Greater Victoria is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It is usually defined as the 13 easternmost municipalities of the Capital Regional District (CRD) on Vancouver Island, and also includes adjoining areas and adjacent islands. Many buildings, institutions, and places associated with Victoria, such as the University of Victoria, Victoria International Airport, and the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal, actually exist outside the City of Victoria.
Victoria is the locality indicated in the mailing addresses of several CRD municipalities and localities adjacent to Victoria. The City of Victoria lends its name and cultural influence to many places and organizations in the metro region. Greater Victoria is the southernmost urban area in Western Canada, and is located south of the 49th parallel.
The Greater Victoria region has a combined population of more than 330,000, and has two of the most populous municipalities in British Columbia. The Canadian Census ranks Greater Victoria as the fifteenth largest metropolitan area in Canada, by population.
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is a public art museum dedicated to the celebration of art. It opened in 1951, exhibiting art in the historic 1889 mansion that is adjacent to its seven modern galleries. With almost 17,000 works of art, the Art Gallery has the largest public collection in British Columbia, and is a vibrant and active part of Victoria’s artist community.
British Columbia Aviation Museum
The British Columbia Aviation Museum Society is dedicated to preserving aircraft and artifacts. The museum collects, restores and displays aircraft and artifacts related to the history of aviation in Canada, with emphasis on British Columbia aviation history. The museum is operated by volunteers who devote their time and skills to creating and maintaining a dynamic museum for the education and enjoyment of the public.
Museum activities include aircraft restorations to static or airworthy status, constructing engine displays, modeling aircraft, maintaining artifacts, books, pictures and videos representative of flight, and creating aviation memorials. The museum has plans to expand by adding more space and more displays.
The museum has a gift shop, memorial room, and aircraft and artifact collection. Browse the museum on your own, or have one of their tour guides show you around. The museum is located in Sidney and is open May 1 to September 30 from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM, October 1 to April 30.
CFB Esquimalt Military Museum
The CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum is located at Naden on Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt in Victoria. The museum’s mandate is to collect, preserve, interpret and display the history and heritage of the naval presence on Canada’s West Coast and of the military on Southern Vancouver Island.
The Chinatown in Victoria is the oldest in Canada, beginning with the mass influx of miners from California in 1858. Today, it remains an active place for Chinese-Canadians, Victoria residents and visitors. Victoria’s Chinatown is surrounded by cultural and entertainment venues as well as being a venue itself. It is located minutes away from the Bay Centre, The Fairmont Empress Hotel and Market Square.
IMAX National Geographic Theatre
Victoria IMAX is the ultimate film experience with the largest IMAX screen in British Columbia measuring 18.59m x 25.9m (61’H x 85’W). The IMAX screen combined with crystal clear images and wraparound digital surround sound, offers an incredible immersive cinematic experience. More than five million people locally and almost a billion people around the world have been spellbound by the force and beauty of the IMAX film experience. Technically advanced and visually stunning, it is the most powerful and immersive movie experience in the world.
Royal British Columbia Museum
The Royal BC Museum Corporation is one of Canada’s greatest cultural treasures. The museum was founded in 1886, and the archives in 1894. In 2003 these two organizations joined to become British Columbia’s provincial museum and archives, collecting artifacts, documents and specimens of British Columbia’s natural and human history, safeguarding them for the future, and sharing them with the world.
The museum receives millions of visitors each year and is one of the top museums in North America. Each exhibit and gallery tells important stories about British Columbia, and provides an engaging and thought-provoking window on the province’s past, present and future.
Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre
The Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre is a not-for-profit aquarium and marine education centre that focuses on the ecosystem of the Salish Sea and is located inside the Sidney Pier Hotel in the Town of Sidney. The Centre is become a popular tourist attraction and has won numerous awards.
Thunderbird Park is located next to the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. The park is home to many totem poles of the Gitxsan, Haida, and Kwakwaka’wakw. The park takes its name from the mythological Thunderbird of Indigenous North American cultures which is depicted on many totem poles.
Also in the park are a carving studio, St Anne’s Schoolhouse (built 1844), Helmcken House (built in 1852 by Dr John Helmcken), and the Mungo Martin House (Wawadit’la), a traditional Kwakwaka’wakw “big house” built in 1953 by Kwakwaka’wakw Chief Mungo Martin. The park is part of the Royal BC Museum Cultural Precinct, an area around the museum that contains a number of historical sites and monuments.
Totem poles were first erected on site in 1940 as part of a conservation effort to preserve the region’s rapidly deteriorating Aboriginal art. The site was opened as Thunderbird Park in 1941. By 1951, many of the poles had greatly decayed, and in 1952 the Royal BC Museum began a restoration program with Chief Martin as its head carver. Martin died in 1962 and was succeeded by renowned carver Henry Hunt. Other artists who have worked as part of the program include Henry Hunt’s sons Richard Hunt and Tony Hunt, Tim Paul, Lawrence Bell, David Gladstone, David Martin, and Bill Reid. All of the original poles were replaced with new versions by 1992, and some of the original totem poles are now preserved within the museum.
