Victoria: Butchart Gardens, Chinatown, Carr House

A flower-lined path at Butchart Gardens
A flower-lined path at Butchart Gardens

Today in Victoria was grey almost all day and, for summer, coolish†. Rain, as such, didn’t fall. But a heavy mist blanketed me for a few minutes a couple of times. The less than perfect weather didn’t stop me from going out. No, not me. Not intrepid old me. No way. Yesterday, I pre-purchased the admission into Butchart Gardens from the downtown Victoria Visitors Centre. I was damned if I was going to throw perfectly good money, or, rather, a perfectly good entry voucher, away.

Otherwise, yeah. I probably would have just napped the whole day in my hotel room.

I also took a gander at Victoria’s Chinatown and at the Carr House because, seeing as though I was already out anyway, I figured I might as well make the most of it.

It would have been nice if the Victorians†† could have arranged for nice weather for the last day of my trip. But, no. Apparently that was too much to ask of them.

Butchart Gardens

A flower (duh!) at Butchart Gardens.
A flower (duh!) at Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens isn’t in Victoria, per se. It takes almost an hour on a public transit bus to get there from downtown Victoria.

There is also a tour company that runs a bus from in front of my hotel directly to Butchart Gardens. I imagine that would have been the more convenient, if more expensive, way to get there. That is to say, it would have been more convenient if the tour company ran its bus today.

It didn’t. I assume that’s because COVID hit tourism hard. The company now runs its tour buses to Butchart Gardens only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Today is Monday. (At least it is when I wrote it. You’ll have to consult a calendar to see what day it is when you read it.) I suspect that in non-pandemic times the tours run every day during the normally peak tourist season, i.e., this time of year in non-COVID years.

So, I took public transit. It required only one bus out and one back.

BC Transit, which operates the buses here, recommends the wearing of face masks on its buses due to COVID. There were signs indicating such and a recorded voice repeated that advice a few times throughout the trip. Not much more than half the people on the buses I was on took the advice. (I was one of the ones who did.) And the non-mask-wearers probably, for the life of them, can’t figure out why COVID case numbers are rising here.

I made it to Butchart Gardens, hopefully without any of the little SARS-CoV-2 beasts hitching a ride on me.

Butchart Gardens is beautiful. It is mostly, as you might have guessed, gardens. If you hadn’t guessed that Butchart Gardens is mostly gardens, you should stop reading briefly while you go get another coffee. I’ll wait.

** Butchart Gardens Quiz Coffee Break **

The sunken gardens from above.
The sunken gardens from above

OK. Had your coffee? Good. Now, what do you think primarily comprises Butchart Gardens? If you still can’t guess, you might want to stop drinking decaf and switch to caffeinated. You clearly need something to wake you up a bit.

According to the pamphlet handed out at the front gate, Butchart Gardens covers more than 55 acres of a 130-acre estate. Most of what is now the gardens was at one time a limestone quarry. It supplied a nearby Portland cement company owned by Robert Pim Butchart. After the quarry was worked out, Jennie Butchart, Robert Pim’s wife decided it would be swell to beautify the former quarry. So she did.

A number of themed gardens cover the site: A sunken garden, a rose garden, a Japanese garden, an Italian garden, and a mediterranean garden.

The dancing fountain in the sunken garden
The dancing fountain in the sunken garden

There are also some fountains, the most spectacular of which is in the sunken garden. The sunken garden is in the pit of the former quarry. The Butcharts or, I imagine, their minions filled the deepest part with water via a spring to form a small lake. Now, several water jets in the lake produce dancing fountains, with jets alternating between shooting straight up, at an angle, and in swirling patterns, along with a few that create a permanent pillow of mist just above the lake around the other water jets.

The rose garden probably contains every variety of rose that you can possibly think of. And it definitely contains every variety I can possibly think of because I can think of only two: English Roses and Tea Roses. In truth, I didn’t see either of them at Butchart Gardens, but I’m sure I just missed them. The place is lousy with varieties of roses.

The Japanese, Italian, and mediterranean gardens were also beautiful. But nobody’s paying me to write this nonsense. You got your money’s worth out of this entry already. Visualize in your mind’s eye what you think Japanese, Italian, and mediterranean gardens look like. You probably won’t be too far off. And you’ll have exercised your imagination. I expect some thanks for encouraging you to do that.

