Walks

Sidewalking James Bay Village

When you walk around your neighbourhood, do your neighbours sometimes seem just a little bit too normal and maybe just a little bit dull? Well then it might be time for you to take a walk around another place in Victoria and get back a little of that wacky west coast vibe. The oldest urban centre outside of downtown Victoria (and even the oldest neighbourhood as a whole) is James Bay Village which sits mostly along Menzies Street from Superior Street in the north to Niagara Street in the south. James Bay Village is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities we have in the city and hopefully as things continue to densify we will see more of the benefits of that density come to James Bay Village.

I lived in James Bay for a few years in the early 2000’s and it is truly an amazing neighbourhood. There are great parks; you are close to Dallas Road and the shore and James Bay Village has most of the things you need out of a village. That said, James Bay is also has its unique parts to it. It is surrounded on three sides by water and on one side by Beacon Hill Park ,which sounds great unless you need to get somewhere on the same day as the marathon. James Bay also has the cruise ship terminal, Fisherman’s Wharf, most of the hotels for the tourists, the Coho and Clipper Terminal and the BC Legislature and the Royal BC Museum. So you really have to appreciate all of those wonderful tourists we get in the summer. With water on three sides, James Bay is also at least five degrees colder than the rest of the city at most times. I honestly think that it is mixing of all these unique qualities that give James Bay residents their slightly more quirky demeanour.

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Shortly after the town of Victoria began spilling beyond the walls of the fort, James Bay became a popular spot to live. It was close to the town centre but also that little bit removed, with body of water known as James Bay between the neighbourhood and the town. That body of water no longer exists as it was filled in to build the Empress hotel, though at one time it extended back to almost where St. Ann’s Academy is today. James Bay was home to the original legislative buildings known colloquially as the Birdcages which were built in the early 1860’s. This meant that many of those that wanted to live close to these offices chose to make James Bay their home as well.

The Windsor Grocery store

The Windsor Grocery store

It is not exactly clear to me when the village became the commercial focus of James Bay but the Windsor Grocery Building, now home to a flower shop and eye glasses shop was built in the 1870’s. The commercial area became solidified with the addition of the Number 3 Street Car line that went right along Menzies from downtown (and Fernwood).

When I moved to Victoria in the 1990’s, James Bay Village was a little bit sleepy and James Bay as a whole, was just beginning to come out of a slump that had existed since the late 1960’s. All of sudden the quirky mix of both houses from the 1880’s next to modernist high-rises seemed intriguing. I would say that before the upswing of Fairfield and Cook Street Village in the early 2000’s, there was a moment when James Bay was the hippest part of town. What stopped it from taking the place of Cook Street Village, was likely the lack of enough commercial space along the sidewalk to give it the village feel that is only just starting to come together now, twenty years later.

When it comes to urban villages, if you want them to be more of a destination rather than just a place to run to and grab some milk or a coffee, they need to have a depth of shopping options. They also need to have some length. When you look at the linear shopping experiences of Cook Street Village or Oak Bay Village you can begin to get a sense of what I mean. Until recently, James Bay Village did’t really have that linear feel. It also still suffers from a couple overly car oriented commercial spaces that really hurt the pedestrian environment. (Mac’s, Pharmasave plaza, Discovery Coffee and of course the Thrifty’s plaza). With the recent completion of the eastern Capital Park building this has really started to shift. It is clear now that the James Bay Village begins at Superior and Menzies with the library and Floyd’s diner as the gateway. One would hope that at some point we see a redevelopment of the gas station to further entrench the walk-ability of the commercial area as well as some of those more car oriented spaces. That said, I would hope that we will always keep the James Bay Square Mall building. According to the James Bay Beacon, this amazing modern brutalist building(it used to be, it was painted in the last 10 years I believe…) was built in 1976. It has to be one of the most unique apartment buildings in the city. I have been up to one of the apartments with the west facing decks and they are actually quite amazing. The decks themselves are almost bigger than the apartment inside. Hopefully at some point the grocery store portion of the building can be rebuilt in a different way (perhaps over top of the parking lot while leaving this building as is.

One thing that James Bay Village has that sets it apart from some of the other urban villages in Victoria is that it has a park right along the street. Irving Park can has its challenges sometimes but for the most part it is a great place to stop and relax. There is a washroom, a playground and even a labyrinth at the back. I think that if the north east corner were opened up more and made into a little plaza it could really changes things for the park.

James Bay Village is also home to some really wonderful businesses that I shouldn’t forget to mention. For food, I have enjoyed my visits in the past to the Heron Rock Bistro. I also love the vibe at the Bent Mast, though the food sometimes hit or miss; and of course Discovery Coffee is always great despite the less than stellar building it resides in here. For eclectic shopping, if you are in James Bay, you should not miss the chance to visit James Bay Coffee and Books. This combo food and literature shop is amazing and some of the little nooks for eating in while surrounded by books are completely unique. Also make sure you do a walk through of Super Chance, the little thrift store in the very small mall next to Thrifty’s. This is a very well maintained and fun thrift store with some real interesting items that match with the quirky nature of James Bay itself. There is also the chance that you will find that one amazing piece here.

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In the last ten years we have seen the addition of the building with Serious Coffee in it and now Capital Park, both of these buildings have enhanced the pedestrian commercial aspect of James Bay Village. Hopefully over the next many years we will see that further enhanced with the redevelopment of the gas station, the discovery coffee building and the Mac’s building. The biggest coup would be the redevelopment of Thrifty’s itself, removing the parking lot that currently sits right at the centre of the village.

As it is now, the village has become a destination. No matter where in the city you are coming from a visit to James Bay and its village is always worthwhile and you might just get to meet a few of those quirky locals.

