Radical Ideas & Things to Do in Victoria, BC

Welcome to The Victoria Vine, your green guide to one of the most beautiful cities in Canada (actually, on Earth). Victoria, BC is a hub for historical culture, modern counterculture, sustainable living and the laid back Vancouver Island lifestyle.

Nestled in the majestic scenery of the west coast of British Columbia, Victoria offers the amenities of a major city with quick access to the beautiful countryside and rugged coastal wilderness.

We keep you informed about the most forward-thinking events and urban design in Vic. We highlight sustainable architecture, community gardens, plans to build a better Victoria, and ideas on how to eat and buy local. We also share fun things to do in Victoria, BC, including outdoor recreation, local restaurants and shopping, with an emphasis on sustainable businesses that practice ethical trade.

Finally, we’ll give you insider tips on living in Victoria to save you time and money, including
- Real estate insights and even tips on how to vine-ify your house to save energy.
- Organic gardening tutorials for Victoria’s climate. They call Vic the City of Gardens, so get on board and we'll show you how to turn your lawn into a veggie garden!
- Guides to the best farmer’s markets and green grocers in town.

If you’re visiting or new around these parts, here’s your jumping off point for experiencing the absolute best that Victoria, BC has to offer. Learn more about the city below, or head to the home page for the latest happenings in Victoria.

Planting the Seeds of an Ecovillage in Sooke

Sooke Farm

You can butcher the land but you can’t slay the dream with your backhoes and stuffy building codes. In early 2013 a little revolution was sprouting south of Victoria led by the Sooke EcoVillage Farm Co-op, also known as The Village Farm (also known as awesome).

The plan was to save a piece of endangered farmland from development and to transform it into a cooperative ecovillage farm. The land, 153 lush acres along Helgeson Road, was to be purchased for $1.6 million by the Sooke Region Farmland Trust (a local non-profit). The farm would be run by The Village Farm.

The tragedy is that while the Indiegogo campaign last spring did raise some decent cash, it was simply not enough to secure the land purchase. Hearts were broken, but not all is lost!

There will be a second chance. The Village Farm has a team of warriors: architects, builders, electricians, writers, artists and farmers. Together they have a vision and the tenacity to see it through, but they could certainly use some help.

The main missing ingredient is of course land. Also, skilled, resourceful people are needed who would live on the farm and create enterprises to sustain it.

The Village Farm vision includes

  • A working organic farm using a combination of cultivation methods including permaculture and biodynamic.
  • An ecovillage community of up to 20 sustainably built homes.
  • Efficient energy management with power supplied by local and renewable sources.
  • Sustainable water and waste management including rainwater catchment and grey water recycling systems.
  • An economic structure that values local trade and conservation of resources, with a social structure that values the common good.
  • An open community that offers apprenticeships and workshops.

For more details about their vision, visit The Village Farm website.

Ecovillages are not a new concept, and there are other examples of successful sustainable communities, even on Vancouver Island. O.U.R. Ecovillage, which occupies 25 acres near Shawnigan lake, has been thriving for 15 years thanks in part to on site social enterprise. It’s long since passed all rezoning, development planning and building code issues. Vancouver Island and lower mainland BC is ripe with projects that focus on permaculture design, ecovillage design, urban food systems and natural building.

Unfortunately, with our current money system the most common barrier to sustainable development is budget.

It’s not that sustainable development is more expensive than high impact development. Innovative firms like Michael Green Architecture in Vancouver know how to leverage local resources to build cost-effective, ingenuous, low impact developments.

It’s not that the money does not exist. It’s that the money does not exist in the hands of the heroes who are leading these initiatives.

This is a call for social entrepreneurship. In cases like this where grassroots non-profits lack the resources and publicity to proceed, social enterprise must step up to help the cause.

As we grow, The Victoria Vine will promote projects like The Village Farm to help them find the support they need to thrive. And once our roots are strong and we mature, we will begin our own sustainable development initiatives.

If you want to learn more about building sustainable communities, here are two books I recommend:

Victoria Neighbourhood Guide — James Bay

Fisherman's Wharf Victoria BC

James Bay is a charming neighbourhood southwest of downtown Victoria. Home to ancient Salish settlements, later frolicked by Victorian gentry, it’s the oldest residential neighbourhood on the West Coast of Canada. Today, still speckled with Victorian and Edwardian heritage homes, James Bay retains hints of historical character.

Horses with carriages attached to them roam the streets, shadows of a time when cars were nothing more than a bad idea and organic food was called “food”.

James Bay is a peninsula that boarders water on three sides: the Inner Harbour on the north, Outer Harbour on the west and Strait of Juan de Fuca / the Salish Sea to the south. Look out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and you’ll get a majestic view of the Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Peninsula of western Washington. To the east lies Beacon Hill Park, and beneath lies ancient secrets known only by the roots of the elder trees.

