In January, Tom and I spent a weekend in Victoria – it was our second trip, the first was with Tom’s family in April 2019.
The reason for our trip was mixed – Tom was playing in a Warmachine tournament, and I just wanted to go along for the ride! We had our first mixed break like this last summer when Tom played in a tournament in Bellevue and I joined him at literally no extra cost. I enjoyed the change of scenery and chance to explore somewhere new, so when he told me he wanted to book a weekend in Victoria for the same purpose, I quickly said I’d go along.
In Bellevue I fell into the trap of Chick-fil-A, shopping at Target and a cocktail of Fixer Upper and Property Brothers on HGTV. Although I had a blast, I was determined to make this Victoria trip a little more let’s say… cultural.
Leading up to our weekend in Victoria, I did lots of research for places to eat, and things to do and see. I felt confident going out and exploring on my own having been there once before, and also the knowledge that it was still Canada and not America… it’s always slightly nerve-wracking not being on your home turf.
We were due to get the ferry earlier on Friday, but due to severe winds, all of the ferries from Tsawwassen were cancelled. We made the decision to go to Horseshoe Bay – closer to home than Tsawwassen, but with ferries only going to Nanaimo, so an extra hours drive on arrival on the island – as they were still running. We got there, had a coffee and drove onto the ferry.
Turns out one of Tom’s friends had the same idea, so we had dinner together and Tom got to chat while I sat with my eyes closed, trying to focus on not throwing up (oh, yeah – I get terrible motion sickness, so ferries in high winds are not my favourite!).
We arrived at our hotel (The Island Travel Inn) and were surprised by the size of our room. It was over the road from the motel we stayed in during our last trip, and nicely central to downtown, while still out of the way. We’re really not fussy about hotels. We like them to be clean, with a comfy bed and a bathroom, but other than that we like cheap. Most of the time we barely spend time in the room, and as Bellevue proved – if there’s good TV channels in the room, it’s too tempting for me to just stay in and watch cable!
Last time we stayed, we were given a few coffee shop recommendations so went to Discovery Coffee. I have been longing to go back ever since, as the coffee was excellent. So we started Saturday with coffee and pastries at Discovery and it did not disappoint. Tom made his way to the tournament and I went back to our room for a shower. That’s the one downside to these trips – Tom has quite early starts, but I figured out quickly that I just have to roll out of bed, put on clothes and a hat and can have breakfast with him then get ready afterwards!
First stop? Well, I was aiming to visit a certain shop, but totally misread my map directions and had massively overshot. So first stop ended up being lunch! Food followed by food – my kind of weekend!
I had decided that the Royal BC Museum was a must-do on my list for the weekend – it closed at 5pm Saturday and all day Sunday, so I didn’t have a lot of choice on when to do that.
I ended up at Sherwood Cafe and Bar for lunch and it was amazing! I have, at 28 years old, never been out for a meal by myself, so this was a daunting prospect. But I wanted to make the most of my weekend, and that means eating something that isn’t fast food! I walked in and asked for a table for one, and the server said I could sit wherever I’d feel comfortable, which I loved. I chose a small table in the window, sharing a bench seat with many others, but the privacy of my own space. The decor was lovely, and the menu was just the right size. I ordered Eggs Benedict and a fancy sparkling drink, and both were so tasty. I took my time to eat and drink, and just enjoyed my environment. I avoided using my phone as much as possible and watched the people around me. It was definitely an experience I would repeat.
Onto the museum! Turns out I came during a weekend where it was free entry – winner winner. I passed through the Living Languages exhibit quite quickly as it was very busy, and moved into the Natural History gallery, where there were stuffed examples of animals and tree types found in BC, woolly mammoth teeth fossils, and various other bits. Then I went upstairs to the First People’s Gallery – this was my highlight.
I learnt so much about Indigenous groups and colonialism’s effects during this museum visit. Stuff that we do not learn in the UK, even though it is our ancestery that went out into the world and claimed it all for themselves, disregarding the people that were there first. This part of history is not one that should be ignored or brushed over – it’s still affected people even today.