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Urban Oases of Victoria - Esquimalt Gorge Park

Some people may get the idea that I don’t like parks due to my somewhat continuous push back on the addition of green space downtown, but nothing could be more wrong. I love a well laid out and a well used park. One of my absolute favourites in the city is Esquimalt’s Gorge Park, which should not be confused with the Gorge Park on the other side of the Gorge waterway in Saanich. This park has so much in a relatively small space and it deserves to get much more attention than I think it does currently.

If you are arriving by car there is a main entrance driveway off of Tillicum Road, which winds its way down to a parking lot located sort of in the middle of park. When I last visited, I arrived on bike and not wanting to dart across Tillicum to the main entrance, I hopped of my bike just at the west end of the Tillicum Bridge. At this point there is a small ramped walkway that leads down to a path under the bridge. It is worth stopping here!!

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Tillicum bridge was built in 1967 and it is perhaps one of the most beautiful bridges in the city, though it is hard to see why from the road. Once underneath you will see these graceful arches that go over top of the Gorge Narrows. It is brutalist perfection. The narrows themselves are quite amazing and have a significant tidal current. This is Victoria's mini version of the reversing falls. Winding north from the bridge along the water is a paved walkway lined with these stark bright red lamps. It makes for one of the most dramatic urban park experiences no matter what time of year you visit. Before you leave the underside of the bridge make sure you note the fenced off and well signed midden that indicates that this has been an important place for people for a millennia or more.

If you follow the waterside walkway to its end, you will find a great playground that has in my opinion the best swings in the entire city. There is also a beach here but unfortunately due to the popularity of it with the local goose population it is not a pleasant place to swim. It is really too bad that you can’t enjoy the water directly from the park as this was at one time (Okay a really long time ago…) one of the best places to come for a swim or to enjoy a boat race. There are options for both nearby though so I can get past it.

The western edge of the park which actually goes almost right up to Craigflower Road. A number of years ago some significant flood diversion was added in here and there are some great pathways and bridges. There are parts in this area that feel quite raw and wild, which is the exact opposite of the main part of the park that has that well curated urban park feel that I thoroughly enjoy. Still that the park is large enough to easily contain both of these contrasting elements is truly special.

Heading back to the playground, this spot is also home to a significant nature centre. There are quite a few of these centres across Victoria and perhaps worthy of a post on their own. The one here is focused on Greater Victoria’s waterways including the gorge but also Colquitz and Swan Lake. There is actually a pretty cool model to show kids (and adults) how connected all of the different waterways of Victoria are. In the summer there is a concession here and this is also the location for the bathrooms.

As if all that I have covered so far wasn’t enough, the best part of the park is near the entrance. What I am referring to are the absolutely stunning Japanese gardens. The mind blowing part of it is that in all their beauty they are only a small part of the original Japanese Gardens. Surprisingly, these were apparently the first Japanese gardens in all of North America when they were built. You can read more about them here and here. In the time before and after the first world war this was one of the premier attractions for the entire region. The tea house had an extremely popular tea serving and people would travel from all over the area to have it. This was of course on purpose. The park was originally created by the BC Electric Railway Company in 1905 as a tourist destination and the best way to visit was on one of their streetcars that were heading to the park.

There is some word recently that the tea houses will be rebuilt, in part to start repairing the wrong that led to their demise in the first place, the internment of Canadians of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War. I certainly think that the rebuilding of the tea house would be a great asset to the park and would help illustrate this sad chapter of Canadian history. Still even now, the garden is beautiful and if there were nothing else in the park, it alone would warrant many visits. When you visit make sure to take as many of the different paths through the garden as possible as each one is unique.

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Esquimalt Gorge Park is such a multi-layered park, with a myriad of distinct areas and more history than you can find in almost any other park with the possible exception of Beacon Hill. Let me know below your favourite parts of this regional jewel below in the comments!

Urban Oases of Victoria - Swan Lake

There are just a few large tracts of park land within urban area of Greater Victoria. While we currently may not realise just how special they are, as the city continues to grow, the importance of these parcels of land will become apparent. The most overlooked pieces of land that fall into this category, in my opinion, are Rithet’s Bog, Cedar Hill Golf Course, the South Woods and Mystic Vale at UVic, Mount Douglas Park and Swan Lake. The fact that we have these special places all over the city and that they are so large is unique. Currently, Victorians as a whole seem to be underwhelmed by our centrally located natural places, this is likely because it is still relatively easy to escape the city and get into the Sooke Hills or Goldstream Park, but as the city gets busier, those nearby pieces of nature become harder to get to and the ones that sit right in the city will become the choice places to visit, so long as we protect them.

I am reminded of these things every time I visit Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary off of McKenzie Avenue in Saanich. You can also easily visit here along the Galloping Goose Trail if you take the Lochside Spur at Uptown.

The lake was formed in a depression left behind after the glaciers disappeared following the last ice age. The lake is fed from a creek on its eastern edge from Blenkinsop Lake in the Blenkinsop Valley. The water flows out of Swan Lake and feeds into a creek that stretches to Hyacinth Park and into the Colquitz River. When you start to see how all the little creeks and bogs are connected to together it really makes you appreciate the complexity of the region.

Interesting side note, one of the wineries that contributed to the pollution of Swan Lake was the Growers Wine Company. It was the first winery in BC, founded in 1921 and began production in 1923. If you have been to the Keg at the Old Winery on Quadra then you have been in one of the buildings that was used by this company. As you may have guessed, the Growers Wine Company turned into the cider company that we know today. Oh and the wine they made was not made out of grapes, it was made out of Logan Berries.

With that said, we as disruptors of the natural environment, did our very best to completely ruin Swan Lake. Through the first half of the 20th century Swan Lake had run off flow into it from a number of farms, at least two wineries and a sewage plant. On top of that, people would use the lake as a place to toss garbage. By the 1960’s the lake was almost completely destroyed by pollution. Luckily for all of us, Saanich took over the land and began a huge project to clean it up. Even now though, the lake is not completely restored, fish still have a difficulty surviving and it has a higher algae count than it should, but it is improving.

