What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Victoria, B.C.? Is it retirement homes? What about tech-sector growth? Or maybe it’s sailing? While the biggest city on Vancouver Island is known for many things—including a hotter-than-average housing market—there are many facts about this great city that are not well known. Here are four facts you may want to consider before exploring this great Canadian city.
Canada’s oldest Chinatown
Move over Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, because Victoria is where it’s at! Did you know that Victoria can lay claim to having Canada’s oldest Chinatown neighbourhood, and one of the oldest in all of North America?
Better still, Victoria’s Chinatown boasts the smallest alleyway in Canada. Known as Fan Tan Alley, the area runs south from Fisgard Avenue to Pandora Avenue in the block between Government Street and Store Street. Named after the Chinese gambling game Fan-Tan, the alley was originally a gambling district with restaurants, shops, and opium dens. Today, it is a tourist destination. There are a dozen or so shops, a barber shop, an art gallery as well as a handful of apartments and offices. Impressive considering its narrowest point it is only 0.9 metres (35 in) wide! In 2001, the area was designated as a heritage property by the City of Victoria.
Just outside of Victoria, you can make the trek to visit some of the most beautiful castles in the country. Hatley Castle and Craigdarroch Castle are both National Historic Sites and are jewels of a bygone era. One was built by a coal baron during the reign of Queen Victoria, while the other was built for army cadets. Both castles are imposing, impressive, and give a little bit of European flair to what is otherwise Canada’s very modernized West Coast.
Bustling trade in the square
For local Victorians, Bastion Square is a great place to take a stroll, enjoy the local public market, or peruse the annual artist’s fair. Located in the heart of old Victoria, the square is a daily gathering spot for locals and tourists, alike, but many are unaware of the history of the small area. It began as the bustling trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company, who first set up shop in Victoria, B.C. by erecting Fort Victoria. By 1849, however, Fort Victoria became the capital of Vancouver Island, as the British Government looked to strengthen their hold in this country. Less than a decade later, more than 25,000 gold miners flooded the city to buy supplies before heading up north to stake their claim in the gold rush. At the time, the area included a nearby jailhouse, which stored the bodies of dead prisoners beneath bustling square! Over time, the initial public houses were replaced and rebuilt and now, the area is considered a must-see gathering spot for this western city.
A passion for two-wheels
When you’re living in Victoria, it’s hard to ignore the fact that you are always surrounded by beautiful nature. Whether it’s the water, the mountains, or the flowers that are in bloom every spring, it’s hard to ignore the bounty Mother Earth provides. No wonder, then, Victoria commuters take to two wheels for their commute. According to statistics from the City of Victoria, 10% of the city’s commuters ride their bikes to work. The city makes it easy with plenty of bike trails that are readily accessible. But for more than a decade, city officials forgot to update the city’s bike plans. As a result, the uptake in city cyclists began to stagnate until early 2016 when city officials pledged to make the city the “cycling capital of Canada.” In May 2017, the city opened the first protected bike lane along Pandora Avenue. It now welcomes over 1,500 cyclists each day! Now there are plans for additional protected bike lanes and the city is committed to creating and expanding what it calls its Triple-A Network: All ages and abilities bike lanes.