Wednesday 15th June – Fort Victoria RV Park
We had decided to give the RV a day off and we took the bus into Victoria. We had been given the timetable and arrived at the bus stop a little early. The bus arrived then I realised that we were on the wrong bus! Sure enough we were heading to the dockyard and not the harbour, two totally different places. We got off our bus, crossed over the road and waited for another bus to take us back to where we had started from. A bus came along and we asked the driver how we could get into the city. We had to cross the road again and get a number 24 or 25. Anyway to cut a long story short we finally arrived in Victoria.
Our first port of call was to have a coffee before heading down to the harbour. If there is water you will more often than not find Richard and I there! The Empress Hotel dominates the harbour and is one of the 21 Most Iconic Hotels in the World. It was built for Canadian Pacific Railway and opened on 20th January 1908. It was considered one of Canada's grand railway hotels, but Victoria didn’t have a railway! However CP did have a steamship line which had it’s terminal just a block away and the hotel served business people and visitors to Victoria until CP ceased its passenger services to the city. Victoria emerged as a tourist destination beginning in the mid-to-late 1920s. You can have afternoon there for £60 per person!
We got on the hop-on hop-off bus which took us around the city and the peninsula. I don’t really know what I was expecting but Victoria was very different! The first part of the bus tour was round the main part of the city, but I have to admit it didn’t thrill me very much 😕 China Town, though, is the second oldest in North America. The next place was Beacon Hill Park. A lovely city park with it’s own petting zoo. There was also a huge totem pole. On June 30th 1956, the Story Pole was erected and, when installed, it was the world's tallest free-standing story pole at 127 ft 7 ins.
From there we drove across to the other side of the peninsula which, I guess, we would call the suburbs, but this was, for us, the best part of the tour. Great big houses and little areas which the tour guide kept calling villages – she had obviously never been to the UK! Along the south coast the wind became really bitter and I only had my hoodie cardigan on which did help to keep me warm. We decided to get off at the last stop, in Cook Street Village, which, again was a lovely area. These villages reminded us very much of Key West. As we hadn’t tried a burger in Canada we went into a small burger joint, Big Wheel Burger, and I had probably the best burger I had ever eaten! We walked back to the harbour through Beacon Park which we had driven round earlier.
We arrived back near the harbour at 2pm to hear a clock striking the hour, it then went on to play a lovely little tune. It was the Netherlands Centennial Carillon which was a gift from British Columbia’s Dutch community to honour Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967. It is housed at the top of the tower, which stands 90 feet tall. This carillon, the largest in Canada, has 62 bells. To play, a musician has to climb the 75 steps of the spiral staircase and then a 10-step ladder to sit at the clavier. There, the carilloneur depresses the clavier’s keys and pedals to sound the bells and play a song. The pitches of several bells commemorate specific events: D celebrates the founding of the Colony of Vancouver Island in 1849, E the founding British Columbia as a colony in 1858, and F-sharp their union in 1866; F rings for the Confederation of Canada in 1867 and G-sharp for British Columbia’s 1871 entry into the Confederation; and G remembers Canadian soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of the Netherlands, 1940-45. What a lovely gift.
We passed the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.
There are some funny little boats which ply the harbour giving tours or as water taxis so we decided to have a tour. In the end we decided to have a tour up the gorge in a lovely little electric boat. We had a great skipper who kept us all amused and insisted that we introduce ourselves – a bit like speed dating he said! There were eight of us onboard and we all had a story to tell as to why we were in Victoria, one couple were rabbit sitting for the daughter and another couple were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. So what did we learn? The seaplanes using the harbour are built in Calgary! James Cook was the first European to set foot on Vancouver Island and with him was George Vancouver who, was the greatest of Cook’s protégés. Vancouver’s naval orders were to chart the coast and look for the Northwest Passage. On May 26th 1896 a streetcar crowded with 143 holidaymakers on their way to attend celebrations of Queen Victoria's birthday crashed through Point Ellice Bridge (today usually referred to as the Bay Street Bridge) into the Upper Harbour. 55 men, women, and children were killed in the accident, making it one of the worst transit disasters in British Columbia. Only passengers on the left side of the streetcar escaped. Gold discovery at Ballarat in 1851 sparked Victoria's famous gold rush. An estimated 6000 diggers (miners) arrived each week seeking their fortune. Ballarat was considered the world's richest alluvial goldfield during its peak between 1852 and 1853. The gold rush brought migrants from all over the world to Victoria. The three buildings in this photo go back to that era and the one on the right of the yellow one was the customs house which had to be hurriedly built!
