By Doreen Kerby

Victoria is a favourite for prairie people. The Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Empress Hotel are landmarks, charming by day but even more beautiful at night. Nearly every visitor will spend time at the Royal B.C. Museum and many enjoy wandering around the Inner Harbour watching boats come and go, observing craftspeople at their work, or watching talented buskers entertain.

Not far away on Government Street is a must for chocolate lovers. Rogers Chocolates, a Victoria enterprise since 1895, is famous for making the best. Just like high tea at the Empress or Butchart Gardens, it is a memorable experience.

But there are places in Victoria that are not as well known.

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Take a Harbour Ferry

Take a Harbour Ferry and have your camera ready. The skipper entertains passengers with tales of the early days, interesting places and new developments. Get off at Point Ellice House, home of the O’Reilly family for three generations.

The O’Reillys played an important role in the history of British Columbia. Peter O’Reilly was a magistrate and commissioner. He and his wife Caroline lived a privileged lifestyle, entertaining Victoria’s elite, and left behind a detailed record in their personal papers.

Acquired in 1867, the O’Reilly property was sold to the province 108 years later. This beautiful Victorian home overlooks the Gorge Waterway. Admission includes a tour and tea. For the tours we donned headsets and the voice of the O’Reilly’s servant guided us through the house, as if the O’Reilly’s still lived there.

On display is the largest known collection of Victoriana in North America still in its original location. The servant gives interesting details about his duties and facts about the family. In the living room, the harp and organ await their daughter Kathleen and the dining room table is set for an elaborate dinner.

Out in the English garden, everything growing is historically accurate to the 1870s. In fact, it was the O’Reillys who planted the hollyhocks.

Tea was served on the front lawn, under the shade of a huge Sequoia tree, planted by Peter in 1876. We were served home made soup, fancy sandwiches, scones, Devon cream, jam, trifle, cakes and cookies. Out waiter confided that he loves his job asking, “Where could I find a place in the city that is so beautiful and peaceful? “

The Ellis Point Bridge can be seen from the grounds. It was built in the 1950s near the spot where a wooden bridge collapsed on May 26, 1896. Number 16 streetcar was designed to carry 60 passengers but on that day 140 crowded into the car. Once on the bridge, two loud cracks were heard and the streetcar plunged into the gorge. Fifty-five men, women, and children died and 27 were seriously injured. Almost every family in Victoria was touched. The Union Jacks that flew so jubilantly to honour Queen Victoria on May Day were now at half-mast.
“Victoria mourns her dead!” read the headlines. “From a city of rejoicing, our city becomes a place of sorrow.”

It could have been worse. The trolley filled with water but longshoremen loading a ship nearby raced to the scene in small boats, smashing windows with their bare hands. It is rated as the worst streetcar disaster in North American history. It is a story I know well for my Great Grandfather lost a daughter in that crash and almost his own life as well.

Another place I love is the Chateau Victoria Hotel at 740 Burdett Ave. On the top floor there is a rooftop restaurant, Vista 18. It offers a menu of local produce that is exceptional. A 360 -degree view allows one to see the Cascade Mountains and the snow-capped Olympics, Mount Tolmie, and Mount Douglas, as well as the activity of the Inner Harbour.

Carr House at 207 Government St. is the childhood home of Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most famous artists and authors. Another building that predates the Parliament Buildings is St. Ann’s Academy, a convent school, the first four-story masonry building in Victoria, built in 1858. The chapel is the oldest church in British Columbia and has been magnificently restored.

For an excellent meal try Swans Suite Hotel located on the corner of Pandora and Store, conveniently located in the heart of historic Old Town Victoria. It is one of Canada’s most important art hotels with a stunning collection of Canadian art ranging from First Nations to the official portraits of Pierre Trudeau. Images of the former owner, Michael Williams also grace the premises. When he died he left all his property to the University of Victoria. So dining at Swan’s is not only enjoyable, it also helps the university.

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Swan’s Cafe

I always hate to leave Victoria. Lovely green lawns, hanging baskets, and beautiful flowers set it apart from most cities. It has the mildest climate in Canada but that isn’t the only thing that makes it so attractive. It has a rich history well preserved in heritage buildings, museums and art galleries.

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For more information call Tourism Victoria: 250 4145 6999 or