When you think of the Butchart Gardens, images of the Sunken Garden or watching fireworks are usually the first to come to mind.
But an often overlooked attraction is exploring the garden and the surrounding area by boat.
The tours started five years ago and staff say they’ve become a popular addition to the park.
The two 12-passenger boats embark on a 45-minute tour from the garden, motoring along Tod Inlet and skirting the shoreline of Gowlland Tod Provincial Park before returning around Brentwood Bay.
Sitting in the Jennie B. — named after Jennie Butchart, the wife of Robert Pim Butchart and the leading force in turning the former limestone quarry into the garden it is today — you’re able to gain a new perspective on the garden and realize the size and history of not only the attraction, but the surrounding area.
A second boat, named R.P. after Robert, was added two years after the tours began, to help ease the passenger load.
John Myers has worked as a captain on the boat tours for just two weeks but has fallen in love with the job.
“My favourite time of day down here is 6:30, when the winds are changing, the water is perfectly still and it’s just pristine marine. I love it,” the former member of the Royal Canadian Air Force said.
As they travel in the electric boat up Tod Inlet, passengers are able to see some of the ruins of the old limestone quarry and cement plant that made the Butcharts their fortune after the quarry was developed in 1904.
A smokestack hidden behind some trees and the decaying remains of what was the old loading dock in the early 20th century are all that hint of the quarry’s past existence as a source for cement in growing markets from Victoria to San Francisco.
The rugged beauty of Gowlland Tod Provincial park on one side, and the historical remains of the quarry dock on the other, instils a sense of peacefulness in passengers.
“I liked learning the history of the gardens,” said Ed Armstrong of Canmore, Alta., who was enjoying the tour with Dolores Janzen.
The second half of the tour saw the boat go around Brentwood Bay, with passengers admiring the large boats moored in the bay as well as the multimillion-dollar homes.
Tours run every day from mid-May until Sept. 15.
Tours start at 11 a.m. and leave every half hour until 5 p.m.
On Saturdays, the boat runs from 11:30 a.m. till 7:30 p.m.