Of course, as a natural area to enjoy, Swan Lake Park is perfect. There is a long loop trail that takes about forty-five minutes with some stops to take in the scenery. You get floating bridges, raised walkways, forest trail and marsh land. It really is a great walk. One of my favourite aspects of it is that as you loop there are spots where you can see the city at its edges and then in the next you are back in the wilderness.

If you want to learn some more about Swan Lake its history and some of the wild inhabitants of the area, there is a very large nature house near the main parking lot. There are interactive displays, a small library, a multi-use space that often has talks and there are even a few animals that you can check out up close. The nature house also has an absolutely stunning view over the lake looking south towards the Galloping Goose Trail.

As it is now, you can see some higher density buildings going in along McKenzie Avenue, but it has been primarily been surrounded by single family housing. As this density increases nearby, the value of the park is going to increase as well. When you are standing at the checkout at Whole Foods, it is only a 400 metre walk to the edge of the park, which really shows you that the high density core of Saanich will have this jewel so close by.

If you are looking for a little escape from the city, you really cannot do better than a loop of Swan Lake!

Urban Oases of Victoria - Finnerty Gardens

Along the southwestern edge of the University of Victoria campus is one the most well kept and tranquil gardens in the whole city. Like many things at UVic, the gardens are named after the Finnerty family that owned much of the land in the Gordon Head area in the 1860’s. If you are driving up to the campus, there are many nearby parking lots, the most convenient being those just outside of the Interfaith Chapel. It is also easy to visit on the bus due to so many of the routes taking students up to campus.

Once you are through the main gate there are a myriad of routes that you can take and really it doesn’t matter which one. The size of the garden can be deceiving though, so it is certainly worth stopping at one of the maps that they seem to have scattered throughout just to make sure you haven’t missed a large part of the garden.

While there is certainly a massive diversity of plants, you will notice that one of the more common ones here are the rhododendrons. When the garden was first being created in the early 1970’s, a large estate belonging to Jeanne Simpson of Lake Cowichan came into the university’s possession. The land they had on the lake was covered in one of the largest collections of rhodos in the country at the time. Many of those varieties were transported down to the garden and became the dominant plant that you see there today.

One of the more magical parts of the garden is how the taller conifers tower over the other plants creating an almost enclosed feeling to much of it. If you tried to take in all of the paths, it will take a long while and involve a fair amount of doubling back; it is a perfect garden for just aimless wandering as well.

If you are wanting to make it a longer walk you could pair it up with a cross-campus hike and take in Mystic Vale as well. Another closer option would be to exit onto Cedar Hill X-Road and hike up Mount Tolmie. That park has a trail head not far from the gardens.

Let me know in the comments if there are any other gardens like Finnerty that I need to explore.

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Walking Westsong Way on Victoria's Inner Harbour

There are so many amazing walks you can do around Victoria and yet it is one of the most obvious ones keeps drawing me back. That walk is the Westsong Way that follows along the edge of the harbour between the Johnson Street Bridge and Westbay Marina. This walk has it all, beautiful natural shoreline, amazing city views, boats and airplanes coming and going, and in the distance across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Mountains sitting stoically on the horizon.

I generally start this walk by the totem poles to the south of the Ocean Pointe Resort. Many may not know it, but the two poles here used to be part of what was during the Commonwealth Games, the tallest totem pole in the world, though due to concerns regarding safety it was dismantled into smaller pieces. Up on a rocky outcropping here is the base of a former tower (I think it was a water tower). This is an excellent viewpoint of the entire inner harbour from James Bay to the Johnson Street Bridge. I recently wrote about this stretch between the bridge and here in my post on the abundant and empty public spaces in the area.

After leaving the totems and the views of downtown, you will be heading west to reach the far end. The entire length is about two and a half kilometres, however the beauty of the walk makes it go by very quickly. The first section follows along the water next to the original Songhees condo projects from the 1980’s and 1990’s. While I am sure some will disagree, they may be the ugliest set of buildings in Victoria. The addition of a few more recent buildings behind them (The Shutters is my favourite!), is starting to dilute their impact. Partway through this section of the walk is the brand new and not quite complete Victoria International Marina. This marina has been designed to service some of the larger yachts that no longer fit along the other docks next to old town. While many long time Songhees residents protested the building of the marina, I think it looks great and more importantly is will bring some much needed commercial space to the area. As it is now, Spinnakers Pub is really the only commercial enterprise along the whole walk, which is unfortunate because I would love some options to grab a coffee or sit down somewhere and have a bowl of soup. There are plans for a pub and cafe in one of the two marina buildings and I have no doubt that they are going to be very popular.

As you move past the last of the po-mo Songhees condos you will round Lime Bay and pass by the aforementioned Spinnakers Brewpub. For beer enthusiasts, this is the actual birthplace of the modern craft brewery business not just in Victoria, but all of Canada. After this point the pathway narrows and becomes even more winding. If you happen to be going on this walk with kids there is an amazingly elaborate pirate ship built out of drift wood and other things that will keep the kids amused and is a great opportunity for some fun pictures.

Update: While I have not been down to see it directly, that amazing pirate ship for the kids is no longer. The storm of December 20th, 2018 has crushed it beyond repair. Jack Knox has put a great history of the piece up on the Times Colonist site. Hopefully the city will recognise the importance of a little magic and wonder and put something in its place, though it will likely never be replaced entirely.

Just before you reach the beautiful West Bay (As opposed to the end point of Westbay) you will pass a couple of small islets to your left. There used to be walkways over to them but they have been removed. The larger of the two is known as Coffin Island, though I am not aware of what the history is behind that (If you know, please put it in the comments below!). After you have rounded West Bay, the pathway widens for a bit and several large arbutus and garry oak trees hang overhead giving the area a very authentic Salish Sea feel. Not too much further along you will reach Westbay Marina, which much like Fisherman’s Wharf, is home to many houseboats. It is fun to walk along some of the docks and take in the unique way of living. Most importantly, here at the end of the trail is a water fountain and a washroom.

