While its parks and buildings might seem youthful when measured against some other international locales, the history of southern Vancouver Island is a fascinating blend of ancient First Nations cultures and European settlement history reaching back to the mid-19th century.
From ceremonial Aboriginal masks at Royal BC Museum to Canada’s oldest Chinatown, come discover the richness that is historic Victoria!
1.The Royal BC Museum is a must for all ages. The stunning totems outside in Thunderbird Park offer a hint of some of the First Nations treasures awaiting inside, including the longhouse and First People’s Gallery. Other highlights include Old Town, and a variety of special exhibits, including the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, on until April 6. While at the museum, catch a movie at the National Geographic IMAX Theatre, also on-site, and featuring both stunning IMAX features and Hollywood blockbusters.
2. Did you know Victoria is home to Canada’s oldest Chinatown? The neighbourhood’s colourful streets are fun to explore, either on your own or on a popular guided walk with Victoria’s own Discover the Past walking tours. Don’t miss Fan Tan Alley, Canada’s narrowest street, and a delicious lunch at one of the many eateries.
If historic hauntings are more to your liking, Discover the Past delivers the goods with their professionally led Ghostly Walks featuring spooky tales from British Columbia’s most haunted city!
3. At the heart of Old Town is Bastion Square and the Maritime Museum of BC, a favourite haunt for history buffs of all ages. Formerly a courthouse where “the Hanging Judge,” Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, once presided, the building celebrates its 125th birthday this year – take the working birdcage elevator to the third floor to see the restored vice-admiralty courtroom and the meticulous handiwork that went in to the design and construction of this National Historic Site. On the first floor, look for Treasures from Within, a small display featuring some hidden treasures from the museum’s vast collection of 35,000 unique maritime artifacts.
4. Just a few minutes from downtown, social history comes alive at Craigdarroch Castle, completed in 1890 for the family of BC coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. Follow the road through the recently reconstructed stone gates to the castle, where gracious elegance fills the 39 rooms. Don’t miss the climb to the top to enjoy views over the city from the Rockland grounds.
A variety of special events are planned throughout the year – visit www.thecastle.ca to learn more. During spring break, March 8 to 23, the castle will host daily story time at 11am and 2:30pm for children in Grades 3 and younger. Come May, the castle welcomes live theatre with an adapted version of everyone’s favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes.
In the West Shore community of Colwood find the Hatley Park National Historic Site and Greater Victoria’s other castle, built by Robert’s son, James Dunsmuir.
5. As the world prepares to recognize the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, Victoria’s Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites provide a look at what life was like then on Canada’s West Coast. Explore century-old coastal gun batteries, including intriguing underground magazines and camouflaged searchlight emplacements, in addition to Canada’s oldest West Coast lighthouse, complete with fascinating interactive exhibits. Take a picnic and make a day of it, exploring the acres of meadows, beaches and stunning ocean views.
The Royal BC Museum hosts a special three-day camp for kids, Focus on Nature, March 11 to 14 or 18 to 20. Aspiring shutterbugs from age eight to 12 will develop skills, meet one of BC’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year winners, venture to Beacon Hill Park, and have their work displayed in a photography show. Learn more at royalbcmuseum.bc.ca
In town March 22? Check out the Maritime Museum of BC’s Ghost Hunt, from 10pm to 3am. Open to skeptics and believers alike, search for what really wanders the halls of the old Supreme Courthouse after midnight. For registration details, call 250-385-4222 (space is limited).