Victoria II: Legislative Building

The following day we were passing by the legislative building and thought we’d pop inside to have a look; we were just in time to attach ourselves onto a free tour (every hour) and learn something about the history and government of BC.

The tour is worth doing (but probably better if not accompanied by a toddler who was with his rather indulgent father who allowed the kid to run around and make a lot of noise – I don’t think I was the only one getting hot under the collar and it is a shame that the guide didn’t have a quiet word with him) if only to get a look at the beautiful decoration inside the building. It was designed by Francis Rattenbury, then aged only 25 and fresh from England who, in 1892, blagged his way into winning his first major commission. Continue reading Victoria II: Legislative Building


Victoria I: Inner Harbour

On this our second visit to the island we wanted to stay in the city (previously we stayed out at Sooke which is south-west of the city) so we booked the Great Western Inner Harbour as it is within walking distance of the inner harbour, downtown and the southern suburbs. We only realised shortly before leaving the UK that the Island marathon was being run on the Sunday (the day of our departure) and our hotel was slap bang in the centre of the start and finish places so all the roads surrounding us would be blocked! It was also Thanksgiving in Canada that weekend too which probably explained why we had such difficulty booking any B&Bs during this period. (I apologise to all Canadians as up until this time I didn’t even know you guys celebrated Thanksgiving!) Continue reading Victoria I: Inner Harbour

Trans Canada Highway

Onwards south to Victoria today after a wonderful breakfast of lemon waffles with mixed berries and warm maple syrup and freshly ground coffee. If you do get to Canada it is well worth seeking out the B&Bs to stay in rather than hotels or motels as in my experience they provide a great place to stay with some wonderful hosts and extremely inventive breakfasts – much more interesting than the “full English”. Actually one of the best places we have stayed in was a tiny B&B in Toronto  with a brilliant chef where I first experienced the Canada blend of sweet and savoury for breakfast – omelette with a slice of watermelon on the side!

We awoke to grey skies but fortunately it was still dry. We had considered crossing over from Crofton to Vesuvius on Salt Spring Island and driving down to Fulford for the ferry over to Swartz Bay. The island is unique in the Gulf Island chain with diverse and fascinating artists’ studios, bakeries – Salt Spring Bread and Laughing Daughters Bakery – cheese factories, a lavender farm, a vineyard, textiles, potters, jewellery makers, glass art, wood turners and many, many artists.

But given that most places appear to be open by appointment only and some close from the end of September, we decided to drive straight down the Trans Canada Highway 1 through the Cowichan Valley from where it becomes Malahat Drive named after the Malahat First Nation.

The Malahat Drive is one of the most beautiful roadways in the world with viewpoints providing scenic vistas of the Saanich Inlet, the Saanich Peninsula, Salt Spring Island and the Gulf Islands in the distance. It begins just south of Mill Bay and takes a 25 km winding and steep route over the 365m Malahat Summit to end in the Goldstream Provincial Park which is very busy during November’s salmon spawning run. The park has several hiking trails and is best between April and June when the wildflowers are in evidence.

We drove all the way without stopping so there are no photos from this stage of the journey, but in August 2005 we diverted off the highway onto the 1A to Chemainus, a small town snuggled in between a mountain range and the Stuart Channel. Mining, fishing and forestry were the original industries that gave work to many Chinese who worked in “bull gangs”. Later they were joined by Japanese, Scots and Germans looking for riches in the mines and staying to work the forests and on fishing boats. And the Cowichan Valley has been home to The Original First Nations peoples and their ancestors for generations. When the lands’ natural resources started to dwindle and Chemainus was in danger of becoming a ghost town it found a new lease by inviting artists from around the world to paint huge murals on the sides of buildings. Thus becoming a famous tourist-attraction. Although quite kitsch, there is a kind of wonderment that makes you want to see more. And many of the murals have very interesting tales to accompany them.

Click on a photo to see the slide show and more information about each mural.

Central Coast

In 2005 we stayed in the Comox Valley, slightly further to the north of Coombs where we stayed on this journey. It seems fitting to write about it now since I am already describing Vancouver Island. The Valley stretches some 50 km along the eastern side of Vancouver Island from Fanny Bay to Saratoga Beach. It is a collection of rolling mountains, delicate alpine meadows, rushing rivers, pristine lakes, lush forests, fertile farms and more than 40 green parks. It is a perfect base for exploring further afield and easy to get to with its own airport and regular ferry crossings to Powell’s River on the Sunshine Coast which is the way we approached it. Note to self: Remember to write about the Sunshine Coast when I finish with the island. Continue reading Central Coast

Englishman River Falls

Little Qualicum Falls and Englishman River Falls offer well-maintained trails, Rathtrevor Provincial Park offers a 5 km riverside walk and for more intrepid explorers there is a five-hour journey deep below the surface at Horne Lake Caves which includes a seven-storey underground waterfall called the Rain Barrel. For those of us less brave there is Milner Gardens to explore which is rated one of the ten best public gardens in Canada – sadly for me who loves to visit any garden it was only open Thurs – Sun in October. Oh well, another excuse to re-visit the Island. Continue reading Englishman River Falls