Tourism

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    The capital has placed ninth on the list of Friendliest Cities in the World. see more

    Source: Times Colonist
    Author: Jack Knox

    Jack Knox: Come to Victoria and enter the friend zone

    Florida’s Carlos Morales was driving the unfamiliar streets of Victoria on Monday when he almost collided with another man.

    Did the man get mad? No, he apologized to Morales for not seeing his turn signal and giving way. Morales was impressed. “Such charming people,” he said, standing in front of the Bay Centre.

    Half a block away, Belgian visitor Ignace Dufaux offered his own observation on Canadians. When you’re on the sidewalk looking lost, people ask if they can help. “That’s not usual for us Europeans.”

    Across Government Street, Switzerland’s Evelyn Daetwyler said she was taken aback, in a good way, when people here offered to take photos of her and her companions with the tourists’ cameras. “I never saw that before.”

    Holland’s Jan Roos was impressed that the naturalists on his whale-watching trip went the extra mile to ensure he understood what they were saying and was having a good time. You don’t get that in some places, he said, not once they’ve got your money.

    Even other Canadians approve of Victoria’s attitude. “I’ve been all across Canada and this is one of the best places to be,” said Edgar Maldonado, who was raised in Chile and lives in Vancouver. Those passing by smile at you here. “This is very important, especially when you are a newcomer. You feel welcome.”

    Yes, Victoria, we really are as friendly (at least when we’re not tearing each other’s throats out over statues) as the tourism types say.

    It was just revealed that the capital has placed ninth on the list of Friendliest Cities in the World as chosen by the readers of the influential Condé Nast Traveler magazine.

    In June, Victoria placed 23rd on Expedia’s rankings of Friendliest Cities in Canada, trailing first-place Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., third-place Tofino, Ucluelet (15) and Courtenay (17). If 23rd doesn’t sound that great, remember there were 750 communities on the list, which was based on hotel review data.

    This sort of thing wouldn’t matter in some places. In fact, in some destinations a chip on the shoulder is part of the tourist experience. Victoria travel writer Kim Westad was once at a hockey game in Madison Square Garden where, when the public address system announced the presence of a New York Mets pitcher and his infant son, a guy sitting near Kim booed. The guy’s companion objected: “Why did you boo? He’s a good pitcher.” The reply? “I’m not booing him, I’m booing the baby.” That’s the New York we love.

    In other places, ill treatment might not be desired but is still not unexpected, so isn’t as offputting as it might be elsewhere. (Besides, the legendary disdain of waiters in parts of continental Europe might just be a reflection on those tourists who march into a foreign country and expect to be served in English. CHEK’s Ben O’Hara-Byrne tweeted a headline from The Scotsman newspaper Monday: “U.K. tourist to Spain complains after holiday ruined by ‘too many Spaniards.’ ”)

    Victoria? We couldn’t get off with treating visitors that badly (though note that Charles Rogers, who founded Rogers’ Chocolates in 1885, did not like tourists and would shut the shop when the ferry pulled into town). Part of Victoria’s appeal is how we make people feel when they’re here.

    So, it’s good to report that a quick cruise of the downtown on Monday showed that, anecdotally at least, we do in fact make visitors feel good. “Canada actually is very friendly,” Daetwyler said. Morales referred to Victoria as “calm, respectful.” Touches like Victoria’s hanging baskets make a difference, said Roos: “You feel welcome because of the flowers.”

    Texans John and Lesli Dassonville and their daughter Holly had the best pizza of their life at the Cook Street Prima Strada on Sunday, but it was the “super-friendly” server who made the evening memorable.

    Even Victoria’s panhandlers were seen as relatively friendly. “I would be passing more people asking me for change more aggressively where I live,” said Californian Scott Hull. The lack of social supports has left homeless people there feeling desperate, he said.

    Friendliness matters. It’s not only good business (note that for many years Rogers’ Chocolates has, as a customer-service reminder to staff, left unrepaired a glass display case that a long-ago disgruntled patron smacked and cracked) but is basic human decency. On Monday, Victoria passed the test. Well done.

