The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Victoria: Off The Beaten Track

By Moira Macdonald,The Seattle Times (TNS)

Victoria is unofficially the Tearoom Capital of British Columbia (and the Pacific Northwest), and for good reason–you can’t take three steps in this pretty waterfront city without stumbling over a teacup or two. Visitors have long been directed–actually, it’s almost an enforced requirement in Victoria–to the tea lobby in the Empress Hotel and the tearoom at the Butchart Gardens, both of which are charming but tourist-crammed and expensive.

It’s quite possible, however, to have a perfectly lovely time in the British Columbia capital without visiting either of these places.

I spent a couple of days there earlier this spring, and found historic homes, gardens and off-the-beaten-path attractions galore–none crowded, all delightful, and some even equipped with tearooms. (This is Victoria, after all.) And I suspect the Butchart Gardens didn’t miss me one bit. Here are my five favorite discoveries from the trip.
Hatley Castle

Didn’t know this place, a gorgeous 1908 castle-style residence surrounded by lavish gardens, existed? I didn’t either–but, it turns out, I’ve seen it on screen: Numerous movies and television episodes have been shot here; most famously, it played Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the 2000 superhero movie “X-Men.”

Built for former B.C. premier and lieutenant governor James Dunsmuir (whose father, Robert, built the beloved Victoria landmark Craigdarroch Castle–a popular must-see, if you’ve somehow missed it in past trips) and occupied by his family until the late 1930s, Hatley Castle is now part of Royal Roads University and open to the public.

The 40-room house, constructed in Tudor Revival style, has a grand “Downton Abbey”-ish front hall and staircase, soaring ceilings, and jewel-box stained-glass windows everywhere.

Although the castle is a working building for the university and therefore contains few original furnishings, it’s easy to imagine what life there might have been like, particularly when you stroll the elegant gardens and loggia, perfumed with breezes from the sea.

Gazing toward the water, I felt as if I should be in Edwardian attire; perhaps as a Canadian equivalent of Downton’s Lady Mary, but with a more serene, romantic life.

About an 8-mile drive from downtown (or, if you’re carless like I was, about a 40-minute bus ride followed by a half-mile walk), Hatley Castle is open every day, and looks especially glorious in the sunshine; you might just spot a peacock, as I did, strolling across the lawn. Castle/garden access via guided tour (just the house’s first floor) is $18 Cdn. ($14.50 U.S.) for adults; admission to just the gardens is Cdn. $9.50/adults ($7.25 U.S.).

Buy tickets in the gift shop in the castle’s basement.
2005 Sooke Rd., Victoria; 250-391-2600, ext. 4456, or
Point Ellice House

Located in an unprepossessing industrial area near downtown (you can even get there by water taxi), this enchanting 19th-century home/museum is crammed full of Victoriana _ the furnishings, clothing, and possessions of the O’Reilly family, who owned the home for more than a century.

History buffs will enjoy the vintage kitchen gadgets, the elaborate wallpaper, the peaceful setting (note the lush garden, ready for a picturesque croquet party and equipped with a charming heart-shaped flower bed), and the way the whole place looks as if a Victorian family just stepped away for a moment. An open book, pages down, is left on the couch, as if its reader might be nearby.

There’s a gift shop, and a tearoom/cafe, O’Reilly’s, where you can get a tasty lunch. Admission is $6 adults ($4.83 U.S.), which includes optional audio tour; house and tearoom are open through September (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). 2616 Pleasant St., Victoria, 250-380-6506 or
Abkhazi Garden

The teacup-sized version of the Butchart Gardens, this is one of Victoria’s hidden treasures–a bucolic garden created by Peggy and Nicholas Abkhazi, whose personal story seems right out of the movies.

He was an exiled Georgian prince who met her, a Shanghai-born British orphan and globe-trotter, in Paris in the 1920s; they were separated by World War II, when both were interned in prison camps. Reunited after the war–neither had known if the other had survived–they married and made their way to Victoria, where they happily spent four decades cultivating their garden on a large lot on a leafy neighborhood street.

Now open to the public, with the Abkhazis’ 1940s bungalow turned into (what else?) a tearoom, the hillside garden is a delightful refuge, dotted with ponds, sculpture, winding paths and quiet nooks. A note for romantics: the prince and princess’s ashes are scattered in the north garden, with instructions to onlookers from Peggy (who died in 1994, surviving her husband by seven years) to celebrate, with a glass of Champagne, her reunion with her beloved Nicholas.