Many municipalities have their own fairs, including the Esquimalt Buccaneer Days, Oak Bay Tea Party, Sidney Days, and the Central Saanich Fair, which is the largest and oldest of the local fairs.
There is a wide variety of entertainment and recreational activities and facilities throughout the region. The mild coastal climate ensures less extreme weather changes and an abundance of outdoor and indoor recreational areas. The Victoria Tall Ships Festival showcases sailing vessels and sailing life. Boaters from around the world gather off Vancouver Island for the annual Swiftsure International Yacht Race.
The Rifflandia Music Festival is held in downtown Victoria in mid to late September. The Luminara Lantern Festival is a regionally popular cultural activity that draws thousands of people to Beacon Hill Park. The Victoria Symphony performs more than 100 concerts a year, including the renowned Symphony Splash, an annual free concert in the Inner Harbour on the August Sunday preceding British Columbia Day. The Electronic Music Festival is held at Centennial Square, where DJs show their music mixing skills.
In June 2010, the Canadian Navy celebrated its 100th anniversary with a Fleet Review in the waters off of Greater Victoria. Canadian and US Coast Guard vessels and warships from Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand and the United States attended the Fleet Review. The celebration activities coincided with the Esquimalt Buccaneer Days Fair and 2010 FIFA World Cup activities in local bars.
In comparison to the Metro Vancouver Region, the area does not have significant racial diversity. Most of the population is of European descent. A substantial Chinese community has existed in Greater Victoria since the Fraser Gold Rush of 1858-60, which saw the first significant influx, arriving first via San Francisco then directly from China. There is also a substantial First Nations population whose ancestors have lived in the area for thousands of years. Numerous First Nations reserves, forming distinct communities, exist in the region and are primarily located on the Saanich Peninsula, in Esquimalt, and in the Western Communities, although the majority of the First Nations peoples live off reserve. The largest ethnic groups in Greater Victoria are English, Scottish, Irish, German, French, Dutch, Ukrainian, Chinese and Aboriginal.
The core municipalities of the CRD are the City of Victoria and the District Municipalities of Saanich and Oak Bay and the Township of Esquimalt.
The Western Communities (WestShore) includes the cities of Colwood and Langford, the Town of View Royal, and the District Municipalities of Highlands, Metchosin and Sooke.
The Saanich Peninsula includes the District Municipalities of Central Saanich, North Saanich, parts of Saanich, and the Town of Sidney.
There are three school districts in Greater Victoria, including:
- Greater Victoria School District 61 (Core Municipalities)
- Sooke School District 62 – (Western Communities)
- Saanich School District 63 – (Saanich Peninsula)
Government House is located at 1401 Rockland Avenue in Victoria. With rare exception, the grounds are open daily to the public from sunrise to sunset, free of charge. As the House is both a working office and private residence, it is open to the public only a few times each year. Tours of Government House are available to school groups and non-profit groups by advanced booking. It is a pleasant 20-minute walk or a five-minute drive from downtown to Government House. Free parking is available on site. Buses on Victoria Regional Transit routes 11 and 14 stop on Fort Street at Joan Crescent, three blocks from Government House.
The British Columbia Parliament Buildings are located in Victoria and are home to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. The Neo-baroque buildings face north on Belleville street facing the Inner Harbour and diagonally across from The Fairmont Empress Hotel. A statue of Queen Victoria stands on the front lawn as well a statue of a soldier to commemorate the province’s World War I, World War II and Korean War dead. Atop the central dome is a gold-covered statue of Captain George Vancouver. Free guided tours of the facility are offered year-round.
Construction of a new Parliament Building was first authorized by an act of the provincial legislature during 1893, the Parliament Buildings Construction Act. The province, anxious to commemorate its growing economic, social and political status, was engaged in an architectural competition to build a new legislative building in Victoria. Francis Rattenbury, a 25-year-old English immigrant, entered the contest and signed his drawings with the pseudonym “A BC Architect.” He progressed to the second round, signing his drawing “For Queen and Province” and won the competition.
Despite many problems, including exceeding budget, the original budget was $500,000; the final amount was $923,000, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings began operation in 1898. The grand scale of its 152 metre (500 foot) long andesite façade, central dome and two end pavilions, the richness of its white marble, and combination of Baroque rigorous symmetry, use of domes and sculptural massing with the rusticated surfaces of the currently popular Romanesque Revival style contributed to its being an impressive monument for British Columbia.
Victoria City Hall
Architect John Teague designed Victoria City Hall, which is located at Douglas Street and Pandora Avenue. It was constructed from 1878 to 1891 at Pandora Avenue and Douglas Street. It was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1977, and was also designated as a heritage site by the municipality in 1979.
Victoria’s City Hall is considered as one of the best surviving examples of Second Empire-style public architecture in Western Canada. The building has a foot 105 tall Gillet and Johnson clock tower, three types of facades, tall windows, pedimented dormer windows and a metal mansard roof. The exterior is constructed of concrete, brick and stone. The style of the building reflects a change in the design and construction of governmental buildings, intended to symbolize the government’s growth and power.