    Friendliest cities, as ranked by Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards:

    1. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

    2 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

    3 Cork, Ireland

    4 Queenstown, New Zealand

    5 Galway, Ireland

    6 Puebla, Mexico

    7 Adelaide, Australia

    8 Dublin, Ireland

    9 Victoria

    10 Chiang Mai, Thailand

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    On lush Vancouver Island, this urban jewel offers innovative restaurants, gorgeous parks and gardens see more

    Source: NYTimes.com
    Author: Suzanne Carmick

    36 Hours in Victoria, British Columbia

    On lush Vancouver Island, this urban jewel offers innovative restaurants, gorgeous parks and gardens, and museums that celebrate the area’s many cultures.

    This compact, eminently walkable city, set amid the breathtaking beauty and bounty of Vancouver Island, is lauded as one of the world’s top smallurban destinations. Beyond the picture-perfect downtown waterfront, British Columbia’s capital is an exhilarating blend of cultures, from Canadian and First Nations to Chinese and European (especially British). There are three universities, thriving arts and cultural institutions, significant historic preservation, a celebrated local food scene and Canada’s mildest climate: That means year-round forest visits, biking and golf; gardens galore (daffodils in February); even beehives downtown (at the Fairmont Empress hotel; atop the Harbour Air floating terminal). There is wildness too: “bear jams” disrupting traffic, cougar sightings and soaring eagles, towering ancient trees, log-strewn beaches and distant snowy peaks.

    Friday

    1) 3 p.m. EARLY DAYS

    The blocks north of the Empress and west of Douglas Street, including Chinatown, comprise the Old Town. Start at Bastion Square and Wharf Street, overlooking the harbor, where James Douglas founded Fort Victoria in 1843 as an outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company. This area became the heart of commerce, industry and government, swelling in size after the 1858 Fraser Gold Rush drew thousands of immigrants. Next to the Old Victoria Customs House is a grassy overlook with a display telling the history of British settlement and the indigenous Lekwungen people. Check out the lively Bastion Square pedestrian area of shops, restaurants and cafes, music and markets; then, on Government Street, browse through Munro’s Books, situated in a century-old bank, and founded in 1963 by the Nobel Prize-winning Canadian writer Alice Munro and her then-husband. Detour through Trounce Alley (note the 125-year-old gaslights), then walk east on Fort Street to La Taqueria to snack on Mexican tacos amid festive music and colorful tiles. A juicy carnitas taco with pickled red onions and salsa is 3 Canadian dollars, or about $2.35, and a Baja fish taco with cabbage, salsa and chipotle mayonnaise is 6 dollars; wash it down with Mexican fruit soda or local beer.

     

    2) 6 p.m. ON THE WATERFRONT

    The Inner Harbour is where seaplanes, water taxis, kayak outfitters, whale-watching tours, restaurants and festivals can all be found. Sit under the trees and watch the boats and passers-by; then head to the chateau-style Fairmont Empress, one of several luxury hotels built across Canada by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company at the turn of the century. Don’t miss the Q restaurant and bar, with its coffered ceiling, gold and purple accents and portraits of Queen Victoria. An elaborate British tea is served daily in the spacious lobby. The nearby majestic Parliament buildings were erected in 1898 to boost the capital’s profile after Vancouver became the railway’s western terminus. Open daily for touring, they are spectacularly illuminated at night. Thunderbird Park on Belleville Street is a quiet spot among the trees, where a regional First Nations house and totem poles were recreated by the Kwakwaka’wakw master carver Mungo Martin in the 1950s.

     

    3) 8 p.m. THE ART OF DINING

    Stepping inside Little Jumbo feels like a warm embrace: The exposed brick, aged wood and glowing copper ceiling take you back in time. The restaurant, which has received accolades for everything from design to food and drinks, is a homage to two New York City saloon owners in the 1860s who championed the art of dining and mixology. Dinner for two — try the warm Halloumi cheese salad, spicy Fernet-roasted nuts and grilled lingcod — including choice British Columbian wines, costs about 131 dollars.