Open daily during the summer; closed Mondays and Tuesdays during October through March; $10 donation ($8.05 U.S.) requested. 1964 Fairfield Road, Victoria; 778-265-6466 or
Emily Carr House

A short walk from the Inner Harbor is the butter-yellow Victorian home in which the painter Emily Carr spent her childhood; it’s now owned by the province and operated as a museum. Carr, one of Victoria’s most famous natives (she was born in the house in 1871 and died, just a few blocks away, in 1945), was inspired by Canada’s native tribes, with totem poles and forests frequent subjects of her work.

Her home, open May through September, is both a shrine to her (you can watch a video about her life and art, and peruse books about her, in the sitting room) and a pleasantly cluttered peek at 19th-century family life in Victoria. Like Point Ellice House (though a bit less grand), you sense the presence of former inhabitants, with vintage coats dangling from hallway pegs.

In the gift shop, you can browse copies of Carr’s memoirs, or peek at the whimsical contemporary children’s-book series about the Carr House Cats, written by curator Jan Ross’s daughter Darien (who grew up living upstairs at the Carr House). Admission is $6.75 for adults ($5.43 U.S.); the house is open Tuesday-Saturday through Sept. 30. 207 Government St., Victoria; 250-383-5843 or
Victoria Public Market

A relatively new addition to Victoria’s downtown (it opened in 2013, in the former Hudson’s Bay building on busy Douglas Street), the Victoria Public Market is still finding its way; my visit found many alluring sights and aromas but few customers. But it’s great fun to wander through the cavernous building and inspect the various storefronts.

There’s a farmers market every Wednesday and Saturday, and a number of resident vendors where you can buy meats, seafood, baked goods, flowers, cheese, tea–whatever you might need for a picnic.

At the delicious-smelling bakery The French Oven, a sign boasted a quote from Dr. Who: “I always like toast in a crisis.” With tea, of course. 1701 Douglas St., Victoria; 778-433-2787,
If you go

Where to stay

Visiting in early May, I lucked into a special spring rate of $179 Cdn ($146 US) at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, a monochrome (everything’s white or brown) but delightful nest of luxury.

Pros: gorgeous room that I never wanted to leave (that bed! that tub!), sweet and knowledgeable staff, Wi-Fi and parking complementary, several on-site dining options, quiet and scenic waterfront location.

Cons: pricey if you can’t find a deal; a bit of a haul from downtown if you don’t have a car., 1175 Beach Dr., Victoria; 250-598-4556.

Also worth considering: The ever-reliable grande dame of Victoria hotels, the Fairmont Empress (est. 1908), is a treat for history buffs–and has the best location in town, presiding serenely over the Inner Harbour (, 721 Government St., Victoria, 250-384-8111).

Just a few blocks away is a nice budget alternative: the James Bay Inn, a historic building (painter Emily Carr lived her last days here) on a quiet street near Beacon Hill Park, where clean, basic rooms start at around $100 Cdn. ($80 U.S.)., 270 Government St., Victoria, 250-384-7151. For more hotel options, see

For more hotels, and tourist information, see.

Photo by Kyle Pearce via Flickr

Oscar Predictions: Will The Weepies Win?

By Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times

It’s Oscar time. Got your handkerchief out?

It’s long been an accepted bit of Oscar wisdom that weepy movies win. That is, dramas prevail over comedies and sad performances win out over cheery ones. (Cheery ones, in fact, rarely get nominated; just look at this year’s list of nominated acting roles and see if you find any happy, well-adjusted people.)

Like most bits of Oscar wisdom, this one is mostly if not entirely true. (One word: Titanic.) So, in the spirit of the occasion, we’ve laid out a helpful Oscar sob-o-meter, by whose standards the big winners Sunday night should be 12 Years a Slave, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club and Gravity. All winners those categories should plan on choking up at least once during their acceptance speeches, in tribute.

The Oscar broadcast, with host Ellen DeGeneres (not somebody we normally associate with weeping, but somebody’s got to offset all that drama), gets under way at 8:30 p.m. EST Sunday. Here’s a look at how the major categories might unfold.

