By Marie Bruce

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We read a lot about staycations or stay at home in B.C. holidays and with our ever shrinking Canadian dollar, I decided I would follow the trend and spend a few weeks up and down Vancouver Island. I should also explain I have children on the Island so I was able to freeload with them for a night here and there. I started off in beautiful Qualicum Beach, the more I visit Qualicum the more I think it is one of the most beautiful towns in British Columbia. I happened to be there when St Mark's Anglican Church was celebrating its 92nd birthday. To commemorate the occasion they offered a musical evening of Opera Arias followed by Strawberry tea. It was delightful to sit in this lovely old church admiring the stained glass windows lit by the evening sun and listen to music. Later on in the week I wandered around Qualicum town centre and took in the excellent farmers market and the Legion pancake and sausage breakfast on Saturday morning all for $6. Coffee included. The sun shone and gentle breezes blew in from the ocean, it was the quintessential summer experience.

Another day I drove up to Comox for the Filberg craft fair, I had no idea it was such a huge event with crafters from all over the Island and a few from Vancouver too. The standard of goods offered was very high and the location on the grounds of Filberg house was stunning. The only drawback was the crowds and parking - so be warned it is busy but worth the waits.

On the way back I veered off in the direction of Cumberland. It has been years since I was in Cumberland and I was very surprised it was so busy and again quite charming and quirky. In fact, Cumberland has to be one of Vancouver Island’s historic gems, with a long history of occupation and charming old buildings dating back to the early 1900s and the coal mining era. There were plenty of cafe/restaurants/pubs and a good bakery – it was easy to spend a few hours wandering around and reading the historic boards, don't miss Cumberland if you are up Island.

When you travel around Vancouver Island one has to stop at farm signs, many are old and faded and nailed to a tree. I followed one of those signs which said - organic blueberries and eggs for sale. It was a long, bumpy drive up a lane way, I had to swerve to avoid rocks and branches of wood. Finally I reached the farmyard; a young guy wandered over to me and enquired what I wanted. “I came for the blueberries and eggs” I told him – no eggs or blueberries - we are not doing them this year and he said he was too busy to take down the sign. I suggested it would take only a few minutes but he shrugged.  I laughed to myself as I bumped my way back up to the main road – this is the Island at its laid back best.

Another day I went on a leisurely drive around Craig Bay, it is said to be drier here and there are plenty of Garry oaks and huge Arbutus trees. I stopped for coffee and a visit at Pacific Shores, later we followed a trail for a glorious beach walk, it was a perfect summer’s day. 

The 2nd week I headed down to Victoria, I stopped at a farm stand to pick up local berries, corn and freshly dug potatoes. It was so nice to be in the country and knowing the produce came directly from the farmers. I enjoyed the leisurely drive with plenty of time to branch off the Trans Canada and visit the coastal towns along the route like Chemainus and Cowichan Bay.

Victoria - our stunning capital was packed with tourists. The tourist buses and buggies were full carrying visitors around historic James Bay and downtown. I escaped to a quiet street in Fairfield and ditched my car for a bicycle. Biking around Victoria up Dallas Road with the smell of the ocean and the view across to the Olympic Mountains is another very happy making experience. I love the quirky layout of Rockland and Oak Bay with the amazing Garry oaks and stately mansions, for me biking allows me the close up experience I love. I jump off to admire gardens; I veered off down back lanes and never worried about safety or getting lost. When hunger strikes I head for the charming coffee/garden shop on MacNeil and enjoy my break surrounded by plants - savouring the tasty muffin and even better coffee. This for me is Victoria at its best.

St. Ann's Academy is another gem and I was lucky to be there for a charming and moving baroque concert. The musicians were dressed in costume and again the beauty of the location with its painted ceiling and stained glass transported me back to Austria.

I never miss a visit to the Government house and garden when I am in Victoria, it is a highlight for me. This year was even better because we had lunch at the Stables cafe.   We sat outside surrounded by Garry oak trees with a distant view of Juan de Fuca strait.  My four-year-old grandson Callum drank his tea from a very fancy china cup – his Scottish great-grandmother would have approved. I 'm sure not everyone is as enamoured with Garry oak trees as I am – I find them stunning, structural and exotic and even better still I can admire them all over Victoria.

Victoria is home to a huge variety of coffee shops – some are very quirky and often discovered in unexpected places like residential streets in Oak Bay or tucked into craft shops – I found a little cafe with an eclectic menu opposite Windsor Park, it had a delightful  plant filled shady patio at the back, perfect for coffee and a read of the Oak Bay paper.

I enjoy downtown Victoria too – it is fairly compact with a wonderful variety of small shops and a thriving Chinatown. The alleys, lanes and narrow passageways in the downtown area are filled with little cafes, bakeries and novelty shops; it is a fun place to wander. I highly recommend wandering around the neighbourhoods like Fairfield, Oak Bay and James Bay and I enjoy the downtown Chinatown. I could rave on about the wonder of Victoria gardens but that is a topic for another day.

Apart from the usual hassles with summer ferry traffic I highly recommend Vancouver Island for a summer holiday. 

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