     

    Saturday

     

    4) 9 a.m. URBAN OASIS

    Fol Epi bakery is known for its wild-yeast breads, made from milled-on-site organic flours and baked in brick ovens. Choose from an array of loaves, pastries and quiches, then think ahead to a packable lunch of sandwiches. Walk down Douglas Street to Beacon Hill Park: This 200-acre oasis is to Victoria what Central Park is to New York City. The landscape varies from manicured and natural gardens to forest, swampland, lakes, Garry oaks and camas fields (originally planted by the Lekwungen, who harvested the edible bulbs), and includes a children’s farm and a 127-foot totem pole. Great blue herons nest in the towering firs and peacocks strut; relax and listen to birds fussing and fountains gurgling. Make time to tour the nearby Emily Carr House (6.75 dollars); the Victoria-born painter of forests and First Nations scenes spent her childhood gamboling in the park.

    5) Noon. ALONG DALLAS ROAD

    This scenic stretch on the southern shore of the city, from Fisherman’s Wharf to beyond Ross Bay Cemetery, draws walkers, joggers, bikers and dogs. Have a picnic, clamber down to the beach or simply marvel at the water views and roadside homes. Start at Ogden Point, where interpretive kiosks tell about the Breakwater and the Unity Wall murals painted on both sides, depicting Coast Salish First Nations culture. Walk out to the lighthouse, watching for sea otters and seals. Farther east, past Clover Point, cross the road to Ross Bay Cemetery. This rambling, peaceful resting place of many of Victoria’s notable citizens is also where you’ll find some of the city’s oldest heritage trees, cuttings from which were planted all over the young city (see treesofvictoria.com). Look for deer lying on the spongy grass among the weathered obelisks, statuary and stones in this wondrous place.
     

    6) 2 p.m. TO THE GARDEN

    From the cemetery, head to the exquisite Abkhazi Garden, tucked away on a quiet block behind rhododendrons and Garry oaks. The tranquil gardens, with their several distinct outdoor “rooms,” were designed to harmonize with the rocky glacial outcroppings and native trees on the hilly property, which includes rock ponds (with mallards and turtles) and the 1950s Modernist summerhouse and former home (now teahouse) of the couple whose love story started it all. Suggested fee: 10 dollars (includes guide).

    7) 4 p.m. AFTERNOON ART

    At the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, seven modern gallery spaces adjoin an 1889 mansion that once served as the museum. On permanent display are works by Emily Carr and an impressive Asian collection and garden — second only to that of the Royal Ontario Museum. There are amber and ivory carvings, a Japanese Shinto shrine, and a Chinese Ming dynasty bell presented to Victoria in 1903. Admission is 13 dollars.

     

    8) 6 p.m. CHINATOWN

    The 19th-century gold rushes and Canadian Pacific Railway construction drew thousands of Chinese immigrants to Victoria, where they settled above Johnson Street. Today, Canada’s oldest Chinatown is a National Historic Site, a small, colorful (especially red, for luck), vibrant community of narrow streets and alleyways, shops and restaurants, beyond the resplendent Gates of Harmonious Interest. The Victoria Chinese Public School, built in 1909, is still used to teach Chinese language classes. Climb the stairs to the top floor of the Yen Wo Society building to see the oldest active Chinese temple in Canada, honoring the sea deity Tam Kung.

     

    9) 8 p.m. DOWN TO EARTH DINNER

    Olo (meaning hungry in Chinook) serves up serious farm-to-table fare with a nod to the region’s cultural diversity. The space is comfortable and rustic, with warm light emanating from hanging spheres of loosely wound wooden strips. A recent meal included crisp Hakurei turnip salad, garganelli pasta with a meaty sauce, and a dreamy dessert (rhubarb, salmonberries, elderberry ice cream, fennel macaron), with local wine (about 140 dollars for two).

     

    Sunday

     

    10) 9 a.m. BRUNCH FOR BREAKFAST

    When it opened in 2016, Agrius garnered rave reviews for its organic, local menu. Now the restaurant serves brunch, with hearty buckwheat and rye pancakes, egg dishes (cured salmon scramble with fennel, capers and cream cheese), house-made lamb sausage and pork belly, kale and mushroom Benedict, vegetable pâté, even fried oysters (9 to 21 dollars). In fine weather there is pleasant outdoor seating along a pedestrian way.

