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You could say I have long-standing ties to the capital of British Columbia. I was born in Victoria and lived there for the first 12 months of my life, but I have no memory of it. American writer Maya Angelou once said, “You can’t really know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” A few months ago, I decided it was time to go back to the beginning and explore the place that appears on my birth certificate and passport. While exploring a part of my past, I discovered a place with a bright future.
Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is one of Canada’s most sustainable destinations and the city has received some impressive praise for its efforts. In 2021, it received carbon neutral designation from Ostrom Climate and in 2023, the city received biosphere certification from the Responsible Tourism Institute. Perhaps the greatest tourism recognition of all came in October 2023, when 520,000 readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine selected Victoria as the best city in the world. It was the only city in Canada or the United States to make the coveted list and top it.
I visited Victoria before Condé Nast readers voted it the best city in the world, but to me it has always been larger than life: the mysterious city that I would always be connected to, even though I couldn’t remember it.
My husband and I arrived by ferry and went directly to the Costa Victoria Hotel & Marina by APA. We parked the car in the hotel’s underground parking lot and didn’t see it again for several days.
Victoria is an eminently walkable city and that is one of the things that makes it such a sustainable tourist destination. For several days, we toured the city on foot visiting neighborhoods and parks, exploring the photogenic Inner Harbor, and walking around Fisherman’s Wharf. We attended the annual Victoria Dragon Boat Festival and took a free tour of the Parliament buildings that house the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.
We discovered a community that is a cultural melting pot and that diversity has generated a delicious food scene. We enjoyed English-style fish and chips sitting at picnic tables at Fisherman’s Wharf, an Australian-style brunch at Bear & Joey Cafe and a West African-influenced brunch at Boateng House. We taste the Dungeness crab in Blue Crab Seafood Houseone of the best seafood restaurants in town, and we splurged an evening on the chef’s seasonal tasting menu at Courtney’s rooman award-winning restaurant that is one of the city’s newest fine dining establishments.
We also walked from our hotel to Fisherman’s Wharf and went on a whale watching tour with Eagle Wing Tours, Canada’s first carbon-neutral whale watching company that also donates a percentage of its profits to environmental programs. We saw three species of whale, as well as sea lions, seals, and many different species of birds, and learned about efforts to conserve and protect them.
Finally we took our vehicle out of the hotel parking lot to visit other attractions in the region. The 55 acres Butchart Gardens Brentwood Bay is home to one of Canada’s oldest and most successful land reclamation projects. In 1904, Jenny Butchart began working on a display garden in an abandoned limestone quarry owned by her husband. Today, the beautiful gardens welcome more than a million visitors a year and were designated a National Historic Site of Canada for their centennial in 2004. We spent several hours exploring the gardens and enjoyed afternoon tea at the original family residence, such just like Jenny’s first guests would. Have done.
Historic preservation and sustainability are closely linked and there are several notable sites in and around the city. Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites, a 19th-century artillery fort and the oldest lighthouse on Canada’s west coast, has a fascinating history and beautiful views. We also loved walking through the Edwardian gardens of Hatley Park National Historic Sitewhich is the former Royal Roads Military College.
In Victoria, it’s not summer until blackberries are picked. As we drove through Victoria, we stopped to pick wild blackberries growing in ditches and public spaces. We intended to take some home, but most of our harvest never arrived.
Five days of exploring Victoria on foot and by car gave me a glimpse of an eco-friendly city I’ve long wondered about. I haven’t fully figured out where I’m going, but I discovered something beautiful in my past.
More information: For more information about Victoria, visit the official tourism website: tourismvictoria.com.
Debbie Olsen is an award-winning Métis writer and national bestselling author. She follows her adventures in www.wanderwoman.ca.