Travel Trails By Martin B. Deutsch



April 1, 1965 -- Vancouver and Victoria, those two popular port cities in Canada's Southwest corner, make me think of another word beginning with "V"--vacation.

I paid a short but memorable visit to both intriguing places just a few months back. By proximity, they are virtually sister communities--less than twenty minutes apart by air, under two hours by scenic ferry--but actually they are a study in contrasts.

Both are in British Columbia, but Vancouver sprawls in modern disarray along with a natural harbor on Canada's mainland, with a dramatic backdrop of mountains rising quickly to nearly 6,000 feet. Victoria, the provincial capital, sits quietly at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, with a deeply ingrained sense of English traditions and customs. Vancouver is Canada's third largest city; Victoria is renowned for mild year-round climate and beautiful gardens. Vancouver has traffic jams and fantastic views from atop several chair lifts; Victoria has better tea and crumpets than I've had in London, and cricket is popular of Sunday afternoons. They also play cricket in Vancouver, but there's far more interest in Canadian football and in big-league baseball there.

There's a friendly rivalry between the cities, which the visitor can't help but enjoy. A taxi driver in Vancouver, commenting on the pace of life in Victoria, told me that "if a dog chases a cat over there, they both walk." It's a charge that the Victoriana not only wouldn't deny, but probably whole-heartedly endorse. I was told in Victoria that people in Vancouver are so reckless that they have to bring their cars in twice a year for a mandatory inspection. Keenly aware of Victoria's fine weather (it averages from forty to seventy degrees), Vancouver describes its own climate, which has been known to be sulky, in this way: "It's beautiful to December; then it gets better."

The two cities, however, are similar in many respects. The people on both sides of that Sound (or is it Strait?) are warm, hospitable and courteous. Both are within sight of the United States to the south, and ferries run up from either, and you'll find yourself in some of the most fabulous fishing, hunting and vacation country in the world.

You'll find totem poles galore in both places, as well as delightful parks, fine drives, excellent facilities for the boating set and a wide range of pleasant accommodations in all price ranges. (We'll talk along the way about the food, which exceeded my expectations.) If you're planning to enter the Canadian Rockies from the west, you'll find no better, more interesting twin gateways. You'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't take in both cities if you're in this area. Pick up a car ferry from Seattle to Victoria, then travel over to Vancouver and the mainland, also by ferry.

We didn't follow that particular itinerary, because time was limited and we came from the east. We boarded a plane in New York to Toronto, where we just made an Air Canada jet connection to Vancouver. Excellent service in the air, good food, nice-looking stewardesses, but there's no liquor served aboard domestic Canadian flights. Many passengers seemed to have had their own along, but my seat partner, a copper-mining engineer, and I never got beyond apple juice.

Once at my hotel in Vancouver--the Bayshore Inn--I went next door to Trader Vic's and had something called a Cozumel Rum concoction. My host at the bar told me that most of the help at the Bayshore Inn and at Trader Vic's was Chinese; that Vancouver has the second largest Chinatown on the Pacific Coast and that Canada's third largest city only recently permitted "mixed" bars, meaning that the sexes are no longer partitioned. "It's progress," he commented reflectively. "A guy with a date used to have to sit on the female side of the fence."

Fortified with these facts, and the rum, I slept like a log and woke up next morning to find that my room, a spacious, handsome affair, looked out on a swimming pool, a totem pole and a boat basin. After breakfast, I had a chance to explore the Bayshore Inn, which is outstanding in every respect, from the unobtrusive service to the modern but comfortable dˇcor. It is run by Western International Hotels, an imaginative, progressive outfit. Rates for two at the Bayshore start at $14.

In mid-morning, I was picked up by Ed Norman, a representative of the British Columbia Ferry Services, who was to take me over to Victoria. As we drove to the terminal, my companion talked about the ferries. While I listened, I kept an eye on the passing scene, which revealed many signs of Vancouver's important role as a lumber center; dramatic clouds over the harbor, impressive homes with magnificently landscaped lawns, all kinds of flowers, then lowlands surrounded by dikes (which reminded me of Holland), and nary a sign of reckless driving. Meanwhile, Norman brought up the superb salmon fishing in the area--there are five major varieties--and I believe he also spoke of the moose, bear, deer, caribou, mountain goat and sheep which the hunter can pursue not far from Vancouver in the Cariboo and Kootenay regions. Also in the picture: several kinds of trout, including rainbow and steelhead.