    11) 11 a.m. ROYAL BC MUSEUM

    You could spend hours in this stellar repository of natural and human history, with its singular collection of British Columbia First Nations archaeological materials, as well as provincial archives. The First Peoples gallery includes a totem hall and ceremonial house, an interactive language display and a collection of Argillite (black shale) carvings from Haida Gwaii, while the Old Town recreates period streetscapes and trades — a cannery, hotel, sawmill — even the 1790s ship quarters of George Vancouver. Admission: 17 dollars.

    12) 1 p.m. DRIVE UP THE COAST

    Beyond the cemetery, Dallas Road takes other names but continues along the dramatic rocky coast through neighborhoods such as upscale Oak Bay, where you’ll find art galleries and British-style pubs and teahouses. Stop at Willows Beach for a walk or a swim, then continue north past the University of Victoria to Mount Douglas Park. You can hike or drive up; either way, the panoramic view is remarkable: across Haro Strait to the San Juan Islands, toward downtown, or across rural Saanich. Hungry again? Head back to town for Foo Asian Street Food, where a hearty, steaming bowl of curried noodle stir fry with pork and shrimp, prepared while you watch, costs 14 dollars. Alternatively, the charming Venus Sophia Tea Room serves organic teas and sweets — Cream Earl Grey with scones, cream and jam costs 14 dollars — and vegetarian lunch items.


    Where to Stay

    In Victoria’s Old Town, two blocks from the harbor, the Best Western Plus at Carlton Plazawith a gym and restaurant, is close to Chinatown and the Market Square shopping area. Rooms and suites, from 110 dollars; higher in season.

    The Dashwood Manor Seaside Bed and Breakfast is a Tudor-style former mansion built in 1912 on Dallas Road and Cook Street; step out the door to the waterfront path or Beacon Hill Park. The 11 rooms and suites, appointed with period furnishings, all have ocean views; some have Jacuzzis and fireplaces. Rooms from 149 dollars; higher in season.

    If you do plan a trip to Victoria, check out these suggestions on what to pack from our Wirecutter team.

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    With technology comes youth, and with youth comes fresh perspectives and change. see more

    Source: Huffington Post
    Author: Adrian Brijbassi

    The 'Coolification' Of Victoria, B.C. Continues

    It's 1 p.m. on a Sunday and Douglas Street is teeming with action. Over there, a bhangra dance class is ruling the corner of Johnson Street. Up the block, local band Lovecoast is turning out funky, danceable pop songs on a sun-lit stage. In front of them is a beer garden, food trucks and artisan vendors, altering downtown Victoria into a street party not unlike what you might see on a weekend in Montreal.

    Of all of Canada's major cities, Victoria would be considered the farthest away from cutting edge. For years, it has been a retirement hot spot for mainlanders from British Columbia, as well as Albertans and Ontarians.

    But a tech boom, evolving music scene, rejuvenated interest in farming and craft food production, and a soft housing market compared to the sky-high cost of ownership in Vancouver has helped bring and retain more young people. That's leading to days like Car-Free Day, an event organized by the Downtown Victoria Business Association.

    "Victoria is a tech town," says Stephen Roughley, general manager at the Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour. "You have that demographic already here, with a lot of small tech firms and app companies, and it's only growing."

    Most people would be surprised to know technology -- and not government or tourism -- is the No. 1 industry in the beautiful capital of British Columbia. It generates $3.15 billion in annual revenue and employs 23,000 people across more than 880 companies, according to the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council (VIATEC).

    With technology comes youth, and with youth comes fresh perspectives and change, often in exciting ways. Noticeably, the Rifflandia music festival, which takes place in mid-September, is quickly emerging as a major event in Western Canada. This year's headliners included Michael Franti and Spearhead, and X Ambassadors. Along with Rifflandia, there are craft beer festivals, one of the nation's most popular Fringe fests, and other events geared for millennials and Gen-Xers.

    So while visitors will still arrive for some of the nation's best whale-watching tours and high-tea experiences, you will also be able to mingle with a youthful crowd in good, popular hangouts such as The Commons. The recently opened bar is part of three restaurants operated by 10 Acres Farms and its owner, Mike Murphy, who has spent more than 20 years as a restaurateur in the city. Murphy says young diners are leading a change in the city's culinary scene as they're demanding to know where their food is coming from and are eager to support local suppliers.

