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Accessible Victoria

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Inner Harbour and Parliament Buildings in Victoria BC | Tanya Goehring
Inner Harbour and Parliament Buildings in Victoria | Tanya Goehring

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Miguel Strother is a Vancouver Island-based writer whose life changed dramatically when his 41-year-old wife suffered a stroke that left her immobile and unable to speak. As lifelong travellers, Ineke and Miguel, along with their two children, are finding ways to adapt their lifestyle so they can keep exploring and experiencing the province and—when it’s safe—the world.

We know it’s a little selfish, but as Vancouver Islanders and frequent visitors to Victoria—and as a family with mobility challenges—we think social distancing measures look really good on BC’s capital city.

Royal BC Museum, Victoria | Jordan Dyck
Royal BC Museum | Jordan Dyck

Things to Do

Victoria’s idyllic beauty means that popular attractions like the Royal BC Museum, The Butchart Gardens, and the Parliament Buildings are usually teeming with visitors, particularly in the summer months. And while the city remains committed to accessibility, that volume can present challenges for disabled travellers. But as Victoria reimagines itself in response to COVID-19, and would-be visitors explore closer to home, that little bit of extra space provided us some much-needed room to move.

Our journey can be tough at the best of times, so breaking out of quarantine and into the tranquil luxury of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel came as sweet relief. Highlights of the lauded hotel include two excellent restaurants and a magnificent ocean-side mineral pool and hot tub, complete with food and beverage service. The views from the pool sweep across the San Juan Islands all the way to the Olympic Mountains in Washington State.

Harbour seals at Oak Bay Marina | @locallovesvi

Just steps away from our ocean-view garden suite was a secure gate made for quick access to a neighbourhood that ranks among Canada’s most exclusive postal codes. Even with limited mobility, we were able to easily reach the Oak Bay Marina, the Victoria Golf Club, and a variety of nearby amenities, including one of our favourite cafes, Ottavio Italian bakery and delicatessen.

While its tiered, lush garden patio is a bit of a mobility challenge, we managed to navigate Ottavio just fine with some help from the friendly locals and staff (there’s also a wheelchair ramp). With flower-scented air, strong coffee, and sweet pastries, we started our Saturday morning in style. A quick tour of the surrounding shops on Oak Bay Ave was also enjoyable, but shopping was not our priority on that day.

Ogden Point Breakwater | Tanya Goehring

The dynamics may have changed slightly since our days together at the University of Victoria, but Ineke and I are, and always have been, all about the long walk. From in-town Victoria escapes such as Mount Douglas Park or the panoramic views along Dallas Road, to more rural routes in East Sooke Regional Park or China Beach, the region in and around Victoria is a brilliant place for a stroll. And one of our favourites remains Ogden Point.

Ogden Point edges James Bay, the eclectic former neighbourhood of famed Canadian artist Emily Carr. We continue to venture along the 1.8-km breakwater when we visit  Victoria because it is such a good surface for those with mobility challenges. And thanks in part to social distancing measures, on this particular trip we were able to make it all the way to the lighthouse at the end and back without having to dodge joggers and others out for a little exercise.

We didn’t drop in this time, but the Breakwater Cafe + Bistro at the end was buzzing with people clearly happy to be enjoying a bite out. With cargo ships and coast guard vessels mixing with kite surfers and pleasure crafts, all backed by open-ocean views, it simply couldn’t have been a better reminder of why a trip to Victoria is always a good idea.

A view of the hot tub and pools at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel | Hubert Kang
Hot tub and pools at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel | Hubert Kang

Places to Stay

The Oak Bay Beach Hotel was quite a treat, but it’s not the only accessible accommodation option in the market.

The Parkside Hotel & Spa has spacious, apartment-style, accessible rooms. These include barrier-free showers with seating and grab bars, as well as easy patio, pool, and elevator access. It’s close to downtown, but quiet enough for a walk. And we love the rooms with stunning garden views.

Fairmont Empress in Victoria | Jordan Dyck
Fairmont Empress | Jordan Dyck

The Fairmont Empress is the most recognizable hotel in Victoria, and its location on the Inner Harbour is especially hard to beat. The hotel has four wheelchair-accessible rooms with king beds, one of which has a roll-in shower. All the hotel amenities are wheelchair accessible, including the dining room and lounge. And whether you’re staying at the hotel or not it is well worth a visit for its famous afternoon tea.

The Inn at Laurel Point in James Bay is a beautiful example of Arthur Erickson’s high design and commitment to style, with accessible king or two queen bed suites available. The washrooms are Rick Hansen Foundation-certified and have a deep soaker tub. The terrace-style balcony has glass railings and views of the harbour. Be sure to ask specifically for the Erickson wing. It’s more pricey, but worth it. And if you can time it right, this is an absolutely magical spot for cherry blossom viewing in the spring.

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