We are cruising along beach drive on Vancouver Island in our search for the Palm tree capital of Canada. Beach drive follows the shoreline of the Sannich peninsula running from down town Victoria to the village of Sidney. On route is the community of Oak Bay which bills itself as the palm tree capital of Canada, Cue the warm ocean breezes. Oak Bay started a program to encourage planting Windmill palms to reinforce the Banana belt image of Vancouver Island. The southern end of Vancouver island has parks, museums, shopping, pubs, and is more British than Britain, so if Palms trees are not your thing then you still won't be disappointed when you visit.
Windmill palms ( Trachycarpus fortunei) are Hardy Palms that originate from the rain forests on the lower slopes of the Himalaya Mountains and have adapted well to Southern Vancouver Island’s temperate climate. Interested purchasers at the annual plant sale, are advised to arrive early to avoid disappointment. They sell Windmill palms, Gary Oak seedlings and Monkey Puzzle trees.
On this sunny June day we are searching for Palm trees on Beach drive. The breeze is a little chilly, but the sky is deep blue, with puffy white clouds and it looks like an island paradise. Victoria boasts an average of 2,183 hours of sunshine yearly, and an eight month frost free season. Although winters are mild and rarely include snow, warmer clothing may be required, even on a June day when a brisk breeze blows off the ocean.
We don’t find windmill palms waving in the breeze on every corner, but we do spot a few, but no monkey puzzle trees. Conservation groups, were against planting palm trees, and more concerned with saving native Gary oaks. Conservationists prefered protecting and restoring representative patches of the oak ecosystem which existed before waves of settlement irreversibly altered Victoria’s natural environment from 1843 onward. The Garry Oak Ecosystems claim to contain more diversity than any other terrestrial ecosystem in British Columbia. Beautiful wildflowers, ferns, mosses, insects, birds and mammals, and many endangered species are found in these park-like environments.
The windmill palms we spotted added an exotic flavor to the landscape and were a welcome addition. There are plenty of Gary oak groves, and if promoting Vancouver Island and the Victoria area as the Palm Tree Capital gets more people to visit, that's great. Visitors won't be disappointed.
Victoria has the reputation as being more British than Britain, with an assortment of pubs where you can grab a cold beer, or if you prefer, afternoon tea, at the stately Empress Hotel is a big attraction. The BC legislature buildings, and the Royal BC museum with the Imax theatre are both worth a few hours of exploration. Walking downtown Victoria is fun, there are dozens of small stories catering to tourists with a distinct Canadian, British feel.
Book a Victoria harbour tour or catch one of the hippo fleet , buses that also double as boats, a very unique experience. Butchart Gardens has a beautiful display of flowers and the gardens are lighted at night.
While spending an afternoon walking tour, check out the parks especially Beacon hill park. The gardens, fountains, petting zoo, and wandering peacocks are perfect for an afternoon outing for the whole family.
Cruise beach drive and keep a lookout for deep sea ships heading out to sea from the Port of Vancouver. Explore the waterfront parks and beaches. On our drive we spotted an eagle eating a fish and great blue herons hunting the shallows off the beach. We finished off a perfect day with ice cold beer, and sandwich at a beach front pub in Sidney.
The Palm Tree Capital is a great destination, so come count the palm trees the next time you visit British Columbia.
Information from tourism BC
Getting there from Vancouver