    "They know about GMO products and they know it's not good for them and they ask a lot more questions about what's on the menu. I think 'farm-to-table' is one of the most overused terms out there but it does speak to how people are thinking these days," he says.

    Murphy bought 10 Acre Farms five years ago and has begun to ramp up the amount of food it provides to his three Victoria restaurants -- The Commons10 Acres Bistro and The Kitchen, the fine-dining component of the operation.

    Similarly, the preferences of a new group of consumer is also shifting the hotel industry.

    "In previous generations you would never have a table where two people sitting together didn't know each other. It happens all the time now and one of the aims of the hotel industry is figuring how to serve that new generation of customer," Roughley says.

    You can expect mobile check-in to be offered at Marriotts around the world in coming years and the new renovation of the Victoria property planned for next year will have numerous technology and decor changes to appeal to a younger crowd.

    While Tofino -- with its hippie culture and world-class surfing -- has for years been the Vancouver Island destination of choice for the young and young at heart, Victoria is demonstrating it can provide an urban experience that is also fit for the times.

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    Victoria has been chosen to be on a list of the top 10 cities in the world see more

    Source: Times Colonist
    Author: Carla Wilson

    Victoria has been chosen to be on a list of the top 10 cities in the world, tucked between Vancouver and Salzburg, Austria, according to a new poll.

    Victoria came in seventh place in the Condé Nast Traveler 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards survey. The magazine’s readers cast more than 100,000 votes for their favourite cities outside the U.S.

    The recognition helps strengthen Victoria on the world tourism stage, something that the local hospitality sector has worked hard to attain for years.

    “This is a huge deal, though most people, including civic leaders, won’t grasp how important this is,” said Paul Nursey, Tourism Victoria CEO.

    This is what Condé Nast said about our city: “As a former British colony, Victoria retains stately mansions and picturesque gardens perfect for walking and gazing. Its mild climate and location on the southern end of Vancouver Island also make it an excellent location for outdoor activities: Take a kayak tour of Victoria Harbour, or walk a half mile over the sea on the Ogden Point Breakwater. For excellent traditional fish-and-chips on the docks, try the aptly named Red Fish Blue Fish.”

    Among Canadian hotels, Condé Nast readers put the Magnolia Hotel and Spa in second place, with the Fairmont Empress in seventh spot.

    TOP 10 CITIES

    1. Tokyo, Japan

    2. Kyoto, Japan

    3. Florence, Italy

    4. Lucerne, Switzerland

    5. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

    6. Vancouver

    7. Victoria

    8. Salzburg, Austria

    9. Barcelona, Spain

    10. Vienna, Austria

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    While our tech boom is no longer a phenomenon, the sector keeps growing... see more

    Source: Remi Network
    Author: Rebecca Melnyk

    As government moves to new Class A assets, tech companies snap up vacated, older stock

    In an old two-storey brick building, once old home to the Victoria Stock Exchange, a start-up has moved into its new office digs. Previously situated in Langford, B.C., educational technology company RaceRocks 3D relocated to the Exchange Building in downtown Victoria to be closer to clients, save money on space and live in the rhythm of a prosperous tech haven.

    “We’re right downtown with a lot of other creative people; there’s a lot of talent,” says Scott Dewis, chief executive officer of RaceRocks 3D. “We see the founders and staff of other companies at lunch walking around the street. It’s a vibrant place for an entrepreneur.”

    After scouting 16 other local office spaces with Colliers International, the company found its home, knocked down the walls and created an open-floor plan with a kitchen. Now they have long-term plans to stay put in the area.

    Startups like RaceRocks 3D Inc. are a common feature in Western Canada’s second oldest city.  While the tech boom there is no longer a phenomenon, the sector keeps growing and is now part of a $4 billion a year industry. Dave Ganong, managing director at Colliers International (Vancouver Island), remembers back to 2000 when American company JDS Uniphase acquired Victoria-based optical-component supplier SDL Inc. for $41 billion in what was one of the biggest tech mergers in corporate history.