James Bay, Victoria (Shoreline at Holland Point Park)

 

History

Totem Pole at the Royal BC Museum

James Bay was originally home to the Swenghwung First Nations who belong to the Lekwungen people of the Coast Salish. Today, their descendants are known as the Songhees First Nation. The shoreline was once dotted with their village sites. For example, Holland Point is the site of an ancient fortified village and Laurel Point was a Coast Salish burial ground.

The name of the neighbourhood is derived from the inlet James Bay, which was named after Sir James Douglas and forms part of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. James Bay, Victoria began as a farming community (originally part of Ogden’s Fields Farms) shortly after the establishment of Fort Victoria in 1843.

Residential development began in 1859. The first properties were built by the wealthy elite of Victoria in the south and east of James Bay. During the following decades, working class cottages were built in the west side, which became an industrial and shipping hub.

In the 1960s many of the older buildings were demolished and replaced by brutalist style apartments. Luckily, this spawned a grassroots heritage preservation effort that’s ongoing today.

 

Restaurants, Shopping & Markets

For farm fresh organic greens and handmade arts and crafts, check out the vibrant James Bay Market at the corner of Menzies and Superior. It’s part farmer’s market, part flea market featuring work by local crafters.

The hub of the neighbourhood is James Bay Village, with a liquor store, pharmacy, coffee shops, cafes, bakeries, Thrifty Foods grocery store, banks, credit unions (which you should join instead of a bank) and other interesting businesses such as The Bent Mast, a unique pub in a historic Victorian building.

For your fix of espresso and fresh roasted beans, check out Discovery Coffee, Serious Coffee, and the Breakwater Café and Bistro at Ogden Point. Discovery Coffee at James Bay is also licensed to serve cocktails, wines and beers from local breweries. Yes, that means you can get drunk and caffeinated at the same time.

If you have a sweet tooth, Sugar Boy Bakery uses local, organic and seasonal ingredients from farmers on Vancouver Island.

For a great growler of ale visit Spinnakers James Bay Spirit Merchants, a specialty beer and wine store committed to farm fresh local ingredients year round. They are also gluten-free friendly.

For a unique experience head down to the famous Fisherman’s Wharf, where amongst the houseboats you’ll find a wide variety of seafood vendors. And possibly, one of these days… pirates.

Fisherman's Wharf, James Bay, Victoria

 

Family & Fitness

When many people think of James Bay (or Victoria), horse-drawn carriage tours pop to mind. These are great if you want your children to fall asleep. If not, here are some other attractions and things to do in James Bay:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf offers more than just food. You’ll also find ecological tour services like Kelp Reef Kayaking, and other marine adventure services that I won’t put the word “eco” in front of (Eagle Wing Whale Watching and Pirate Adventures). The local residents at Fisherman’s Wharf are on public display during the day, so many have decorated their float homes, giving the wharf an artistic character. People constantly walk up and down the docks, peering into the houseboat windows. It’s a quaint place.

The Diver's Den Float Home at Fisherman's Wharf

  • Beacon Hill Park was originally the site of an ancient burial ground for the Lekwungen people. There was also a village and defensive site at Finlayson Point. They used to call the hill Meeacan (the Salish name for belly), because it resembled a pot belly. Today, it’s home to “Mile Zero”, the starting point of the Trans-Canada Highway. Beacon Hill Park features the world’s tallest free-standing totem pole, raised in 1956 by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Mungo Martin. It also features roaming peacocks and the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, a petting zoo where children enjoy (or harass) baby animals like potbelly pigs, zebu, miniature horses and goats.
  • Holland Point Park and Holland Point Shoreline Trail is popular for oceanfront gatherings and small parties.  Just, pick up after yourself… or else the witches will come after you (Victoria has a history of witchcraft, ghosts and secret tunnels, did naught ye know?). Holland Point is the site of an ancient fortified village.
  • The Dallas Road Walkway waterfront trail offers picturesque views of the Olympic Mountains and fresh ocean air. The perfect oceanfront backdrop for walking, jogging, cycling, rollerblading or skateboarding. It stretches from the Ogden Point Breakwater to the Ross Bay Cemetery in Fairfield.
  • Take a walk with your lover out onto the Ogden Point Breakwater which reaches out from Dallas Road into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • Ogden Point Diver Center offers dives off the Ogden Point Breakwater, daily sport diving trips off lower Vancouver Island, weekend dive charters and scuba diving holidays.
  • Emily Carr House, a National and Provincial Historic Site at 207 Government Street, is birthplace of Canadian artist and writer Emily Carr. The house was modernized following a fire in 1938, but since then it has been beautifully restored by two different architects to revive the original character of the home.
  • The historic Helmcken House is the second oldest residence on its original site in British Columbia. It contains Dr. Helmchen’s library and medical instruments, making up one of Canada’s finest 19th century medical collections.
  • The Royal BC Museum displays British Columbia’s natural and human history. It features a northwest coastal Aboriginal exhibit, rich with artwork and cultural artefacts. Outside the museum is Thunderbird Park, adorned with totem poles and a longhouse carved and painted in the style of the northwest coast First Nations.

