A Slice of...Victoria, B.C. in Canada!

Hello everyone! My name is Nova (you can find my blog at http://novarella.blogspot.com). I’m a 28 year old (very recent) university graduate who lives with my boyfriend, his kids (part-time) and a big ol’ white kitty named Yeti. Even though I’m still not exactly sure what I want to do with my life, for now I am one of the lucky ones who has a job she actually likes: I work in a tattoo shop right in the downtown heart of a beautiful city. Thanks to my very gracious host Danielle, I’m going to tell you all about Victoria, B.C. in Canada.

I just moved here around five years ago, planning on only staying until school was done, but now I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Victoria is located on Vancouver Island around 69 kilometers (or 43 miles) from Vancouver by ferry. It’s the capital of the province of British Colombia, and is known for having the most temperate climate in Canada. If you check out a map, you can see that Victoria is actually located below the border between B.C. and Washington in the USA. We even grow (kind of sad) palm trees here for most of the year.

When I pitched my city to Danielle I jokingly said I’d like to write about Victoria if for nothing else to dispel the rumor that all Canadians live in igloos. Of course I was only joking but I have met some people who literally thought Canada had snowy winter weather twelve months of the year. It’s not like that everywhere! Victoria is pretty close to Seattle, and you can actually take a ferry right from here to downtown Seattle.

I haven’t yet, but it’s definitely on my list of things to do soon.

I fell in love with Victoria for the scenery, the vegetarian friendly nature of most restaurants, the school, the ambiance, the old buildings and...it’s where I met my boyfriend.

Here are a few of my favorite places and things in Victoria:

I love that the University of Victoria has a plague of bunny rabbits. I know it sounds weird, and maybe you’re thinking I must be exaggerating when I say ‘plague’, but no. Seriously. When I attended the school I would sometimes count the bunnies I saw while I was on the bus driving through campus. Over the course of five minutes maximum, I literally saw 56 bunnies once! It was a nice sunny morning and they were mainly eating and basking in the sun. Here is a typical view of anywhere on campus:

Once again, I am not exaggerating. This is what it’s like there. Extreme cute! Nobody is a hundred percent sure where the bunnies originally came from, but they are breeding…like rabbits, if you know what I’m saying! Unfortunately (but probably necessarily) some “culling” does occur by university workers once in a while. I can’t imagine that job, it must be the worst!

The bunnies make springtime extra special as that’s when the babies all come out to eat grass and bask in the sun. They also encourage a large hawk and cougar population which is less good, I suppose, but it makes for an interesting place to go to school.

The beautiful campus doesn’t hurt either.

I love Red Fish Blue Fish restaurant…I don’t even know if it’s technically a restaurant or what. It’s a little box by the sea in which they make fish, fries, edamame, coleslaw and deep fried pickles, which are so good and so horrible all at the same time. They taste like deep fried heaven, but are so greasy you might die if you eat too many.

This place is hard to find for the uninitiated, but is always busy. I don’t have any photos of the building but here’s their website so you can see what I mean: http://www.redfish-bluefish.com/

I love Canada’s Oldest China Town. It’s a funny little slice of history. It’s literally six square blocks of old brick buildings with Chinese characters beside the English on the road signs where thousands of Chinese people lived and worked. The facades are those of the mostly the same (restored) buildings that existed a hundred years ago, the buildings still have hidden passageways, and in doing a quick Google search there are still remnants of opium factories, brothels and gambling dens from the early 1900s inside. The Chinese language school, an old Chinese temple, acupuncture clinics, and a vegetable market are still standing as well.

Apparently the Chinese people first came during the gold rush of British Colombia, and were mostly miners and people like tailors and cobblers who came to provide services to the miners. Here’s a picture I found showing what it originally looked like in the early 20th century.

source: http://www.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca/cgi-bin/www2i/.visual/img_med/dir_77/d_04747.gif

At first, Chinatown was literally a separate town from Victoria, but as it was located near the main port of Victoria it was soon subsumed into the city as a still-separate but connected part of the downtown core, and as time went on the Chinese people were finally granted equal rights and full citizenship, and the “Old Chinatown” area was practically deserted as the residents moved out into the rest of the city, or to Vancouver.

Between 1920 and 1970 there were many proposals to revitalize that part of town, but because of a lack of funding and enthusiasm, it didn’t happen until the 1980s, when “Old Chinatown” became popular with artists and musicians. Today it’s an interesting and thriving place to visit.

