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Victoria Whistler

30th May 2010

Victoria - Forever a Part of England Far Away

    The inn had given me a complementary breakfast ticket, which turned out to be a $4 voucher that went towards the cost of your breakfast; a shrewd move on the inn's part. The menu was over the top, so I ordered simple scrambled eggs on toast. Somehow, that got lost in the translation, and became strawberries on toast. I must enroll on a course in English as a second language when I get back.
    I had to collect some things from the van, so while there I turned the engine over to see if the blasted charging circuit was still dead. To my surprise the warning lamp didn't come on. I knew it was just waiting to catch me out exactly when I didn't want it to, but for the time being I felt easier, and decided to enjoy the city.
    I strolled down Douglas Street to the Royal London Wax Museum where I could catch one of the London bus sightseeing tours. They are an effective way of covering a large area in a small time, and if the tour guide has done his homework, you learn a lot that you wouldn't find in leaflets.
Seagull Eating a Crab
    I found I had time to kill waiting for the tour to start, so I wandered along the harbour wall in the direction of Fisherman's Wharf. As I walked, I found everybody would acknowledge me with a "Hi", or "How ya doing?"; a friendly bunch. Strolling along, I exchanged the usual greetings with an elderly man who was sitting on a bench, and we got into conversation. He was waiting for the boats coming back. What boats? The boats that set off at the crack of dawn in the race. I said he'd have a long wait since there was hardly a breeze. He laughed and agreed. He was a visitor from Seattle, about which we chatted for a while before time constraints forced me to return to start my tour.
Empress Hotel
    On the walk back I spotted a heron wading at snail pace along a narrow beach by the harbour wall. Then, all of a sudden he dipped his head in the water and pulled it back out again, and I could just see the tail of a fish disappearing into his beak. What I did find amazing was a short distance on there was a seagull floating by the rocks near the shore. Suddenly he dipped his head in the water, and reappeared with a crab in his beak. He immediately took off, but instead of flying to a secluded spot, he landed on the path I was walking along, about five feet in front of me. He started banging the poor crab about on the path, the crab thrashing his claws about wildly to no avail. More banging caused a few legs to fall off. Then, with the crab on its back, the gull delivered the coup de grace and tore into the crab's soft under belly. I was fascinated by this macabre event, but more was to come. The gull started eating the legs, then polished off the shell. The words cast, iron and stomach spring to mind. Whilst on the subject of creatures, later on in the day I came across a young girl in her late teens, early twenties, taking a ferret for a walk on a lead. She was surrounded by Japanese tourists snapping away. I chatted to her about my son's mate, Matt, who keeps two ferrets for hunting, which she understood. I then went on to tell her about an English tradition of putting ferrets down trousers. She quickly moved on. A minute later, I noticed a head poking out of a car window while the vehicle was waiting at a set of lights to change. I did a double take, it was a fox. Sadly it was gone before I could extract my camera.
    Back to the tour. First of all the Empress Hotel was pointed out to us. It was at the head of James Bay. The bay had at one time been backfilled with rubble, and this is where the hotel now sits. It is a place to go for ordering top class curry lunches or full English afternoon teas. The land section of James Bay is also the oldest part of town. A little history won't go amiss here. As Americans settled in Oregon territory in the 1840s, the Hudson Bay Company decided to move its headquarters from Fort Vancouver on the Columbian River, and sent Chief Factor James Douglas north to find a new location. He chose the site where Victoria is situated, and in 1843 built the fort eventually named "Fort Victoria" in honour of the young British Queen Victoria. By 1862, Victoria was a sea of mud, with no lights, no water supply and goats wandering the streets; it was apparent that a civic government would be required. Incorporated as a city in 1862, Victoria became "The Queen City of the Pacific Possessions of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria". In 1866, the colony of Vancouver Island merged with the Colony of British Columbia and Victoria became the capital city. However, the Fraser River gold rush soon ended and the Colonial administration was in debt. By the late 1860s, the colony had three choices: remain a colony, join the USA, or join the new Confederation of Canada. Most merchants were American, and together with the prominent citizens, petitioned the American Government seeking annexation. However, the purchase of Russian Alaska by the USA in 1867, tipped the balance. British Columbia joined Canada in 1871.
City Hall
Cruise Ship Imitation
