Victoria: The City of Beautiful Flowers Among Ugliness

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This post about Victoria on Vancouver Island was originally published in 2007. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Okay. Maybe the pendulum has swung for us and we want nothing to do with cities after having lived the city life for a while. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by Toronto, the largest city in Canada, with (arguably) the most to offer.

Or maybe Victoria just isn’t all it’s cracked (pardon the pun – sorry drug addicts) up to be.

Have you ever been told by everybody you know to go see a movie because it’s the greatest movie ever of all time? And then after being hounded by everybody to go you are strangely disappointed when you do see it?

Well, that’s kind of how we felt about Victoria.
We’ve heard for so long how Victoria is counted among the favourite cities of our friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. It’s one of the most beautiful cities, it has so much to offer, the people are great, yadda yadda yadda.

It doesn’t help that the hostel we were staying at was more like a YWCA shelter than it was a hostel. It was filthy, impersonal, and….well… a shelter. Although Victoria residents weren’t supposed to be allowed to stay there, we saw evidence of homeless people being put up there by good Samaritans or family members – who knows.

Victoria really is a beautiful city….

Once we got out of the hostel for the day (which was our main goal given the circumstances), we walked all around town for about 6 hours. The harbour is admittedly spectacular, and the parliament buildings are beautiful. There are multi-million dollar time shares all along the harbour, alongside museums, art galleries, and big colonial-style hotels. There are colourful flowers and tropical style trees along most of the roads, and one of the main drags in downtown comes alive with sparkling trees. Literally sparkling. It’s actually kind of spooky.

Being a retirement city, there are also lots of nice cars being driven by those who have earned their retirement…..Rolls Royces, Jaguars, Antique Cars alike were all over the place.

So upon first blush Victoria is a city of wealth, beauty, and warmth.

Totem pole surrounded by sun dog in Victoria

But when you have to step over heroin addicts and homeless people to experience the wealth, beauty, and warmth, the city’s glamour is somewhat tempered. We just spent the last 2 weeks touring cities all over BC and Alberta in which passers by on the street said hello. If there was no exchange of words, at the very least people made eye contact and smiled. No so in Victoria.

Kelly says Victoria has a feel quite similar to Ottawa; it’s beautiful and rich at first blush, but a peek under the surface shows a much less appetizing place on a number of different levels, many of which are difficult to define.

And we are not the only ones with waning feelings for Victoria; for years it has prided itself as the City of Festivals. However this year, 3 of the largest festivals have pulled Victoria off their roster for various reasons which are currently among debate in the newspapers.
The city also just passed a by-law that basically outlaws busking marimba bands. Marimba bands. Yup. Those pesky marimba bands must have crossed a line somewhere in there. The latin beats were just too much for Victoria’s ticking pace-maker.

Granted, in defense of the city, we didn’t make it out of the downtown area, and a lot of what was worth seeing may have been in the outskirts. Buchart Gardens was a ¾ hour bus ride away. Whale Watching and the beach was a boat ride away. Everything was…away. And as a thriving retirement community, for those living in a beautiful condo outside of the downtown core, on or near the water, I’m sure Victoria is glorious. We just couldn’t appreciate it. All we saw was a little big-city with a small heart.

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