You can now turn around and head back which will let you have some great views of the city from a very different perspective. If you are not in the mood to walk all the way back you can walk the 200 metres up Head Street to Esquimalt Road and catch the Number 6 bus back downtown.

No matter how many times I walk this path, I still can’t help pulling out my camera and taking pictures. It is just simply beautiful. What are your favourite parts of the walk?

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Urban Oases of Victoria - Colquitz River Park

I had known of the existence of the Colquitz River Park for many years. I had even stopped in at the parking lot off of Interurban Road, but I really had not thought of it much more than the area just below that parking lot. It turns out that it is one of the most beautiful walks in the city and it practically starts at Tillicum Mall and then continues almost all the way to Beaver Lake.

Colquitz River is one of the larger streams that run through the city, the other big one being Bowker Creek. The Colquitz runs from its source at Beaver Lake winding its way through the northern part of the District of Saanich down to Cuthbert Holmes Park and then out into Portage Inlet at the top of the Gorge Waterway. While it is clear that the stream is starting to be cared for all along its way, it still seems as is it needs some more attention to bring it back to full health. I have heard before that it is still salmon bearing, though I find that hard to believe looking at the milky water.

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In any event, it is through the use of places like this that people begin to care for them, there are certainly people that have been trying to make Colquitz River healthly. Veins of Life Watershed Society is likely the most notable non-profit in this area and they have done many clean-ups of the river.

So if you are like I was, and a complete new comer to this trail you can start it either at Tillicum Mall, kind of behind the Montana’s Steakhouse along Burnside just where it goes under the Trans-Canada and turns into Interurban, or a little ways up Interurban on the west side of the road where there is a small parking lot. When you come down down the trail and approach either of the two bridges along this part of the stream, you will see that is not just a simple park along the edge of the river. Instead what you will find is not just a park, but an architectural gem. I am not certain who designed the park (The designer was actually Moura Quayle, Thanks to Tricia down in the comments!) however throughout its southern portion it has these little hidden concrete blocks. Some of them are steps across the river and in other instances they are benches overlooking the water. They have a certain Arthur Erickson quality to them, though I would doubt he was involved, the time frame for the completion of this portion in 1981 would put it in line with the same architectural lineage as him. It has a modernist Japanese garden feel to it. While it looks like some of the concrete is needing to be repaired now, it still is quite striking. I also wonder whether anything similar could even be constructed today, as it would certainly have disturbed the creek bed during construction.

Once you are headed north, the path goes under the Mckenzie Overpass across Interurban Road and shortly after crosses Interurban itself and then goes through the edge of Hyacinth Park. This area is dominated by huge willow trees. Once you emerge past the willows you begin to cross the Panama Flats. This area historically was likely a swamp but at some point in the 1800’s it was drained for farm land. The District of Saanich was able to acquire this area as park in the last few years. It would appear that at least a portion of it is still farmed. The farm, with the surrounding hills is quite picturesque, especially on a sunny day like the one I was there was. After you cross the flats you begin a rise up to what is known as Panama Hill. The hill portion has a number of Garry Oaks among other trees and there seems to be quite a maze of trails that come off of the main trail. The path keeps on past this point, crossing Roy Road, but this is as far as I explored on this first venture. What is certain is that there is a lot more of this park for me to still enjoy.

Let me know what I missed! I have heard that there are some archaeological sites near the trail but what else so that I make sure to look next time.

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Urban Oases of Victoria - Witty's Lagoon

While most of the urban oases I have written about have been fairly close to the city, Witty's Lagoon is actually in quite a rural environment already, but I thought I would include it as you can both get here rather quickly from the city, and the city is creeping ever closer to Metchosin (especially with the Royal Bay development going in so close by). 

Witty's Lagoon is in a Capital Regional District park and has two central parts once you get past the small nature centre and outhouses. There is the very dramatic Sitting Lady Falls, where Bilston Creek spills over a fairly high cliff and spills into the top end of the lagoon; and then there is the lagoon and beach at the end of an about one kilometre trail. 

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If you have never seen Sitting Lady Falls you should go and see it, though the winter is a better time, as the falls will be much larger and usually with a lot of mist hanging over the lagoon, which adds to the scene. Still, when I was there last week there was still a fairly good flow going over. To best see the falls, just before crossing the bridge that goes over the top of the crest, follow the Lagoon trail to the left. About 100 metres along that trail is a viewing platform. The trail continues past here down to the lagoon and apparently there are trails that lead to the other part of the park to the east but I have never been on them. Instead, I usually head down the trail to the main beach. 

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The trail down to the beach is quite beautiful, it follows along the side of the lagoon across a small creek and through the woods. Along the way there are some amazing mature Arbutus trees and quite a few crab apple trees, possibly from when the whole area was a farm. When you finally emerge from the forest and come out onto the beach you are treated a panorama view of the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To the far right you should be able to just make out the Race Rocks Lighthouse (the most southern point in British Columbia). 

In the summer, the beach here can be quite busy, the sand bars stretch out a fair ways and there are usually a few people skim boarding across them.  It is a great place to come down for a picnic and even to stay awhile as there are tables and even some more outhouses. To the right of the beach is a brand new set of stairs that go up to the end of Witty's Beach Road. If you keep walking down the beach you do eventually come to a clothing optional beach so be aware of that if you are exploring. 

If you want to extend your walk by taking the stairs up to the road, you can walk next to some small farms. There is also an amazingly eclectic art project built along a fence that is truly unique. Walking along Metchosin Road is not the most pleasant part but if you stay on the shoulder it is only a short way till you can move yourself over further and then back to the parking lot at the beginning of the park. 

Whether you just want a walk or want an escape for the day, Witty's Lagoon Park is the perfect choice. 

