June 20, 2015, Victoria- I hit the ground running this morning, though it’d have been easy to laze the day away in Anacortes. A three-hour ride across the straits lay Sidney, BC, a harbour town northeast of Victoria. British Columbia’s capital was participating fully in Canada’s National Aboriginal Day. While this was officially on Sunday, the festivities were going on all weekend, on the grounds of the Royal British Columbia Museum, a magnificent facility, which would have taken up the entire weekend, in and of itself.
I zipped to the ferry station, west of Anacortes, and parked carefully in the day lot, as I would be returning at night.The wharfside featured some competitors for breakfast.
The cormorants far outnumbered the lone gull, however, so he followed us into the water for a while. Our first stop was Friday Harbor, a delightful little town I might like to explore further, some day.
The same is true of Sidney, the small port where we landed. A gruff Customs Officer gave me the third degree, then sent me happily along, to the port’s charming downtown.
My first act was to check Eastview Park, and its sculptures.
The artwork continued, downtown.
I spent about 20 minutes and C$ 10, at Haunted Bookshop, said to be Vancouver Island’s oldest.
The proprietor was kind enough to give me change for the bus to Victoria. I took a double decker, going to the top tier, and engaging in conversation with a Korean student, resident in Vancouver, who was also here on holiday. He was primarily interested in shopping, and in going to Butchart Gardens, which I had already consigned to a future visit. They are another site that is worth a full day, in and of themselves.
Upon arriving at the potlatch site, I took several minutes to wander among the totem poles of the Royal Museum grounds.
I also took in the Helmcken House, home to Dr. John Helmcken and his family, in the late 19th Century. Dr. Helmcken persuaded fellow British Columbians to join the Dominion of Canada.
This carillon, on the north side of the museum grounds, adds a more contemporary touch to the mix.
Once into the Potlatch area, we were set straight as to where we were. The Songhees and Esquimault (Es-KWY-mawl) are working commonly, to preserve Aboriginal fishing rights and guard the health of the waterways.
I was taught, from an early age, that listening and observing were especially important, when in the presence of Native elders. Of course, these skills certainly lend themselves well to getting along in ANY company. I watch a seal-hunting dance, by some of the Songhees people, after having enjoyed a bowl of Vancouver Island-stye clam chowder and fry bread, an Aboriginal staple, across the continent.
While waiting for the walking tour guide, I took in the British Columbia Parliament Building and the Empress Hotel, diagonal from Parliament. The neo-Baroque British Columbia Parliament Buildings were completed by Francis Rattenbury, in 1898.
The Fairmont Empress Hotel, completed in 1908, was the western showpiece of the Canadian Pacific Railroad’s hotel line. It certainly competes with the grand hotels of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, in terms of ornateness.
I’m sure Queen Victoria would have approved of the city named in her honour.
Our walking tour started, just after I had paid homage to the Queen. We began at the old harbour, which guide Mark Albany, of the Songhees Nation, explained was traditional Aboriginal fishing ground, though the harbour was largely filled in by the British, for the sake of commerce. It is about half the size of its pre-British days.
Mark was an incisive, fast-moving human encyclopedia.
Human hand and arm sculptures appear at five points, in downtown Victoria. They honour the industry of all workers, who built the city, into a vibrant port.
These Romanesque supports for the downtown evoked Rouen and Vannes, France, for me.
Aboriginal kitchen middens have been preserved, at the water’s edge, by the City Council, as an archaeological zone.
Mark took us in and around the remnants of the Bastion, the original British seaside fortress, meant to defend against the Spanish and Russians, as well as against any Aboriginals who might have had depredatory intentions.
As you might guess, part of this building is now used as a wine cellar.
We looked around the old commercial district, where Mark noted the contrast between the British division of property into parcels, and the Aboriginal notion of land being for common use.
The original cobbles of Victoria’s streets were built of Douglas fir.
As this was soon found to be an unwieldy practice, the British turned to stone and pressed glass pavers for their streets.
I had to bid farewell to Mark,the group (who were mostly Victoria residents, just learning about their city from a First Nations perspective) and to fair Victoria. As the ferry back to Anacortes passed into the strait, a pair of orcas were engaged in feeding.
It wasn’t quite sunset, but the red sails were out.
The trimast also was out, seeking cetaceans for the evening.
I was favourably impressed with Victoria, and will set aside more time, strictly for Vancouver Island, on some future jaunt. For now, though, thought must be given to other areas of the Northwest, before I head southward to my base.