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Three Weeks in British Columbia #10 – Tofino to Butchart Gardens

January 17, 2018

It was anything but easy to bid adieu to the Tofino coast. All too few places in our increasingly homogenized cookie-cutter world are able, or willing, to hold out against the forces of kitsch and style-sameness. But because Tofino is still unique, it’s a place we’d love to return to again. But Connie and I had deadlines to meet, and Byron and Kim jobs to return to (in Kim’s case, a classroom full of children).

Since the whole of Vancouver Island appeared to be booked up, Byron had a mighty tough time finding room vacancies anywhere in the south part of the island, much less anywhere near our destination, Sidney-by-the-Sea. Finally, at the very last minute, two rooms came miraculously open in the Sidney Best Western. We breathed a sign of relief, ate a leisurely breakfast, loaded up, and headed south on winding Highway 4.

Eventually, on hitting Highway 19, civilization began to swallow us up again. Housing and commercialization grew more congested with every passing mile. Our goal was to get a place on the Mill Bay to Brentwood Bay ferry. Once we reached the dock area, we were initially pleased that so few cars were ahead of us–that was before we chatted with some of the people around us. “Be forewarned, it’s a small ferry!” A small ferry? We hadn’t yet even seen such a thing in British Columbia. But since no one appeared to know just how many vehicles would make it on, we could only wait, and pick wild berries conveniently growing next to the roadway.

Finally, about an hour later, a small ferry boat docked and disgorged a small number of vehicles. A bit later, boarding began–we all but held our breaths: We made it–and we were only the 21st vehicle. Turned out the car just behind us didn’t make it, and would have to wait an hour and as half longer for the ferry to return.

Once on land, we headed to our next destination: the world-famous Butchart Gardens. In June of 2010, we had visited the fabled gardens for the fourth time. I titled my June 26 blog, “Measuring Our Lives by Butchart Gardens.” We’d first come here in 1968 before our daughter was born.

But now, here we were again, for the fifth time! And we wondered, Will it be ‘Same ol’ same ol’ this time? Since people come here from all over the world, and many, like us, return again and again, those who design the gardens are always changing trails and flower configurations and locations. Result: No two visits are ever the same! And each time, the gardens appear more beautiful than the time before.

How much poorer would be this earth if it was stripped of its beauty! Twould be like a lifetime of murky skies.

Or as Keats put it in his “Endymion”:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness, but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of quiet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

* * *

Would we live long enough to return here for the sixth time–only God knows.


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Yes, ‘tis true: we do just that. We first experienced British Columbia’s Butchart Gardens 42 years ago (Greg fondly remembers it; Michelle does not because it was dark in the womb—but she was there). We’ve returned to what most likely is the world’s most beautiful garden three more times, in every season except winter. Most recently, in mid May.

We cannot perceive of any garden in the world being more beautiful than it was this time. Tuips, azaleas, rhododendrons, pansies, primroses, and many other May-time flowers—as well as flowering trees and shrubs—made every turn in the path a vision of paradise.

Though each season has its unique loveliness, it’s mighty difficult to imagine anything more magical than the post-winter explosion of spring.

This time, at the very inception of cruise-to-Alaska season, hordes of tourists were being disgorged from buses, bringing delight to Vancouver Island business owners as well as those cruise ship passengers.

For the first time in four decades, I took a mental inventory of what we’d seen and experienced over the years. In retrospect, I now realized that Butchart was anything but a finished product: it had continued to change, evolve, expand. There were far more pools, brooks, streams, waterfalls, bridges; types of trees, shrubs, and flowers, than ever before. Earlier, it had been merely memorable and beautiful—now, it took your breath away. Of course, with people from all over the world making it a destination stop, with more and more cruise ships docking in Victoria because of it, Butchart owners have more than enough money to hire a veritable army of gardeners to manicure it on an hour-by-hour basis.

Something else I hadn’t noticed before—was kids. Bus loads of them. Most with check-lists in their hands, searching for items to check off, delighted to cross bridges or leap from flagstone to flagstone in pools, etc. Whoever declared that kids no longer appreciate beauty in their lives these days should have been there to listen to those awe-struck children and tweens! Butchart managers are wise to give them special rates, for no child I saw there will ever be the same; for the rest of their lives, they will make a point of returning whenever it’s possible to do so.

At the front of Butchart’s wall calendars is a condensed version of the Garden’s history—it’s now more than a century old. Robert Pim Butchart was the pioneer manufacturer of Portland Cement in Canada. In 1904, with his wife Jennie and two daughters, he settled on Vancouver Island at Tod Inlet, 13 miles north of Victoria. From 1905 – 1910, huge amounts of limestone were quarried from the area. Jennie Butchart sighed at how unsightly and downright ugly the vast pit was becoming.

Because she loved to have beauty around her, she decided to do something about it. She discovered that the mild weather conditions on the island made for perfect flower-growing. First, she planted rose bushes, then, with the help of laborers from the cement works, she developed a Japanese garden.

Word got out, and more and more townspeople from Victoria began to visit the gardens. The Butcharts named their home “Benvenuto” (Italian for “welcome”), and the grounds were always open.

It has remained open for over a hundred years now—with more and more people from around the world adding it to their personal Bucket List of places to see before they die. And more and more like me and Connie, feel impelled to return again and again.

Steinbeck must have envisioned a place like this when he read in Genesis 2:8

And the Lord God planted a garden eastward of Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. . . .KJV

When Steinbeck wrote his unforgettable novel, East of Eden, I can’t help wondering: When he wrote it, had he seen Butchart Gardens?