Purpose of this Blog is to provide information on:
(click on topics that interest you)
• Events homestay students participate in while being in the city
• Activities related to my novel about a group of international language students in the city
• English language tips for international students
• Profiles of Students
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
By Wendy Bullen Stephenson
Author of Vancouver Memories: My Year Abroad
Traditionally thought of as being more British than England, the city of Victoria has also been known for having the most pleasant weather in Canada. On my recent trip there in mid July, decked out with a map, camera, and a big sun hat, I asked a roving ambassador in downtown Victoria to name the notable features of the city. He responded that the city is surrounded by ocean, is particularly walkable, is known for its gardens, and is famous for chocolate and, unexpectedly to me, for beer. Seeing my surprise at this last attribute, he added, “Well, this is a navy town, you know.”
In fact Esquimalt, just west of downtown, is the West Coast port of Canada’s navy. I, however, didn’t notice any visible presence of navy personnel in this serene town during my two days there. Greater Victoria, made up of 13 municipalities, has a population of about 350,000 people. It is the capital of British Columbia, Canada’s western province.
Victoria seems to enjoy its isolation from the rest of Canada that results from being on an island (Vancouver Island) thus requiring an almost two-hour ferry trip to travel there from Vancouver and the B.C. mainland. Ferries carrying up to 470 cars and 1,600 passengers navigate through some narrow passages between lush green, sparsely inhabited islands, so the voyage to and from Victoria is part of the adventure of visiting that city. On the hot day of my return voyage, I sat during the entire cruise outside in the breeze on the top deck (seventh level) listening to the calls of the sea gulls overhead as they followed the ship.
Victoria has been known as a town of seniors while at the same supporting a significant population of young adults attending the University of Victoria and Camosun College. Seeming to be such a safe town, it is also a choice place to bring up children. All of the many dozens of homestay students that I have hosted over the years have thoroughly enjoyed visiting Victoria, confirming my view that is a rewarding place to visit due to its historic buildings, engaging exhibitions, fresh ocean air, lavish flowers and gardens, and relaxed pace.
Some of the highlights for international students include going whale watching, experiencing the underwater marine world, visiting North America’s second oldest Chinatown, spending a couple of hours at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, riding on a double-decker bus, walking through the elaborate Craigdarroch Castle, indulging in tea at the Empress Hotel, visiting the late 19th century home of Emily Carr (one of BC’s most famous artists), touring the world-class provincial museum and world-famous Butchart Gardens, seeing the wax museum, shopping for souvenirs in the many unique shops, touring the legislature building, and eating in some of the varied restaurants or just munching fudge and chocolates or licking an ice cream cone while walking around the human-scale city centre.
Oh, and did I forget to mention climbing around on rocky beaches including Foul Bay, Mile Zero, and Oak Bay? That’s fun too!
Most of the downtown buildings are under five stories high and suggest the historic roots of the old fort town. The Victoria area was home to several long-time communities of Coast Salish peoples when Spanish and British explorers visited the northwest coast of North America beginning with the voyage of Captain Cook in 1776. Spanish sailors visited Esquimalt harbor just west of Victoria in 1790 and 1792. In 1843, the Hudson's Bay Company established a fort there as its western base under the direction of Sir James Douglas. He became governor when the crown Colony of Vancouver Island was established in 1849. With the discovery of gold in British Columbia in 1858, Victoria mushroomed as the port became a supply outlet for miners on their way to Mainland gold fields. Victoria was incorporated as a city in 1862.
Today’s city’s planners recognize the importance of keeping the city’s heritage personae. In August 2012 Victoria will celebrate its 150th birthday.
In wanting to revisit, after many years, the legislature building (located overlooking the Inner Harbour), I was amazed that without a reservation one can join a free, guided tour or, on one’s own, explore the unique stone building with its marvelous stained glass windows and colourful historical frescoes.
I was just disappointed that the legislature wasn’t in session while I was there as I missed seeing an animated debate by our MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly), who comprise our provincial government. The building itself is the focal point of the city at night, outlined, as it is, by hundreds of magical white lights reflected in the glittering water of Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
Victoria and My Past
The first time I visited Victoria was as a grade 12 student on a trip organized by the Vancouver Sun Newspaper specifically for editors of high school yearbooks. At that time we were shown the major attractions of the city (Butchart Gardens, Craigdarroch Castle, etc.) and we participated in workshops related to producing school publications—an inspiring event for me.
Later, while serving as a corporate curator for BC Central Credit Union, I guided an art-buying committee to various galleries, artists’ studios, and the fine art department of the University. For the same organization on another occasion, I was in charge of a touring art exhibition, which I had organized, that was on display at a convention in the Empress Hotel.
As a parent I have vivid memories of trips to the city while my daughter attended the University of Victoria—leaving home for the first time. Oh, the struggles to transport her and her personal possessions back and forth on the ferry in vehicles that always seemed too small for the purpose! Even the filled-to-the-roof, rented moving van on the trip home after her grad day hardly left any space to sit.
More recently I spent a gratifying day in Victoria’s Provincial Archives as a UBC doctoral student. In the archives I examined student artwork, old texts, and photographs that related BC’s art education in the 1920s to 1950s.
I would love to return to tour the current dinosaur exhibit at the provincial museum—a truly inspirational institution—with my nephew and grandson, who are dinosaur-enthusiasts.
The purpose of this summer’s trip was to take photographs for this blog and for my article in the Japanese e-magazine Cradle My Spirit at
Needing to acquire insight about and photos of the city for an imaged children’s book I am writing on Canadian cities was another reason for this visit.
Yes, Victoria seems such a romantic town, as revealed in the chapter I set in Victoria in my novel Vancouver Memories: My Year Abroad. Have a look at the relevant diary entries (July 5 to 8), as there are numerous other photographs showing the attractions of Victoria that my fictional homestay characters enjoy while visiting the city, as do my real homestay students. The novel, free for viewing, is at www.vancouvermemories.ca
I plan to spend more time in Victoria. One overnight visit is certainly not enough!
Article and photos
by Wendy Bullen Stephenson,