The hour and a half ferry journey from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay passes pleasantly as you glide through a series of islands, offering stunning views, with mountains just visible on the horizon. On arriving, it is still an hour or so bus ride to Victoria itself, but for the curious first time traveller this is no great hardship, allowing you to see parts of the island you wouldn’t otherwise.
Darkness had already fallen by the time we reached the city centre, and what a pleasant experience to be greeted by the glinting of lights illuminating many of the buildings, especially around the marina – Parliament House taking centre stage. After wandering the streets of Downtown and getting our bearings we decided on the Bard and Banker for dinner. Named for the bank that occupied the building for many years, and possibly its most famous employee, Robert Service, a popular poet in the first half of the twentieth century. A beautiful interior and the promise of music every night makes this a great spot for a night out, and the food was some of the best we had on the trip.
The next day we set off into town without any grand plans, which resulted in a wander around the shops (and far too much money spent on craft supplies – Beehive Wool Shop and the Button and Needlework Boutique have such lovely things, it was too hard to resist). Munro’s Books proved an excellent place to pick up some homegrown fiction (still on the to-read pile – watch this space), and after all that shopping we were in need of refreshment. West Coast Waffles have a vast selection of waffles, and confirmed my new-found belief that savoury is actually preferable when it comes to waffles. They also serve delicious freshly made smoothies. It wasn’t a cheap lunch but it was satisfying.
After all this indulgence we went in search of some history in the form of Craigdarroch Castle. A luxurious mansion built between 1887 and 1890, it stands proudly overlooking Victoria with the intention of reminding residents who was the richest, most important man in town. Robert Dunsmuir made his fortune from Vancouver Island coal, but sadly never got to enjoy his castle, dying in 1889. He left his entire estate to his wife Joan, which caused huge family rifts that lasted the rest of her life. James Dunsmuir, their last remaining son, cut all ties with the family business in 1910 and retired in his own grand house, Hatley Castle, on which more later.
The Dunsmuirs went out of their way to make Craigdarroch a symbol of their wealth, importing expensive materials from across the globe. Effort has been made to ensure the items within are appropriate, many having been owned by the Dunsmuirs even if not originally from Craigdarroch. For me the highlight was the beautiful stained glass windows throughout the house.
Hatley Castle was first on our list of places to visit the next day and so we piled on to several buses to reach Royal Roads University, in whose grounds it stands. Nestled in trees and surrounded by formal gardens designed to give the impression of inherited English grounds, it is a pleasant place to be. Unfortunately, it was not open to visitors when we visited so could only enjoy the exterior. From 1940 it was used for naval training, but is perhaps best known today for its appearance in a number of blockbusters, perhaps most famously as Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in X-Men, and most recently in Deadpool.
Our final stop of the day was Oak Bay Marina. A peaceful place with lovely views of Mount Baker, although let’s be honest, it’s the sea lions that really capture your attention.