At first glance, Victoria is a pretty, quiet, well-behaved sort of place, all quaint and charming with historic houses, lush gardens, and a definite British accent. But Victoria is also so much more than that. For one thing, its setting at the rocky southern tip of Vancouver Island makes this not just a spectacularly beautiful landscape, but also one that lends itself to sailing, kayaking, whale-watching, hiking, biking, and rugged outdoor pursuits of all sorts. For another, this city has an exciting and distinctive culinary culture that goes well beyond the traditions of high tea and pub fare. Victoria, in short, is full of delicious surprises.
Victoria is not only the provincial capital, it is also one of the oldest cities in British Columbia, older than Vancouver by more than 20 years. And, unlike Vancouver, a city always eager to embrace the new and forget the past, Victoria has hung on to its lovely old buildings and its cherished traditions.
Back in the 19th century, Victoria was primarily a merchant city, supplying the crews of seafaring vessels roaming the Pacific Ocean as well as adventurers on their way to the Fraser Canyon and Klondike gold rushes. It was a very proper place, taking its role as an outpost of Queen Victoria’s empire seriously. Even so, it has always had its surprising, even scandalous side: It was, for instance, a major importer and manufacturer of opium, and back in the day had a Barbary Coast neighborhood of gambling dens and brothels that was as dangerous and decadent as any in the empire.
Victoria is still a busy port, although these days the biggest industry in the area is advanced technology, followed by government and tourism. Visitors are drawn to the spectacular Butchart Gardens, one of the world’s most impressive show gardens, and the romance of horse-drawn carriage rides through the city’s historic streets. Beyond the charm, though, there is a vibrant city of talented young chefs, mixologists, artists, writers, and creative professionals of all sorts. And beneath all the prettiness thrums the haunting history of the First Nations people, in evidence all around if you look closely.
Yes, Victoria is as pretty and romantic as you imagine. But it’s also rugged and adventurous, lively and fun, occasionally naughty, and always delicious.