Back on terra firma we had an ice cream and wandered along the harbour to see boats that are taking part in the Race to Alaska. This is a crazy race for boats of any kind though they must not have an engine and be unsupported! The race stretches 750 miles from Port Townsend, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska. The first leg, dubbed "The Proving Ground," covers the 40 miles to Victoria. The boats are mostly a mix of trimarans, catamarans and sailing yachts (aka monohulls), along with two kayaks and a half dozen expedition rowboats. No standup paddleboarders are competing this year. Nine people are attempting the race solo. All totally MAD! If you are interested in more on the race then have a look Here
Finally we wandered up Government Street, the main shopping street, to find our bus and managed, this time, to get on the right one. Back at Mokey II we collapsed! Heaven only knows how we are going to cope with three days in Vancouver!
Thursday 16th June - Tsawwassen RV Park
Our last day 😢 It was sad but we have had a fantastic 19 days and it was getting time to go home.
We drove up to Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgad Lighthouse. You know me I love a lighthouse and this was a proper one not like some it the little squat ones we have seen. The charge $22 to get in but we had our Parks Canada Discovery Passes so got free entry. The cards were fairly expensive ($61.75 or £38.50) and we needed them for the Icefields Parkway and certain other National Parks, but we haven’t needed them for the Provincial Parks. If we lived in Canada they would be a good deal as they last for 12 months.
Britain’s Royal Navy first started using the harbour at Victoria, Esquimalt, Harbour in the 1840s, at first merely for anchorage, watering and for lumber, but the establishment of three hospital huts during the Crimean War of 1854–1856 marked the start of what is still an active naval base of the Royal Canadian Navy. Gradually the naval harbour at Esquimalt got bigger and bigger and needed defending. The British and Canadian couldn’t come to an agreement over what defences there should be until 1893, when both countries agreed to contribute. The Royal Marine Artillery garrison, composed of specialists with two years' training, arrived in 1894. They were joined by officers and men of the Royal Engineers, to oversee construction of the permanent defences. Between February 1894 and October 1897, two separate forts were constructed: one at Macaulay Point (site of earlier earthwork batteries), and an entirely new location at Rodd Hill. The local Canadian artillery militia continued to receive instruction and practice in gunnery, and became very proficient, winning several national competitions. Annual training schemes brought both Imperial and Colonial troops into sham battles and exercises, including a full-scale night assault on Fort Rodd Hill and Esquimalt naval base in 1902.
In the early years of World War II (1940-1941) a Fortress Plotting Room was built into an outer wall of the Lower Battery. This facility was built to provide target information to the long range guns of the Mary Hill Battery and Albert Head Battery. The computations were done using a Fortress Plotting Machine that weighed a half ton. The facility was bomb proof and gas proof.
The plotting machine was obsoleted by the introduction of radar into the harbour defence and the room became an anti-aircraft operations room in 1951 until it was closed down in 1954.
Construction of Fisgard Lighthouse began in 1860. While work was underway on the tower, George Davies, aged twenty-eight, was hired in England to be the first full-time keeper on Canada’s West Coast. He signed his yearlong contract on Christmas Eve, 1859, and was given a wage of “150 pounds per annum without rations” along with a dwelling “exclusive of bedding and linen.” He and his wife, Rosina, and three of their four children, boarded the Grecian on January 19th, 1860, and set sail for Victoria, a journey that lasted seven months. The tower stands 48 feet tall and the two-story keeper’s dwelling, also made of brick, has a pair of rooms on both floors. The light was first lit on Friday November 16th 1860, becoming the first operating lighthouse in British Columbia.
Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites are located on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples, today known as the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations, whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.
We can now tick off a raccoon as being another animal we have seen, but he was a bit camera shy and disappeared quickly!
We wished we had more time to look round, but we had a ferry to catch – it was time to leave the lovely Vancouver Island.
The ferry port was only a 35 minute drive and we arrived an hour before sailing. When we arrived at the port, the lady asked Richard how long the RV was, and he said 35 feet, as that was what he had measured it at. She got out her measuring stick and measured it at 28 feet! The ferry was much busier than the one to Nanaimo we had taken six days ago. We quickly had some lunch then went out on deck to watch the lovely Gulf Islands.
According to Hello BC, the 200 Gulf Islands are home to eclectic residents with bohemian souls. I also read somewhere that there are 300 islands! Thy looked lovely and I’m sure one could spend a few months exploring them all. We were so lucky as we were sailing into the sunshine, if we looked right there was sunshine, but the other directions looked very grey. We also wandered into US waters for a few minutes!
We arrived at the ferry port and then had a 4km drive to our last stop. Tsawwassen RV Park is only about 40 minutes from the Canadream depot so we hadn’t got to drive the next day. The park and all Tsawwassen is built on the lands of Tasawwassen First Nation.
We spent the first part of the evening doing the packing but it was hard work in such a confined space and we ended up with a lot of bags!