Totem Pole at the Royal BC Museum, Victoria

Royal BC Museum Totem Poles. Photo by Blake Handley.

  • The British Columbia Parliament Buildings on Belleville Street are hard to miss. They look out to the Inner Harbour and have an immaculate lawn that’s typically filled with tourists. While beautiful and ornate, the Renaissance Revival style legislative building may be a ticking time bomb: structural studies have shown that they would likely collapse in a moderate earthquake!  
  • MacDonald Park between Niagara and Simcoe Street is home to the James Bay Athletic Club. It features two baseball diamonds and two softball diamonds in spring and summer, which become two soccer / football / rugby fields in fall and winter.
  • James Bay Community Centre (140 Oswego St.) offers affordable programs and services for all ages. Programs include creative and performing arts, health and wellness, lifelong learning and childcare services.

Royal BC Museum Totem Poles & Long House

 

Parks

For more details about the parks in James Bay, visit the James Bay Neighbourhood Association website.

 

Community Gardens

Grass roots community gardens managed by the James Bay Sustainability Commons include

  • Michigan Street Community Garden, consisting of 75% individual and 25% community allotment plots. Designed to grow food for the local community, it covers about 5,000 square feet and contains over 60 varieties of produce. It’s located at the corner of Menzies and Michigan Street.
  • James Bay Allotment Garden Association, consisting of 54 plots with a long waiting list. It’s located on Montreal Street between Oswego and Niagara.

Michigan Street Community Garden

James Bay Community Garden

 

Housing

James Bay, Victoria’s most populated residential neighbourhood, has 11,000 permanent residents. 73% rent their homes. There is a wide range of housing options including low income rental housing, apartments and condos (prices typically between $200-$300k), modest single family homes, upscale character houses, heritage homes and even float homes!

Victorian and Edwardian-era architecture is still present, though much of it was demolished to make way for apartments during the 1950s and 1960s. Newer real estate developments include modern, energy efficient, eco-friendly houses and condominiums such as The Duet buildings.

 

Schools in James Bay, Victoria

  • South Park Elementary School is an alternative, primary public school with a focus on the arts. Built in 1894 in the Queen Anne architectural style, it’s the oldest school building in Western Canada.
  • James Bay Community School (Victoria School District 61) is partnered with the James Bay Community Center. It’s a K-5 elementary school (Kindergarten through Grade 5).
  • Rainbow Express Day Care Centre is a non-profit society that has spaces for 32 children.
  • The Con Brio School for Music & Movement (643 Niagara St) is a specialty school featuring dance and music instructors.

 

Quirks

James Bay residents prefer walking and cycling over driving. Not only does this help you absorb the setting… in many cases this is the fastest way to get around because horse-drawn carriage tours force drivers to slow down. Horses in the streets are common in James Bay and downtown Victoria.

 

Accommodation

Hotels and bed and breakfast accommodations are abundant here. James Bay Inn is the third oldest hotel in Victoria (after the Dominion Hotel and Empress Hotel).

Northern James Bay, overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbour, features upscale hotels including the modern, waterfront Inn at Laural Point. It’s the only hotel in BC that can make the Carbon Neutral claim. Oswego hotel is also run with a sustainability philosophy, supporting local farmers, using green cleaners and reusable or recycled paper products.

Other B&Bs and accommodations include the Fisher House Bed and Breakfast, Harborwalk Bed and Breakfast, Albion Manor Bed and Breakfast, Ashcroft House Bed and Breakfast, Nairne House Bed and Breakfast, Gingerbread Cottage Bed and Breakfast, Marifield House Bed and Breakfast, Menzies Manor, James Bay Cottage and James Bay Inn.

For hostels, head downtown. For free accommodation, check out hospitalityclub.org and couchsurfing.org.

 

Major Street Boundaries

Eastern James Bay shares Beacon Hill Park with Fairfield. The two neighbourhoods are separated by Arbutus Way, Circle Drive and Camas Circle (roads running through Beacon Hill Park). Northern James Bay, which neighbours downtown Victoria and the Inner Harbour, is bounded by Southgate Street, Douglas Street and Belleville Street. Dallas Road wraps around the west and south ends of the James Bay peninsula.

 

Mission and Community Plan

The James Bay Neighbourhood Association and New Horizons Centre have a community plan and vision: A neighbourhood focussed on a vibrant James Bay Village corridor that

  • Preserves heritage buildings.
  • Integrates new affordable public housing.
  • Encourages new small businesses to fill empty storefronts.
  • Includes a community recreation and cultural centre with green space for public gatherings.
  • Provides accessible public transit.
  • Has expanded community gardens and a permanent summer home for the James Bay Community Farmers Market.

Most of the waterfront is currently controlled by the government and Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. Community planners have a vision to integrate the James Bay waterfront into the neighbourhood.

James Bay, Victoria (Holland Point Park)

James Bay Community Garden