    “The foundation of the tech industry has been there for 20 to 25 years or more,” he says. “But what’s happening is it’s becoming this incubator hub that is not just trendy, but sustainable.”

    Victoria has a long history as a lively business centre, with miners and adventurers flocking there during the gold rush of 1858. Once a calm village, Victoria evolved to become a city where lots were said to go from $25 a piece to $3,000 each, immediately following the influx of gold-seekers. Eventually, government and tourism generated the greatest economic impact for the region.

    Until the tech sector started creating a buzz. Now, more and more buildings fill with start-ups and early stage entrepreneurs every year. About 900 tech companies populate the city, employing a workforce of about 20,000 and growing. Local conferences accelerate the global reputation of Victoria and attract investors. Demand for new office space among the industry has now outpaced government in the downtown core, specifically in brick-and-beam buildings which tend to be Class B and C assets.

    “There’s a building boom in the office sector in the downtown core where we’re doubling the size of our Class A inventory in the next 18 to 24 months,” notes Ganong. “That’s half a million square feet of space coming on—a massive increase. 75 per cent of that space has been preleased to the government or private sector, but what happens from this is we’re seeing a lot of vacancies coming up in Class B and C space where the majority of demand comes from the tech sector.”

    Ganong has seen an exponential increase in leasing to the tech sector over the past three years, moving from 100,000 square feet to an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 square feet in 2016. This doesn’t take into account other competitors.

    Developers and investors are also buying more on spec (some with tech companies in tow), looking to create flex office space where desks and common facilities can be rented.

    Dan Gunn, chief executive officer at The Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council (VIATEC), a not-for-profit incubator accelerator, says his program’s success has resulted in a move to the downtown core, into a 100-year-old, 16,000 square foot building on Fort Street.

    “We have 18 private offices of varying size and another 24 open desks that companies can rent at an affordable price,” he says.  “We opened the building in September 2014 not knowing what to expect. The building was full in a matter of months.”

    To accommodate demand and sector-specific needs, large buildings are being gutted for purpose-built use. For instance, the 20,000 square-foot Summit Building on Fort Street once stood completely vacant, but was fully revamped and open to tenants in September 2015. Several companies wishing to share a building can do so and expand as required.

    Besides the flexibility and character of these older buildings, companies are also putting roots down due for lifestyle offerings.

    “More and more companies trickling in from the rest of Canada are quite often going there through an acquisition or because one person leading a development team wishes to move their family to Victoria,” says Marc Foucher who brokered the RaceRocks 3D deal.

    The proximity to qualified students graduating from local colleges and universities is also key. Change.org, the world’s largest online petition platform, is in the midst of renovations in its new office on the second floor of 1221 Broad Street and plans to recruit local talent. After the company wanted to expand its engineering team, it realized more room was needed. The landlord offered them a temporary space while they await finishing touches.

    “Once we move downstairs, we’ll have plenty of room for growth and more meeting rooms,” says Chris Campbell, principal engineer at the Victoria location.

    Campbell says the company, headquartered in San Francisco, figured that expanding its engineering office in Victoria was more affordable in terms of cost of living and office space. But it is also relatively easy to find suitable employees in the area.

    The city no longer relies on tourism’s “shoulder season,” as Gunn calls it, between May to September, but a year-round tech economy that supports a large number of retail assets like the 11 craft breweries, independent coffee shops and North America’s second-highest number of restaurants per capita, behind San Francisco.

    “Retail leasing agents who used to find it a challenge in the downtown core are starting to see some activity that is almost on par with the increases we’ve seen in the tech sector office leasing market,” says Ganong, adding that another factor here is tourism—an industry that could experience its best season ever this year.

    In less than a year, Ganong says his company has seen storefront vacancy drop a full percentage point from where it peaked north of 10 per cent. The city has also been supportive in granting bonus density to start populating higher density residential development in the downtown core, which helps populate more retail activity.

    “There is some sort of convergence here that is happening,” he says. “I’ve lived in Victoria for 33 years and some of my colleagues have lived here all their lives. They are even starting to feel something here they’ve never felt before.”