From sweet deals on boutique hotels to tribute teas, craft cocktails and city-wide parties, here’s how to celebrate Victoria’s 150th birthday in style
Before Vancouver, there was Victoria: the warmer, prettier B.C. hub known for lush gardens, formal tea rooms, whale watching, breweries and access to unparalleled park space for any kind of outdoor sport you so desire.
I caught a ride on BC Ferries’ route from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay to see what’s going on this summer across the straight. As it turns out, a lot. Victoria – the former trading post and present-day grand old dame – turns 150 on August 2. Rather than do it up with just one big b-day bash, the West Coast’s oldest city is celebrating with a series of summer inspired birthday-themed events and festivals.
Find out how best to celebrate the old girl’s sesquicentennial below.
Picking a Base Camp: Magnolia Hotel & Spa
As the gold prospectors of the 1850s knew, you’ve got to set up base camp before you start exploring. I chose the Magnolia Hotel & Spa (623 Courtney St.). Just a two-minute walk from Victoria’s inner harbour, Magnolia is ideally located for exploring the downtown scene as well as the museum district, design district, LoJo, Fort Street and Chinatown.
Magnolia has won shiny Conde Nast Traveler accolades, but more importantly, it was just voted the best boutique hotel in Victoria by locals for the 2012 Victoria News Best of the City Awards. And locals know best.
There are only 64 rooms (many with views of the harbour or the glowing parliament buildings), which means guests receive extra attention from the friendly staff. The ambiance is comfortable, traditional elegance. Rooms are larger than one might expect, with sinfully comfy two-poster beds. The minibar is kitted out with irressitible B.C. products such as Rogers’ Chocolates and Hester Creek wine.
Magnolia’s bathrooms are a black hole from which you might never emerge; each features a deep soaker tub along with the shower, and generous heaps of fragrant Aveda products. Continental breakfast is complimentary. Most guests rush for the fresh waffles and berries before heading next door to the in-house spa, where they offer facials, massage and special services for gents and expecting mums.
Taking Advantage of a Victoria 150th Anniversary Hotel Package
Victoria’s 150th birthday translates into great accomodation deals for visitors. Magnolia offers a customized Victoria 150th Anniversary Package: two nights of accommodation with $75 credit per day and access to a personal concierge (before you arrive and during your stay), who will help you book Harbour Air flights, whale watching, a corny-but-romantic horse-drawn carriage ride or a treatment at the adjacent Magnolia Spa.
Victoria’s Summer 150th Birthday Events and Other Summer Festivals
150 Themed Night Markets in Chinatown, ongoing
Victoria’s Chinatown (Fisgard St. between Store St. and Government St.) happens to be the oldest in all of Canada. The buzzy summer night market is celebrating Victoria’s 150th with 150 themed market events on the third Wednesday of each month. Upcoming events include The Festival of the Karaoke Stars (July 18) and The Night of the Sevens (August 22).
Taste: Victoria’s Festival of Food and Wine, July 19-22
This is your best bet for sampling an overview of the food and wine from Canada’s mini France. Vancouver Island’s most talented chefs team up with award-winning local winemakers to offer three bountiful days of grazing, sipping and seminar-ing.
Fort Victoria Family Festival and Fort Building Competition, July 29
If you’re looking for an interactive intro to Victoria’s storied past, head over to Fort Vic in Centennial Square, from 11 am to 3 pm, July 29. Participants race to build sturdy forts during live entertainment, including historical storytelling and live music.
150 Forward Community Celebration: The Official B-day, August 2
The city’s official 150th event goes down August 2, the day the town site of Fort Victoria was incorporated as the City of Victoria. Centennial Square is again the venue, this time with live music, cultural performances, food demos, cake cutting (and sharing), giveaways, roaming performers, and free tours of the City Hall Clock Tower.
150th Anniversary Tea, ongoing
Local tea experts Silk Road (1624 Government St.) have grown tea in B.C. (no small feat) and made a limited edition 150th Tribute Blend black tea with honey-floral notes, inspired by the capital’s gardens. Scoop up a tin from their lovely Chinatown shop and brew as an after dinner drink.
A Spirited Toast, ongoing
A handful of Victoria’s hippest bars boast 150th anniversary-worthy cocktails featuring artisanal local inputs from tea to Island-made gin. The Bengal Lounge at The Fairmont Empress (721 Government St.) serves an Empres 1908 cocktail, made from vodka, lemon, frothed eggwhites and the 1908 tea blend.
Over at Veneto Tapa Lounge (1450 Douglas St.), visitors can try the Rialto with Victoria Gin, Canada’s only premium gin that contains 10 wild-gathered and organic botanicals including rose and juniper, and Silk Road’s Lapsang Souchong tea.
Cheers to the birthday girl.