Do-It-Yourself Victoria walking tours
By Jessica Woollard
Guided walking tours are a great way to get to know the history of a city and scope out some neat places to return to later on your own. But there’s also something to be said about the spontaneity that comes with wandering through city streets on your own, discovering a delightful hole-in-the-wall café, an intriguing shop at the end of an alley, or an intimate art gallery.
Self-guided walking tours offer the best of both worlds, and I was thrilled to come across a set of four Do-It-Yourself heritage walking tours for downtown Victoria. Even after living here for six years, I learned a lot about this beautiful city—and the tours were a great way to get some fresh air and exercise!
The four “Secrets of the City” tours lead you around the downtown area, indicating significant landmarks and the stories that have made them memorable.If you’re worried about your level of fitness, it's important to note:
The tours are easily walkable within 45 minutes
The routes have very little incline
You are acting as your own guide, so you can stop and enjoy Victoria’s various coffee shops as often, or as little, as you want
The tour pamphlets are available in hard copy or they can be downloaded online. They are well worth the time whether you're new to Victoria, a repeat vacationer, or even a long-time resident.
Here’s a peek at what you can look forward to on your journey:
Law and Disorder
Mischief, murder, and mayhem—oh my! Don’t be deceived by some of Victoria’s glorious architecture. Behind some of the most beautiful stonework are tales of criminals and the vigilante characters who sought to protect our city. Along this walk, you’ll meet the likes of “Hanging Judge” Begbie, Thomas Trounce and his private alley, and Joseph Carey, the mayor who refused to pay legal fees.
On this tour, you’ll find the once “Forbidden City” is very much a part of the life and culture of Victoria. Through the Gate of Harmonious Interest, you’ll explore Canada’s first Chinatown; in Market Square, you’ll learn about the history of Chinese immigrants; and in Fan Tan Alley, Canada’s narrowest street, you’ll take in sights of old gambling halls, opium dens, and even a tofu factory, all transformed into respectable shops and cafés. Enjoy getting lost in the history and culture of the Forbidden City.
Don’t be alarmed if, while you’re walking downtown, you feel a sudden cool breeze on the back of your neck, or if you feel like someone is watching you. Someone probably is. But who? It’s hard to say. It could be any one of the hundreds of ghosts who are said to call Victoria home. Known for its ghosts as well as its gardens, Victoria is considered the most haunted city in Canada. A great alternative to Discover the Past’s Ghostly Walks, this tour will take you from St. Ann’s Academy, past Rogers’ Chocolates, straight to Bastion Square’s Maritime Museum, the former location of Victoria’s jail and gallows. If by the end of the walk you haven’t seen any spirits, make sure to check your photos—they are notorious for cameos!
Fools Rush In
Before Victoria attracted residents with its famous flower count and copasetic climate, the promise of glittery gold drew crowds to the city in the 19th century. Everywhere around you, you’ll find evidence of the Victoria boom—the architecture of Commercial Row on Wharf Street, Waddington Alley’s wooden brick interlocking, and lower Johnson Street’s buildings, once saloons and brothels. Walk back in history to the time the promise of wealth transformed little Fort Victoria into a roaring, riotous little boomtown!
Text and Photos by Jessica Woollard©