C'mon Along to Canada

Wednesday, Aug 15, 2007
Victoria, British Columbia

It's wonderful when you can take a day trip to another country - without having to suffer through airport security or jet lag! This morning we hopped a ferry across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, Canada. It takes about an hour to cross 20 miles of water. Luckily, we don't need a passport for this adventure. Our driver's license (with photo) and birth certificates were sufficient to get us through customs in both countries. Nor is it necessary to exchange our money for the "Loonie" (the Canadian dollar). Most merchants in Victoria gladly accept U.S. currency and credit cards, but change is always given in Canadian currency.

As we near Victoria's harbor we're mesmerized by the float planes that are also arriving and departing frequently.... wouldn't that be a fun and fast way to commute! The Inner Harbour is a busy place with ferries entering from Port Angeles, Seattle and Bellingham, WA. Numerous yachts and sailboats are moored in the marina. Many visitors opt for a tour on the adorable little Harbour Ferries that busily putter across this scenic area to points of interest.

In some ways it's like stepping into another world. Oh sure, we see plenty of businesses and sights that are common to the US, yet the ambience in Victoria is clearly Canadian with a bit of British colonial flavor. The impressive architecture of the Edwardian- style Empress Hotel and the Romanesque Revival Parliament Building with its splendid verdigris dome greet us as we enter the harbor. An imposing statue of Queen Victoria, for whom the city is named, and a tribal totem pole stand prominently on the Parliament grounds. Today, some tribal members are giving the totem pole a fresh coat of paint.

Victoria more than lives up to its reputation as the "Garden City". Old-fashioned lamp posts are adorned with massive hanging baskets. This year the city is proudly displaying 1600 baskets and they plan to increase that number next year. No one does flowers like the Canadians. It's easy to see why Condé Nast Traveler has voted Victoria one of the world's top-ten cities to visit.

To make the most of our time, we opted for a tour package that includes a bus drive around the city and transportation to Butchart Gardens, where we spent most of our day. The enormous Royal British Columbia Museum is within walking distance of the ferry, but there wasn't enough time to visit the museum and the gardens before the return ferry ;-(

On board the bus, we get to drive through the downtown district, numerous city parks (including Beacon Hill) and some upscale neighborhoods. We're quickly informed that it's very expensive to live in Victoria. However, it seems the high cost of living hasn't curbed the influx of retirees who are anxious to become Victorians and the resulting housing boom.

For some inexpensive entertainment, our tour guide made a pit stop along the way at a marina and the kids get to feed the resident seals some frozen fish. Vance was reluctant to get back on the bus after this little adventure. Knowing he'll never go willingly to the gardens unless we feed him first, we bribed him with the promise of a lunch break after we finish the bus tour. Usually the promise of food will cure Vance of whatever is temporarily bothering him!

After lunch, we took a bus to Butchart Gardens. This time our guide is very personable and he gives us the inside scoop on what it's like to live and work here, sprinkled with a good bit of humor. Vance enjoyed his witty talk on how middle class folks get by in pricey Victoria as well as information regarding gun control, income taxes and socialized medicine in Canada. One topic of conversation was the price of fuel in Canada versus our country. We noticed the tour buses run on biodiesel. Mark had previously spotted a fleet of bright yellow Toyota Prius taxis near the Empress Hotel. Seems like our Canadian friends are progressive when it comes to sustainable energy.

Butchart Gardens

I have to commend Vance for being such a good sport when it came to this garden tour. Most 11 year old boys don't have the patience or interest to look at flowers for hours on end. Luckily, there were various areas of the garden that held his interest such as the Sunken Garden. Encompassing 55 acres, Butchart Gardens includes a former cement factory and quarry site. When the quarry was exhausted of resources in the early 1900's, Mrs. Butchart (the cement factory owner's wife) began planting the Sunken Garden. Today it is a lovely combination of evergreens, vines, flowers and water features. It's hard to believe it was once an area of spent rock and dust.

Other areas of Butchart Gardens include the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden and the Italian Garden. The Japanese Garden is my personal favorite. I'm always inclined to linger in the cool shade and subtle textures of an oriental garden. The tranquil setting does not overpower or over stimulate the senses. Finding a restful spot in which to sit and ponder, we enjoyed the beauty of a simple water feature. All three of us loved the humorous ingenuity of the bamboo Boar Scarer. When the bamboo filled with water it would tip, spilling the water.....once empty it would tilt back to strike a large rock, thereby creating a loud noise to scare away the beast!

Having a little time on our hands before boarding our bus back to Victoria, we were captivated by a whimsical Wizard of Oz play. Especially since the Good Witch was actually a He, not a She! The cast was small and they were doing a very speedy version of what can be a lengthy production. The cast included 2 Munchkins, Dorothy, the Good Witch, the Wicked Witch, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man. Unfortunately, the Cowardly Lion and the Wizard had not appeared by the time we had to leave. This little play was a happy ending to Vance's day at the gardens.

Other than ranger-led programs in National Parks, this commercial tour is the first one we've done on this trip. It's not our practice to leave an event like the Wizard of Oz play before it's finished, but the bus was waiting and so was our ferry ride back to the US. The drawback with tours is that you're always on someone else's clock. We don't wear watches, but might have to resort to that habit if we ever become avid tour travelers. At this point... no can do! Our current method of operation suits us much better. With that said, our day in lovely Victoria has whet our appetite for seeing more of Canada. The seed for a camping trip across the Canadian provinces has been planted in our thoughts for future travels. Always dreaming!

Vance: Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. British Columbia is a province, or what Canada calls a state. It took the boat about an hour to go from Port Angeles, Washington, to Victoria, British Columbia.

After the ride, there is a step you have to go through called customs. They will not let you through if you have any firearms. It is illegal to have firearms in Canada except the police. I found the law quite interesting.

We spent most of our stay in Butchart Gardens. The Garden is a series of gardens with plants from all over the world. It heated up quite fairly in the day. We found lots of shade in the Japanese Garden. One neat gadget is the Boar Log. I don’t know the real name, but I call it that anyway. The log would fill up with water, then fall and make a loud thump to scare the boars. Lastly, we had an ice cream break and went back to the dock where the KOA shuttle waited to take us back to the campground.


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