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Urban Oases of Victoria - Playfair Park

Hidden in pretty much the middle of Saanich is Playfair Park. This park is perhaps one of the most unique, beautiful and magical parks in all of Greater Victoria. 

The first thing that makes this park special is that it is unexpected. If you happen to see the hidden sign along Quadra as you whiz north you are pretty lucky, if you can slow down in time to make the turn onto Rock Street you are even luckier. There is some access by driving off of Tattersall Drive and also off of the very end of Cumberland Avenue. While you can see some of the beautiful Garry Oaks you can't really see what makes this an extra special place on arrival. 

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In 1956, while the park had been set aside already, it was just an undeveloped green space. A group came together that had a vision of creating a national arboretum in Victoria. To create interest in this idea this group decided to do a demonstration garden in Playfair Park. Over the next few years the group planted hundreds of different varieties of mostly rhododendron and azaleas. The garden was set out on hill at the south east part of the park with pathways between the plants. 

The group and the dream of a national arboretum disapeared many years ago, but the garden was taken over and maintained by the Saanich Parks department. The plants are now very mature and especially at this time of year as they are beginning to flower, it is truly a magical place to wander about. 

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There are other parts to the park including a kids playground and a washroom, which is nice to have. The north west part has been returned to a Garry Oak meadow. On my last visit to the park, staff had added some very well done permanent paths, which while guiding people, also keep them out of the more easy to damage areas. Along the north and eastern part of the park is a large field that is bordered with a beautiful almost tropical looking garden (it does include a tall Fan Palm) with a nice small gazebo. Overall compared to most parks there is sense that this is different, you have a real sense that this was the work of people that loved plants. 

Even on a slightly rainy day, with the flowers there to color your view, Playfair Park is wonderful place to slow down and enjoy.

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Urban Oases of Victoria - Macaulay Point Park

Hidden along the waterfront of Esquimalt is one of my favourite little parks, Macaulay Point. If you read my post on Fort Rodd Hill, you would have seen that Victoria was at one time a very fortified city, with ocean aimed guns pointing out in many directions. One of the largest batteries after Fort Rodd Hill, was Fort Macaulay. 

Though not as preserved as Fort Rodd Hill, Macaulay Point is in some ways even more wonderful because it is a little more run down and overgrown. You have to use your imagination a little more with each of the little bits.

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When you first arrive you will see a large parking lot that is mostly used to park trucks and trailers after launching a boat. There is a small protected harbour along with some offices for the boat launch. The park begins just past the boat launch, on the left hand side. 

When you first get here you will usually be confronted with a couple of people rock climbing the cliff. It seems popular, but I personally have a hard time watching it. The park continues around a small picnic area and than curves around and above the marina. the path then t-bones at the ocean with a beautiful view looking across to Albert Head and Colwood. From here you can either walk out on the jetty or into the rest of the park. 

There are a couple of loops you can do through the park, one longer one and one a bit shorter. On the last time we were there, we did the shorter loop which when you get to fork between either following the water's edge or heading up over a berm, you take the latter. Once you are at the top you will see that this is a huge gun placement (no more gun of course). 

As you walk down into a trench behind the guns it becomes easier to imagine the place as a Fort, but still the beautiful flowers and paths make it seem like it was hundreds of years ago. Further in there is a small collection of old buildings and a tunnel leading up to a lookout over the water. 

There is a little side path that heads down towards the Inner Harbour though is stops somewhere on the Navy Base. Still it has some nice views of downtown and James Bay. 

If you are looking for a little place to get away from the city, breathe in some sea air and see a little history, Macaulay Point Park is the perfect place, especially as the weather gets a little nicer!

 

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Urban Oases of Victoria - Summit Park

Hidden away in the Hillside-Quadra neighbourhood, nearly surrounded by houses, is one of the most beautiful parks in the city, Summit Park. What I find truly amazing about it is that so few people that I speak with about it have ever been there. And while the quiet of the place is definitely a benefit, Victorians should really have this place on their radar. 

Summit Park was created by the City in 1972. The majority of the park's eleven acres is nearly pristine Garry Oak meadow. This time of year is extra special as in between the oak trees there are thousands of crocus sprouting up. The park is perched on a top of hill above Quadra Village to the south, Finlayson Street to the north, Cook Street to the east and Quadra to the west. Being in this high point, combined with the little ground cover means that the park has amazing vistas in almost every direction. 

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The south side of the park borders on the Smith Hill Reservoir which operated only briefly in the early part of the 20th century and has sat pretty much unused for the past 100 years. Another interesting piece of infrastructure is the Telus tower that is at the eastern end of the park ,which apart from being a recognisable landmark of Victoria, also provides a great viewing platform which lets you see the Shelbourne Valley spreading out in front of you. 

The City completed a park management plan in 2011 and I have heard rumours that there may be some more work developing soon. Still since the plan was done in 2011, the City has put in new access points to Finlayson Street as well as a couple good sets of stairs to the rim of the reservoir. There has also been pathway improvements through most of the park and around the perimeter reservoir. 

While of course, drinking in public is completely illegal, I can't think of better place to have a real city park picnic with a bottle of wine. In the summer, the grass up here dries and the sun is blocked by the hundreds of trees, due to the height of the hilltop there is almost always a breeze. This truly is a complete escape from the city and it is so close to us. 

Still as always, I do think we have an untapped opportunity in Summit Park, though many are going to think I am terrible for saying it. The reservoir which sits there unused is such an amazing opportunity for the city. The 2011 management plan, as well as a few other blog pieces I have read on the park, talk about taking over that piece (It is currently owned by the CRD) and returning it a more natural state, perhaps keeping some of the water as a feature. While that is certainly an option, I think that the City has far greater opportunities with the space. 

