Summer in Victoria is a special time of year when the city really comes alive. Patios are packed, people stroll along sunny downtown streets, buskers fill the fragrant air with music, and beaches are busy with the sights and sounds of summer. While it can get hot, most days the weather is perfect for being out and about on foot whether you’re walking the shoreline to catch the ocean breeze, doing some shopping at our local boutiques or exploring the many incredible heritage sites that are all over the city. For a relatively young colonial city, Victoria has lots of incredibly beautiful and important heritage buildings that are fascinating to visit and with so many to go to, we’ve made a handy list of our favourite heritage spots around the city! 

  1. The B.C. Legislative Buildings 

Also known as the Parliament Buildings, the BC Legislative Buildings have been one of Victoria’s landmarks since 1897 when it was completed for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. During construction, only local materials were used which makes this impressive building a testament to the raw materials found on the island and the architectural elegance of the Victorian Era. As impressive as it is on the outside with the domed oxidized copper roofs, a grand facade and stately grounds, the interior is equally magnificent. Every stately room and hall is adorned with gold leaf, filigree, beautiful murals, stained glass and various artifacts. Here you can have a free guided tour and learn about all the most important aspects of the building, see pictures from important moments in Victoria’s history and for those interested in Canadian politics, you can even watch the action when the legislature is in session! At night, thousands of lights strung all over this impressive historical structure creating an air of whimsy and majesty.

  1. The Empress Hotel 

Built in 1908 by the same architect as the B.C. Legislative Buildings, Sir Francis Rattenbury, The Empress Hotel is a stunning piece of architectural history. While walking along the Inner Harbour, you won’t be able to miss the enormous chateau-style building that overlooks the water and encompasses an entire city block. While it may be a heritage building, over the years, no expense has been spared to ensure that the Empress always looks her best. The entire hotel has been updated to bring it into the twenty-first century while being exquisitely maintained as a heritage site. You can see in the dining rooms that Victorian era opulence has been seamlessly moulded with forward thinking interior design that is sure to impress even the most discerning visitors. 

  1. Craigdarroch Castle

Built by local coal baron, Rober Dunsmuir in the 1800s, Craigdarroch Castle is a beautiful heritage site nestled in the lovely neighbourhood of Rockland. Today, thousands of people visit each year to marvel at this stunning modern-era castle that boasts 39 beautifully preserved rooms, stately staircases and soaring turrets. Take a wander at your own pace on a self guided tour and be transported to another time.

  1. Hatley Castle 

In 1908 James Dunsmuir, Robert Dunsmuir’s son, completed the construction of Hatley Castle. This grand estate was his home until his death in 1920 but remained the personal residence of his wife and daughter until 1937. Since that time, the castle has had an interesting journey through time as a Canadian naval training base, Naval college, military college and finally as the administrative offices of Royal Roads University. It has also had a foray into Hollywood when it was the setting for the mutant school in the X-Men movies. Today, visitors to Hatley Castle can opt for a self guided tour and walk the expansive Edwardian-style gardens and grounds, a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon. 

  1. Emily Carr House

Tucked away in the beautiful neighbourhood of James Bay is the childhood home of the famous Canadian painter, Emily Carr. Known best for her abstract painting of the BC wilderness and her appreciation for and affinity with the First Nations people of BC, Emily Carr remains an important artist in Canadian history. Living life on her own terms, Carr spent many years travelling alone to remote parts of BC to live with different First Nations groups, drawing and painting what she saw. In addition to the visual arts, Carr was also an author and wrote many books, most notably, her novel Klee Wyck which won the Governor General’s Gold Medal for Literature. Today, you can see many Emily Carr paintings at galleries and museums, but the Carr house provides something different. Rather than a museum, it is an interpretive display of Carr’s life, work, passions and legacy. For anyone wanting to learn more about her unique life and rebellious spirit, the Emily Carr House is a must-see. 

