Victoria on Foot

For a few weeks we thought about crossing the Strait to Victoria to mark our anniversary. We made plans, then stalled a little, but my husband said we should go. I can dream things up but he makes them happen.

In a thick mist of a morning it felt strange to take our passports and head west to Port Angeles rather than to the airport. We could drive an hour, catch the Black Ball Ferry to Vancouver Island, and celebrate with a walking trip in a foreign country. On the crossing I could feel the swells I heard hitting the beach at the bottom of the bluff before we left home.

To a visitor the pretty, lady-like setting of Victoria seems in keeping with her nature. The city gloves fingers of land, low hills, surrounded by water. Clouds thinned as we approached the Inner Harbor, tucked protectively away from the Strait, and surrounded by downtown buildings. Foot passengers leaned against the railing to see city landmarks – the large, ivy-covered Empress Hotel, British Columbia’s Parliament Buildings (built in 1898), and the Royal BC Museum.

We walked to our hotel – and walked for the next day and a half, filled with the kind of musing that goes on when outside the regular routine. I thought about our wedding so long ago – the Alaska autumn day, my best friend’s parents’ lakeside cabin, and the judge who flew his small plane down from Anchorage to marry us.

And being in Canada stirred up another set of memories. Six years of my nomadic childhood I spent in British Columbia, a stop on the ever-northward journey to Alaska (the end of the known world at the time – or so it seemed). These Victoria days crossed the path my life took and the path it might have taken, if my parents had prolonged their Canadian experiment. It’s hard for me to imagine any alternative so lucky as the one that happened.

We lived in the woods in interior B.C. when Elvis was happening in the States, and I always wanted American things – Hershey bars instead of Cadbury, baseball rather than curling. But a friend my mother made there taught me to sew. I was 14 and she changed my life – sewing clothes led to making quilts and to making pictures.

On our anniversary day we walked and walked – up Menzies Street all the way to the Strait where a path on the bluff winds beside bramble thickets full of snowberries, rose hips, and blackberries. Park benches at viewpoints look toward “our” side.

We meandered back through beautiful Beacon Hill Park that combines meadows, areas of rough habitat, ornamental gardens, ponds, ducks, peacocks, and nesting herons. The meadows and the native Garry oaks attracted the English who settled here – meadows where First Nation people had cultivated camas bulbs for centuries. The home of the artist Emily Carr is near the park – a pilgrimage site for many.

Rain began that afternoon. I wanted to walk through “The Bay,” a modern mall, looking for traces of the department stores I remember from my childhood. My mother would buy cakes from the basement of Eaton’s in Vancouver for our drives home through Hell’s Canyon up the Fraser River to Prince George. I remember those drives on a narrow road, single lane in spots, right on the edge of the gorge, as terrifying. I remember equally vividly the frosting ribbons and roses on the cakes as joy – and a great distraction from fear of plunging to the river. (My mother had interesting diversionary tactics. On another trip I read her banned-in-Canada copy of “Peyton Place” in the back seat of the car.)

Victoria’s Inner Harbor twinkles at night when lighted buildings reflect on the water. After anniversary dinner at an Italian restaurant, where they cook made-to-order meals and the server asked, “Was there any vegetable I didn’t like?” (“No.”), we walked to the hotel past European style chocolate shops and English flavored “tea rooms.”

On our return crossing, we steamed through pea soup, and foghorns sounded nearly the whole way. But as we approached Port Angeles the Olympic Mountains suddenly loomed against a clear blue sky. The customs guy chuckled at my purchases – tea, a teapot, and some books.

It felt good to be back. “Good to go” as my clever friend says, and “good to be home.”

3 thoughts on “Victoria on Foot

  1. Wow! I’m rewarded once again in my re-reading. I loved this. Wonder if I may have missed it the first time around? And such a sweet painting.

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