July 14 – 16
We’d opted for the in-camp breakfast the next morning which for us included the Belgian Waffles (1 waffle using their free-range eggs served with homemade berry sauce and syrup with whipped cream) and the scrambled eggs (2 free-range eggs scrambled, Canadian Bacon and 2 slices of homemade toast with homemade jam), each only $5.95/Canadian ($5 USD). Sounds good doesn’t it? And believe me it was as delicious as described.
Suitably fortified, we drove into Victoria and as it was Sunday, parked for free at the meters on Fort Street, a number of blocks from the harbor. We made our way down to Humboldt (which turns into Wharf at the corner) and Government Streets for our first glimpse of the impressive Fairmont Empress Hotel, also confirming our meeting point for the walking tour we’d be taking later in the day.
From there we walked a long block down to the Royal BC Museum and its adjacent Thunderbird Park to check out two structures on display there, the first being a culturally appropriate and accurate portrayal of First Nations tradition, Wawadit’la, a Kwakwaka’wakw “big house” constructed in 1952 by Mungo Martin. It is surrounded by a number of totem poles, each intricately carved and restored by Martin until his death in 1962 and later by another renowned carver Henry Hunt.
From there we went to the nearby Helmcken House, one of the oldest in British Columbia still on its original site. Built by Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken, a surgeon with the Hudson’s Bay Company, in 1852, he became a pivotal presence in Victoria, going on to become a statesman who helped negotiate the entry of British Columbia into Canada as a province.
Originally a one room cabin, it was subsequently added on to during the years of its occupation to become larger home with three separate sections. The rooms we could visit were nicely restored and we left with a better idea about what life was like for an upper middle-class family of that time period.
With some time to kill before our walking tour and knowing we’d need some fuel in the tank to sustain us during it, we stopped in at Dog Gone It for a pretty good hot dog and milk shake.
Portion sizes were substantial enough that it would hold us over for the rest of the day, not needing to eat until we were leaving town to return to camp.
Finished with lunch, we walked across the street to the Visitors Center to meet up with Chris, our host for the Discover the Past walking tour we’d take that afternoon. Here is my review in Trip Advisor:
One of the Better Guided Tours We’ve Experienced
My wife and I have traveled extensively and whenever possible try to take a guided walking tour of whichever city we visit. Being budget conscious Discover the Past appealed to us and at the end of the day, they could have charged more, and we would have been just as happy. Our tour guide Chris is an historian and he brings this passion to his tour; you won’t be bored, and you’ll come away knowing much more than when you started
Like the many tours we’ve taken in the past, this is billed as a free one, meaning you pay what you feel it was worth at the end. For us, this is generally $15 apiece and, in this case, it was worth every penny. As we stood overlooking the harbor and Parliament House, Chris filled us in on his own history as well as Victoria’s.
We started up Wharf Street to the Old Victoria Customs House, completed in 1875 and designated as a historic building in 1987. Symbolic of the time when Victoria was the pre-eminent commercial center on Canada’s West Coast, it is described by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada as a “relatively plain example of the imposing Second Empire style adopted for these buildings under Thomas Seaton Scott, first Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works (1872-1881).
Moving along we continued on towards Chinatown, once a significant part of Victoria, stopping on Pandora Avenue before heading up Fan Tan Alley. Named after the Chinese gambling game Fan-Tan, the alley was originally a gambling district with restaurants, shops, and opium dens. Today it is a tourist destination with many small shops including a barber shop, art gallery, Chinese cafe, apartments and offices. It is the narrowest street in Canada (at its narrowest point it is only 35 inches wide.) and was designated as a heritage property by the local government in 2001.
We finished up our tour hot and tired and having forgotten where we parked the car, it took us a little longer than normal to get back to it. By the time we did and being quite thirsty, we decided to stop somewhere for a beer or two before heading back to camp and stumbled upon the perfect spot, Pluto’s Restaurant. Located in a converted Phillips 66 gas station, we sat outside under shade on a nearly perfect afternoon, enjoyably warm with clear blue skies.
Not very hungry after the big lunch and a bit worn out from the het and walking, we ordered a couple of local beers and the Santa Fe Cheese Toast (Garlic Toast, Santa Fe Pesto, Cheese and Avocado), a particularly good thing to put into your mouth and savor, each flavor distinct and yet blending into a pleasing whole. It had been a good first full day in town and we looked forward to the next which we’d fill with cycling and viewing gardens. So, we were quite happy to call it a day and repair to camp enjoy a pleasant evening reading and relaxing.
Mungo Martin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mungo_Martin
Dog Gone It: https://www.yelp.com/biz/dog-gone-it-victoria
Discover the Past: https://discoverthepast.com/