Butchart Gardens also has a couple of totem poles, a restaurant, a snack bar, a Gelateria (by the Italian garden, obviously), a café, and, of course, a seed and gift shop. There has to be a gift shop. I think there’s a law requiring it.

Chinatown

Chinatown entrance
Chinatown entrance

Victoria’s Chinatown currently covers only about one block of one street, plus a laneway, Fan Tan Alley. I think it used to be larger.

Chinese lanterns suspended over the lane give Fan Tan Alley a very Chinatown feel. At least, it gives it a North American’s idea of a Chinatown feel. I’ve never been to China, so I have no idea what a real town there looks like.

The lanterns are pretty much the only things that give the lane a Chinatown feel. Most of the stores on the laneway don’t sell Chinese or China-inspired goods.

Fan Tan Alley
Fan Tan Alley

According to a walking tour app I have, Victoria’s Chinatown is the second oldest in North America. Again according to the app, San Fransisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America. But age isn’t everything. That having been said, the white hairs that cover my head might offer a different opinion if they could speak.

Carr House

Carr House
Carr House

I also visited Carr House, the birthplace of the Canadian painter Emily Carr. Apparently, the house now displays some of Carr’s writings and reproductions of some of her paintings. Allegedly, the property also has nice gardens.

I say “apparently” and “allegedly” because I viewed Carr House only from the sidewalk in front of the house’s front yard. So I can’t verify the contents.

There are two reasons I didn’t go in. First, it’s not a huge house. With the exception of planes, buses, and rapid transit vehicles that I couldn’t avoid if I wanted to go anywhere, including from my home to British Columbia, I’ve been trying to avoid crowded indoor spaces because of COVID. The Carr house looked small enough that it could easily become a crowded indoor space.

The second and even more important reason I didn’t go inside, not even into the garden, is it was closed and the front gate was locked. I didn’t want to spend time in the local jail for trespassing and breaking and entry.

At this time, tours of Carr House are only by appointment and only available Thursday through Sunday. I.e., not today.

And, because of COVID, each tour can consist of only one social bubble of at most ten people. I’m a bubble of one, so I guess I shouldn’t have worried about COVID, but the timing was wrong. And I don’t imagine they’d be thrilled about letting in a tour bubble of just one person.

An Aside

As I mentioned above, today is the last day of this trip. I head back home tomorrow. My flight leaves before noon.

Because of COVID, some attractions were closed. And, because of the threat of the spread of infection through crowds in enclosed spaces, others were seriously restricted. Or, if they weren’t, the thought of their unrestricted operations made me even more nervous than my normal astronomically high ambient level of angst and, therefore, I avoided them. Nevertheless, the trip served to confirm something for me. I really, really, really miss travel.

I want to do more. Soon. But, because of the disease, a number of destinations I’d like to visit still either outright bar tourists from Canada, among many other countries, or they are far too inconvenient to travel to because of testing and quarantine requirements.

So, I have a request for all of my infinitesimal number of regular readers and anyone else who stumbles on this entry while COVID is still active: Please do everything you can to convince everyone you know to get fully vaccinated if they aren’t already and to social distance and wear good masks when appropriate. I so desperately want to be done with this pandemic and return to my regularly scheduled travelling. Oh, and people not getting sick and dying from COVID would be a good thing too.


† I started writing this entry in my room before going down for dinner. I continued while at the terrace restaurant at The Empress Hotel for that meal. (I’ve been able to eat exclusively at outdoor restaurants this trip.) Over dinner, I added “almost all day” to “Today in Victoria was grey” in the first sentence of the first paragraph. I felt the need to add that because I had trouble seeing the screen on my phone, on which I’m typing this while at dinner, what with the sun blinding me at my table. And, no, I couldn’t just switch seats even though I was alone. The table was right at the stone railing of the terrace, with one corner of the table touching the railing. The two kitty corner chairs, the only chairs the table could accommodate, both faced the sun.

The sun will probably go down before I’m finished dinner, or shortly thereafter.

On the plus side, in addition to blinding me, when it finally made an appearance, the sun warmed the air and my spirits. Ok, Victoria, so you do know how to send me off in a good mood.

†† Is "Victorian" the correct term for people who live in Victoria? And if so, is every novel written by anyone here, by definition, a Victorian novel?
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