The B.C. ferries, Norman said, started operations in 1960 with two vessels, now there are nearly twenty, with five more in the works. They generally carry 1,000 passengers, 120 cars, and they cost almost as much to build as a big jetliner: $4,000,000. Just before we got aboard the Queen of Victoria, I learned the crossing cost $5 per car, $2 per person, $1 for youngsters.

We had lunch in the unpretentious dining room, where you can order anything from hamburgers to steaks. I had an excellent clam chowder, which seemed to be a cross between Boston and Manhattan--red and hearty, but creamy. They had king salmon on the menu too. As we watched various islands come and go from our table, Norman mentioned that these protected waters are a paradise for the boating fraternity. He also revealed that by next year B.C. Ferry Services will probably run a new $7,500,000 ferry from Kelsey Bay to Prince Ruppert to connect with the Alaska State Ferries. This will open up a fast, scenic, low-cost, all-ferry route from virtually the Unites States border to Alaska. Ideal for the vacation travel with a car.

One of the islands we passed was called Salt Spring, and it was distinguished by a lofty peak. Norman identified it as Mount Maxwell, which climbs 2,000 feet in a hurry. "You can drive to the top and get an unbelievable view of the area," he said. Another island is settled by the Doukhobors, a religious sect still following the old traditions since being expelled from Russia more than 100 years ago. And then we were at Swartz Bay and Victoria, where Mike Hepple, from the city's Visitors Bureau, took me in hand.

We drove first to Butchart Gardens, a "must" for all visitors, but not before I was asked how I'd survived the weather in Vancouver. I pointed out that as a guest in both places I had to remain neutral, but I had to admit it seemed like a perfect late-spring day, even though we were in August. The gardens are actually twelve miles north of the city proper, and it's worth the trip. The twenty-five-acre family property offers a sunken garden, English rose garden, Japanese garden, Italian garden, fountains and an appealing room for refreshments. Admission is $1.50 for adults (you can easily pass the afternoon), with 60 or 30 cents for the offspring, depending on age.

On our way to see a full-size replica of Shakespeare's birthplace, we stopped to watch a cricket match, and admired what may well be one of the world's tallest totem poles, in Beacon Hill Park. The Shakespeare village is so close to the real thing, with Chaucer Lane and Anne Hathaway's thatched cottage, that you might well be inclined to bypass the original the next time you're in England. There are guided tours daily from eight a.m. to ten p.m. The cost is 75 cents a head for adults; 35 cents for the kids.

We enjoyed an excellent afternoon tea at the Olde English Inn with Bill Lane, who, with his wife, runs the whole operation. Cordial and bouncy, Lane, who is an ex-RAF squadron leader, told us how he actually brought over a roof-thatcher from England to do the Hathaway cottage. I was impressed, not only by this, but also by the wonderful tea and crumpets, served with trifle and cookies in a cozy, paneled dining room, for $1.25. There were quite a few American families there indulging in this first-rate late-afternoon repast. The Inn also offers forty rooms.

Back in the car, Hepple told me how Victoria started life as a Hudson's Bay fort and trading post in the 1840s, and we drove through an impressive residential district, the Uplands, where the houses have an air of having been there a long time.. The community permits no telephone poles or overhead wires. We also drove along the shore and looked across the Straits of Juan de Fuca to Uncle Sam's domain.

I asked Hepple about the yellow lines which run along so many of the streets, and he explained that his office had worked out five tours for visitors, which begin and end at the Visitor's Bureau, 786 Government Street, in the heart of the city. All the tourist does is follow the yellow lines, as well as instructions in a small folder, available free from the Bureau. Exact mileage is detailed in the booklet and all points of interest are marked.

It was getting to sundown, so we made two quick visits, one to the Undersea Gardens, where you spy on hundreds of fish and marine plants through submerged windows ($1.10, half for the kids); and the other to the Royal London Wax Museum (same rates). Before checking in at the Empress, one of those famous (and fabulous) old Canadian Pacific Railway hotels, Hepple showed me the massive Parliament Buildings and Thunderbird Park, which is a forest of totem poles.

I enjoyed a fine, full-course, prime-rib dinner at the Empress, with Yorkshire pudding ($5), strolled around a bit, and turned in. I'd had a long day.

