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There's more to Victoria than Afternoon Tea

by Sheila Taylor

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, is best known as a “piece of Olde England”.  Forty years ago visitors may have wanted this to be an accurate and charming view, but today this marketing ploy fails to see what Victoria has to offer.  Where does Victoria get this stiff-upper lip reputation?

This provincial capital city is located on Vancouver Island and like Britons there is a similar splendid isolationist view among Victorians; that island life is the only life. The journey to the Island is through a beautiful landscape, however you arrive, and makes Victoria a special place. Equal distances to Vancouver and Seattle, Victoria is a great getaway from either city. Visit Victoria in the summer if you like busy towns. Around the end of June, the beginning of July, you will catch the Folkfest, the Jazzfest, and Canada Day celebrations. These events show the diversity of the people who live in Victoria, but who are all attached to a common Canadian identity. For a quiet trip, come in September or October, when the weather is often sunny and city colours change from greens to reds.

Victoria is indeed named after the British Queen. Although some Victorians might complain that their city, like HRH, is not as happening as it could be, Victoria offers some pure classics. The Strathcona hotel is home to a maze of bars, the best being Big Bad John’s an old-time bar that plays old time “toons” where you will meet many an old-timer who will be willing to talk to you. Not sure what kind of night you want? Go there and you will make up your mind, as you can’t help but love it or hate.  After a night out, Paradiso di Stelle in Pedestrian zoned Bastion Square is the perfect licensed café to relax and recover. Once you sit there in the sun overlooking the harbour you will go back every day you have left in Victoria.

English style tearooms do exist in Victoria.  Afternoon tea for an exorbitant price is served at the Empress Hotel, which was designed by an English architect, who is also responsible for many of the “must-see” Victoria buildings. Also located in the Empress is the comfortable and luxurious Bengal Lounge, a sign of another British History, that of the British Raj. Save your tea money and sip a Gin and Tonic, surrounded by tiger skins, statues of Bengal elephants and ceiling fans, and enjoy the irony. The Empress is not only proof of Victoria’s English history, but also of the First Nations, who originally owned the land surrounding the profitable harbour, which houses the Legislature, the Empress and the Crystal Garden.

Victoria is probably closer to today’s England than “Olde England”, multicultural and fun, both recognizing that the present is better than the past. Keep this in mind and Victoria becomes unique, unlike the overrated Olde England it is sold as. You will want to return to Victoria and possibly even stay.

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