By Roy L Hales
Our first urban walks were around the Seawall, or else False Creek, in Vancouver. Over the past couple of decades we’ve tasted some of the visual delights of cities like Seattle, Canterbury and Quebec. However one of our favourites is closer to home. This past year my wife and I returned to some of our favourite urban walks in Victoria BC.
My Favourite Urban Walk In Victoria
Our #1 favourite is the coastal walk from James Bay to Oak Bay. There are many variations and stopping points on the route, which can be anywhere from a 14 to 20 km round trip.
When we lived in a condo near the provincial legislature, our trip often started out with a visit to the Ogden Point Breakwater. The view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Peninsula is especially spectacular at dawn. I also liked to watch the pilot boats leave Victoria’s Outer Wharf to visit passing deep water vessels.
On a more ominous note, a recent article in the Times Colonist states, “Ocean-going vessels transit Juan de Fuca Strait something like 10,000 times a year.” A large number are oil tankers coming to or from Burrard Inlet. I saw three ships anchored off Esquimalt and a tanker passing through the strait. Though there has yet to be a major incident, Plumber Beach had to be closed down for five months after a 30,000 litre diesel spill in 2016.
During the winter months, Victoria’s outer wharf is also home to the world’s largest optic cable laying vessel. The Cable Ship Cable Innovator relocates to the Royal Roads anchorage in the Spring because Victoria is also Canada’s busiest cruise ship port of call. Several vessels disgorge their human cargo every day. Local residents recognize imminent arrivals by the procession of buses and horse drawn carriages heading for Ogden Point.
From Beacon Hill Park To Oak Bay
As we are currently staying at the James Bay Inn, yesterday we walked along Avalon Road to Beacon Hill Park. This area was occupied by the Lekwungen people before Governor James Douglas told them, “Pretty soon this place is going to be surrounded by a bunch of white people, some of them are not very nice, maybe you would be better off if you moved.” Douglas gave the park to the city of Victoria in 1858. One of the most famous visitors is Emily Carr, who lived close by. The Garry Oak trees and wide open spaces are inviting any time of year. I was fascinated by all the ducks napping on the frozen surface of Goodacre Lake.
We crossed over Dallas Road to the waterfront trail, along the cliff, to Clover Point. In 1843, Douglas wrote, “I was…delighted in ranging over fields knee deep in clover, tall grasses and ferns reaching above our heads …” The area is tamer now, but a favourite haunt of dog owners (and hang gliders during the warmer months).
There are many beach accesses and points of interest along the route to Oak Bay. Sir James Douglas, Billie Barker and “hanging” judge Mathew Begbie are among the many early pioneers buried in the Ross Bay Cemetery. The old Gonzales Observatory was operational from 1914 until 1989. Now a regional park, it is an excellent viewpoint to see the city of Victoria, Juan de Fuca Strait, Olympic Mountains and Sooke Hills. The original Oak Bay Beach Hotel was built in 1927. I haven’t been there since the latest rendition opened in 2012. A luxurious resort, complete with its own and theatre and spa, has replaced the former establishment.
Coming Back To James Bay
Bypassing the Oak Bay Marina, we headed directly into the village. This was originally a middle class streetcar suburb of Victoria, which was incorporated in 1906. Oak Bay is reputedly home to one of the largest collections of art & crafts galleries on Vancouver Island. For those of you who like English pub fare, I recommend the Penny Farthing.
We proceeded down Rockland Avenue. British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governors have resided at 1401 Rockland since 1871. Queen Elizabeth, Prince William and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau all stayed there. Personally, I like to use the pathways for meditative walks.
Arriving at Christ Church Cathedral at 2:00, we took in a concert by the Wisteria String Quartet.
Personally, the real finale of my walk took place with a visit to my favourite restaurant in Victoria. The Il Terrazzo was booked, of course, but there is always a chance to sneak in if you arrive right at opening time.
#2 West Bay Walkway
Our #2 urban walk is along the West Bay Walkway. The trip is 9 – 10 km (return) from the Johnson street bridge.
The principal Songhees village site was along this route before it was sold, in 1911, and the inhabitants were removed to Esquimalt. Now there is a luxury hotel and condominium developments perched along the water’s edge.
Westbay RV Park, at the far end of the trail, was built during the tourism push that accompanied Expo 1986. The Songhees Nation purchased the site from Transport Canada in 2005 and later rechristened the site as the Salish Seaside RV Haven.
#3 – The Inner Harbour To Ogden Point
Our third most popular walk is along the shoreline from Victoria’s Inner Harbour to Ogden Point. There are numerous possible variations of the route, which can be between 4 and 6 km.
The first wooden bridge crossing James Bay dates back to 1859. A granite retaining wall closed the area east of Government street in 1903-1904. The lower pedestrian walkway, where buskers, artists and food vendors ply their wares, was not added until the 1970s.
Two of the area’s dominant buildings were designed by Francis Rattenbury. He catapulted to the forefront of public attention after his design for the current Parliament Buildings was chosen over those of 67 rivals in in March 1893. The Empress Hotel (1904-14) was a later creation. Both buildings are open to the public.
One of the city’s best kept secrets is the Parliamentary Dining Room, which offers fine dining at competitive prices from 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m Monday to Thursday, and 8:30 to 2 PM on Fridays, when the legislature is not sitting. (The restaurant is closed to public from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm during sessions.)
A different kind of subdivision confronts visitors at Fisherman’s Wharf. The name is derived from the fishermen who docked there after the Second World War. A more transient community of liveaboards and float homes took root in the 1970s. When the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) took over in 2002, they set aside 33 berths for floating residences. “There are no absentee owners and float homes are not rented.” In addition to home owners, a diverse collection of food kiosks, shops and eco-tour adventures are also tenants.
James Bay is the West Coast’s oldest residential neighbourhood west of San Francisco. There are community gardens, quaint Victorian era homes and lots of other attractions.
We arrived in time for North America’s first “Window Wanderland.” The idea of decorating local windows comes from Europe.
“It’s simply about bringing people together to do something fun,” a local school co-ordinator told the Victoria News.
Top Photo Credit: Oil tanker passing by houses on Hollywood Crescent, Victoria – Roy L Hales photo