Victoria, B.C., more English than England

Published on July 25, 2009

Parts of Newfoundland are said to be more Irish than Ireland and Cape Breton is well known for its strong Scottish culture. But if you want a taste of England without crossing the "pond," then head to Victoria, B.C. which is home to classy "high tea" and gardens that are world renowned.
Victoria, is the capital of British Columbia and we recently spent several days there sampling some of the city's English attractions. Our first visit was Butchart Garden which is overwhelming with its flowers. While we were there in mid-May, the tulips and daffidols were at their prime. There were tulips in every imaginable variety and they were set in an absolutely superb natural setting.
The sunken garden offers one kodak moment after another. There were also cherry trees in bloom and in places the aboriginal culture is displayed with totem poles. The Japanese gardens are completely different with their sculpted flowering trees and colourful bridges. The display ends with the Italian Garden with its awnings, benches, a water feature and statues. You can even get tasty gelato ice cream cones while you admire the view through the trees to Butchart Bay. The Butchart Gardens is open virtually year around and friends who live in Victoria say that that their favorite time to visit is to see their amazing rose displays in July. This is certainly a "don't miss" attraction.
For breakfast one day we headed to a local landmark called Blethering Place which serves classic English food including high tea. Even the waitresses all seemed to be straight from England judging by their distinct accents. In addition to standard breakfast offerings they also served Welsh Rarebit, crumpets and scones. Their "high tea" included dainty sandwiches, sausage rolls, small quiches, scones, small cakes and, of course, tea served in small china cups. Just down the road the Penny Farthing pub looked like it had been transplanted from downtown London. For the classic English dining experience then "tea at the Empress" is a must do.
The Empress Hotel is another Victoria landmark and is centrally located near the Parliament Buildings and next to the Royal B.C Museum. Here you can indulge in one of Victoria's grandest traditions - afternoon tea at The Fairmont Empress. For almost a century, the majestic lobby of this landmark hotel has played host to England's most beloved ritual - the taking of afternoon tea. Here award-winning Pastry Chef D'Oyen Christie works his magic, ensuring an authentic and memorable experience - which includes a special Tea at The Empress blend tea, right through to freshly baked raisin scones served with heavy cream and strawberry preserves. Afternoon tea is served in the relaxing atmosphere of the elegantly restored Tea Lobby, overlooking Victoria's sparkling inner harbour in the stately Harborside Room or under the hand-painted ceiling of the Library.
Another reason to visit Victoria this summer if you like "all things English" is that the Royal B.C. Museum has an exhibit called "Treasures" that will be shown until September 30, 2009. It opened May 1, 2009 and the display involves 309 pieces from the British Museum in London, England including a 1.5 million-year-old stone axe from Africa, as well as artifacts from Roman and Greek civilizations. All the continents are represented and to recreate the exhibit cost the Royal B.C Museum close to $1,000,000.
One of my favourite displays was of the Lewis Chessmen which were featured in the Harry Potter film, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone."
Evidently they were found by chance in a sand dune on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland in 1831. The pieces themselves are thought to have been carved between 1150 and 1200 AD and may have been lost in a shipwreck long ago. This is the only stop in North America for "Treasures" so it is expected to be very popular. When we saw the exhibit in May there were not many tourists around, but we were told that anyone visiting this summer should book an appointment since interest in this exhibit is expected to be considerable.
But there is more to Victoria than "afternoon tea," gardens and museums. We are avid sea kayakers and this area has lots to offer along this line. One afternoon we rented kayaks from Ocean River Sports and explored the inner harbour and "Gorge" in a two-hour tour.
The area surrounding Victoria has lots to offer the sea kayaker and we plan to do more paddling on our next trip to this area. Victoria is also a mecca for biking and running.
Not only is Victoria home to Canada's Olympic rowing and triathlon teams but it recently was declared Canada's fittest city by Statistics Canada. We saw bikes everywhere and they included riders in spandex and racing bikes to parents towing kids in bike trailers.
We cycled part of the Lochside Trail which winds through the rural farmland on the outskirts of Victoria and we were thoroughly impressed.

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