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British Columbia: Land of diverse legacy

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In a modern western world nation, British Columbia epitomises a region that holds close to its heart its ancient heritage – the First Nation, a terminology used for the original inhabitants of the land. Home to as many as 203 First Nations communities, the diversity of aboriginal art, culture and languages is reflective in many aspects of everyday life. The Royal BC Museum in the capital city of Victoria poignantly showcases the history of the land through the centuries. Acknowledged as the one of the top ten museums in North America, the third floor of the museum houses the First Peoples gallery. From the dramatically crafted original totem poles to the model of a typical aboriginal village to the story of the Nisga’a, people of the Nass River, the exhibits bring to life a vibrant culture that has lost many of its legacy to the passage of time.

Victoria is on the southern tip of the Vancouver Island surrounded by water on three sides and therefore has a mild weather. It is the gold rush in Alaska that helped Victoria grow as a port and a city – ships would stop on the way from Alaska and many of those who returned settled in Victoria and went back to their old trades. Tourism is big business in Victoria with 210 cruise ships coming in every summer, in some days the harbour witnesses the docking of as many as three cruise ships in a day, each disembarking as many as 2000 passengers. The Chinatown is one of the most interesting areas in the city and a must visit inclusion in tourist itinerary. Incidentally, this is Canada’s oldest Chinatown and the highlights include the Gate of Harmonious Interest, Dragon Alley, and numerous restaurants and shops.

Garden City

On way to another tourism highlight of Victoria – the Butchart Gardens, you will be passing through many of the 13 municipalities of Victoria, each with its own mayor, council and police department. Bucharest is Gardens was originally a limestone quarry owned by the Butchart family who turned it into a garden – they brought flowering shrubs from around the world and converted it into a 55-acre attraction which includes a Japanese Garden, a Rose garden, Sunken garden, fountains, ice skating rink, etc. The garden draws 1.25 million people in a year. A large number of visitors come during the 12 days of Christmas celebrations. The quaint restaurant at Butchart Gardens is an excellent location for afternoon teas. Also, known as Canada’s Garden City, some of the other green landmarks in Victoria include the Abkhazi Garden, Beacon Hill Park, Hatley Park, Victoria Butterfly Gardens and others.

Interestingly, the most imposing landmark in the city happens to be a hotel — overlooking the harbour, The Fairmont Empress is a striking structure with its ivy covered exterior and elegant architecture. The Government Street is the converging point in the city where visitors and residents alike soak in the languid atmosphere, watching the sea planes take off for Seattle or Vancouver or boat load of tourists excitedly going for a whale watching tour. The waters along Victoria’s coastline attract two types of killer whales (orcas) – the resident which eat salmons and the transient whales that eat seals. Whales travel almost 100 km a day, there are many who come to these waters for a day or two and go back to the sea. Between the months of May and October, visitors going on whale watching tours can see many of these killer whales that frequent the waters.

Vancouver highlights

While the city of Victoria relishes in its old world charm, Vancouver takes great pride in its cosmopolitan culture. Vancouver is the gateway to Alaska via the Inside Passage, which offers much more beautiful scenarios than the Outside Passage taken by Seattle departures. The Canada Place on Vancouver’s waterfront is a major hub in the city – it houses the Pan Pacific hotel, the old convention centre and a busy cruise ship terminal. The Canada Place now also has the latest attraction in Vancouver – FlyOver Canada. Visitors get a chance to go on an eight thrilling minute thrilling flying ride across some of the most fascinating sights in the country, along with the special effect of wind and mist.

Mega Initiative
For the very first time the Canadian Tourism Commission conducted a Super Familiarisation Tour that brought together 203 travel agents from 14 countries, including UK, Germany, France, Australia, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Mexico, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Brazil. The travel agents were hosted by the tourism departments of different provinces and toured across the country, finally meeting at the Niagara Falls. British Columbia hosted 21 travel agents from 11 countries. The British Columbia team came second in a presentation competition for all travel agents, with team Yukon bagging the first prize.

One of the most fashionable areas of Vancouver is Gastown with its Victorian architecture and cobbled streets. While the key landmark is Gastown’s famous steam operated clock (incidentally the world’s first), in recent times it is the trendy boutiques and shops that are the greatest attractions in the locality. Quite differently positioned is the Granville Island and its famous food market with its mélange of sights and smells that captivate the senses.

The sky ride to the Grouse Mountain gives visitors the chance to see its most famous inhabitants – the grizzly bears. Apart from the scenic vistas that Grouse Mountain offers, the other highlights for tourists include an interactive lumber jack show and Birds in Motion show. The area is also popular among the adventure buffs for various activities like mountain ziplining. During winters, skiing is the favourite activity in these mountains.

The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver’s North Shore area offers much more than its famous suspension bridge cliff walk and tree top adventures. Its history is a fascinating tale of passion and determination of the personalities who had the vision to create a tourist landmark like this more than a century ago. The colourful totem pole collection and other artefacts are fascinating showcases of the creative art of the First Nations people. For an immersive experience of connecting with the land, its history and ancient culture, the aboriginal canoe excursion in Cates Park, North Vancouver should not be missed.

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