Best picture

12 Years a Slave looked like a lock for this award before it was even released: a Big, Historical epic, based on a True Story, about an Important Issue. That it happens to be a masterfully made, wrenching film seems to turn the key — or does it? It seems certain that the Big Two awards (best picture, best director) are down to a Big Three: 12 Years, Gravity and American Hustle, and many are calling for a picture/ director split. I’m thinking 12 Years takes the top prize, but I wouldn’t be shocked to hear either of the other two titles. The other six films in the category? Congratulations, and no way.

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

My vote: Gravity

Wish you were here: Much Ado About Nothing

Best director

I’ve never quite understood how the best-directed picture might not be the best picture, but so be it. Things were split last year (Ben Affleck, director of the best picture winner Argo, wasn’t even nominated for director), and they might well be this year, with Oscar voters recognizing the amazing technical — and soulful — achievement of Alfonso Cuaron in Gravity. Of course, Steve McQueen is out in front too, for 12 Years a Slave, and David O. Russell’s coming off a stunning three-movie run (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, all in the space of four years). Less likely are frequent nominees Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street); it’s not their year.

Prediction: Alfonso Cuaron

My vote: Cuaron

Wish you were here: Stephen Frears, Philomena

Best actor

It appears that the Great Career Revitalization of Matthew McConaughey will be completed by a win in this category, and certainly his performance in Dallas Buyers Club has Oscar written all over it (true story, dramatic physical transformation, character who becomes a better person in adversity) — and is pretty terrific to boot. But don’t rule out a sentimental vote for Bruce Dern (Nebraska), who’s been campaigning hard this season, or for voters to note the emotional power of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance in 12 Years a Slave. Also nominated, and likely to stay in their seats: Christian Bale (American Hustle) and Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street).

Prediction: Matthew McConaughey

My vote: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Wish you were here: Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips

Best actress

This is a powerhouse category: The five nominees have 38 Oscar nominations among them; nearly half (18) belonging to Meryl Streep. She won’t win — her August: Osage County performance felt over-the-top even by Oscar standards, and this race has been dominated by Cate Blanchett ever since Blue Jasmine came out last summer. Blanchett’s never won Best Actress (her win for The Aviator a decade ago was in the supporting category), and her performance in Blue Jasmine is a gem, in a career full of them. Possible competition: the well-liked Sandra Bullock, who was the gentle soul of Gravity; a late-career win for Judi Dench, for Philomena; or an Oscar for the only woman in this category who’s never won one before — five-time nominee Amy Adams (American Hustle).

Prediction: Cate Blanchett

My vote: Blanchett

Wish you were here: Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Best actor in a supporting role

Interesting crowd here: all young (Jared Leto is the oldest, at 42 — and who would have ever seen Leto as an elder statesman?), no previous Oscar winners, three first-time nominees (Leto, Michael Fassbender, Barkhad Abdi). Leto, who won the SAG supporting actor award, would seem to have the momentum; but don’t rule out Abdi, who just won a surprise BAFTA and has an endearing backstory (when cast in Captain Phillips, he was working as a limo driver and had never acted before). Jonah Hill might be the best chance The Wolf of Wall Street has at an Oscar, but he’s still a longshot here; Fassbender and Cooper will have Oscars in their future, but likely not this year.

Prediction: Jared Leto

My vote: Michael Fassbender

Wish you were here, in every way: James Gandolfini, Enough Said

Best actress in a supporting role

Here’s who’s not going to win this category: Julia Roberts, whose movie (August: Osage County) doesn’t have enough support, and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), whose fine work is nonetheless overshadowed by Blanchett. Then it gets interesting. Will voters go for the familiar — i.e., Jennifer Lawrence, who won an Oscar last year and who’s hilarious in American Hustle? The new — i.e., Lupita Nyong’o, heartbreaking in 12 Years a Slave? Or the sentimental vote — i.e., 84-year-old June Squibb, enjoying her first Oscar nomination for Nebraska? I’m thinking it’s a dead heat between Lawrence and Nyong’o, with the latter eking out the win.

Prediction: Lupita Nyong’o

My vote: How on earth do you compare these two performances? I say a Jennifer Lawrence / Nyong’o tie.

Wish you were here: Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station

Photo: Cliff via Flickr