When in Victoria and looking for something a bit different to do, the Harbour Ferries offer a variety of on-the-water options, and also serve as transportation for visiting places near the landing docks. The harbour ferries have a base dock at the waterfront across the street from the famous Empress Hotel.
Tours include the inner harbour (it’s Canada, harbor has a u in it), the gorge cruise, or a combo ticket to take both tours. They also offer water taxi service, with prices varying on how far people want to go or the option of a hop-on, hop-off pass to ride the water taxi around and see Victoria’s waterfront areas at will from shore as well as from the water. To visit more distant stops they also have harbour ferry service to places farther than the water taxis venture.
Tours start from the ferry base conveniently located in the inner harbour. The gorge cruise passes through the inner harbor on the way to the gorge, pointing out historic sites such as the red door in a brick wall which once led to storage for the first fort in Victoria. The fort once rose above the wall where businesses now stand near the two oldest buildings in town, a former bank and jail -conveniently located right next to each other where the sheriff could easily take anyone caught robbing the bank the short distance to the jail.
The ferry proceeds under the historic blue bridge. At least for now. The captain sadly stated that the bridge is slated for demolition in spite of its historic value and the fact that with the heavy counterweight it takes just a very small amount of power for a very small motor to raise and lower it.
The narrow Gorge Waterway continues for some distance past spacious homes where Victoria’s elite once lived, the oldest working shipyard around, and a restaurant with views of recycling in action at Vancouver Island’s car recycling center. Like many historic homes near water, houses in the area did not initially have sewers. With an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude, the waterway became the dumping ground for just about everything.
Swimming marathons and other historic water-based activities ended when the water became too polluted for safe swimming. In recent years clean-up activity began. It started with private people in boats pulling junk up from the bottom. Eventually the city of Victoria joined in the clean-up effort. The Gorge Waterway once again has clean water for swimmers (including harbor seals) to enjoy.
Very rare for Canada’s British Columbia province, where shorelines are crown land, permanent private docks line the Gorge Waterway, grandfathered in as the private homes there had them before the shoreline laws existed.
The harbour tour started much the same as the gorge tour, passing seaplane docks and the brick wall with the red door. It turned before going under the bridge and stayed in the more populated inner harbour area, viewing acres of expensive condos and rows of houseboats. It stopped at places like Fisherman’s Wharf where people could get off and catch another ferry later if they wanted to spend some time there.
Without leaving the boat, the harbour tour takes about 45 minutes. The gorge tour takes an hour, and when doing both on a combo ticket there may be a wait in between if the next boat is not at the dock when the first one arrives, or if it is already full. The inner harbour has plenty of things to fill a possible wait time with a number of food stands and craft booths, and sometimes live entertainment.