Part 1 Tsawwassen Vancouver Island - the Vancouver Island Ferry Vancouver Island Craigdarroch Castle - Victoria City - the Butchart Gardens Part 2 Vancouver City City Tour - Stanley Park - Christ Church Cathedral - Sun Yat Sen Garden Rocky Mountains Vancouver - Revelstoke - Alberta other pages British Columbia : overview and history | other provinces | articles
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For a visit to Vancouver Island one must take the Ferry in Tsawwassen. Highway One, the Trans-Canada Highway, is quite busy past Vancouver. On the highway, the speed is limited to 100 kilometers per hour (in 1980 Canada switched to the metric system), but Canadian drivers don't seem to bother about speed limits... Therefore all along the road there are speed camera's, but they are clearly indicated by road signs.
In Fort Langley, the road to follow is Highway 10. Along this highway we saw many Dutch-sounding names, so apparently the Dutch and the Belgians are also well represented in Canada ! Highway 10 is a very busy two-lane road, and the quality of the road surface is not really encouraging, probably because of the heavy commercial traffic. This is no exception, although this traffic artery to the Ferry and the Vancouver International Airport is rather important. In general, all over Canada the road infrastructure is rather poorly. However, throughout the whole province, major road work is in progress to modernize it, and to expand it to four lanes.
On Highway 17, leading to the Ferries, there is a large road sign that indicates their occupation rate and the waiting times. The ferry to Swartz Bay was filled for 75%, and no waiting was to be expected.
The Ferry crossing from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay is a rather expensive affair, as for two people and a pickup truck we paid 65.75 CAD, just one way ! At that, we had been told that the charge for a crossing with a fifth wheel would have cost around 400 cad, one way... However, the Ferry service is well organized, they rigidly adhere to a very exact schedule, and the ships are well-maintained.
The BC Ferry's SeaWest is a very large and very modern Ferry, with six decks. There are eight lanes per deck, and it can load 500 cars and 2,100 people. In addition, the ship contains several lounges, excellent armchairs, telephones, computer stations, television, children's play areas, a sandwich bar, buffet, restaurant and cafeteria, and well-maintained outside decks.
With its powerful 21,000 horsepower engines, the ship glides effortlessly and quickly over the water, and crossing to Swartz Bay takes about one and a half hour. A reservation for the return is highly recommended, especially during a long weekend.
It takes about thirty minutes and 27 kilometers to reach Victoria, the island's largest city and the capital of British Columbia.
Craigdarroch Castle was the estate of Robert Densmuir, a very wealthy Canadian coal baron and railroad tycoon, who in his time was the richest man in Canada. The house was completed in 1890, but unfortunately Densmuir wasn't able to enjoy it, for he had passed away. Even more unfortunately, he entered history with a rather bad reputation, because of the awful manner in which he treated his servants and employees...
The architectural style immediately overwhelms for being heavy and dark ! One immediately notices the great similarity with Casa Loma, the (mis)-structure of another multimillionaire in Toronto : very expensive, but also absolutely tasteless ! Unfortunately, the interior appeared to be in the same style : dark and gaudy.
While Victoria is the capital of British Columbia, the city is only accessible by ferry from the mainland ! Apparently, the governors of this first colony were only interested in this base, that so resembled their homeland. A second colony was only established on the mainland AFTER gold was discovered there, but otherwise the interest in the rest of the province didn't seem to be very important... A few figures to illustrate this. Vancouver Island contains 17% of the province's population, and Vancouver Island and Vancouver City together house two million of a total of 3.5 million inhabitants. Spread out over a mere TWO percent of the entire province's territory...
The north of the island doesn't really have any particular landmarks, but it is the place to go for sport, kayaking, fishing, hunting, water sports, hiking and biking in the vast countryside.
Victoria City is a very European-looking city. The streets are random, and it doesn't look at all like the chessboard of planned American cities. The city definitely welcomes tourists, and picturesque double-deck buses drive everywhere. The city center contains a lot of small shops, and people walk all over the wide sidewalks. Many cafés have exterior terraces, and there are separate bicycle paths. Finding a parking space in the center of the city is quite a task, and most people just park a few blocks away from the harbor. This harbor is very picturesque too, and many yachts float on the water.
The ancient and historic Parliament Buildings are very appealing, even if they look rather dense. Unfortunately, the city council found no better than to add an enormously massive lighting system to the front, in order to illuminate the buildings at night. However, this gives them a striking resemblance to the Disney World by Night Parade...
The world famous and most exclusive Fairmont Empress Hotel is a very large complex, that was built in 1908. In those days it was exclusively reserved for the "better" clientele. Even today, only registered guests are allowed access to the main entrance and the lobby, though the various shops have been opened to ordinary mortals...
The entrance to the Butchart Gardens may seem to be rather expensive, but once the visit is over, that price is completely justified, because these gardens are extraordinarily gorgeous !
At the end of the 19th century, Madame Butchart's husband ran a cement factory in Victoria. He obtained his base material in his limestone quarry, which had a surface of 22 hectares. However, by 1904 this quarry was exhausted, and as was usual, all of the waste products just remained where they were. This resulted in a ghastly "lunar" landscape, with nothing except holes and mounts of rubble.
The energetic Madame Butchart had the luminous idea to build a garden in this "worn out" soil. Fortunately, the family had relatively large resources, and with a garden-architect, an army of workmen and gardeners, an old railroad, and a lot of physical effort, she built the Sunken Garden in an old excavated area.
It is certainly worth noting that Mme Butchart worked also very hard in her garden, and that she climbed all over the rocks to plant flowers and plants ! Credit where credit is due, and we therefore tip our mental hats to Mme Butchart... The first results were simply delightful ! Their guests spread the news, and gradually more and more visitors turned up to see and admire this new wonder of the world !
But Mme Butchart didn't stop there, and she continued to work out her dream in the rest of the quarry. By 1920, more than 50,000 visitors came by annually ! Her work was continued by her children, her grandchildren and even her great-grandchildren.
The family business has excellent garden architects and a small army of gardeners, and it made sure that perfectionists were put in charge, so that even the smallest detail is taken care of. The seven gardens are decorated under different themes, and each one is continuously adapted to the current season. Nowhere even one weed can be found, and everything is incredibly varied and colorful. More than one million visitors come by each year, to admire this work of art.
Exceptionally beautiful and simply a Must !
** Continue reading with Things to See-Part 2 **