Things to check out in China Town include:

The really cool building facades on Fisgard street, which are very well preserved; the vegetable market, where there are vegetables I can’t identify and everybody speaks in Mandarin; and Fan Tan Alley, which was originally a gambling district that had restaurants, shops, and opium dens and is the narrowest street in Canada. At its narrowest point it is 0.9 meters (somewhere around 3 feet) wide. Today it contains clothing and music stores, but still maintains a lot of ‘not for sale’ historical items like opium pipes and dominoes.

I love Goldstream Provincial Park. The most exciting thing about this park is the Salmon Run that occurs every fall. It’s pretty amazing to watch these extraordinary fish fighting for their lives, swimming as hard as they can against the current one last time, to lay their eggs and die.
This park is also completely breathtaking. It’s a small-ish, lush, temperate rainforest, with gigantic mossy trees and a beautiful waterfall.

There’s also an interpretive center that I think is meant for elementary school groups, but adults can enjoy it too. (haha)

I love the ‘art culture’ of Victoria. This isn’t exactly a place, but there is a thriving graffiti and “street art” culture here. I know a bunch of graffiti writers here in Victoria, and am therefore privy to all the locations of where they go painting. Here’s some of my favorite murals they’ve done lately, although there’s a new one pretty much every week somewhere.

Also, I commissioned one of those guys to paint a Happy Birthday mural in a very conspicuous location for my boyfriend in September.

Isn’t it fantastic?

It seems like Victoria has a really strong network of support for artists. There are always art shows, displays and programs happening all over the city. And you can’t go anywhere without seeing sculptures, paintings or other art forms. Even the buildings themselves look like art.

I love the food and lifestyle choices available in Victoria. I know I mentioned in my first paragraph that Victoria is vegetarian friendly. It really is! There is even a completely vegan Chinese food restaurant called the Lotus Pond that is fabulous, and just look at this veggie burger from Rebar. Mm!

I work in a 'vegan' tattoo shop (click here), meaning that we make sure that every pigment and ink we use is guaranteed to not contain any animal products. My bosses are vegan, and one of them, Sarah Kramer, writes really fabulous vegan cook books. (Find her here: http://govegan.net) I’m vegetarian, and unlike where I grew up in the harsh Canadian prairies where meat is king, here in Victoria I don’t have to settle in restaurants for an iceberg lettuce salad with grated carrots. Even the greasiest pubs offer fantastic choices like this edamame.

I love the scenery! This entire island is beautiful. There’s pretty decent surfing at Tofino, there’s some of North America’s oldest and biggest trees at Cathedral Grove, there are (obviously) beaches everywhere, there’s an entire town of murals…I won’t get into any of those places here, but I really think for anybody who’s interested, Vancouver Island would make a great getaway.
Right inside the city there’s whale watching, an old castle you can explore, the “galloping goose” bike trail, lakes, ocean, beaches…and so much more. Also, it’s a small enough city that you can feel pretty safe as a tourist.

I love the open recognition of native culture and rights. This is the subject I know the least about, but the Native culture thrives around here, so much that the university offers classes in the Coast Salish language (which I really wanted to take!!) and there are totem poles and native artists everywhere.

I tried to find out which native groups are around Victoria for this blog post, and found that there are so many groups recognized in British Colombia I didn’t want to list them all here. But if you’re interested you can find lists of tribes and languages here and here.

I love the museums and attractions. The Royal BC Museum is one of the nicest and well-put together museums I have ever visited. It has an IMAX movie theater, and three floors of stuff. It’s a little pricy to get in, but it’s well worth it as you need at least five or six hours to see everything…and they let you take photos inside, which is always fun.

Off the top of my head I know that Victoria also has the Emily Carr museum, the wax museum, the undersea gardens, the maritime museum and my all-time favorite…

I love the bug zoo! Not for the faint of heart, the bug zoo is a tiny little building located near-ish the famous Empress hotel. It’s actually not too scary, and totally meant for children but seriously, if you have any interest at all in entomology or just being able to say you held an emperor scorpion, you should go!

They have displays of bugs from all around the world, and they have bug experts who take you on a tour. Usually you will end up in a group of 5-10, and the tour guide will take the bugs out of the cages and tell you everything about them. And then you get to hold them if you want!

I’ve held a stick bug, those leaf-looking bugs, a tarantula, all kinds of frail looking cute things, and I even put a giant millipede on my face like a mustache once for a picture. (It smelled like iodine and some of its legs went in my nose.)

I’m still trying to work up the courage to hold the scorpion. They always warn you that it is poisonous and you have to be over 18 to hold it, but don’t worry, they know the body language well enough to stop it from stinging you…I’m sure they do but I’m still terrified.
They also have this hilarious house set up for the cockroaches.

Thank you for reading about my city! I hope you all come visit sometime. Come by the tattoo shop and say hello if you do find your way here. I’m there most days, checking my facebook and dusting the picture frames. ;)