by W. Ruth Kozak
It was a historic Royal Wedding weekend celebrated in style in British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria, named for Queen Victoria. Victoria is one my favourite local destinations, so my friend and I decided to visit this historic West Coast city to celebrate the royal event.
Victoria has an interesting history. The First Nations people first settled in this area along what is now the Inner Harbour. Then came the fur traders of the Hudson’s Bay company who played a key role in establishing the city’s British flavour. Fort Victoria was built in 1842 and one of the original settlement’s farms is the Craigflower Farmhouse. Then came the gold seekers, heading north to seek their fortunes in the gold mines of the Yukon and Klondike. These included Chinese immigrants who founded Canada’s first Chinatown in Victoria.
But the essential culture of the new city was of British origin, and even today Victoria lures visitors because it’s a little bit of Olde England. The evidence of these early British residents can be seen in the architecture of Victoria, the heritage homes around James Bay, Rockland and Oak Bay, the magnificent Parliament buildings and grand old Empress Hotel, designed by architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury.
Appropriately, my friend and I stayed at the Queen Victoria hotel, located across from the Royal BC Museum, with a view of the Inner Harbour and Fairmont Empress Hotel.
We began our royal weekend celebration with high tea at the historic James Bay Tea Room. To commemorate the wedding of H.R.H. Prince William and Miss Kate Middleton, there was a special tea service with traditional goodies such as cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches, homemade scones with fresh clotted cream and strawberry jam, fresh strawberry cup with orange liquor and assorted petit fours. Of course, complete with a big pot of English tea!
This quaint little tea house, tucked on a back street behind the Provincial Parliament Buildings, is a turn-of-the-century house, built in 1907 as a family home. It was transformed into this charming restaurant/tea room in the 1980s and is a popular spot for tourists to experience a real British style afternoon tea. It was a perfect place to celebrate the wedding, surrounded by royalty memorabilia with pictures of the royal family covering every inch of the walls, china tea sets and other royalty souvenirs.
The following day, we spent a delightful afternoon at another famous Victoria location, the Butchart Gardens. Established in 1904, the Butchart family’s original estate was named “Benvenuto”, Italian for “Welcome”. You’ll certainly feel the welcoming ambience when you visit this remarkable historic garden.
Robert Pim Butchart began as a cement manufacturer in Ontario and by the turn of the century had become a successful pioneer in this industry. He was lured to the West Coast of Canada because of the rich limestone deposits vital for cement production, and built a factory at Tod Inlet on Vancouver Island. His family established their home there and as the limestone in the quarry became exhausted, his wife Jennie conceived the idea for refurbishing the quarry into a beautiful garden in the style of the grand estates of the period.
The limestone quarry was transformed into the magnificent Sunken Garden. Mrs Butchart planned the landscaping of the property, transforming it into a garden that covers 22 ha (55 acres) of greenery, woodlands, flower gardens and horticultural displays. Mr. Butchart collected ornamental birds from all over the world including peacocks and ducks and built many elaborate birdhouses through the gardens.
By the 1920s more than 50 thousand people came every year to visit the gardens. To extend a welcome to their estate, flowering cherry trees were purchased from Japan and installed at the garden’s entrance.
The Butchart’s house was a luxurious show place with an indoor salt-water swimming pool, billiard room and bowling alley. It now contains the Dining Room Restaurant with some rooms still used for family entertainment. The self-playing Aeolian pipe organ is still played on special occasions.
The Butchart’s love of Italy is evident in the lovely Italian Garden, located beside their house. Their tradition of collecting unusual objects when traveling is displayed with the Fountain of the Three Sturgeons, and the big bronze boar near the entrance of the Gardens, both from Florence Italy. A newer acquisition is the Rose Carousel, crafted by Brass Ring Entertainment of Sun Valley, California. It’s the only carousel on Vancouver Island and is a wonderful menagerie of thirty animals ranging from bears, horses, ostriches, zebras and mirrors. The designs were chosen by Robin Clarke, the Garden’s present owner and great granddaughter of Jennie Butchart.
Butchart Gardens is still a family business and famous as a West Coast display garden with an international reputation for its year-round displays of flowering plants. For my friend and I, a visit there was a perfect way to end our Royal Wedding Weekend celebration.
If You Go:
The Butchart Gardens is located on Vancouver Island, 23 kilometers (14 miles) north of Victoria, and 10 km (12.5 miles) south of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry terminal at Swartz Bay. At 800 Benvenuto Avenue, Brentwood Bay. Parking is free. There are buses from Victoria. Open every day of the year at 9 a.m. except for Christmas Day when it opens at 1 pm. For admission prices see: www.butchartgardens.com
Accommodation in Victoria: Victoria has many lovely heritage homes turned into B&Bs as well as a good selection of hotels conveniently located.
Queen Victoria Hotel & Suites,
655 Douglas St., Victoria B.C. V8V 2P9 250-386-1312
James Bay Tearoom & Restaurant
332 Menzies Street, Victoria, BC V8V 1S2
For more information on Victoria:
About the author:
A British Columbia resident, W. Ruth Kozak is a frequent visitor to Victoria and loves exploring all the historic areas of this lovely city. This was indeed a special occasion on a very historic weekend and many thanks go to Victoria Tourism for providing the opportunity.