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Len Heidebrecht (second from right) works with militia re-enactors during activities at Fort York on Victoria Day. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Len Heidebrecht (second from right) works with militia re-enactors during activities at Fort York on Victoria Day. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Tom Hawthorn

A festive weekend in the city named for a queen Add to ...

On her arrival in this city, Danda Humphreys looked up at street signs bearing what for her were unfamiliar names – Douglas, Yates, Blanshard. Who were those guys?

What began as keen curiosity 16 years ago has made her one of the city’s most popular amateur historians, an author and tour guide who calls herself “Victoria’s favourite street walker.”

On Saturday, she launched her fifth book, Government Street: Victoria’s Heritage Mile, with a signing at Munro’s Books, a splendid emporium in a restored bank building at – wait for it – 1108 Government St. Among the neighbouring businesses on Government are such establishments as Rogers’ Chocolates (at 913); W&J Wilson Clothiers (at 1221), which opened its doors on the site in 1862, and E.A. Morris Tobacconist (at 1116), which boasts a working, century-old electrolier with which smokers could light their purchases if only bylaws permitted.

The venerable shops along Government Street, popular with residents and tourists alike, are but one reason why celebrating Victoria Day here is the best place in the Dominion to do so.

The holiday marks the end of hibernation in other parts of the country, but in the City of Gardens it is beginning of festival season.

On Monday morning an estimated 75,000 spectators will line a downtown thoroughfare to watch the 114th edition of the annual Victoria Day parade. They will see clowns, bagpipers, 19 marching bands, a helium-filled balloon depicting a jet, a horse-drawn milk wagon and a larger-than-life puppet of Amor de Cosmos, a kooky character who was the province’s second premier.

After the parade, free tastings of a tea blended as a tribute marking the sesquicentennial of the city’s incorporation will be offered at Centennial Square. A black tea with honey and floral overtones has been blended by Silk Road Tea.

Then at 2 p.m., a bronze statue of Sir James Douglas by the sculptor Armando Barbon is to be unveiled on the front lawn of Government House. The public will then be invited to tour the main floor of the Lieutenant-Governor’s residence.

It has been a busy weekend in the city named for a monarch.

At Topaz Park, men in kilts tossed stones, hammers and cabers as part of the 149th annual Victoria Highland Games. Those of a less physical persuasion tossed back samples of single malts at whisky school, which is one pedagogical establishment where pupils do not begrudge homework assignments.

At Fort Rodd Hill, the 16th annual historic military encampment re-enacted life at the garrison, including the firing of muskets and small arms, as well as a tasting of daily rations, none of which, alas, included distilled malt barley.

Out in Langford, steers are wrestled, bulls ridden and broncos busted at the Luxton Pro Rodeo, the 37-year-old annual event that is now Vancouver Island’s last rodeo. Monday is the last day to see antique farm equipment on display, while hammer-wielding guildsmen will provide blacksmithing demonstrations.

Like so many others, Ms. Humphreys plans to take in Monday’s parade along Douglas Street, which is named for James Douglas, chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company and colonial governor of Vancouver Island. He succeeded Richard Blanshard, the colony’s first governor, who lasted less than two years in the post. James Stuart Yates, a cantankerous Scots carpenter who bickered with Douglas, opened the city’s first saloon.

When the townsite was laid out in 1852, the future city took the reigning monarch’s name as its own. What began as a fort and trading post on the traditional territory of the Lekwungen people became transformed by the discovery of gold on the mainland. On a single day in 1858, the arrival of a vessel from San Francisco filled with men with gold fever caused the city’s population to double. “Wild and woolly,” notes Ms. Humphreys. The influx made a rich man of Mr. Yates, who rented out shanties to merchants and saloonkeepers on his street. The city incorporated in 1862, a year in which horse races were held at Beacon Hill “in commemoration of Her Majesty’s birthday.” Thomas McCann, proprietor of the Phoenix Saloon, sold liquor from a tent at 12½ cents a glass.

This Victoria Day weekend (also known as the May Long, or May Two-Four, which can refer to the date on the calendar or the number of beers in the box) was splendid for all save for creatures of the ovine persuasion. They were sheared at the highland games, ridden by “mutton bustin’ ” children at the rodeo, and barbecued everywhere.

She would not be amused

The statue of Queen Victoria on the lawn of the B.C. Legislature is notable for depicting the monarch in midlife. What few know is that it is in the wrong place.

Premier Richard McBride commissioned the statue in 1912. The Dublin-born artist Albert Bruce-Joy executed the work based on a portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter that now hangs in Buckingham Palace. The work was unveiled in Britain in 1914, but the outbreak of the Great War delayed shipping until long after the armistice.

The statue is set on a granite foundation laid by the Prince of Wales and stands on a pedestal of blue Swedish marble. It was formally unveiled by the Governor-General, the Duke of Devonshire, in 1921. The sculptor refused to attend.

The statue was supposed to have been set in the middle of the lawns facing the main entrance of the building, facing south, the sun shining on the monarch’s face. Instead, the statue was placed curbside, facing north, overlooking the harbour.

“A bronze statue facing north looks like 16 feet of nothing,” the artist complained. “It is also so sited that anyone looking at it must stand right under it, go out on the roadway and be run over by a motor car, or fall backwards into the water of the harbour.”

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