  1. St. Anne’s Academy

Right on the corner of Beacon Hill Park, before you get to the hustle and bustle of the Inner Harbour and Government St., you’ll find the sweeping grounds of St. Anne’s Academy. In 1858, the chapel was constructed which marked both the beginning of the Academy as it stands today and was the first Roman Catholic Church in Victoria at the time. By 1910, the rest of the building was completed and it became a Catholic Girl’s school until it’s closure in 1974. Today, guests can visit the stunning chapel adorned with stained glass, a beautiful altar and a pipe organ from 1913. On a sunny afternoon, St. Anne’s gardens are lovely to wander through. Explore the formal garden, the summer house alive with perennials and a lush herb garden. Spending a peaceful afternoon at St. Anne’s is the perfect activity for a hot summer day. 

  1. Helmcken House 

Marooned on a paved pavilion, Helmcken House in Thunderbird park, right outside the doors of the Royal BC museum, looks out of place. Officially the oldest house still standing, this heritage house has been preserved in its entirety and stands on the site that it was originally built. The house was built for Dr. John Helmcken by the Hudson Bay Company as he was a prominent employee of the company and highly respected. Dr. Helmcken became an incredibly important figure in Canadian history not only as a medical professional but because he eventually became the founder of the British Columbia Medical Association and one of the three negotiators that maneuvered BC to becoming an official province of Canada. As a visitor, you can tour the house and see how life for people in 1920 Victoria was as well as getting a glimpse into the medical bag of a 19th century doctor! 

  1. Point Ellice House 

In the early days of Victoria, Irishman Peter O’Reilly immigrated to BC and landed a prominent position as one of the first Gold Commissioners and Judges during the gold rush in BC. This lucrative vocation landed him in higher social circles where he met his wife, Caroline Trutch, the sister of the first Lieutenant-Governor of BC. After the two were married, they moved to Point Ellice house which became the social venue for the city’s elite for many years. Originally built in 1861, Point Ellice House provided the O’Reillys with the lifestyle that they sought. The property boasted immaculate lawn tennis courts, perfect croquet grounds and the spacious home hosted many parties throughout the roaring twenties. After the O’Reilly’s children were grown and the house passed to Peter and Caroline’s grandchildren, their grandson decided to sell the home and the entirety of the contents to the Province. Since the purchase of the house, it has been kept in immaculate condition with all the furnishings, trinkets and everyday items left in their place for visitors to experience. Walking through Point Ellice House is like walking into 1900s Victoria – truly a trip into the past!

  1. Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse

Built in 1860, the Fisgard Lighthouse, positioned on the entrance of Esquimalt Harbour was originally a beacon to guide the British Royal Navy’s Pacific Squadron as they came into Victoria. In 1929, the beacon was automated but for sixty nine years a lighthouse keeper was stationed at Fisgard Lighthouse to ensure the beacon functioned and kept vessels safe. Today, visitors can see artifacts from the history of the lighthouse including displays detailing the life of a lighthouse keeper, the west coast storms and ships lost at sea. Additionally, this is a stunning location to watch the sunset, get a glimpse of our marine life and watch the sailboats drift through the water on a warm summer evening.

  1. Mungo Martin House 

While technically the ‘youngest’ building on our list, the Mungo Martin house, built in 1953 is an important landmark in Victoria. Its construction was an important step in mending relationships between First Nations Peoples in BC and the colonial Government as it was precipitated by the demolition of a previous First Nations style building that was both inaccurate and inauthentic. The Kwakwaka’wakw big house that now stands in Thunderbird Square is a smaller replica of a famous big house of Chief Nakap’ankam in Tsaxis (Fort Rupert) and was built using traditional materials and techniques. The house and accompanying totem pole are both carved by Mungo Martin himself, considered to be the greatest Kwakwaka’wakw carver of his time. The unveiling of the house was celebrated with the first legal potlatch since the potlatch ban 1889, a major step toward reconciliation between the First Nations and colonial BC. The house that stands today is testament to both the artistry and importance of the First Nations Peoples. 

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