“Victoria Island and Butchart Gardens are a must see if you wish to savor architectural beauty and a riot of colors,” suggested our friends when we visited Vancouver. We gathered that both could be covered in a day and hence boarded an early bus which drove us onto the ferry that was to cruise us to the Vancouver Island, covering a distance of 40 miles in one and a half hours. We were directed to take our seats on the fifth deck as the first four decks were reserved for vehicles (a total of 360). Those who were lucky could get the much coveted window seats which allowed one to have an unencumbered view of nature’s bounty. I noticed one lone seat left unoccupied and rushed to grab it but the lady sitting opposite with a fierce looking Labrador for company deterred me and I promptly retraced my steps preferring a seat in the aisle! So much for an uninterrupted view of the scenery!
The best way to go sight seeing in Victoria, the largest island of North America’s West Coast and the capital of British Columbia, we found, was to take a walking tour along the inner harbor area where many of the island’s attractions are clustered. Not far away stands the Empress Hotel in all its regality. Its historical architecture has an old world charm , ( our jaw dropped when we heard how much a cup of coffee costs here) and so does the statue of Queen Victoria( a slimmer version compared to the one we saw in front of the Windsor Palace in London ) with the stately Parliament buildings in the background and the imposing building housing the Royal British Columbia Museum. This museum features high impact experiential exhibits on the pre-historical, history and natural history of British Columbia and regional First Nations people. The Water Front where the Visitor’s Information Centre is located bristles with parallel activities that are simply fascinating—people going around in horse carriages and cycle rickshaws(a sophisticated version compared to our rickshaws) some cruising along the harbor, men playing various musical instruments with their paraphernalia spread around and thanking visitors for their generosity. All this reminded my husband and me of our own Mylapore festival. We were back after lunch to be taken on a cruise and driven to reach the Butchart Gardens.
Armed with a map and two large packets of popcorn to keep us going ,we set out on a leisurely tour of 55 acres of spectacular beauty .We were greeted with the warm smiles of tourists as we commenced our walk from the Information Centre and along the upper path past the Snail Pond. On the opposite side we found rambling roses which festoon the pillars marking the sloping border of a brick –tiled Piazza in front of the Butchart’s former residence. On the left was a bower laden with hanging baskets. A path on the left lead us to the Sunken Gardens (once a limestone quarry) and the lookout revealed a stunning view – two fine specimens of arbor-vitae stood on each side of the path and the steep sides of the garden were hung with ivy and Virginia creeper. Further beyond the garden stood the tall kiln stack which was all that remained of the original cement plant. We spotted a fountain as we went along, with the water spurt rising to a high 70 ft. Further on the left were two totem poles (these are a common feature in all the tourist spots in Vancouver), carved in 2oo4 to commemorate the Garden’s 100th anniversary.
As we proceeded further, the Rose Garden came into full view (it reminded us of the Rose Garden we saw in Geneva but unfortunately it wasn’t in full bloom) with Rose arches leading to a Frog Fountain and to the right a “Wishing Well” of Italian wrought iron. We were reminded of the Trevi Fountain in Rome where one dropped a coin and hoped that their wishes would come true. We walked past the Sturgeon Fountain to reach the Japanese Garden. We had a glimpse of the ocean through the trees. This vista revealed the dock for visiting sea planes and boats at Buchart Cove, and by craning our necks we could have a view of the Saanich inlet beyond. From the Japanese Garden a small rise lead to the Star Pond and to the Italian Garden. Between the two arched entrances stood a bronze statue of Mercury. The pond shaped like a cross is fed by a fountain depicting a girl holding a fish. We passed by the Butchart’s former residence and the path opened onto the Piazza featuring the Florentine bronze statue of Tacca the Boar. Quite exhausted at by end of two hours and on the verge of calling off the tour, we somehow mustered up the energy to pay a visit to the Mediterranean Garden which mercifully was quite close to the car park. This Garden features mainly drought resistant plants from various corners of the Globe with similar growing conditions as what exists in Vancouver. I eagerly scanned this cornucopia of color, texture and exotic plants to look for any from India but realized that this was only wishful thinking on my part.
The Butchart Gardens borders the Tod inlet located close to Brenwood Bay, 21 km from Victoria Island. The Gardens owe their origin to Jennie Butchart who thought of beautifying a worked-out limestone quarry which had originally supplied limestone for her husbands Portland cement manufacturing plant. Through the skilful mixture of rare and exotic shrubs, trees and flowers, mostly collected by the Butcharts themselves during their extensive world travels, the now famous Sunken Garden was created. The Gardens which were originally started as a hobby constantly expanded and grew to incorporate more and more expanses of land taking the shape of a Japanese, Rose and Italian Gardens. By the 1920s these gardens attracted more than 50 thousand people each year. As a benevolent gesture for visitors, the ever hospitable Butcharts christened their estate “Benvenuto”, the Italian equivalent for “Welcome”. Today this horticultural marvel created by the Butcharts attracts a footfall of over a million visitors each year. The Butchart Gardens have been in bloom for 100 years, and was designated, a National Historic Site of Canada in 2004.
N.Meera Raghavendra Rao