Toronto Star, April 3, 2016: VICTORIA, B.C.-A guy has a skateboard beneath his feet and a piercing under his nose. Another rides by with a guitar strapped to his back. There’s a grey-haired peloton or two, a little tyke with a Spider-Man helmet takes a spill, and a smiling Japanese Rasta walks by.
It’s quite some time before you see even one little old lady as you ride a bike on the Galloping Goose — a 60-kilometre trail from Victoria to Sooke.
It’s rush hour for rowers and as you stop on the Trestle Bridge to watch them on the water below, a couple of young women — one with blue hair another with wacky tights — walk past and you have to wonder what happened to the city full of “newlywed, nearly dead and garden beds.”
Somewhere along the way, Victoria got cool.
Students from across Canada have always flocked to the University of Victoria to escape the snow, but people in their 20s and 30s are moving here now, drawn by a booming tech sector.
And the flock of retirees is getting younger — 50s are the 30s.
Sure, you can still pick up a stack of Irish linens or get your age spots removed, but you can also pop into Smoking Lily for a periodic table silkscreened on a dress and find plenty of grooming shops for the ubiquitous gnome beards.
Grandmas line up for afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress, but at the hotel’s Bengal Lounge, someone’s grandkids are enjoying smart cocktails. (At least until April 30, when it closes). The signature drink features tea-infused vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white and is served, naturally, with a mini scone.
“I love this room,” says Bruce Livingstone as we settle into one of the Bengal’s low leather couches, taking in the rich wood panelling and colonial ceiling fans. Livingstone, the guy who founded iStock and sold it to Getty for $50 million (U.S.), moved from L.A. to Victoria a few years ago and started a new stock photography company, Stocksy.
“People say how can you live there, it’s so boring,” he says. “But I tell them if you’re bored then it’s your fault.”
Livingstone and thousands of others are coming to the city for the quality of life and the great outdoors, which can involve throwing on wetsuits to go for a swim, or going surfing or fishing.
Victoria is good for business, too. “It’s great,” says the entrepreneur. “There’s a great network of tech people and we’re all connected.”
On Friday night, beautiful people fill every table at Little Jumbo, enjoying dinner with fresh local ingredients — the chanterelle mushrooms that came in yesterday are served with a little parmesan, garlic and wine on grilled bread.
Tables of tattooed young ’uns sit next to middle-aged couples and every demo seems to be drinking a fancy cocktail.
The drink list changes every six weeks. If you’re bamboozled by which booze to try, you can always go with the blurb that most tickles your fancy, such as gin-based Tea and Toast: “My good man it took Dutch courage, a stiff upper lip and a nice cup of tea to build an empire. Hang on to your monocle and have at it.”
Poking fun is all part of the fun in the Royal City.
The restaurant’s co-owner Chris Jones — “one of the tall bearded dudes with cool aprons” — says the Ruby will open a second location. “Where the locals go, the tourists want to go,” he says of picking spots that aren’t exactly on the red double-decker bus routes.
The tourists may also miss Discovery St., where Victoria’s graffiti artists have transformed a couple of blah buildings into a gorgeous tapestry of street art. Visitors looking for treasures along the famed Antique Row may come home with something a little more contemporary if they stumble into Polychrome Fine Art.
“The sun never goes down on cool, my friend,” the Hotel Zed desk clerk shouts to her colleague as he puts on his aviators and walks toward the 1967 VW bus out front.
The hotel has hipsters in the hot tub, a lobby that looks like The Brady Bunch on acid, and shuttle rides in a couple of VW buses. “They get a lot of attention” my driver tells me during the quick trip downtown.
Victoria is not “nearly dead” anymore.
“It’s getting cooler here all the time,” Livingstone says, but that doesn’t mean the city’s forgotten its manners: “Strangers on the street get mad at you if you don’t say good morning.”
When You Go
Get there: Air Canada flies to Victoria direct from Toronto. If you’re in Vancouver, take the 90-minute ferry over to the island as a passenger or with your vehicle. It’s a remarkably beautiful ride. Or save the time and fly in and enjoy the view from the air.
Season: Victoria can give you your fix of green pretty much any time of the year: flowers are growing around town all year long. If you really want go deep into green, you could visit the Butchart Gardens. If you happen to be in Victoria during one of the rare snowfalls, you can sit back and watch the show as everyone freaks out and drivers attempt to navigate the roads.
Stay: Hotel Zed (hotelzed.com/)
Find out more: Tourism Victoria (tourismvictoria.com/)