-See a man turned to stone
-Hear tales of murdered architects and mysterious apparitions
-Take to the high seas in a wee ferry
-Listen to the chiming of carillon bells
-Munch movie popcorn and enjoy an outdoor “theatre” of people-watching
-Sink into luxuriant cushions at one of Canada’s finest hotels
-Savour the freshest fish and fattest French fries
-And almost walk on water
All within three city blocks, and all for less than $40.
That’s Victoria’s unique Inner Harbour Causeway, centred around a marina where people, birds and boats of all shapes and sizes jostle, chatter, and cluster along docks that float in crystal-clear waters populated by seals and otters.
And where on any day, all year round, you can experience a stroll with a difference.
Begin your special stroll along the upper and then lower levels (A) of a two-tiered waterfront walkway. On summer days, and in fine weather the rest of the year, you can enjoy an eclectic assortment of busker-style entertainment, like acrobats, jugglers and mimes, oh my! Or browse the numerous kiosks that offer portrait painting, home-crafted jewelry, and native art.
Then board a jaunty little ferry (B), and water taxi your way around mini ports of call that include waterfront hotels, floating villages, and house boats. Be sure to stop at Barb’s Place (C) and savour some of the best fish & chips this side of London. White, flakey halibut freshly caught by BC’s West Coast fishermen paired with fat crispy fries, is served up on a floating dock overlooking a colourful array of houseboats and commercial fishing vessels. Mmm Mmm good!
On the return “voyage”, make sure you pester your ferry operator for the best of our local tales. Ask about the scandalous goings-on of the architect of our Legislative Buildings (D), Francis Rattenbury who discarded his wife for someone younger, ending up murdered by his new woman’s new man. Or was he? And insist on being regaled of some of our many ghost stories, Victoria being one of the most haunted areas on the West Coast. And then, just before you disembark, ask about the Water Ballet. Every Sunday through the late spring and summer, the ferries perform their own dance en pointe to the lilting strains of the Blue Danube Waltz.
Back on terra firma, walk up to the grand dame among Victoria’s hotels, The Fairmont Empress (E) But watch you don’t get wet. Where you now place your feet was once part of the Pacific Ocean. The Empress, you see, was constructed upon a wood piling causeway built to restrain the waters of James Bay (now the Inner Harbour) but once a tidal inlet that flowed inland as far as present day Blanshard Street (F). Never thought you had it in you to walk upon the waves, did you? Well, let’s see what other magic you can weave.
Head through the lobby doors (G) of the Empress and get that VIP feeling as the smartly outfitted door attendants escort you within. Yes even in your casuals, just as though you were one of their more famous guests (more famous than yourself of course!). Folks like Shirley Temple, Katherine Hepburn, John Wayne, Harrison Ford and Barbara Streisand. Imagine that as you sit into the soft cushions of the Empress lobby chairs.
Okay, now that you well rested, rise up and then walk up a mosaic floored circular stairway. Take note of the intricately painted ceilings, beautiful in-laid floors, sparkling chandeliers and lush tropical plants. That now leads to the famous Tea Lobby where you can partake of the traditional afternoon tea – bite-sized cucumber sandwiches and lemon-curd tarts, with warm tea scones smothered in thick Devon-style local cream and home-preserved strawberry jam. Or just let your imagination allow you to picture an Edwardian ball held in 1919 where waltzing couples surround you in a swirl of satin and lace, and the Prince of Wales danced under dawn.
Why not end your stroll with a spot of people-watching. In an outdoor theatre complete with a bag of movie popcorn. Just exit out of the Empress by the south entrance, take a moment to literally smell the roses in a lovely landscaped garden and arbour (H). Then cross over Belleville Street to the RBCM (I), a museum that includes an IMAX theatre, and here, freshly popped movie treats await you. Then retrace your steps and find a spot among several comfy benches that look down the fine manicured lawns of the Empress to the causeway and the harbour beyond. And let a cinemascope unfold before you. People from all parts of the world, over 3.5 million every year, “strut this stage”. As do water craft including tall ships, whale float planes, yachts and the Victoria Clipper, a car-sized ferry that links Seattle to Victoria.
No movie is complete without a musical score – and your tuneful backdrop comes from the singing tower just in front of the Royal BC Museum. Sixty-two bells in the “Carillon” (J) ring out several times a day, their theme songs varying with the season, for example, festive carols at Christmas, classical the first of the year and love songs in the spring.