Dear Harry and Meghan (may we call you that now?),
Welcome to Vancouver Island, a place that combines the best of England and Canada on one lush rock in the Pacific Ocean. You’re not the first Brits to be lured here after a holiday and you certainly won’t be the last.
As an import to Vancouver Island myself — and a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and Canada — I feel it’s my duty to impart some helpful hints on how to make the most of your time here, however long that may be (please stay).
My husband and I are about the same age as you two, so I must admit we feel a certain kinship. The difference is we’ve had the great pleasure of leading a “normal” life, the kind of life you probably dream of.
Without further ado, here are a few things we’d love to share with you about life on Vancouver Island.
1) Actually, life on Vancouver Island isn’t normal at all.
It’s extraordinary. No matter where I travel in the world, breathing in that fresh forest air upon arrival at YYJ brings me near to tears.
The natural world is front and centre here: the old-growth forests, the beaches, the mountains. This keeps life in perspective, slows us all down, reminds us of what it means to live on this fine planet of ours. On Vancouver Island, you can ski, golf, surf, rock-climb or hike for days with no civilization in sight. And here’s the thing: the people who live here, for the most part have moved here because they value all of the above. They’ve moved here because they know the best things in life can’t be found in IKEA or Zara.
2) It’ll get better, promise.
You came at the absolute worst time of year and it’s been a particularly wet, grey (and sometimes white) winter. It’s not always like this. Indeed, during the summer months, Victoria gets more sunshine than any other major city in Canada and has by far the most temperate climate in the country (we know, we know, the bar is set quite low). If you look closely, you’ll find snowdrops emerging already. And you haven’t really experienced Vancouver Island until you’ve seen the cherry blossoms in bloom on Moss Street in the spring. We highly recommend sticking around for that.
3) We’re really nice.
First of all, let me just say: Meghan, I feel ya. England is a lovely country, but the tabloid culture is not something any outside observer in their right mind can get behind. Critiquing women, even those in public life, about how much they touch their pregnant bellies and other inane matters isn’t credible journalism and isn’t in the public interest. Full stop.
Canadians take their manners quite seriously. The basic rule is: always say sorry first. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t your fault or nothing actually happened. Someone runs into you at the grocery store? Say sorry. Someone comes close to touching your hand while reaching for a carton of milk? Say sorry. We have a feeling you’ll be naturals.
Based on your time here over Christmas, it seems pretty clear Vancouver Islanders want to allow you to live the private life you’re seeking. A local newspaper columnist tried to write a story about you over the holidays, but all people wanted to talk about was a neighbour’s donkey. Really.
It seems you’ve already got paparazzi chasing around the island to snap photos of you. May we recommend arranging a cougar sighting or two? (Important fact: Vancouver Island has the highest concentration of cougars in the world.)
4) About that British vibe …
Victoria may be known for its colonial, English vibe, but we’re actually living on the land of the Lekwungen peoples, who hunted and gathered here for thousands of years before Captain James Douglas anchored off of Clover Point in 1842. Most Vancouver Islanders would have mad respect for you if you helped draw attention to that fact.
5) Fear not: you can buy Fruit Pastilles, Hula Hoops, Penguins and other British sweeties.
The chief upside of the aforementioned British vibe is not hoity-toity high teas, but the prevalence of English goodies. We’ve yet to successfully source proper bacon or English ice cream, but rest assured: if you’re in the market for mushy peas, chocolate buttons, Jelly Babies, Fry’s creams or a Flake, Victoria has you covered.
Fairways Market has one of the best British selections, particularly the store on Oak Bay Avenue, but you’ll also find many of these items in most grocery stores, including Thrifty’s and Save-On Foods. There’s also the English Sweet Shop on Douglas Street, if you’re looking for something special.
6) The real Victoria
Beyond the British façade, you’ll find hip eateries and a thriving local music scene.
On the food front, we recommend Olo in Victoria’s Chinatown or Wild Mountain in Sooke for a romantic night out. If you’re looking for something delicious, but a bit more casual and Archie-friendly, check out Part & Parcel or Mutsuki-An, a delicious sushi spot in Cadboro Bay. And if you want to really feel like a local, pack a picnic and watch the sun set atop the rocks at Gonzalez Observatory.
On the music front, the upcoming Song & Surf Music Festival (Feb. 14-16) in Port Renfrew is pure magic and would be a fun way for you to dip your toes in to the local music scene. Imagine getting to actually hang out with people your own age, while sitting on driftwood on the beach and watching the sun set. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, acoustic acts play in an old church while 30-somethings huddle in toques and wooly sweaters. Archie is welcome, too.
Bonus: there’s only one road into town, so you could probably keep the paparazzi at bay.
(Full disclosure: my husband is one of the organizers, so I may be biased, but tickets sold out in three minutes this year, so I’m not the only one who feels this way.)
7) Where to hike beyond Horth Hill
I think I speak for most Victorians when I say we were pretty stoked to hear you enjoyed some hiking at Horth Hill in North Saanich over the holidays. If you’re looking for some other places to get out as a family, we’ve got a few ideas.
First things first, if you want Archie to feel fully Canadian, you might want to grab him a “toaster suit” from Mountain Equipment Co-op (a legendary Canadian outdoor retailer).
Once you’re all suited up, we recommend you head to Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew, on a beautiful, wild part of the West Coast. The trail makes for a beautiful, easy loop and, based on a layman’s understanding of security concerns, it could be well-monitored with just two access points. Go at low tide and spend some time scoping the incredible tide pools.
If you’re looking to get a bit of a sweat on, Mount Work is another good climb on the Saanich Peninsula and rewards you with a view out over the Saanich Inlet.
When you’re ready to go somewhere further afield, no trip to Vancouver Island is complete without a trip to Tofino, a fishing village turned surf and culinary hot spot on the wild West Coast.
With these tips, we hope you get a little closer to experiencing #TheVicLife so many of us have come to know and love.
Readers: we’d love to hear your hot tips for Harry and Meghan in the comments below.