I got to see totem poles, artwork and regalia from many different First Nations Communities, and I got to stand in a ceremonial house, re-constructed within the space at the museum – the house of the late Chief Kwakwabalasami, from the Tsaxis community (Fort Rupert) on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, who by arrangement allows the house to be at the museum, but the “cultural ownership” still belongs to his family. It’s so interesting to me how this sharing of things exists between the indigenous people of this land and those who now live, own and inhabit it. I love that it is now celebrated and also being given back to the people it belongs to. I still have a lot to learn in this area, but really felt I learned a lot at the museum that day.
The next part of the museum to go through was the Becoming BC galleries – this is the bit of the museum that shows how much English heritage and culture was brought over and plopped onto the land here. There’s a replica of the HMS Discovery, which Captain George Vancouver came over on (or something like that, I had started to enter museum-overload at this point). It was interesting, wandering through Victorian street set ups, watching a Charlie Chaplin film in an old cinema and feeling like I could be in any UK museum.
Ok, so you can tell my feelings about colonisation, I don’t think I need to go on, but my overwhelming thoughts in these moments is guilt. Guilt that I am from the nation that ravaged the natural land and culture, tore children away from their families and put them in white-washing schools, where they were taught what was “right”, then deposited the children back to their homes with no cultural identity or context, and told the parents who were left behind, either through words or deeds, what little value they brought to the new table brought with them on a ship from the “motherland”. Man, it makes me feel so ashamed. But that’s why I like to see how much is being done to honour the communities and the people who were here first, tell their stories and their sides of the stories, and to celebrate them as communities, and work out new ways to co-exist, with the strengths from all sides.
Off my soap box, and back to my Victoria trip…
I headed back to the hotel – hoping that Fixer Upper might be on, but no luck – and not long after, got a call from Tom saying he was heading back and hadn’t eaten yet either, so we went to a poké place a couple blocks from the hotel then hit the hay.
Morning two, we were very tempted to go back to Discovery for breakfast, but thought we’d try something different. We went to Habit in Chinatown (we’d been to the other one on our previous trip and loved it), the coffee was fabulous, but turns out they don’t have breakfast foods, so we each had a cookie and went our separate ways.
I checked out of the hotel, thankfully could leave the car in the car park, and went shopping! I’d noted down a few places I wanted to stop at the day before, so went to The Public Market (where I bought some delicious chocolate from The Chocolate Project), the Zero Waste Emporium, Spank (where I bought a cute necklace), Migration (where I bought a haul of lovely locally made stuff), the Regional Assembly of Text (where I bought some cards), The Papery (which I was a bit disappointed with after reading online reviews, but bought some Christmas cards!) and Local Assembly in Fan Tan Alley (where I bought some gifts for people). Then I topped the afternoon off with a scone and coffee from Union Pacific Coffee Shop, which was a really cool place to spend an hour.
By this point the only thing left on my list was to go for a walk around Beacon Hill Park, but Tom called and was just finishing up for the day. So we met up, and went for a late lunch/early tea at Finn’s Seafood Chops and Cocktails on the harbour. The food was, once again, great. We had oysters to start, and then I had a Haida Gwaii stew. It was whilst we were in the restaurant we heard that the wind had picked up again and ferries were being cancelled from Victoria to Tsawwassen.
So poetically, we ended the weekend the same way as we began – via Nanaimo! We had a little wait so played Yahtzee in the ferry terminal, which an old lady next to us found adorable, commenting on how it’s nice to see younger people not on their phones.
I really enjoyed our weekend trip. Victoria is a really unique place. If Vancouver is half way between the UK and the US, Victoria is three steps closer to the UK (albeit geographically being the opposite way…). It’s got a quaint English town vibe, but still the Vancouver atmosphere and scenery. It’s a special place with lots to do and history to see.