GRACIOUS BRITISH IMAGE FIRMLY ENTRENCHED IN VICTORIA



Canadian Humourist Stephen Leacock wrote that had he known about Victoria before he would have arranged to be born there. It is easy to see why. The weather is seldom too hot or too cold; golf courses are open year round; the Christmas decorations are barely put away before the daffodils are in bloom; there's a gentleness to this place that's apparent even to the

short-term visitor.

The city's British image, fostered ever since it was named for Britain's queen, is firmly entrenched in classy little stores specializing in Scottish woolens and tweeds and the finest Staffordshire china. There are even old-fashioned sweetshops selling English toffees and seaside rock candy, licorice twirls and sherbert dabs. Red double-decker busses do city tours.

Afternoon tea provides a gracious interlude. Gardening is a passion.

Victoria's flowers are astonishing. Encouraged by plenty of sunshine, gardens are brimming with giant dahlias and dark-eyed daisies, ridiculously tall lupines and delphiniums, and roses as big as soup bowls. Rockeries in both residential and public gardens are overflowing as are the baskets hung on downtown lamp-posts.

Visitors can manage nicely without a car because important attractions are within an easy walk, many of them hugging the scenic Inner Harbor. These include the 19th-century Parliament Buildings set in landscaped parklands. At night, they are outlined by more then 3,000 twinkling lights; by day, escorted tours show off their splendid restoration.

Facing the harbor, the Empress Hotel presents Victoria's most photographed scene. Following restoration, the city's favourite hotel now has cheerful decor, airy public rooms, new restaurants, and splendid guest accommodation and formerly hidden architectural treasures revealed.

Between these two historic landmarks is the Carillon Tower, a gift from British Columbians of Dutch origin, to celebrate Canada's centenary in 1967. Nearby, the Royal British Columbia Museum contains outstanding displays of artifacts relating to provincial history and environment. Its collection of West Coast Indian artifacts is superb; more totem

poles stand in neighbouring Thunderbird Park.

A stroll from the waterfront brings you to Chinatown, more than 100 years old and smaller than in the late 1800s when Chinese labourers were brought in to work on the railway, and in the mines. Its entrance is marked by the brilliant red Gate of Harmonious Interest on Fishguard Street, leading to restaurants, art and antique shops.

A must for mariners is the Maritime Museum in the former courthouse. Its collection includes exhibits on Pacific Northwest explorations from Captain Cook to the present, the history of Canada's trans-Pacific shipping and more.

Emily Carr, one of Canada's best known artists lived in Victoria. Her father's store on Wharf Street is now a small art gallery featuring changing exhibitions of her work, along with photographs and other family memorabilia.

A bigger gallery - the Art Gallery of greater Victoria - has exhibits that change every six weeks, so you may want to ask about the current show. This gallery boasts the only Shinto shrine outside Japan.

Symphony concerts, Scottish dancing in the park, art shows and regattas - there is always something going on. You will want to wander along historic streets fanning out from the Inner Harbor, and through Beacon Hill park.

Take a harbor tour, or a horse and carriage ride. Follow the scenic Beach Drive past expensive homes in Oak Bay, considered the most British of residential enclaves in Canada.

TIME TO SPARE:

One Hour:

Browse the stores of Government Street. Monros' Books is arguably Canada's best independent bookstore. Forquality Canadian craftsmanship try The Quest, and for Cowichan knitwear and native artworks visit Susquatch Trading or the Indian Craft Shoppe. A few blocks from the harbor you will come to Fort street, which has more quality craft stores and others specializing in antiques and collectibles.

Two Hours

A must is afternoon tea at the Empress. This full-sized meal involves scones with strawberries and cream, tiny sandwiches and pastries, and the Empress's own tea blend, all presented in the main lounge or beneath the stained glass dome of the Palm Court. Take a harbor tour, or a horse and carriage ride. Follow the scenic Beach Drive past expensive homes in Oak Bay, considered the most British of residential enclaves in Canada.

Half a Day

Book a whale-watching excursion departing from the harbor. Or take a bus to Butchart Gardens, 12 miles (20 km)from downtown Victoria.. Now spread over 50 acres (20 ha). Open all year, they are a mix of formal gardens enhanced by a concert lawn, fountains and sculptures. Lunch, dinner and afternoon tea are served daily.

CITY GUIDEPOST

Connections: Victoria is served by flights from major Canadian cities and by feeder airlines from Vancouver and Seattle. The regular bus/ferry services from Vancouver are the least expensive, but

there are also harbor-to-harbor seaplanes and high-speed ferry services. Seattle is connected by ferry and helicopter services. Prices depend on a number of factors so it is best to contact Victoria Tourism for the latest information.

Major international car rental agencies are located at the airport and downtown. Current taxi fare between airport and downtown hotels is about $40, and the airport bus is $7. A bus ride within the city costs $1.50.

Climate: Victoria is blessed with a comfortable temperate climate year round, but it is well to pack a light raincoat.

Places to stay: There is lots of excellent visitor accommodation with The Empress, at the top of the list and price range ( tel 250-384-8111). Another favorite is the small, elegant Bedford Regency Hotel.(tel 250-384-6835). Less expensive is the Day's Inn (tel 1-888-753-3774) in a convenient downtown location. An example of the numerous good B & Bs is Eliza Point B & B by the Sea in suburban Sooke (tel 250-642-2705).

Dining: Starting again from the top: The Empress' elegant dining room or the less formal Bombay Lounge. Close by, Milestones Restaurant (tel 250-381-2244) provides a change of pace. For BC's West Coast cuisine, try McMorrans Beachhouse (250-658-5527 ). Also the renowned Sooke Harbour House Restaurant (250-642-3421).

For more information: Contact the Victoria Travel Information Center, 812 Wharf St, Victoria V8W 1T3, tel (250-953-2033) or www.city.victoria.bc.ca