By Tess van Straaten
Bundled up in our warmest scarves and hats on a chilly Saturday afternoon — at least by Victoria standards — we anxiously wait at a temporary trolley stop near Chinatown, excited to embark on one of our favourite holiday traditions.
“I see them, I see them!” my youngest son yells, jumping up and down as a large horse-drawn trolley comes down the street.
Decked out with garlands and large candy canes and led by a driver with flowing purple hair, the Downtown Victoria Business Association’s free holiday trolley stops in front of us. Passengers jump off as new ones climb aboard for a truly Victorian experience. Making our way through the oldest part of the city, the driver points out special spots as we marvel at downtown all decked out for Christmas.
The clip-clop of the horses is briefly drowned out by carollers, roaming the streets and bringing good tidings and holiday cheer. After finishing a complete loop, it’s time for us to hit our next holiday spot — Canada’s National Gingerbread Showcase. But first, the kids gladly feed the horses a treat as a thank-you and we toss a tip into the bin for the driver.
As we walk down Government Street, we stop for hot chocolates. They warm our hands as we walk along the Inner Harbour and follow the water pathway to the Inn at Laurel Point where dozens of incredibly intricate, whimsical and sometimes zany gingerbread creations are on display.
The Gingerbread Showcase, a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity Victoria, takes gingerbread houses to a whole new level. One year, there was a massive gingerbread tree that looked like the tree of life from the Lion King. Another year, a chef created a precariously balanced replica of the ‘House that Jack Built’. Needless to say, it’s my son Tate’s favourite holiday event.
Darkness has fallen as we walk back to the Inner Harbour and the sky — an inky black — is lit up with the twinkling lights of the B.C. Legislature and all the decorated ship masts. It’s truly magical and we linger for a moment to take it all in before stopping at the Hotel Grand Pacific to see all the dressed up teddy bears at Bear Wear.
Christmas trees are next on our list and they don’t disappoint. Dozens of masterfully decorated and themed trees — including a truck tree and CHEK TV’s television tree — fill The Bay Centre. The hugely successful event, a fundraiser for B.C. Children’s Hospital, is one of our favourite holiday traditions.
But we’ve saved the most thrilling holiday attraction for the end — a 20-metre high Ferris wheel at Centennial Square. Climbing high above the nearby buildings the view is spectacular, if a bit scary. But as I look out on the city I’m thankful for our West Coast Christmas. We may not have snow, but we sure know how to get in the holiday spirit.