When it comes to its people and its land, diversity is the first word that comes to mind when you explore Vancouver Island. Whether you’re looking for a proper English Tea, a hike through the jungle, or a day of snowboarding, VI in Canada’s British Columbia offers it all.
Just north of Washington state, you’ll find generations that stem from native peoples — British, Irish, Scottish, Asian, and even American draft dodgers — each offering a unique and colorful drop to what is now one of Canada’s most eclectic islands. It’s both classic and kitschy.
Packed into this relatively small island is an intricate and varied ecosystem. There are mountains and rivers, majestic old-growth forests and rugged coastlines, cold-water fish and Mediterranean crops like lemons and olives, and of course English roses, thousands of them.
Stepping off the ferry into the capital of Victoria is like walking onto the set of Downton Abbey. Cobblestone streets, British museums, red double-decker buses, and Parliament buildings line Victoria’s inner harbor. At the center of it all: The Empress Hotel. A visit to Victoria is not complete until you’ve had high tea inside the resort’s castle walls. This is the real deal. Finger foods (cucumber sandwich, anyone?), British scones, and delicate mini-desserts are served on multi-tiered sterling silver trays. There is no rush here. The resort suggests at least an hour to enjoy the ritual. Sitting in one of the chintz-covered wingback chairs, sipping tea from the William Edwards china, while listening to live piano is a tradition that goes back nearly a century. You can breathe history here.
Butchart Gardens provides another walk into the past. As early as the 1920s, people began visiting the 135 acres of internationally famed trees, flowers, statues, ponds, waterfalls, and other features. Japanese, Italian, Canadian, American, and British landscapes combine into an explosion of color and fragrance. Nearby Butterfly Gardens provide thousands of rare, tropical butterflies and birds, flamingos, turtles, giant koi, and even poisonous frogs.
Now for the kitschy! The island’s Madame Tussauds Wax Museum is a trip back in time, through a trip back in time. Built in 1961, centuries are filtered through the lens of the 60s and 70s. The 16th century fashions of King Henry VIII’s wives appear to be made by Gunne Sax. Don’t expect to stand in wonder at the life-like images; this is a (rather cheesy) collection that includes everything from Royalty Row to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Its website says it’s in the process of moving. Let’s hope it doesn’t change a thing.
There’s a blink-or-you’ll miss-it Chinatown. Don Mee’s is a Vancouver Island tradition that proudly displays autographed pictures of such “dignitaries” as Tracey Gold and Meg Tilly. On a serious note, if you like dim sum, this is your place! You can sit for hours as they roll out trolley after trolley full of little a la carte treasures.
While several bars offer LGBT events, The Paparazzi Nightclub is the only establishment that calls itself an “Alternative and GLBT club.” Here you’ll find a mix of the local, laid-back community drinking beer while the over-the-top fabulous are toasting champagne — an interesting mix of patchouli and glitter.
The island’s Pacific Temperate Rainforests are literally tropical jungles channeling west-coast style.
They have the highest biomass per acre of any ecosystem on earth. That means there are more living organisms packed into this area than anywhere else in the world. The trees are some of the highest recorded. They are wrapped in bright green moss and vines. Tropical flowers, giant ferns, and tide pools are everywhere. Not to mention black bears and jumping whales.
Vancouver Island is among the best Canada has to offer. Just three hours by ferry from Seattle, it’s what happens when abundant natural resources are shaped and molded by the many different hands that have called this island home.