    The tour was then meant to pass through Chinatown. However, Victoria is renowned for its parades and events. Today it was cycle racing downtown, and many streets were blocked off. Other events taking part were a walk along the cliff tops with hundreds taking part, and a running race. Elsewhere groups of Chinese people were practicing Tai Chi.
    The driver negotiated the streets the best way he could. A detour across to Victoria West took us to where a huge Esso storage depot used to stand. Recent years have seen such monstrosities move elsewhere. Nowadays in Victoria the condominium is king, and condos have sprung up all around this area. The people living in new condos in this area didn't want tour busses driving by, didn't like the ship noises coming from the harbour, nor the sound of seaplanes, of which there are plenty. They went to court to put a stop to it all. The judge called them C.A.V.E. people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) and threw the case out of court.
    The journey carried on to Oak Bay. This area was an English outpost. Lots of English folk lived here. It really was a little England, a glorified retirement centre. Indeed lots of people settled down in Victoria to retire. It was thought that in just a few years one third of the population will be over 65. The climate helps. Victoria enjoys the Japan Stream, similar to the Gulf Stream. The east coast of the island experiences the full brunt of the Canadian winter though. As a consequence of this mild climate, the majority of trees are deciduous, unlike their northern counterparts.
    From Oak Bay, we followed the coast around back to James Bay, spotting the San Juan Islands, which belong to the USA, and later the Olympic Mountains in Washington State could just be made out. I also spotted some of the sailing boats creeping back with their spinnakers lazily drifting in the minutest of breezes.
Tong Ji Men Gate
    Various buildings were pointed out on the way. The Anglican Cathedral was modeled on Westminster Abbey. Craigdarroch Castle, was built by the Scottish coal baron Robert Dunsmuir in 1898. A building had been designed to look like a cruise ship to allow the developer to add more zeroes onto the end of the cost.
Chinese Public School
    A return through the Beacon Hill Park brought us back to the beginning. I headed up to Chinatown, pausing on the way to take in some of the cycle race; it reminded me of when I used to race bikes in my mid teens. Chinatown was having its Sunday market. I wandered through up to the Tong Ji Men gate, "The Gate of Harmonious Interest", erected in 1981 to commemorate the co-operation of the entire community to preserve the heritage of Chinatown. I walked through Fan Tan Alley, a narrow four feet lane, now full of artisan shops. Not long ago, it and many places like it, would have been teeming with opium dens. The police didn't close them all down, as long as they got their take. The police were stricter on gambling.
    Nearby I located the Victoria Maritime Museum. That was fatal, I spent well over an hour learning about the maritime history of Victoria, and The Canadian Navy which had a base at Esquimalt on Victoria West.
    I left the museum in pouring rain, and took refuge in the IMAX theatre to take in an excellent undersea world documentary. Seemed like hundreds of others were doing likewise. With the film finished, I headed up to Beacon Hill Park, an unspoiled grassy area with its share of rocky outcrops, gardens, man made lakes and children's play areas. I stumbled across a league fastball (amateur baseball) match taking place. I studied it for a while and got the gist of the tactics from some young lads standing by. Further on I came across a cricket match with two Asian Indian teams competing. Tennis and crown-green bowling could also be found in the park making up a cosy English feel.
House Boat Street
    I completed a lovely two hour walk by popping into Swan's for a beer and shepherd's pie. This was a popular place, full of original artwork on display, and live music. Tonight it was Bluegrass which I am partial to. As the band played, it drifted between Bluegrass and Country music. However, the singer couldn't quite hit the top notes during the Country routines. I had a laugh with the two ladies who sat next to me; they couldn't stand the singing. One had noticed me say "Cheers" to the waitress, and she immediately asked me where I was from in England. She had lived in London for a while. The two departed for the Irish pub down the road to spare their ears.
    I reflected on Victoria and how quintessentially it represents England: the architecture, cuisine, shops, recent history, the dress code of the young, how the young congregated in the evenings. With cricket matches and crown-green bowling, you could be in Bournemouth. Down by the harbour, a clock was chiming on the hour, exactly mimicking Big Ben, and bagpipes could be heard playing. Everybody was friendly and spoke as they passed by. One thing I did observe, there was an acute shortage of "homeless people" and beggars here. I would have liked more time here, but sadly it was time to move on.
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Victoria Whistler

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Last updated 5.6.2010