Victoria, BC – May 2000

I’ve been avoiding listing the standard “tourist attractions” in the city, perhaps because they are well known to many visitors, being highly advertised or visible. But, now that tourist season is fully upon us, it’s time to take a closer look at some of them. We’ll start with a favourite this month.

A Garden for All Seasons
Butchart Gardens

Concert Lawn
“It’s a total experience”, said Paul Turmel, gardener at Butchart Gardens. “You have to look at more than the flowers. Look at the tree-scape as well”. It’s hard to do with 400,000 bulbs of every colour and description vying for my attention. Hyacinths and double daffodils blend seamlessly with Siberian wallflowers and English daisies. Tulips are planted in masses of forget-me-nots. Japanese cherry trees bring blooms to the sky. A riot of blossoms is everywhere.

The Sunken Garden

This “Edwardian style” garden is carefully planned to unfold a series of vistas as you walk around. The Sunken Garden is, perhaps, the real stunner with its raised beds and steep walls providing dimension and depth to the views. The walls of this former limestone quarry are steep enough that the gardeners wear harnesses attached to trees and suspend themselves over the edge to sculpture the ivy and tend to the ground cover. The sunken garden’s peaceful willow tree-lined pond is complimented by a lake containing a large fountain playing colours into the air.

Butchart Gardens, on Tod Inlet, in Greater Victoria, is the inspired brainchild of one lady lucky enough to have the money to carry through her ideas. Ninety years ago, Mrs. R.P. Butchart and her husband owned a 130-acre estate, part of which was an old quarry. She decided to turn 50 acres of it into a garden and thus began a saga of one family’s dedication to horticulture and hospitality. She started by having topsoil brought by horse and cart to fill in much of what is now the Sunken Garden.

The Japanese Garden
In 1908 the Japanese Garden was created. Here, ferns and moss mingle with running water and dry streambeds filled with small stones. Shrubs are sculptured to create visions of mountains and clouds. Double flowering trilliums mingle with dogtooth lilies. Search in this garden for a large peephole cut through a hedge to provide a picture postcard view of Tod Inlet. In the fall Japanese maples slash the garden with colour.

In 1929 a Rose Garden took the place of a former kitchen garden. Visit it in the summer to revel in the glory and scent of 250 different types of roses showcased in 3000 plants. The formal Italian Garden covers what was once a tennis court. In the summer, you can partake of high tea by the Garden’s star pond while glorying in the beautiful hanging baskets full of flowers.

On Saturday nights in July and August there are fireworks set to music as dusk falls (get there before 5pm or you won’t get in). Outdoor stage shows and music performances also take place in the summer tourist season. At Christmas time the garden is transformed by thousands of lights and festive decorations into a fairytale land as carols waft on the air.

The fame of Jennie Butchart’s garden has spread far and wide. Even back in the 1920’s more than 50,000 people a year came to view the gardens. Today, 1 million visitors view 1 million bedding plants on show from March through October.

The Sunken Garden
The spring bulb colours of today will soon make way for rhododendrons and azaleas in full feast, and summer will see flowering annuals planted by the thousands. Monkshood, Lily of the Nile, Sweet Alyssum, Begonias, Bougainvillea and Angel’s Trumpet are only a few of the many that will add to the beautiful show. Chrysanthemums and Michaelmas Daisies will follow in the autumn as trees sport their fall foliage. But, for now, 400,000 flowering bulbs are feast enough for anyone.

Essential Information
Butchart Gardens is open from 9am to 10:30pm in high season (closing hours vary during the year), 7 days a week, year round. Located 21 km (13 miles) from Victoria, it can be reached by car, tour buses or city buses. See the “Get There” page on the website for details on transportation. Entrance rates vary depending on the season of the year. Tel. 250-652-4422.

The Restaurant (more expensive and more formal) serves lunch and tea while the Poppy Room serves food cafeteria style. The Coffee House stocks sandwiches and snacks. You can purchase seeds from the garden or garden related souvenirs at the gift shop on the premises. Dogs are welcome as long as they have their masters on a leash. The gardens are wheelchair accessible. To avoid the crowds in summer, plan to visit after 3pm.

When visiting Butchart Gardens, you may want to plan a trip next door to Gowlland Tod Provincial Park on Tod Inlet. This wilderness park – marked hiking trails only, no camping – is one of the last remaining natural areas and natural shoreline in the Greater Victoria area. It contains a rare, dry coastal Douglas fir habitat with meadows and rocky knolls and old growth forest. There are blue heron, bald eagles, peregrine falcon, river otter and deer in the park. It is also home to black bear and cougar so precautions are advisable (leave the pets at home). For more information on BC Parks go to their website.