The Boathouse, Prospect Park, New York

The Boathouse, Prospect Park, New York

Imagine a hilltop restaurant or pavilion like Brooklyn's Boathouse in Prospect Park. It would be an amazing venue for art shows, weddings and other celebrations. With some creative landscaping and safety provisions, the reservoir could be used for rowboat rentals. Another possibility would be to partition part of it off and build an outdoor swimming pool, something Victorians have long wanted for the summer. Of course locals will say that parking would be a challenge but going back to the Boathouse example, it operates just fine with no parking nearby. 

It is unlikely that anything will happen here anytime soon, even the CRD seems to want to hold on to the site just in case they need it in the future. In the absence of anything happening the to the reservoir, the park remains a wonderful place to visit.

The easiest ways to access the park are at the eastern end of Summit Avenue, off of Quadra or at the northern end of The Rise off of Cook Street. 

Let me know your ideas for what to do with the reservoir. 

Urban Oases of Victoria - Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Park

It may seem that Victoria is all about nature, fleece jackets and coffee shops, but what if I told you that really a lot of what made Victoria exist as it is today, was the military. For the British Empire of the 1800s, Victoria's strategic location and natural harbours were ideal, not just for protecting British interests in North America, but securing the whole Pacific Ocean. This strategic importance is no where more evident than at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Park.

About a twenty minute drive from downtown Victoria, Fort Rodd Hill is set on the western shore of Esquimalt Harbour, near Royal Roads University. Construction work started on the batteries around Victoria in the late 1870s, with Fort Rodd Hill being the largest one (work on this one started in the 1890s). There were others located at Macaulay Point and near Beacon Hill Park. Each of these batteries, was enlarged over the years through many different conflicts until the end of World War Two. In the 1960s Parks Canada took over Fort Rodd Hill and created the space we have today. 

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The little ticket hut that greets you at the parking lot is quite diminutive compared to what you will find on the other side. Once through the gates you would usually enter the Upper Battery, however when I went last weekend, it was closed for remediation. Instead you walk down the main trail towards the lower battery, the beach, the Belmont battery and Fisgard Lighthouse. To the left as you walk in is an expansive field and along the right are a few restored buildings including the Officer's Quarters. 

You can explore in any direction you want, however I find walking down to the Belmont battery first allows for a nice loop walk. On the day we went, the air was chilling and spending time in the wind was painful, however, if you visit during the summer the beach between the Belmont battery and Fisgard Lighthouse would be perfect for a picnic. 

Even if the wind is blowing, it is worth making your way out to the lighthouse. It was built in 1860 and was one of the first lighthouses on the West Coast. The light keeper's house has been turned into a small interactive display, but the just getting to see the craftsmanship of the building is quite impressive. Across the water from the lighthouse you can make out several of our Pacific Naval Fleet and just next door to that is the Victoria Shipyards, home to apparently "the largest solid bottom commercial drydock on the West Coast of the Americas". Last weekend you could see two BC Ferries waiting to get fixed up. 

After the lighthouse head back to the fort and explore the lower battery. It is one of my favourite places here, especially the operations planning room in the basement. More generally I like the shapes of the ramparts and how the walls seemed to curl in to give defenders every last advantage. 

As you leave the lower battery heading back towards the exit you will see a row of very large tents on the right hand side of the field. In the last couple of years, Parks Canada put these in giving people a ready made and easily accessible camping experience. I haven't done it yet but being allowed to wander around the grounds in the evening is a pretty tempting thought. 

Even if it is not at night though, Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse are worth a visit and if you can get there before the end of the year, they are still free!

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Urban Oases of Victoria - Mystic Vale

With the students back at UVic, I thought it would be a good time to focus on one of the most amazing little getaways in the whole city. Just at the back of Parking Lot One, off of Ring Road, is a whole other world where it feels like a chance encounter with a fairy would be more likely than with another person out for a walk. I am referring to Mystic Vale. The beautiful ravine park that stretches almost from Henderson Road to Cadboro Bay. 

The name likely comes from a book about aboriginal lore by D.W. Higgins who refers to the creek winding through the bottom of the ravine as 'Mystic Spring' in his book The Mystic Spring and Other Tales of Western Life, published in 1904. While I have never walked through the park on a moonlit night, I can attest to the magical feeling of the place. 

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Once you have parked in Lot 1 at the far right corner, you will see a broad path leading into the trees. Shortly after you start down, there a second narrower path forks off to the left but then follows in the same direction, go this way. You will know you are in the right spot when about twenty metres later you have reached the top of a wood and earthen staircase that zig-zags down the side of the vale. While on the day that I went this week the creek was dry, generally when you get to the bottom you are greeted by the gurgling of the creek and you can look up as the trees seems to span over the top of the ravine creating a cathedral like space with the sun shining through the branches. 

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Directly across from the stairs that you will initially come down, there is another set of stairs that leads up to an open field that you can walk through back to Henderson Road. In my opinion, the nicer walk is along the creek which twists and turns among the trees. There are a couple of little bridges that cross the creek and trees that have fallen over the years in various states of decay. Near the end of the trail you can see the dramatic impact of an invasive species, as English Ivy has covered almost every tree you can see. The path finally takes you just short of Sinclair Road, to Hobbs Road near Cadboro Village. As you walk on Hobbs, about halfway along there is another path just to your left which will take you back up to the university and eventually meet up with the Alumni Chip Trail, behind the student residences. 

While the whole loop only takes about twenty-five minutes, it feels like you are getting away from the city for far longer. 

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The Bricks of Government Street

Despite the name of my blog, it is not too often that I talk about sidewalks specifically. The last time may have been the post I wrote on my trip to Ensenada, Mexico and its sidewalk traps.

 Yet, right here in Victoria we have one of the most interesting sidewalks you can find, on Government Street.

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If you have walked the tourist strip of Government Street between Broughton and Bastion Square, you may have noticed a double-thick line of bricks with names on it that along its path has some pretty interesting features which reveal why they are there. What you are seeing with these bricks is the locations of the original walls and structures of Fort Victoria and the names in the bricks are a listing of over two thousand of original settlers in city. (It should be noted that the names are not a listing of those that lived in the fort but settlers going into the early 20th Century). This whole project is known as the Fort Victoria Brick Project.

