Winter is just around the corner on Vancouver Island, and with a change of seasons comes a fresh batch of ways to explore the elements.
In this edition of Island Moments, we’re celebrating the best all the best the season has to offer. From mountain-top hikes to underground explorations and festive activities for everyone in the family, there’s no shortage of events and activities across the region at this time of the year.
If you’re planning to escape for a little Island time this winter, here are some of the best ways to take advantage of unique experiences offered this season only.
An Island destination for a different kind of traveller, Vancouver Island is home to migrating wildlife at different parts of the year. While some like to escape frigid temperatures, and enjoy our temperate winters, others head south as we chill in winter. Year round, the Island is abundant with food…
An Island destination for a different kind of traveller, Vancouver Island is home to migrating wildlife at different parts of the year. While some like to escape frigid temperatures, and enjoy our temperate winters, others head south as we chill in winter. Year round, the Island is abundant with food sources, and the changing conditions cater to various palettes.
The journeys of these great species—whales, birds—are stories of great distance and great reward. Read on to learn about wildlife migrations on Vancouver Island and where to spot moving species.
A Whale of A Time
Quite possibly the most well-known migration of the area is that of some of the whales. While resident orcas are apt to stick around all year long (hence the name), and transient orcas tend to inhabit a larger area of the pacific north west but don’t migrate, there are a couple of species of marine mammals that maintain the migration habits.
Grey whales are the champions of migration; no other animal travels are far as these jetsetters. Calving areas in Mexico mark one leg of their journey, while the frigid waters of the Arctic mark the other. They cruise by Vancouver Island starting in early February, and some even like it so much they stick around for the summer months before returning south. The Pacific Rim Whale Festival celebrates the migration of these ocean neighbours, with educational talks, chowder chowdowns, and live music. Read more about this year’s festival at PacificRimWhaleFestival.com.
The Big Feast
If there’s on thing on the mind of a Brant goose, it’s where to find the next big feast. These geese spend the winter months floating on the warm waters of Mexico, and as it starts to thaw out further north, they make their way up to Vancouver Island, knowing that they’ll be welcomed with a feast fit for a king.
In late march, the herring population begins to spawn, turning the ocean a bright turquoise hue and offering up quite the snack for the local sea lions and visiting Brant geese. It’s a spring time harvest, and one that is celebrated by the local community through the Brant Wildlife Festival. Take a guided birdwatching walk, or indulge in some forest bathing at the festival this year.
A Winter Break
Perhaps a little unusual compared to the other migrating wildlife around Vancouver Island who prefer to visit us when the temperatures begin to climb, the trumpeter swan calls the Island their winter home. These arctic snow birds are used to much more frigid temperatures, so they’re happy to spend the winter where it’s a little warmer—a rainy, yet comfortable winter escape.
See Salmon Run
Climbing chutes and cascading waters, the salmon of the Pacific Ocean begin a treacherous journey in the fall months to spawn up the freshwater rivers of the Pacific Northwest. They return to the same spot where they themselves were spawned, a feat of nature that’s not well understood.
They lend a red colour to the river, with some species morphing into ember red creatures with hook mouths. Visitors flock to see the currents splash with the upstream salmon, dodging hungry wolves, eagles and bears.
Vancouver Island is an iconic garden destination, thanks to a reputation built by the likes of The Butchart Gardens, and it’s a reputation that draws many. But behind gates across the Island, travellers can visit temperate rainforests curated into winding paths that cut through manicured lawns, edged by flowering hedges…
Vancouver Island is an iconic garden destination, thanks to a reputation built by the likes of The Butchart Gardens, and it’s a reputation that draws many. But behind gates across the Island, travellers can visit temperate rainforests curated into winding paths that cut through manicured lawns, edged by flowering hedges and canopied by bundled clouds of greenery. We invite you to experience the stories of the gardens, the passions and interests that influenced their craft, whether built by generous garden enthusiasts or experienced pros.
Cultivated with great respect for the natural boundaries of the Vancouver Island landscape—be it the native flora or the temperate climate—The Kitty Coleman Woodland gardens are home to driftwood adornments along curving paths, lined spectacular rhododendrons and blooming lupins. Visitors are greeted by the smaller residents of the gardens, the caterpillars and butterflies that nosh on the grasses or sip nectar.
Bryan Zimmerman, the creator of the gardens, was greatly influenced by his surroundings, and let the landscape of his garden guide his hand in curating the gardens we know today. Zimmerman’s love for the rhododendrons shines through, with over 3000 planted in the gardens.
Named for Veronica Milner, these gardens were crafted with the passion of an experienced horticulturalist and with the international flair of a jetsetter. Veronica travelled alongside her husband Ray, who was Kings Counsel, and collected various species of similar climates to showcase on the bluffs of the estate. Today, Milner Gardens has strong English roots, and this seaside garden has even been graced by the royal family.
In true British fashion, Milner Gardens is also home to a tea house. From the comfort of the verandah, tea drinkers can see the gardens and ocean, while enjoying a scone with Devon cream.
If you’re on the hunt for a clipped, soft green field to spread your blanket, a few of the Vancouver Island gardens are groomed to suit an afternoon of picnicking. Here are a couple of favourites:
Hatley Park Grounds
After strolling through the Japanese, Italian, or rose gardens at Hatley Castle, park your picnic basket in the expansive lawn. In one direction, you can admire the castle architecture, while an ocean view is just a head turn’s away. The resident peacocks may even show their true colours, as they put on a show and parade around the grounds.
Built by coal baron James Dunsmuir, the grounds of park were shaped into an estate for the family. The first to grace the grounds was the Japanese Garden. Petals of pink shower the lawns, thanks to cherry blossoms, and an island of rhodos is accessed by a small curved bridge. With their beginnings dated to 1913, the Italian gardens are rooted in the traditions of the style, and today are an excellent representation. For the romantics, the Rose Garden’s stunning features, including a pergola, and June bloom should be a midsummer stop.
St Ann’s Academy
An ancient orchard and Island-loved rhododendrons set the backdrop for St Ann’s Academy’s 6.25 acres of gardens. Here amongst the apple trees and rose gardens, visitors can lounge on the grass and break bread. The National Historic Site was once a girl’s school and a convent, the building and grounds are steeped in Victoria’s history, and an excellent example of church architecture. Learn about the history of the four founding sisters, who travelled from Montreal on invitation to teach.
Quite possibly the most intriguing of the garden stories, the history of the Abkhazi Gardens is a testament to the spirit of its creators: Prince Nicholas Abkhazi and Peggy Pemberton-Carter—both survivors of the Second World War. Hardships plagued Peggy and Nicholas before the war too: Peggy was orphaned young and had a difficult upbringing, while Nicholas was a penniless prince after fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution. The penpals were both interned, released and reunited in America 13 years later. Married shortly thereafter, the couple started their life together in Victoria, where Peggy had already purchased the property and had started to lay the ground work for the gardens.
It’s clear that the gardens were a passion for the couple, a creative outlet after years of difficulties. A visit to the gardens today shows the native Garry Oaks that have stood throughout the history of the garden, and travellers can follow the same tour Peggy had given herself.
throughout Vancouver Island