Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Jack Knox: Well done, Victoria, you passed the guest test

When Stacie Holmes drove off the Anacortes ferry at Sidney on Canada Day, she gulped at the sight of the parade-related traffic jam.
Tourists watch a busker in the inner harbour on Wednesday, July 3, 2019.

When Stacie Holmes drove off the Anacortes ferry at Sidney on Canada Day, she gulped at the sight of the parade-related traffic jam. Except when other drivers saw the North Carolina woman’s licence plates they made a hole, and kept making holes until she got to where she needed to go. That made a good first impression.

Likewise, Josh McFarland’s first look at Victoria has been positive.

“It’s really clean here. That jumped out at me,” says the Portland, Oregon man. “And everyone’s super-friendly.”

Similarly, Alys Milner has enjoyed her fourth visit in five years. “Canadians are nice people,” says the San Jose, California woman. “I love the general kindness. You forget about that.”

Um, has anyone asked her about Trump?

“You’re the first,” she replies, with a smile.

Congratulations, Victoria, on the Fourth of July, we have passed the guest test.

This shouldn’t be that hard. When you invite guests into your home, good manners dictate that you treat them well — that you don’t, for example, point out (just in case they didn’t know) that they elected a punchline as president.

The problem is, sometimes Victorians can get a little judgy, transferring to the 800,000 U.S. tourists who trod our streets each year our feelings about guns, the wall, tariffs or other irritants.

“I mean, how could you elect Trump?” we ask, as though being pestered about the president was how the Americans hoped to spend their holidays. It comes out sounding like “How could you have slept with Bob?”

That’s us at our worst, betraying a smug sense of superiority that is, alas, as Canadian as hockey, poutine, or bragging about our modesty.

At our best, we’re the people Americans described Wednesday when I wandered around downtown, randomly buttonholing tourists about their experiences here — about what we’re doing right as hosts, what we could do better.

Honestly, they gushed. Sarah Lynch liked seeing menus that offers wild-caught or free-range food. Also, said her husband Mark, do we know how lucky we are to have wilderness so close to the city? It’s not that easy back in Connecticut.

Texan Todd Green was impressed by Victoria’s bus system.

“It’s consistent. It’s safe.” Ditto for the region’s cycling trails. “The Galloping Goose is so great.”

All appeared stumped when asked to think of a negative. McFarland, who finally offered up that it was initially a little hard to find a place to change currency, seemed apologetic that he couldn’t find something worse to say.

And everybody liked being treated well, which made Paul Nursey happy.

Nursey is CEO of Destination Greater Victoria — the new name for Tourism Victoria. Ordinary Victorians have a big role in making visitors feel welcome, he said. If you see someone looking a little perplexed on the street, ask if they need directions. Let them in on a local secret destination. “That’s the thing that sets us apart.”

Surveys show Americans — or, at least, those from Washington and the west coast — are drawn here by the promise of physical beauty, fresh air and a relaxed pace of life, but it’s what else they find that makes a difference.

“The payoff is a surprisingly vibrant place, with more to see and do than they expected,” Nursey said.

That was reinforced by the Americans interviewed at random on Wednesday. They enjoyed the predictable attractions: the Royal B.C. Museum, the legislature, the water taxis and, of course, Butchart Gardens. (Victorians might not appreciate how big a magnet Butchart’s is; Nursey calls it our Niagara Falls.)

But they were also pulled by the unexpected. Holmes ended up on a tour of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian and its stunning stained glass windows. Milner found herself in the same church, listening to a noon-hour piano recital by Jorge Eduardo Flores Carrizales, a Mexican student at UVic. Green toured distilleries, wineries and a cidery. Eight or nine Americans took in one of A Taste of Victoria’s food tours, walking from eatery to eatery, sampling their fares.

Andy Olson, who owns the latter company, said he follows one strict rule: “There are two things I won’t talk about on my Taste of Victoria food tour. One is Alberta-B.C. politics. The other is Trump.”

That’s just being a good host, Nursey said. Put yourself in the visitors’ shoes. “You would hate for someone to speak negatively about your home.”

Park the politics and be as welcoming to tourists as you would want to be welcomed.