Victoria via the Black Ball Ferry

by Bob Hoelscher 12. October 2012 20:51

Victoria is well known as a beautiful city with a distinctly English flavor, including red, double-decker buses and lovely gardens everywhere. Since (unlike Vancouver itself) it is located on Vancouver Island, some type of water transportation from the mainland is generally required for groups to get there. Ferries, the high-speed Victoria Clipper and Victoria/San Juan Cruises all can take groups to Victoria.

All Alaska cruises departing from Seattle also make a stop in Victoria in order to satisfy U.S. regulations for foreign-flagged passenger vessels. However, in my opinion, one of the best ways to reach Victoria is from Port Angeles, on the north shore of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, aboard the classic, 341-foot-long MV Coho of the Black Ball Ferry Line. 

Built in 1959, the well-maintained Coho offers passengers (and their vehicles) a leisurely 90-minute crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with views of the Olympic and Vancouver Island Ranges en route. Aboard are a cafeteria, gift shop, comfortable lounges, and plenty of deck space for strolling or sightseeing. During the summer season, the Coho operates four round-trips daily, so groups not wishing to take their coach along and stay in Victoria can easily make a day trip departing Port Angeles at 8:20 a.m., and return there following dinner in Victoria, by 9:00 p.m. 

Unlike some other alternatives, the Coho docks right in Victoria’s Inner Harbour is within easy walking distance of the B.C. Parliament Buildings, the Royal British Columbia Museum, the famed Empress Hotel, and downtown shopping. Other advantages of departing from Port Angeles include combining the Victoria trip with visits to spectacular Olympic National Park, the extensive lavender farms surrounding the nearby town of Sequim, as well as historic Port Townsend.

Departing Port Angeles with Olympic Mountains in background

Passing the U.S. Coast Guard Station

Arriving in Victoria's Inner Harbor

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Visit Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria's Craigdarroch Castle

by Bob Hoelscher 12. October 2012 20:48

Just about everybody who visits Victoria, British Columbia, to see the sights is sure to head for the magnificent, world-renowned Butchart Gardens. Having toured the gardens many times in the past, however, I decided to seek out a different Victoria attraction to explore on my most recent trip there in September. 

Just a short distance east of the downtown area is the sandstone-faced Craigdarroch Castle, built between 1887 and 1890 for coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, the wealthiest man in British Columbia at the time. This imposing Victorian landmark sits atop a hill overlooking the city and the Strait of Juan de Fuca with floors of splendid woodwork, stained glass windows, ornate furnishings and 17 fireplaces. In fact, it took five railcars to ship the Castle’s 2,128 individual oak panels from Chicago. Unfortunately, Dunsmuir died just months before construction was completed, so his wife Joan, three daughters and two orphaned grandchildren were the only family members to live in the mansion and original 28-acre estate.   

Upon Joan’s passing in 1908, the Castle, its contents and surrounding property were divided among nine heirs. Over the years the hospital was converted into a hospital for veterans in WWI, Victoria College, the Victoria School of Music and the Society for the Preservation and Maintenance of Craigdarroch Castle.

Since the Conservatory departed in 1979, the mansion has been operated solely as a historic house museum, and the monumental task of tracking down artifacts for the restoration of the house began in earnest. Today most of the rooms have been painstakingly furnished with period antiques, some of them original. The result is a most impressive attraction sure to fascinate anyone with an interest in historic mansions of the Victorian era or the privileged lives of those who amassed immense fortunes from the industrial transformation of North America.

Oak-paneled main staircase

Downstairs parlor

English billiard table

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Visit Victoria, British Columbia

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