Couple in Victorian attire turned away from Butchart Gardens

A Port Townsend couple committed to a Victorian-era lifestyle and dress created a social-media stir after being denied entry to Butchart Gardens in Central Saanich.

Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman travelled to Victoria to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary on Aug 11. The Washington state couple planned to stay a few days and visit Butchart Gardens — booking tickets and lunch online in advance.

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According to Sarah Chrisman’s post on her blog, This Victorian Life, when they arrived at the gardens, they were refused entry because they were told costumes are not allowed.

Butchart Gardens spokeswoman Dale Ryan said the local attraction has a longstanding policy of not allowing costumes or costume-like attire, although religious or cultural dress is permitted.

“It’s on the front page of our website,” said Ryan, noting the policy has been part of garden-etiquette guidelines for more than 20 years.

Ryan said the purpose is to make sure everyone can enjoy the gardens without distraction.

“It can take away from the experience,” she said.

Sarah Chrisman was wearing a Victorian-style high-collar, floor-length striped dress and hat. Gabriel Chrisman wore a suit and hat.

Sarah said their outfits were not costumes, but part of their everyday dress.

“Our clothes are wrapped up in the most intimate way possible with our own identities,” wrote Sarah Chrisman, pointing out she has written books on their lifestyle and clothing.

They have also been featured in several magazines and on NBC News and daytime talk show The View.

She said the couple was offered staff uniforms for the visit, but refused and demanded a refund and cab ride back to Victoria (they took the bus there), which Butchart Gardens provided.

The Chrismans decided to spend the rest of their visit exploring the city and said they enjoyed Beacon Hill Park, Craigdarroch Castle and Abkhazi Garden: “We have many lovely memories of your city, and we will not let those memories be sullied by our recent experience.”

The blog post about the couple’s Victoria visit was shared more than 200 times and received hundreds of comments.

“After a difficult experience, it is really touching to see that there are so many good people in the world,” Sarah Chrisman told the Times Colonist.

“Sadly, we encounter dreadful ignorance and intolerance all the time … But, in spite of it all, we refuse to let other people dictate how we should live our lives. We hold firm to our principles and our ideals.”

She had not heard from Butchart Gardens.

Ryan said visitors’ clothing is rarely an issue. She said she received a few emails about the Chrismans’ blog post, but “not a huge response.”

Ryan said Butchart Gardens will update its garden etiquette policy to provide more details about what attire is appropriate.

“We would never want to put someone in an uncomfortable position,” she said, adding she was not sure if the Chrismans would be contacted directly.

Ryan noted that other attractions have similar policies — the Disney theme parks, for example, don’t allow extremely loose or long clothing or costumes on anyone over the age of 14.

“It’s a safety issue,” she said.

The garden-etiquette guidelines also prohibit rollerblades, selfie sticks at the fireworks, spreading of ashes and wedding attire outside of specific dates.

According to a TripAdvisor review from 2014, one young couple was turned away when she wore a white summer dress and he wore a grey suit, even though it was not their wedding day.

The Chrismans said they were told another duo in a ladybug and bumblebee costume was turned away.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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