The oldest section of Victoria lies immediately north of the Inner Harbour between Wharf and Government Streets. Start by walking north from the Inner Harbour along historical Wharf Street, where Hudson’s Bay Company furs were loaded onto ships bound for England, gold seekers arrived in search of fortune, and shopkeepers first established businesses. Cross the road to cobblestoned Bastion Square, lined with old gas lamps and decorative architecture dating from the 1860s to 1890s. This was the original site chosen by James Douglas in 1843 for Fort Victoria, the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. At one time the square held a courthouse, jail, and gallows. Today restored buildings house trendy restaurants, cafés, nightclubs, and fashionable offices.
Maritime Museum of British Columbia
At the top (east) end of Bastion Square, the Maritime Museum of British Columbia (28 Bastion Square, 250/385-4222, 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily, until 5 p.m. in summer, adult $12, senior $10, child under 13 free) is housed in the old provincial courthouse building. It traces the history of seafaring exploration, adventure, commercial ventures, and passenger travel through displays of dugout canoes, model ships, Royal Navy charts, figureheads, photographs, naval uniforms, and bells. One room is devoted to exhibits chronicling the circumnavigation of the world, and another holds a theater. The museum also has a nautically oriented gift shop.
Centennial Square, bounded by Government Street, Douglas Street, Pandora Avenue, and Fisgard Street, is lined with many buildings dating from the 1880s and 1890s, refurbished in recent times for all to appreciate. Don’t miss the 1878 City Hall (fronting Douglas Street) and the imposing Greek-style building of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In the heart of Centennial Square is Spirit Square, which is dedicated to First Nations people. Here you’ll find two totem poles and a garden with native plants.
Continue down Fisgard Street into colorful Chinatown, Canada’s oldest Chinese enclave (and second-oldest in North America behind San Francisco). Chinese prospectors and laborers first brought exotic spices, plants, and a love of intricate architecture and bright colors to Victoria in the late 1850s, and the exotic vibe continues to this day. The original Chinatown was much larger than today’s and was home to more than 3,000 residents at its peak in the early 1900s. After being revitalized in the 1980s and being declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1995, the precinct is now a popular tourist attraction. Its epicenter is Fisgard Street between Government and Store Streets, with the intricate Gate of Harmonious Interest providing the official entrance.
Today Chinatown is a delicious place to breathe in the aroma of authentic Asian food wafting from the many restaurants. Poke through the dark little shops along Fisgard Street, where you can find everything from fragile paper lanterns and embroidered silks to gingerroot and exotic fruits and veggies, then cruise Fan Tan Alley, the center of the opium trade in the 1800s.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Vancouver & Victoria.