May Events

Garden Tour 2000
Nine of Victoria’s most beautiful private gardens will open to the public on May 13 and 14 (Mother’s Day), from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The Annual Garden Tour is a fundraiser for the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Also featured will be a tea garden with musical entertainment by Conservatory students and a sale of rare and unusual plants. A two-day pass with map sells for CDN $20 and enables participants to visit the gardens at their leisure. Passes are available from the Victoria Conservatory of Music at (250) 386-5311.

Victoria Harbour Festival
May 20-29, at the Inner Harbour: harbour related activities, heritage and art events. Part of the Harbour Festival is the Swiftsure International Yacht Race that takes place May 27. The Royal Victoria Yacht Club hosts the race. About 200 sailboats compete in short, middle and long distance events. For the best views, take binoculars and walk along the Dallas Rd. waterfront.

Bastion Square Cycling Grand Prix
End of May (Tel. 250-360-2453 for details). Professional riders, criterium-style race, featuring closed-loop circuit on city streets.

Quirky Stuff

No, you’re not in Scotland or in the wild, wild West for that matter, but you might be forgiven for thinking so if you attend either of the events below.

63rd Victoria Highland Games
At Royal Roads University on May 21st; events from 10am-5pm. For all things Scottish, this is a great day out. Pipes and Drums, Highland Dancing, Heavy Events, Entertainment – Celtic folk music, pipes, Gaelic Choir, folk music fiddlers and more. Something for everyone, including children’s events. Refreshments and vendors of Scottish paraphernalia on site. For further details and map visit the website.

Luxton Pro Rodeo
At the Luxton Fairgrounds (corner of Sooke and Luxton Rd.) May 20-22; open 12 noon, daily, events start at 2pm each day. Dances on Saturday and Sunday. Free parking. Admission: adults $11, students and seniors $9, children under 12 free. Tel. 250-478-2759 for details. Part of the professional rodeo circuit, Luxton features World and Canadian champion cowboys. There’s a midway, craft sale, petting farm for the kids, blacksmith and antique farm equipment as well as the rodeo.

©2000 by Barbara Ballard. Reproduction of this work in whole or in part, including reproduction in electronic media, without documented permission from the author is prohibited.

Victoria, a world renowned tourist destination and capital city of British Columbia, is nestled on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

It’s about as far west as you can get in Canada – just across the Strait of Georgia from the city of Vancouver on Canada’s mainland and 85 miles northwest across the Juan de Fuca Strait from Seattle.

The jagged coastline boasts stunning views, and the mild climate allows gardens to run rampant. It’s no wonder Travel and Leisure voted it one of the 10 best cities in the world to visit.

The downtown, embraced by the water and the bustling Inner Harbour (map), is busy and vibrant. Tourism is big business here, and it’s royally catered to.

Once a British colonial outpost, Greater Victoria (Victoria and its outlying areas) now sports a population of more than 300,000. Although it still retains remnants of its past in high teas, hanging baskets and shops filled with British goods, Victoria today is alive with sidewalk cafes, night life, cosmopolitan dining, superb shopping and cultural activities.

The Victoria Visitor’s Information Centre is located on the Inner Harbour. There are free maps and brochures on accommodations, attractions, restaurants, services, tours, cultural events, festivals and more. There is also a ticket outlet in the Centre.
Call them at 1-800-663-3883 or
(250) 953-2033

Map link to Victoria

Seeing the City
There are lots of ways to get around Greater Victoria. The least expensive are the public bus system (B.C. Transit, 250-385-2551, from $1.25) and bike and scooter rentals.

Being a tourist Mecca means several companies run scenic tours – there’s double-decker or horse-drawn carriages plying their wares, but they aren’t cheap. Tiny water tugs ply the Inner Harbour for great views of the shoreline.

There’s always car rentals (not really necessary here where everything is either accessible on foot or by bus). Taxis are available but costly. From the airport take the Airporter mini-bus, cheaper than a taxi, to downtown Victoria.

It should be noted that all prices in this guide are in Canadian dollars. For up to date currency rates, click here.

Best site for weather and local forecasts.

Victoria is totally nonsmoking indoors. Restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, hotels, public transportation, office buildings, etc. etc. No one is allowed to smoke anywhere inside any building. Outdoors is okay.

The Author
I grew up in Texas (friendly people), summered on the Gulf Coast and lived in several other states before moving to Canada. The Rockies and the Yukon were home for a while.

Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island is my permanent location, unless I win the lottery. Then I’ll be off to Britain, the land I love. My hobbies are history, historical architecture and reading.