby Mansion. It apparently had an Artisans Lane as well, but the place was closed so we couldn’t see if Gatsby’s was great or not.

We topped in at the Victoria Clipper Ferry to check out schedules for future holidays, and then followed a paved walking trail that took us beyond the point, passing a number of apartments and hotels along the way. And that brought us to Fisherman’s Wharf, a real find. In all our previous trips to Victoria, we had never taken this walk. Indeed, we had never heard of Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria before.

The wharf features a number of piers hosting a community of colourful houseboats. Several businesses line the walk including several eateries. One of them was a small diner called Grilligan’s with the terrific slogan – where buoy meets grill!

We spent some time checking out the houseboats. Unlike most houseboat communities, here you can walk along the piers and get a close-up look. A fair number were for sale.  The prices seemed quite reasonable, but a check online later showed that moorage fees were exorbitant – moorage and licensing often well over $800 a month.

We walked on a bit more following the shore as much as we could, eventually getting to Ogden Point, where the cruise ships dock. It’s actually much closer to downtown than we realized when we had come her on a cruise a few years ago.

We retraced our steps and went back to our suite, hopped in the car and drove out to Mattick’s Farm. There are an interesting array of shops there, including a farmer’s market, a toy store and some clothing boutiques.  The tea house is called Adrienne’s Tea Garden and for $35 a couple, you get tea, hors d’ouvres and sweet snacks – more than you can eat!  The food was tasty and we took the leftovers home in a doggy bag.  While it doesn’t have the ambience of the Empress, it was considerably less expensive than the $48.95 a person that dowager old lady serves up! And every bit as tasty.

We took the coast road back in to town, stopping at the Cattle Point boat launch in Oak Bay where you get an excellent view of Mount baker in the distance, and at Clover Point where we watched the sunset.

The next day we walked through Beacon Hill Park to the waterfront. Beacon Hill is a lovely park with some rugged terrain as well as a duck pond and some sports fields. We passed the world’s tallest totem pole there and on the bluff overlooking the beach we saw a plaque commemorating Marilyn Bell’s swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1956. We watched people waling their dogs as we continued along the trail.

A short distance later we saw a statue of Terry Fox in a park. “I wonder if they did anything to honor Steve Fonyo,” I said to my wife. After all, he actually completed his one-legged journey across Canada. In fact they had, as we came across a path to Fonyo Beach not much further along the trail.

The hike eventually took us to Ogden Point again and we took some side streets back to our accommodations.  It was still fairly early in the afternoon, but after such a long walk, we decided to take in the Royal Museum and a couple of Imax shows. The museum is always worth a visit. There is usually a touring exhibition, as well as their permanent collections. The touring show this time was the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit.  A few years ago we took in the Titanic exhibit.

After the museum, we wandered over to the legislature, which was in session, and joined the visitors gallery to watch politicians yak.  The politicians who weren’t speaking must have found it as dull as we did, for they were all absorbed in their iPads, cell phones and comparing each other’s wardrobes. Nobody seemed to be paying any attention to the speakers. We stayed a half hour and left.

We finished off the day with dinner at Milestones which commands an excellent view of the inner harbour. We wanted to see the lights come on at the legislature.

So our visit was little different this time. We did make a few forays into the city to shop and browse, but avoided the touristy centerpieces everyone usually goes to. Our walks to Fisherman’s Wharf and through Beacon Hill Park and along the shore were very entertaining, not to mention cheap. And our visit to Adrienne’s Tea Garden was an inexpensive and tasty alternative to the over-priced Empress experience.

I forgot to mention one find in our downtown walks – Russell’s Books. The signs saying the place is one of Stuart McLean’s favourite book stores lured us in. And it is a wonderful place for book lovers to get lost in. If we had more time, I could easily have spent a day there.

All in all, Victoria has a lot to offer the visitor without hitting all the usual spots and without breaking your wallet. Take a few walking tours, visit Russell’s Books and pop in to Mattick’s Farm.  You’ll be glad you did.