Likely the best place to start a walk along the pathway of the old walls of the fort is at Artina's Jewellery. If you look at the front of the store, you will see a strip of bricks coming right out of the door and then making a quick left hand turn to the north. The old wall cuts right through the outside patio of the Bard and Banker pub and then on the corner of Fort and Government you will see a gap with a brass circle on either side. This was the gate for the fort and is why Fort Street has its name, as it led directly to the entrance of the Fort.

The wall continues up Government past Munro's Books and Murchie's Tea Shop two bricks thick with a name on each. If you want to see if you can find a specific one, the Fort Victoria Brick Project has a complete listing. 

The work for the brick project was completed as part of the revitalisation of Government Street in the 1970's. This included reducing the street to two lanes and making it a one way street that had reduced barriers between the pedestrian and vehicle realm. While there is a continued debate as to whether the revitalisation of the street has been successful, the introduction of the history of the fort added a layer that otherwise would have been lost to time.

As you walk to towards the entrance to Bastion Square, the bricks take on a more elaborate octagonal shape, with a large plaque for the Hudson's Bay Company in the centre. This is an outline of the bastion for the fort which would have provided protection to it from the north and east. Nanaimo still has the bastion from its fort which would have been a similar structure.

The bricks take a turn to the left into Bastion Square here. As you walk down towards the harbour the bricks continue across Langley Street. Unfortunately, the city has seemed to have let the last part of the line of bricks fall into disrepair with some gaps and replacement bricks put in. As you get about halfway through the lower part of Bastion Square, the bricks take another left hand turn and come to an end at the beautiful Board of Trade Building. 

Just as the bricks make their turn there is a beautiful Camperdown Elm, which I will be honest, until I was taking pictures for this post, I had not read the plaque for. 

While the bricks give an ephemeral life to the fort, the bricks have actually been in place for almost twice as long as the actual fort was!

Hope you enjoy the tour!

Mid-Block Walkways of Victoria - Fort to Belleville Street

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that I love a good mid-block walkway and after reading my first three (OneTwo and Three), you  likely thought that we had seen all that we could downtown. I will admit that this walkway is not going to save you much time, but it takes you through one of the most recently built-up parts of Victoria and has a very urban feel to it. 

The best place to start this little adventure is at the bus stop just to the east of Douglas on Fort Street. Just behind this bus stop is the very strangely named Royal Mall which consists of about three commercial spaces, only one which seems to be in operation. As you follow the pathway around to the right you will come out into the courtyard of the Sussex building, perhaps one of the most beautiful post modern buildings in Victoria. It is clearly a take on an art deco office tower but with that 1990's spin. The courtyard is a great place to stop for some Mexican food or enjoy a coffee. 

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Head out the passage that is at the south-east. Across thestreet is perhaps the only real alleyway in downtown Victoria. As you head down the alley you are behind the Strathcona Hotel. The alley takes you down to Courtenay Street. The brick building to your left was at one time the exclusive, Alexandra Ladies' Club, the female counterpart to the Union Club which is just two blocks from here. 

As you look across Courtenay Street you will see one of the most divisive buildings in recent memory in the city. The Falls, designed by James Cheng, was a seminal development in the city. Prior to it being built, there was an almost automatic reaction on the part of vocal parts of the city and media to condemn any new building but a concerted effort on the part of many in the city led to a council meeting that changed the conversation on new

The Falls

developments. The building has a very distinct look and is in my opinion one of the most beautiful in the city. One of the amenities that the building had to provide was a publicly accessible walkway through the building during business hours. It is a strange amenity given that the sidewalk is only about 10 metres further down the street. Still you access it across from the entrance to the Sticky Wicket. Go through the car entrance and follow the right hand side. 

The walkway behind the Aria building.

Once you are through you will be on Burdett Street, just to the left of Browns Social House. Walk up the hill to Penwell Street and then head down it until you get to Humboldt Street. Across the street is the Aria building and on its western end is a walkway that will connect with another walkway that goes along the back of the building. Take the walkway to the left and move towards Cridge Park. To your right is the Victoria Lawn Bowling Club. 

The Cridge Park is an interesting little park, which for the longest time, was just a small green space surrounded by empty parking lots. After the development of the Aria and the buildings across the street, the City fixed it up and it is now a great little space. To the left is the Church of Our Lord, the oldest church in downtown Victoria. 

Once you make it through the park you will be on the corner of Blanshard Street and Belleville, just across the road is St. Ann's Academy. You can actually continue your mid-block walk through here to Beacon Hill Park but this is as far as I go today. 

Victoria Lawn Bowling Club

The Falls public walkway entrance (well

you actually have to go through the garage).

Alexandra Ladies Club

Mid-Block Walkways of Victoria - Round Three

It's time for another mid-block adventure downtown. If you haven't read my other two posts, you can find them

here

and

here

. This time we are going to cut through the 900 block of Harris Green from Yates Street to Burdett Avenue. If you are good at parkour or have a secret set of keys for two buildings, you could start on Johnson Street, as there is a complete mid-block walkway, but it is locked shut with gates. 

To start this walk head up to the Manhattan Building at 930 Yates Street and you will see a crosswalk that heads towards Harris Green Village (

Our little bit of suburbia, if you recall

). Once you cross you need to veer to the right and cut into a small plaza next to the Cobb's Bakery. This little plaza ends with a staircase that will bring you down to View Street at the bottom of View Towers, perhaps Victoria's most infamous rental building, though I think its reputation is likely at least a little undeserved. More likely a visceral reaction to its size and slab like style. 

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At this point, there is a crosswalk on View Street and once across go to your left and enter the large surface parking lot towards Fort Street. With all of the construction going on in Harris Green, I would expect that this lot will likely get a proposal soon. Still, this lot, is in my mind, the location of one of the biggest missed opportunities in Victoria. Have a look at

this page on Vibrant Victoria

and you can see the amazing design we missed out on. 