In the morning, I walked around town with Hepple, looked into the Hudson's Bay department store, learned that Victoria's famous hanging flower baskets (suspended from lampposts) date back to 1937 and that the flowers are rea. Then I said good-bye and had lunch at a glass-encased marina restaurant with Dick Colby, who heads B.C.'s tourist department. Colby, who has the look and sound of a highly skilled sportsman, talked about fishing on Vancouver Island. He spoke glowingly of many kinds of trout, as well as char and bass in fresh water, and the spring and coho salmon in salt water. He also described the beauties of national parks in British Columbia. After lunch, I took off for the airport, where an Air Canada piston plane had me back in Vancouver in eighteen minutes. The low-level flight over the same sound and islands I had crossed the day before by ferry was unusually scenic. I'd spent twenty-six hours in Victoria, but I want to go back. It may be slow-paced and "very British," but it's charming.

On the ground in Vancouver, I took a taxi to a tall, handsome hotel, the Georgian Towers, where I was whisked by automatic elevator to the twentieth floor, and deposited in large, attractive quarters, with television and a commanding view of a good part of the city. (Double accommodations during the busy summer months start a $14 in Canadian currency, which means the actual cost to Americans is about eight per cent less, because of the differential in dollar value.)

In the evening, Harold J. Merilees, who heads the Vancouver Visitors Bureau, took me to the Lotus Gardens for a Chinese dinner. Now, I defer to no one when it comes to evaluating Oriental cuisine. I've sampled the finest from Hong Kong to London, from San Francisco to New York. The Lotus Gardens is right up there with the best. I was especially impressed with the roast pork, which is served cold, the deep-fried prawns, and a dish I've never had anywhere--lemon chicken. Back at the hotel, I went up as far as you can go, to the twenty-second floor, and emerged at the Top of the Towers, where you can get a drink, eat a prime-rib dinner ($5.50) and look out at the marvelous lights of the harbor and the city in all directions. It's quite a sight.

In the morning, I went over to the Visitors Bureau at 650 Burrard Street, where Merilees showed me the wide range of literature available available to visitors on sight-seeing, events, attractions, accommodations and restaurants. The he assigned one of his young ladies to show me the town. First stop was Stanley Park, a 1,000-acre park of great beauty just five minutes from the heart of the city, which has a zoo, aquarium and picnic facilities. You can also play golf, canoe on Lost Lagoon or rent a bicycle to explore the roads and trails. The vistas from the lookout points are magnificent: the whole are has a look and a feel strongly reminiscent of San Francisco. Before taking us to lunch at a place called Primo's, my guide, Elaine Johnston, pointed out that there's an Indian reservation right in the heart of West Vancouver. We had tacos (beef and chicken) at Primo's plus soup and beverage for $1.25. This pleasant, low-priced Mexican restaurant's owner is a former B.C. Lions football star, which places him high on the local status list.

We crossed over to West Vancouver via the Lion's Gate Bridge, and my companion observed that Vancouver has recently abolished all bridge tolls (U.S. cities, please note). We drove as far as Horseshoe Bay, where you can go boating, swimming, fish for giant salmon, or picnic. On the way, at Fisherman's Cove, the pleasure boats are packed in like sardines.

From Whytecliff Park, you are swept up by the scene across Howe Sound; there's a gentle majesty to the soft clouds which hover over the islands and the mountains. You'll also reach for Horseshoe Bay, with the boats on the harbor, and the lovely houses built in terrace steps up the hillside. We doubled back much the same way, except we took a highway called the Upper Levels, which runs hundreds of feet above and parallel to the Marine Drive. On the way, Johnston mentioned that there's no fee for salt-water fishing in these parts.

Our last stop was one of the most spectacular. We took the chair lift ($1.95) up the steep incline of Grouse Mountain, which towers 4,200 feet over the breathtaking panorama of Vancouver and suburbs, the islands, and the blue waters which weave in, out and around this natural playground. The chair lift, which is broken up into two stages, takes about thirty-five minutes each way. I'm told there's wonderful skiing here in the winter months.

That evening, Meriless took me for a farewell dinner to Monty's Seafood and Steak House where you can select from such dishes as pepper pot, oysters, prawns and sautˇed king-crab legs (sort of a cross between chicken and lobster). Monty's has comfortable dinning facilities, looking out on an inlet, and moderate prices. A full-course prawn dinner costs $2.50.

Already nostalgic about the Victoria-Vancouver area, in which I'd only spent three full days, I went down to the railway terminal, where I boarded a Canadian Pacific train for Banff and the Canadian Rockies. A report on that journey will appear in the May issue.

This column originally appeared in Argosy magazine.

Copyright © 1962-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.