In the city of Victoria, British Columbia, a trip to Butchart Gardens during the winter holiday season is an annual event for our family. I don’t have to worry about remembering to schedule our visit. My daughter Nikki, who is now 8, each fall comes to me and says “don’t forget we want to go see the lights in the garden.” We first took the family when Nikki was 4, and she fell in love with the winter wonderland that is Butchart. To watch Nikki and her younger brother Jason gaze in amazement at the lights, and explore the park while all bundled up for winter, is one of our favorite and most delightful adventures.
The Christmas Light-Up Ceremony on December 1st is our preferred date, when they have free rides on the carousel and turn on literally tens of thousands of colored lights. Evergreen swags and wreaths of holly and winter berries line walkways and festoon lamp posts. We don’t always make it for the lighting because of holiday scheduling conflicts (school plays, things like that), but we stay at the Accent Inns Hotel in Victoria (lovely and inexpensive) and get to the Gardens sometime during the holidays, because the kids love it! We start by walking around and just absorbing the visual spectacle, the magnificent light displays, and discover the displays depicting the Twelve Days of Christmas tucked into the landscape at various points. Then we stop at the Piazza for the caroling and traditional holiday music. The kids haven’t tried ice skating yet, but it’s coming soon, so we stop by and watch the skaters each year. It’s a wonderful, magical time – no wonder this is one of the top attractions in Victoria BC.
Of the many gardens in BC, one of the most famous is Butchart Gardens, a world renowned garden occupying 55 acres, with stunning floral displays. To answer an often asked question, it is pronounced “Butch-art” Gardens. The Butchart Gardens history always fascinates me. Robert Pim Butchart manufactured cement, and came to the west coast of Canada because of rich limestone deposits essential to cement production. He and his wife Jennie built their home near his quarry on the Tod Inlet. Jennie began to shape this magnificent landscape in 1904. She established, in the style of the grand estates of the period, several distinct gardens to
evoke a range of aesthetic experiences.
The original estate, which the Butcharts named “Benevenuto” (“welcome” in Italian), is now a National Historic Site of Canada. The residence, one of the prime attractions in Victoria BC, is still privately owned by Butchart heirs, and the family’s commitment to horticulture and hospitality continues to this day. In 1909, when the limestone was exhausted, Jennie set about transforming the quarry into the dramatic Sunken Garden, a reflection of the early 20th century beautification movement, and an exceptional achievement in Canadian gardening history. The Butcharts later replaced their tennis courts with an Italian Garden, and their kitchen vegetable garden became an impressive rose garden. Through successive generations of the Butchart family, the Gardens has retained much of its original design, and continues the Victorian tradition of seasonally changing its outstanding floral displays. During the summertime, Saturday nights include the spectacular Buchart Gardens fireworks.
When we go, the kids invariably start at the Rose Carousel, the only one on Vancouver Island, and one of their favorite things to do in Victoria. It is comprised of a menagerie which includes bears, horses, ostriches and zebras. I overheard one visitor from New Zealand comment “we love this beautiful carousal, it’s so much fun!” The Carousel is housed within the Children’s Pavilion, with its high dome, full-fronted glass façade, and a roof planted with native plant species. We really enjoy spending time at the Pavilion when we visit – to watch the wonder in my children’s eyes makes the whole trip worthwhile.
When we get a bit chilled, we love – my wife loves – to stop into The Dining Room and have a bit of tea, (she really likes the Garden Peppermint, made with slow dried peppermint leaves). The kids get impatient and haven’t learned to appreciate the Cornish pasties, but I’m trying to educate them, and though our stop is short, it’s one of my favorite elements of the park. A stop for evening tea is a great way to pace the kids so they don’t burn out too quickly running around. Located in the original Butchart Family residence, it has spectacular views of the Private Garden, the Italian Garden, and Tod Inlet.
With the lights, displays, and wonderful atmosphere, for a holiday excursion, you can’t beat the Butchart Gardens.
Margaret (Maggie) Weiss is a high energy, adventure seeking, travel-holic. She has traveled the globe looking for her next great expedition. She’s also a mom of 3 beautiful girls and wife. She loves to write about things to do in Victoria and her favorite places to stay and visit with her family. Follow her on twitter @missmaggieweiss