When you have made your way through the parking lot, in the very southwest corner, there is a small wooden staircase that takes you up to Fort Street. 

The micro-square behind the Blue Fox.

You will now be on Fort Street if you look across the street you should see the

Blue Fox Cafe

. It is usually distinctive due to its long line-up out the door. Make your way safely across Fort Street. Once you are across Fort Street, walk down to the brick archway next to the cafe.

Through the archway you will go up some stairs into a tiny but beautiful little courtyard, follow along to the left and out the back of the passageway. You will now be on Meares Street looking across to Pioneer Square. 

Pioneer Square was one of the original burial grounds for Victoria. When Ross Bay Cemetery was opened, many of those buried here were moved, yet I have heard that there are still several hundred people buried in this park. 

With Pioneer Square's proximity to downtown and its picturesque layout and setting, I think it has the opportunity to be one of the great urban gems for the city ( likely the subject of a future post). Still, even now it is worthy of some time. Walk around the war memorial and take in some of Victoria's earliest settler history. Once you have had a look around make your way to the south-east edge of the park. You will now be at the end of Rockland Avenue and right next to one of the City's newest projects, the Rockland Greenway. 

As you cross the street make your way to the back of Christ Church Cathedral, you will be walking through a small parking lot and will come out to another one, next to some park-like grounds on the south side of the church. This is the end of the walkway, if you still have some time, take a look at the spiral labyrinth on the grounds here or go inside for a look at the cathedral. 

The spiral labyrinth

Mid-Block Walkways of Victoria - Take Two

As I said in the first take on mid-block walkways, there are a lot of them in our city for good and bad. Today we are going to look at likely the second longest one after the one between Blanshard and Douglas. This one lies between Wharf/Store Street and Government Street and travels from Discovery all the way through to Fort.

Small Staircase that will lead you toHerald Street

Small Staircase that will lead you toHerald Street

The walk starts in front of the only store that I am aware of that is completely off the grid. Anian, is a surf clothing shop that recently opened. Apparently, when the shop was acquired it wasn't connected with power lines and the owners decided to purchase solar panels rather than pay for BC Hydro to hook them up. 

Across the street is a crude metal fence opening that lets you into the Capital Iron parking lot. Cross the parking lot to the south east, make sure you take in one of the largest, and oddest, murals in the city to your left. When you get to Chatham Street, jaywalk across and veer into a small parking lot with a four story brick building at the end of it. At the end of the parking lot you will find a small staircase on the right-hand side. The stairs open onto another small parking lot that empties onto Herald Street. 

[If you want to try another mid block passage, there is another one, two buildings to the east along Chatham, that also cuts through to Herald Street. Since it is closer to Government Street and requires a significant detour to the east and then west, I focused on the one I did.]

Take the crosswalk to your left across the street and you should see a small opening in a building between the Union Pacific Coffee House and Moore Wilson Architecture. This is the beginning of Dragon Alley.

Entrance to Dragon Alley

Entrance to Dragon Alley

In the late 1990's, I worked at the Herald Street Centre for the Arts (Now it is a designer

Entrance to Dragon Alley

furniture store). It was at this time that they built Dragon Alley and the buildings within it. Prior to that it was a series of abandoned buildings that had previously been housing for residents of Chinatown. Dragon Alley is now home to a selection of interesting stores. Once you make it through you will emerge onto Fisgard Street in the middle of Chinatown. You will need to jaywalk here (jaywalking on Fisgard is almost part of the experience). You can choose to take the tourist passage of Fan Tan Alley or the brand new Theatre Alley that runs through the Union Building. Theatre Alley gets its name from a previous passage that existed many years ago and made its way to a Chinese Theatre that was situated mid block. As you wind through the building you get some interesting views of the central part of Chinatown. 

When you get to Pandora Avenue, turn to your left and cross at the crosswalk. Just to the right of the Solstice Cafe is the entrance to Market Square. Market Square is a unique shopping experience. It is a multi level mall built out of a collection of heritage buildings. It was built in the 1980's and while a beautifully pulled together place, it has never really become the shopping mecca that the owners had hoped. It is worthwhile to spend a little while exploring here before heading to the Johnson Street entrance gate. 

Market Square

Market Square

Waddington Alley

Waddington Alley

Once outside the gate, use the crosswalk and then turn right. Walk along the sidewalk until you get to Willie's Bakery. Around the corner is Waddington Alley, this is the next walkway which will take you to Yates Street. As you walk along the alley you will see the entrance to Il Terrazo, one of the longest running good restaurants in the city. Just past there, you will see a plaque on the wall for the Morley Soda Factory. This old brick building has recently been converted into condos, but at one time produced soda water and other beverages for the young city of Victoria. 

When you get to Yates Street you will need to jaywalk and turn to the left. In between The Reef and The Hawk and Hen is Commercial Alley. As you walk through you will see a small  passage that connects to the back stairs of the Yates Street Parkade. If you are not too tired, the view from the top of the parkade is amazing. 

Brick archway leading out of Bastion Square

Brick archway leading out of Bastion Square

Commercial Alley exits into Bastion Square, one of the nicest public spaces in the city. It is hard imagine that it used to just be a normal street. The City built the public space in the hopes of enlivening what was a derelict part of town. Now the Square is full of life and home to an artisan market for most of the summer. 

We are down to our last leg of the mid-block walkway. On the far side of the square when you come out of commercial alley are a set of brick arches. It is a bit dark but you want to walk underneath them. Follow the small alley until you see where it opens up to the left. Head up to a small parking lot. You will now be at the corner of Fort Street and Langley Street. This is the end of this walk. 

Let me know about some of the interesting things you saw!

Colourful street art at the end of the walk

Colourful street art at the end of the walk

Colourful street art at the end of the walk