Canada celebrates its sesquicentennial as a country this year, and everywhere we’ve been over the past couple of weeks on Vancouver Island, the country’s most western outpost, we see Canada pride writ large. Like the illuminated sign (above) on Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Though like our own country, Canada is far from perfect, we find much about it to admire every time we go—not least how much at home we feel here.
We spent our last full day Sunday on the island in Victoria, where we’ve lingered for nearly a week, soaking up Canadian sunshine that is not nearly as hot as it is in Sacramento… one reason we escape at this time of year. And oh, what a lovely day it was after a couple of mostly overcast days, perfect for a boat ride on the Inner Harbour. It turned out to be a ferry kinda day.
The Victoria Harbour ferries are everywhere, scootin’ their little boat butts through one of the busiest harbours in the world—seaplanes taking off and landing, the huge Coho ferry that runs from Port Angeles many times a day, smaller passenger ferries from Seattle and Vancouver. On summer weekends five of the ferries do a well-choreographed water ballet to (semi) classical music. We watched the show this morning under clearing skies (above), which we’ve done many times before, always charmed by the cute little ferries. (You can see a bit of it, too, by clicking on the link in light blue above.)
After the show, Dick and I walked to Fisherman’s Wharf for an early lunch of salmon fish and chips (for him) and halibut fish and chips (for me). We dined at a picnic table on the charming wharf and watched the ferries like the one below roll in to pick up and drop off passengers.
We hadn’t taken a ferry tour this trip, and with the sky blueing so nicely and the water fairly calm, this seemed like the day to do it. So we bought tickets at the wharf and took a ferry back to the Empress Hotel where we’d do a harbour tour a bit later.
We delayed our trip a bit so we could hear the weekly Sunday concert of Victoria’s lovely carillon played by carillonneur Rosemary Laing. She plays the Netherlands Centennial Carillon, which was a gift from British Columbia’s Dutch community for Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967.
We went to stand outside the B.C. Museum, near the bottom of the 90-foot tower with the carillon and bells at the top and listen to Rosemary, who has climbed 75 steps of a spiral staircase and then a 10-step ladder to sit at what’s called the clavier. Then she depresses the clavier’s keys and pedals to sound the bells and play songs. It looks as if she’s beating paddles with her hands. (Click on the link in blue to watch Rosemary play Christmas carols on the clavier. She’s quite athletic!)
I love listening to Rosemary play. We never see her—she’s near the top of the tower—but for years we’d see her shoes that she’d leave at the bottom. She plays everything from classical pieces to, today, Canadian and Scottish folk songs, with a little “Stardust” thrown in for good measure. Every hour between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. in the summer, if you’re near the Inner Harbour, you can hear a mini Rosemary concert when the carillon chimes the hour, followed by a brief recorded song of hers.
We had to make our way back to the ferry landing for our tour before Rosemary’s concert ended, but we could still hear bits of it. We boarded the ferry that arrived a bit late (busy day on the Inner Harbour) but more than made up for it with a great tour by Captain Jay, who has been in Canada only 18 months from Australia. He’s married to a Canadian, and he seems to know the history and the lay of the land quite well.
Great tour on a perfect day. We saw the birdhouses on piers, free housing for the purple martin swallows whose numbers are recovering throughout Canada. We saw the impressive three-story floating homes of Westbay Marine Village and their pair of white swans swanning by. We even were overflown by incoming seaplanes (which we love) and got to watch them land on the runway of the Inner Harbour.
Then we returned to the Empress dock, the hub of all Harbour Ferry activity (and a lot of other activities and entertainment, too).
But later, as the sun was setting about 9 p.m., we walked from our hotel to see the harbour one last time in dusky light, finally quiet, the ferries put away elsewhere for the night, the water calm and reflective.
We saw the Empress hotel lit up, her newly cleaned exterior ivy-free for the first time in decades (a controversial decision by new owners), shining like a precious gem in the summer dusk.
And as we walked back to our hotel, the lights of the Parliament buildings were on. I like to stand under the statue of the 19th-century queen at the edge of the grounds and look up at her silhouette. I think about all the people who made this place, beginning with the Lekwungen people. They were the traditional occupants of this land and were here for thousands of years before European exploration, kicked off by Captain James Cook (his statue on the Inner Harbour, below, makes a nice landing spot for a young musician.)
Look at her, playing her heart out with confidence and passion. She’s this 21st century Victoria, too. This is what I’ll take with me—the memory of the great hearts of these people and gratitude for their generosity to visitors like us.