It was still drizzling when we left Tofino on Friday morning, but it gradually cleared as we travelled over the pass and towards the eastern side of the island. We took some time to explore some of he areas that we missed on our late, and hurried, drive across the island when we first arrived. We found a nice little bakery in Port Alberni which sold , of a things, a meat pie with sauce!
This town grew up as a timber town and it stands in the middle f a heavily forested region. One reserve along the main road provided a chance to walk a short way through some of the gigantic Douglas Firs that inhabit this region.
Nearby, is Sproat Lake which is home to some of the world’s largest Forest Fire Fighting Aircraft. There is a nice camping and picnic area – and of course, more forest. This lake is named after Mr Gilbert Sproat who was an early pioneer from Scotland and he founded the fist sawmill in this area.
We hadn’t realised that this was a long weekend in Canada – the celebration of Canada Day. There was a very heavy load of traffic on the roads leading out of Victoria for the weekend and it felt a little unusual for us as headed against the flow of the traffic into the city. I’m glad we had our GPS as it would have been tricky finding our way into town through the one-way streets and small blocks in the old town area of Victoria. We haven’t used it much on the open road (only to give us a sense of distance from our next intended destination) but it has ben extremely useful for getting us in and out of the cities that we have visited.
We arrived in Victoria late in the afternoon on Friday, It is a beautiful city – built around a wonderfully scenic harbour. After checking in to our hotel, we went for a walk along the wharf to look at a craft market that was operating there and for a stroll along the waterfront.
As this was the last stop on our trio, we decided to treat ourselves to some luxury accommodation, so we had organised to stay at the very impressive Fairmont Empress Hotel. This is again on of the grand hotels originally built by the Canadian Railways in their typical Scottish Castlelated style around 110 years ago. Visiting it reminded us somewhat of the last days of the Raj. There is a very grand entrance. The dining room is decorated with beautifully carved wood panelling and the bar (Bengal Tiger) included a real tiger skin and paddled ceiling fans. It has now become popular as a venue for ‘High Teas’ and serves nearly 100 people every day on schedule that starts at 12.00 noon and continues until 6.00 pm. Most of these people come from the cruise ships which visit the harbour almost every day.
We easily filled in our second day in Victoria with a ride on the cute little ‘bathtub’ water taxis and went for a further walk around town. To the left of the hotel is the very impressive parliamentary buildings, as Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia. They were designed by a young architect – only 25 years old at the time. The local story is that after the building was completed, they discovered that he had not included any toilets. That’s probably a reasonable mistake as they would have been nowhere near as important to a young man as they would have been to the more elderly politicians who would live much of their lives in this building. To the right of the hotel is the main shopping and business district of Victoria. This is an interesting mixture of old streetscapes and renovated buildings that house major stores such as the Hudson’s Bay Company.
In the middle of the harbour walk was a statue of Captain Cook. Apart from seeing it on a previous visit here, I would not have known that he sailed this far north on one of his great voyages of discovery. He certainly was a prolific explorer. And the unique thing about this statue of him is that it doesn’t have a seagull sitting on his head as all the others seem to do. We took a water taxi for a harbour cruise and stopped off at Fishermans Wharf for lunch and look at some of the floating houses that make up the little village there. It’s written up as having a wonderful life style, but quite a few were up for sale. Perhaps the lives tile wasn’t so good after all, or perhaps, the owners just wanted a life with a little less rock and roll.
On Sunday, we finished our trip with a non eventful drive to the ferry terminal at Shwartz Bay and then from Tsawassan to Vancouver airport on the mainland. Of course, we stopped for a few hours at the beautiful Butchart Gardens and almost completely filled the memory cards of our cameras.