Meet Victoria, it’s her birthday today so I suppose I should talk about this absolutely gorgeous but unabashedly humble city which also happens to be my home for the last eleven years. We’re on Vancouver Island, an island (duh) that is about 2 scenic hours away by ferry from the continental landmass of North America. Vastly over-shadowed by the gleaming glass skyscrapers of Vancouver, most Canadians think of it as lotus land, the city for the newly weds and the nearly dead. True, if you’re like me and you’ve come from a large city, you’ll find that life here is slow, pleasantly slow that is and has a rather seductive gentility. Other than the sad fashion shopping options and the exorbitant transportation cost to go somewhere, I find that there’s plenty of reasons to stay and call it home. Speaking of fashion, people don’t really care anyway so just buy a waterproof jacket, Lululemon leggings, a pair of Hunter boots and maybe Birkenstocks for summer and you’ll blend right in.
Contrary to the popular opinion, we don’t just sit around talking about god forbid, our feelings or the weather and smoke something organic while doing floral arrangements and sipping tea all day long. There are a lot of amazing things happening in this unassuming place. It has a very low unemployment rate, there’s of course the housing affordability issue but overall the quality of life is more than decent. It consistently ranks as one of the smartest cities in the country. I guess it doesn’t hurt to have a small but world-class research intensive university on its own backyard. The local and federal governments, natural resource sector and the tourism industry are the primary employers but with its proximity to Seattle and Vancouver, it has a steadily growing tech industry. Yes, the population is reasonably older than the rest of the country. Surprisingly though, the island’s politics is left-leaning, progressive and more forward-thinking than say Toronto. Sorry, I’ve never been. I hear it’s nice.
Beauty and nature are never in short supply. When I first got here I had a strange feeling that I somehow landed in a living postcard. Owing to its British heritage this city has fabulous gardens. We spend our pennies buying plants instead of clothes. Not me though, I spend mine on lenses. There’s the famous Butchart Gardens and the lesser known Abkhazi Gardens which coincidentally have a very romantic story. Then there’s the Finnerty Gardens, the Japanese Garden at Hatley Castle and the gardens at the Lieutenant Governor’s Mansion. If you take a drive into ritzy Uplands and along Beach Drive you’ll see a lot of beautiful private gardens. I’m slightly flower crazy. You will be too if you’ve lived here long enough so excuse me if I ramble on and on about the gardens.
Within 30 minutes from the city, there are parks, lakes, rivers, mountains, hiking, biking trails and camp grounds. The ocean is freezing cold but the beaches have a certain rugged and somewhat desolate charm. Someone told me that diving here is fantastic but be prepared because the water is just too bloody cold. Then again, I’m from the tropics so my tolerance to cold is relatively low. The good news is there are no man-eating sharks roaming the waters. There are lots of orcas, gray whales, minke whales and humpback whales but no man-eating sharks. We have a lot of deer and adorable racoons. There are occasional bears, sometimes even the cougars (the four legged variety) come to town to thin out the transient cruise ship tourist population 😉
While Victoria is not super ethnically diverse like Vancouver or Toronto, it’s not entirely devoid of international flavours. There’s a sizeable Francophone population and you’re likely to hear Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Arabic, Korean, Filipino and Spanish when you use the public transit. There’s a large First Nations community that continues to be an active part of the island.
A lot of the people here are from other parts of the country. I’ve been here for almost twelve years now but I’ve only really met six people that are true Victorians. Like most Canadians, the people here are exceedingly polite. Don’t ever jump the queue. Never forget to say sorry, please and thank you and be sure to hold the door for someone even if they are a good distance away if you don’t want to be subjected to the Victorian death stare. The feeling that you’re sorely lacking in basic good manners and the look of disappointment you’ll see in those Victorian eyes will haunt you for life. Victoria is a tight-knit community so newcomers may find the people to be somewhat stand-offish even cold and frosty. The good news is that it doesn’t last very long. I guess it’s natural to have reservations when you’re meeting someone for the first time but once you get past that, Victorians are actually warm and friendly. During times of crisis or natural disasters here and abroad, I’ve seen the community rally together to help.
Welcome to Victoria. Fancy a cuppa? We have hipster coffee too.