ABOVE: Victoria’s Inner Harbour.Photo by Chris Cheadle/Getty Images
Besides the city itself, one of the things I like best about living in Seattle is its proximity to Victoria in Canada. A short plane or ferry ride, and I’m transported to a delightfully British locale, where people speak with just the hint of an English accent, serve a proper tea in the afternoon, and take pride in their architecture and gardens. Picturesque Victoria (named, of course, after the indomitable Queen) was founded in 1843 as a trading outpost for the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Christened the capital of the province in 1871, Victoria remained the largest city in British Columbia until the beginning of the 20th century, when the new transcontinental railroad passed it by to terminate in mainland Vancouver. For the past hundred years, Victoria has remained a quiet and charming city of late-19th- and early-20th-century buildings and residential neighborhoods. The Arts and Crafts movement is well represented her, as is the bungalow. You’ll find handsome British and American vernacular house styles.
Victoria can be visited on foot or by car; I recommend a combination to really see the city. Beginning downtown at the Inner City Harbor, take a short walk up to Government Street. Start at the unmistakable (Fairmont) Empress Hotel—a turreted Edwardian chateau completed in 1908 as the terminus for the Canadian Pacific Steamship line. (Have afternoon tea there, which is unique and fun if rather pricey.)
Walking north along Government Street, pop into Rogers’ Chocolates to admire the Art Nouveau pendant lamps and eat a famed Victoria Cream. Another block north across the street is the century-old Morris Tobacconists, with beautiful stained glass as well as Cuban cigars. If you don’t mind some exercise, now turn east on Fort Street and walk along Antique Row up to Craigdarroch Castle (1050 Joan Crescent), the 39-room mansion built in 1895 by the wealthy Dunsmuir family, now a restored house museum.
When you get back downtown, retrieve your car and drive south along Government Street to experience Victoria’s neighborhoods. Edwardian-era vernacular Arts and Crafts bungalows and early-20th-century transitional houses line the streets. Government Street ends at the cliffs overlooking the ocean; turn onto Dallas Road and drive along the water through Beacon Hill Park for several kilometers, until you come to Cook Street and the Fairfield neighborhood. Dashwood Manor, an impressive 1912 British Tudor Revival mansion overlooking the ocean, is now a handsome bed-and-breakfast inn (dashwoodmanor.com).
Getting to Victoria
Some visitors think half the fun getting there, because travel offers the beautiful scenery of the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound. New: don’t forget your passport! From Seattle, here are your choices:
• The Victoria Clipper Ferry leaves from Pier 69, passengers only, and takes about 2-1/2 hours: clippervacations.com
• Washington State Ferries leave from Anacortes, Washington (90 miles north of Seattle), good bet if you want to take your car; about 3-1/2 hours: aferry.us
• For the Coho Ferry, drive around the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula to Port Angeles; you can take your car: cohoferry.com
• Kenmore Air flies several times a day between downtown Seattle on Lake Union and Victoria’s Inner City Harbor; it takes only about 45 minutes and is gorgeous, but at $200 round-trip it’s the most expensive option: kenmoreair.com
• Gray Line of Seattle is a tour-bus service from Seattle to Victoria, in about three hours: graylineseattle.com
Drive slowly along Marlborough, Wellington, and Faithful and you will see many Arts and Crafts and Historical Revival homes. Victoria’s version of Bungalow Heaven [Pasadena] is a neighborhood between Kipling and Durban with many California-style bungalows built by the Bungalow Construction Company. Go up to Rockland Avenue to the large Governor’s House, where 36 acres of gardens are open to the public.
Follow Rockland a couple of blocks further east to St. Charles Street, which is lined with more examples of attractive Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Tudor Revival architecture. A favorite is “Illahie” (1041 St. Charles), one of the most romantic houses in Victoria; it was built in 1906. St. Charles intersects Oak Bay Avenue, which leads to nearby beaches through neighborhoods of period homes. No visit to Victoria is complete without a trip fourteen miles north to Butchart Gardens (butchartgardens.com), 55 acres of floral extravagance created from a former quarry mine in 1904 by the Butchart family and still maintained by them. In summertime, catch the spectacular Saturday night fireworks display. Both the cafeteria and more formal restaurant in the Butcharts’ old house are excellent.
Victoria by Armchair
• Victoria Heritage Foundation great information website, offers historical tours: victoriaheritage.ca
• Maltwood Art Museum, University of Victoria maintains a collection of Arts and Crafts ceramics (by appt.): maltwood.uvic.ca/arts-crafts
• Craigdarroch Castle recently restored and a house bursting with quality and craftsmanship: craigdarrochcastle.com
• Historic Style manufactures and imports historical wallpapers, textiles, hardware, tile, tapestries, home accessories: historicstyle.com