Victoria, BC is a fun place to just wander, and this time Ruth & I found a surprise, some unexpected, mostly developed alleys. We began by looking for unique shops and found some. Two of them specialized in paper products. Another was an old-fashioned tobacconist called Old Morris that sold British pipe tobaccos. Cowichan Trading’s specialty was sweaters made by members of the Cowichan tribe. My favorite was Murchies, where I bought some teas. Black Currant is the best one. After shopping we headed for Fan Tan Alley.
Fan Tan Alley, is said to be the narrowest street in Canada. It’s in Victoria’s Chinatown, the second oldest one in North America and home to Asian food stores, import shops, and more. One magazine described this area as quirky. I found it traditional. Only San Francisco’s Chinatown is older. Fan Tan Alley attracted Chinese laborers after gold was discovered in 1858 in British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon. They stayed because the gold rush lasted for more than 70 years. The ladies at the tourist information spot at the harbor told us to also check out Dragon Alley, which was just as interesting as Fan Tan.
Next and accidentally, we also found Waddington Alley, which today is little more than a pedestrian cut-through. During the Canadian gold rush, however, it was a place of saloons, gambling dens, and disreputable dance halls. Alfred Waddington built it to lure customers to his businesses. Helmcken Alley is thought to be haunted with unexplained piano music heard on occasion.
We found Theatre Alley but it was undeveloped, unlike Trounce Alley. Chinatown’s Fisgard Street was definitely Asian, and we learned later that Chinese children were banned from attending the public school on it until they learned English. Trounce Alley, 3 1/2 blocks from Fisgard, was fully developed and quaint with historic gaslights. The city forced Trounce’s architect to put up gates at both ends of it because it became a rendezvous point for prostitutes. Stella’s Brothel was less than a block away.
if you make it to this thriving Victorian city on Vancouver Island once known for retirement perks but now attracting families, track down its alleys and my favorite tourist attraction, the Bug Zoo on Courtney Street.