Nelly Furtado was born in Victoria BC into a working class Portuguese family. An accomplished musician and songwriter, after high school she launched her professional career doing vocals for the hip hop group Plains of Fascination. Soon after, Gerald Eaton and Brian West of the Philosopher Kings discovered her at a talent show and agreed to co-produce her debut album, Whoa Nelly, in 2000. In 2006, with the release of her third album, Loose, she became a bona fide international star, charting at number one in the U.S., Canada and throughout Europe. With the success of her Spanish album, Mi Plan, Furtado became the first Canadian to win a Latin Grammy Award. Her international collaborations have cut across musical genres from Justin Timberlake to Flo Rida, from Divine Brown to Colombian artist Juanes. She earned the key to the city of Victoria when officials named March 21, 2007 Nelly Furtado Day. For this week’s Listen Up, we are sharing Nelly Furtado’s live performance of her song “Try,” recorded at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver BC.
The BC ferry ride from Tsawwassen in Vancouver to Schwartz Bay on Vancouver Island, charts a picturesque, leisurely course through the Gulf Islands. Once on VI it’s a 30 minute scenic shoreline drive to the Inner Harbor of Victoria BC. Good fortune shined down upon us as the seas remained calm, the ferry was crowd-free, and the roads were wet but empty. All in all it was a perfectly agreeable journey – and quite a relief. Two days prior, passengers had been trapped on the ferry overnight when a sudden storm made it too dangerous for the boat to approach the dock. But lady luck was with us, and Steven’s worst nightmare was averted.
Steeped in all that is both authentically and faux Victorian, to the traveler Victoria is a blended cup of tea. The flavors of pine needle and sea salt are tempered with history, civility and grace. It’s an easy city to simply be in – there’s plenty to do, but with no rush to take it all in. There’s no guilt in spending a morning simply walking along the sea, and plenty of the locals and their dogs will be happy to join you.
In December, Victoria’s downtown dresses up for a bit of holiday hustle bustle and showmanship. As night falls, boats strung with lights parade in the harbor, trees light up in a rainbow of colors, and white lights outline buildings throughout the city, including the regal Parliament buildings.
If you’re looking for the city’s other “edge,” turn to Chinatown, where venerable Chinese restaurants have been joined by youthful entrepreneurs looking for a culinary break. Across town at Fisherman’s Wharf, quirky colorful houseboats are nestled together and spotted seals pop to the surface and grin, willing to turn and do a few tricks for a treat.
The weather is usually sunny and mild, the people are uncommonly relaxed: the holidays couldn’t get more mellow than in this pretty little city by the sea. But wait, there’s time for one more cup of tea before boarding the ferry back to America. Though only 25 miles in the distance, it seems worlds away from Victoria BC.
While in Victoria BC, we stayed at the Craigmyle Guest House in the Rockland residential neighborhood east of downtown. We chose a room that looks out onto the historic Craigdarroch Castle, which is directly behind the wonderful B&B. Our room was spacious and beautifully appointed, with a modern bathroom and a small separate foyer with a desk. Craigmyle is a classic, traditional inn that the new owners are making over with care and excellent taste. Starting each morning with a delicious, leisurely breakfast and returning home each night to a fire in the living room fireplace, a hot cup of tea, and a plate of fresh sweets was a pleasure.
At twilight, drawn to the golden glow of Craigdarroch Castle outside our bedroom window, we were the day’s last visitors to Dunsmuir mansion. The staff encouraged us to take our time viewing the 39 rooms sprawled over 4 floors. Top to bottom the mansion, built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir during the reign of Queen Victoria, has been beautifully restored. Robert Dunsmuir died before Craigdarroch was completed but his wife, Joan, and three of their ten children lived in the mansion until 1908. After Joan’s death, the castle had a varied history: an army hospital during World War I; home to Victoria College, the Victoria School board, and the Victoria Conservatory of Music; and, finally, since 1979, a museum.
Within a five-minute drive south of the Castle, we walked along the Strait of Georgia and through a portion of Victoria BC’s extraordinary 200-acre Beacon Hill Park before heading into downtown Victoria. Private boats, ferries, and cruise ships fill Victoria Harbor, leaving room for the colorful houseboats of Fisherman’s Wharf. In stark contrast, the Fairmont Empress Victoria Hotel dominates the Inner Harbor. The hotel is currently under restoration through 2017, but the new tea room has been completed and the hotel remains open for travelers. It’s worth stopping inside the nearby Parliament Building (Victoria is the capital of British Columbia) for a look at its painted rotunda and stained glass panels dedicated to Queen Victoria. Shopping in Victoria is concentrated in a very walkable area in the Inner Harbor. Our favorite store was the luxurious Black Goat Cashmere on Government Street. Their motto is “When in doubt, wear cashmere.” Truly words to live by. The Cuban Cigar Shop on Fort Street is very appealing and has over 28 brands of Cuban cigars, some of which are limited editions.
Fisgard Street in Canada’s oldest Chinatown was our favorite Victoria BC spot. A mixture of terrific new owner-operated businesses and decades-old Chinese restaurants, the street has a good, energetic vibe. We stopped for a fantastic lunch at OLO (the name is Chinook for “hungry”) Restaurant, a place where chef and owner Brad Holmes brings the community together to enjoy savory plates of beautiful food. After a bit of shopping in Fan Tan Alley at Heart’s Content, a mod/punk/alternative fashion boutique that recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, we settled down for tea time at La Roux Patisserie.
From 1921 through the mid-1940’s, the Dunsmuir mansion, known as Craigdarroch Castle, was taken over by Victoria College. In 1937, a talented young student at the college, Pierre Berton, started his literary and journalism career as editor and cartoonist for the school newspaper. Quite a Canadian character, Berton went on to became a popular television personality and creative nonfiction writer, publishing 50 books throughout his lifetime ranging from anthologies and histories to children’s books. His novel for children, The Secret World of Og (with illustrations by his daughter Patsy), was first published in 1961 and quickly became a Canadian classic. Now in its fourth printing, it is the story of the adventures (and misadventures) of four of the Berton children and their cat and dog as they slip through a secret trapdoor in the playhouse floor to search for their lost baby brother, Pollywog. Entering a strange new world, they discover everything is made of mushrooms and that the only word in the vocabulary of its green citizenry is “Og.” A book beloved for its colorful imagination, The Secret World of Og has been adapted into a play, a television series, and an opera.
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