Victoria is a world-class city full of beautiful gardens and parks, stately hotels, and famous landmarks, many of which were built in the early 19th century. One could say it’s the perfect balance of old-world charm and modern conveniences. The following list showcases a few of the not-to-miss historic landmarks found in Victoria. As there are many to choose from, these are five of my favourites.
Location: 501 Belleville Street
Overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbour, this property has served as a site of government in British Columbia since 1859. Initially, six administration buildings sat on the property and housed the Legislative Assembly. After 30 years in use, these buildings became too small for the growing staff.
So, in 1892, a competition was held to select a design for new Parliament Buildings. Out of the 65 sets of drawings submitted, Francis M. Rattenbury, a recent arrival from Britain, was the architect selected for the job. Although the buildings seen today have undergone many changes over the years, Rattenbury’s original vision and design are still very much prominent both inside and outside the walls of the Parliament Buildings. And they are a delight to see.
The Parliament Buildings are open to the public from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday. And on weekends, from the 3rd weekend in May to the first weekend in September. You can join a free guided tour or walk around the buildings during opening hours on your own.
While touring the grounds, make sure to visit these other significant historic landmarks:
- Statue of Queen Victoria (stands on the front lawn) – Completed by British artist Allen Bruce-Joy in 1914, this 4-metre bronze statue was initially commissioned by Premier Richard McBride in 1912. WWI caused shipping delays, and it wasn’t unveiled until 1921 by Canada’s Governor-General, the Duke of Devonshire
- The Cenotaph – designed by English sculptors Vernon and Sidney March, this bronze War Memorial was unveiled by Lieutenant Governor W.C. Nichol on July 12, 1925.
- Front Fountain – designed in Victoria by Hooper & Watkins and manufactured in New York by Joseph W. Fiske in 1905. The original build had four basins and was over 18 feet tall. Only one single large basin remains today.
- Sequoia Tree – planted sometime during the 1860s; this beautiful tree is now over 100 feet tall and becomes BC’s official Christmas tree each holiday season.
Location: On the grounds of the Royal BC Museum (675 Belleville Street)
Constructed in 1852, Helmcken House is one of the oldest homes in British Columbia, still on its original site. The Hudson’s Bay Company built the home for their head surgeon, Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken and his wife Cecilia (daughter of Governor James Douglas).
Dr. Helmcken lived in the house until he died in 1920, at the age of 96.
The provincial government purchased the house in 1939, and it became the first provincially owned historic site in British Columbia.
Although interesting enough to see from the outside, the inside is where the real treasures lie. The home has many of the physical features remaining from the residency of Dr. Sebastian, including his medical kit. The furnishings and layout of the doctor’s bedroom were completely preserved thanks to Helmcken’s daughter, Dolly, who left it as a shrine to her father after his death.
To visit the inside of the Helmcken House, one must purchase a general ticket from the Royal BC Museum. However, please know that hours are extremely limited for this historic landmark. If seeing the inside is a must, inquire with the museum before venturing here.
St. Ann’s Academy
Location: 835 Humboldt Street
For 150 years, this prestigious building was home to a convent school, an orphanage and sanctuary, office space for the Public Works Department, and finally, a National Historic Site.
In 1995, the chapel was restored to appear as it did in the 1920s, with an ornate altar, beautiful ceiling carvings, gold-leaf detailing, original oil paintings, and stained-glass windows. There is also an original 1913 pipe organ.
The other restored interiors available to view and open to the public are the parlours, foyer, and former Priest’s Breakfast Room.
The gardens are also a wonderful place to wander. The 1910 formal garden at the northwest corner of the property is home to rare trees and the remains of a unique fountain.
Admission is by donation, with a suggestion of $5.00 per person. Visitors can drop in freely and, in designated areas, take a self-guided tour of the property both inside and out during regular operating hours. Volunteers are available to answer any questions you may have.
Typical Hours of Operation:
- September to Mid-May, open Thursday to Sunday from 1:00 – 4:00 pm
- May long weekend until Labour Day (early September), open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm
- The outside grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk. Closures may happen due to summer festivals.
- Please note that access to the interior buildings can sometimes be affected due to rental functions.
Location: 1050 Joan Crescent
Constructed between 1887 and 1890, Craigdarroch Castle was built for Robert Dunsmuir, one of Western Canada’s wealthiest and most influential men.
The Scottish immigrant made much of his fortune from Vancouver Island coal. However, his business empire included a rail line, ships, collieries, ironworks, sawmill, quarry, diking company, a theatre and extensive real estate across Vancouver Island. He was also an elected member of the Legislative Assembly of Nanaimo.
Robert built this prestigious home on a hill overlooking Victoria for himself, his wife, Joan, and three of his unmarried daughters to showcase his wealth. However, he never had the chance to live in it. One year before completion, Robert passed away, leaving the estate to his wife.
After Joan died in 1908, the estate passed through several different owners and served several uses, including a military hospital, a college, and a music conservatory. Significant alterations were made to the estate’s interior and outdoor spaces during those years of ownership change.
So, when the private non-profit Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society was founded in 1979, their work was cut out to restore the castle to its former glory. Today Craigdarroch Castle gives visitors a glimpse of how the wealthy lived in the late 1800s. A reflection of the Dunsmuir family fortune is displayed throughout the fourth floor of the mansion.
Admission rates apply. Please visit the website for current hours of operation and rates: Craigdarroch Castle.
Ross Bay Cemetary
Location: 1495 Fairfield Road
Ross Bay Cemetery is one of the most historical locations in Victoria, and it’s a fascinating place to explore.
This plot of land has been a designated burial site since 1873, and the grounds contain many famous Victoria figures. These include, but are not limited to, British Columbia’s first governor, Sir James Douglas; Vancouver Island’s coal baron, Robert Dunsmuir; and famous Canadian artist, Emily Carr.
The area is truly a beautiful place to wander. The towering trees, unique plantings, ornate carriageways, intricate pillars and mausoleums entice one to pay a visit. And let’s not forget about the ocean views! It also has the further accolade of being the oldest surviving formal landscape design in British Columbia.
You are welcome to take a self-guided tour of the grounds, or you can book one of the many guided tours held throughout the year.
Looking for More?
If these historic landmarks pique your interest, you should check out our e-book: Victoria’s Historic Sites. Inside the digital pages, you can find detailed information about 30 historic locations in and around Victoria. The five mentioned above are included in the e-book; however, you can enjoy even more details about each site.
Use code: topfive for a 20% discount on your ebook order.
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