When Winter Olympic host Vancouver hogged the international spotlight in 2010, many people around the world believed they were seeing images of British Columbia’s capital.
But across the water,
confusingly located (unlike Vancouver) on Vancouver Island, Victoria has been
the west coast province’s official chief city since the 19th Century. And in
August 2012, the city will step out from under the shadow of its mainland
sibling to celebrate its 150th birthday.
waterfront capital – often defined on postcards by its landmark ivy-covered Empress Hotel -- is sometimes dismissed
as a twee colonial outpost where afternoon tea is de rigueur and fish and chips
are a daily staple. But Victoria has quietly undergone a transformation in recent
years, and although many visitors still stick to the touristy Inner Harbour
area, savvy travellers are striking out to join locals in the distinctive surrounding
northeast of downtown, has become the city’s funkiest neighbourhood, as artsy
Victorians restock the old buildings with cool eateries, piercing salons and
radiate out from the Gladstone Avenue and Fernwood Road intersection, home to
the Belfry Theatre, a former clapboard
church that stages contemporary plays, and the Fernwood Inn, a revitalized old-school pub
where locally-brewed Driftwood Ale and Phillips Chocolate Porter jostle for
attention with live bluegrass nights.
candlelit, brick-lined Stage is a
tapas and wine bar favourite – try the risotto made with local scallops – while
a few blocks away is hole-in-the-wall Fernwood
Coffee, where young hipsters gather to guzzle the city’s best java and munch
on the addictive cookies.
Knick-knacks and top burgers
walk south of Fernwood, Cook Street Village has transformed a once-drab enclave
into a vibrant stretch of independent shops and patio-hugging eateries,
colouring both sides of Cook Street between Southgate and Chapman. The low-rise
thoroughfare’s side streets are studded with attractive gable-roofed wooden
houses and vintage blue- and green-painted apartment blocks.
It is hard to
resist nipping into Kay’s Korner (337 Cook Street; 250-386-5978) to peruse its
carefully curated treasure trove of period trinkets, from ironic Vegas shot
glasses to renovated furniture. Handily,
Kay’s is just a few steps from the area’s tastiest draw, Big Wheel Burger. The restaurant is an
ideal spot to slide onto a plastic chair, sink your teeth into a top-notch,
sustainably-sourced burger and watch the streetscape pass by.
To work off
that extra order of poutine (a
Canadian favourite of fries topped with gravy and cheese curds), the labyrinthine
James Bay neighbourhood is a short stroll away. Between the rear of the
Buildings and the open, wave-whipped Pacific Ocean, Victoria’s oldest
residential neighbourhood is striped with brightly-painted, shingle-sided
19th-century houses -- perfect for some on-foot heritage home spotting.
Look out for
sparklingly preserved Italianate, Queen Anne and Arts and Crafts residences
here, and do not miss the canary-yellow, antique-filled Emily Carr House, where British Columbia’s
favourite artist lived. Built in 1863, it is open to the public from May to
Pick up a local
history tome and a latte at James
Bay Coffee and Books and make for the area’s expansive waterfront, facing
down hair-whipping ocean breezes at clifftop Beacon Hill Park or perusing the bobbling
houseboats at Fisherman’s Wharf.
From here, hop a bathtub-sized Victoria
Harbour Ferry to the Reeson Landing stop near the foot of Lower Johnson
“LoJo” by enthusiastic marketers, Johnson Street is Victoria’s old town heart,
the spot where 19th-century north-bound Gold Rushers geared up and indulged in
the strip’s gritty saloons and gambling dens. In recent years LoJo’s hulking,
candy-coloured facades have been preserved, repainted and populated with the
city’s best indie stores.
include Rebel Rebel, for its co-ed
hipster duds; Salts, for its
locally-made hooded sweatshirts; and Saltspring Soapworks, for its
kaleidoscopic bath treats. The edible-seeming wild rhubarb bars are definitely recommended,
but save your appetite for nearby restaurant Lady
Marmalade and its Mexican meatball rice bowls.
sink into one of the restaurant’s sagging, mismatched sofas and raise a
celebratory mug of gunpowder Moroccan mint tea to BC’s birthday capital. It is not
Vancouver, and that is why the locals love it.
The article 'British Columbia’s capital charms' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.