Victoria and Vancouver Island
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VICTORIA AND VANCOUVER ISLAND
Vast Vancouver Island stretches over 500km along the west coast, with its southern tip facing the Olympic Mountains in Washington State (USA). The island is split into two distinct regions by a chain of mountains, which divide the north from the south. The sea has sculpted the west side, creating big, deep fjords; while the shoreline on the east side is much more continuous. Most of the towns and villages on the island lie either on the east coast or along the Strait of Georgia, where the Gulf Islands are located. One of those towns is the very British and beautiful Victoria, the province's capital.
Any tour of Victoria starts at the port, which was the city's main point of access for decades. Back in the era of tall ships, the merchant marine operating on the Pacific Ocean used to stop here to pick up goods destined for England. Once the railway reached the coast, however, the merchandise was transported across Canada by train, thus reducing the amount of time required to reach the east side of the continent. From that point on, the merchant marine only provided a sea link to Asia.
The Market Square is surrounded by shops facing onto the street. This place gets very lively during the jazz, blues and theatre festivals and on the Chinese New Year.
Chinatown (west of Government St., between Fisgard and Pandora) is full of brightly coloured shops and its sidewalks are decorated with geometric patterns that form a Chinese character meaning "good fortune." At one time, there were over 150 businesses in Chinatown, as well as three schools, five temples, two churches and a hospital. On your way through this neighbourhood, you'll come across the Tong Ji Men arch on Fisgard Street, a symbol of the spirit of cooperation between the Chinese and Canadian communities. Fan Tan Alley, which runs north-south (south of Fisgard St.), is supposedly the narrowest street in Victoria. People used to come here to buy opium until 1908, when the federal government banned the sale of the drug.
The Empress Hotel (behind the port of Victoria, 384-8111) was built in 1905 for the Canadian Pacific railway company. It was designed by Francis Rattenbury in Chateau style. As you enter through the main entrance and cross the lobby, let yourself be transported back to the 1920s, when influential people found their way into the guest books. Above all, make sure to stop by the Empress for afternoon tea.
You can learn about the history of the city and the various peoples that have inhabited the province at the Royal British Columbia Museum (675 Belleville St., 800-661-5411 or 387-3701). Centrepieces of the collection are a reproduction of Captain Vancouver's ship and a Kwa-gulth Indian house. The museum also hosts some interesting temporary exhibitions.
The design for the Provincial Legislature Buildings was chosen from a competition. The winner was architect Francis Rattenbury, who was just 25 years old at the time and who went on to design many other public and privately owned buildings.
The Butchart Gardens (Hwy. 17 N., 800 Benvenuto Ave., 652-4422), which cover 26ha, were founded by the family of the same name in 1904. A wi
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