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Most Canadians are surprised to learn that the city of Victoria is closer to the San Juan Islands of Washington than to the BC mainland and that has the distinction of being the oldest city on the west coast. Originally a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, Victoria grew rapidly and in 1868 became the capital of British Columbia.

Victoria’s proximity to the warm Gulf Stream of the Pacific gives it the mildest climate of any Canadian city and for this reason alone is a favourite vacation destination and retirement home for many Canadians. Settled mostly by British immigrants, it retains much of its British character especially in the shops and hotels which surround the inner harbour.

The harbour area is dominated by the well preserved BC Legislature buildings and the famous Fairmont Empress Hotel which opened its doors in 1908. The city was named in honour of Queen Victoria who would be pleased to know that her namesake city adheres to many British traditions. The Empress hosts up to 800 people a day for its famous afternoon tea and crumpets. The hotel overlooks a charming marina that accommodates historic tall ships and expensive yachts. Every few minutes a float plane skids over the water whisking people to one of the dozens of populated Gulf Islands or north to remote salmon fishing resorts. Esquimalt, which is linked by two bridges to Victoria, is home to the Canadian Navy’s westcoast fleet, westcoast fisheries and the commercial docks.

Most attractions in Victoria are within easy walking distance. The most significant of these is the Royal BC Museum. Through its unique galleries, the Museum showcases the human and natural history of British Columbia, and occasionally a highly regarded international exhibit. Of special interest to most visitors are the museum’s exceptionally well preserved totem poles and other Haida Indian artifacts.

Besides its wonder coastal parks and pathways, Victoria also maintains an excellent network of hiking and cycling trails. The Galloping Goose trail is a paved (mostly) bicycle path that extends 55 km through the city and beyond.

The most visited spot outside the city is Butchart Gardens, a limestone quarry that was developed into a spectacularly beautiful sunken garden. The most popular activity for more adventurous visitors is whale/seal/eagle watching tours which depart several times a day from the Inner Harbour. A lesser known but unique annual event is salmon spawning which can be observed at several spots in and around the city.

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