Shopping in Historic Old Town Victoria


Whether shopping or sightseeing is on your mind, it’s hard to beat what you’ll find in historic Market Square, Victoria’s premiere shopping district.  Nestled in buildings dating from the 1880’s and 1890’s, the height of The Garden City’s 19th century prosperity when Victoria served as a clearing house for the Vancouver Island’s natural wealth in seal skins, lumber, coal and salmon, you’ll find charming shops catering to everything from trendy boutiques to salons and spas to sushi.  There’s even a nightclub for those seeking evening excitement.

A Lurid History

Market Square is the former site of “the other face of Victoria.”  In the late 1800’s, Victoria was becoming a popular vacation destination, even hosting royalty on occasion.  However, this renown was presaged by the earlier Gold Rush years, and the present site of Market Square was not a place to get caught if one weren’t street-wise enough!  Johnson Street was a rough-and-tumble collection of saloons, shops and bawdy houses, with an eclectic population from around the world; while Cormorant Street – renamed Pandora Street – was the gateway to Chinatown, home to gambling and opium dens.

In fact, in 1887 when the U.S. banned the production of opium, Chinatown in Victoria, B.C. became the main supplier of North America.  Today, the gambling houses, opium dens and tawdry barrooms are gone, but as you wander the shops and nearby streets you can imagine what it must have been like to tread the seamier avenues of this frontier mecca which attracted so many prospectors looking for a good time!

Central to The Garden City’s Sites

Bordered by the trendy “LoJo” fashion and home decor Design Districts, Market Square boasts a location central to multitudes of shopping, sightseeing and strolling opportunities.  And China Town’s only a block away, opening up even more shopping and dining vistas; a short walk will even bring you to the Inner Harbor.  If you’re in the mood for some adventure and a change of scene, take a stroll and catch the Victoria Clipper or Coho ferries.

History in Abundance

Within easy walking distance one will find a surprising abundance of sights.  The Parliament Buildings and grounds, seat of British Columbia’s legislative assembly shouldn’t be missed, and are considered an architectural gem.

And if you’re in the mood for museums, be sure and catch the Royal British Columbia Museum – featuring the cultural and natural history of the province, and their Ice Age Sounds exhibit – and the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, with exhibits tailored to appeal to both curious adults and children.
One could go on and on.  Just pick a compass point from Market Square and start walking – you’re bound to hit a museum or historic building to explore, from the Royal British Columbia Wax Museum, to the Undersea Gardens, to the three diamond-rated Carlton Hotel or the Empress Hotel.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget the National Geographic IMAX Theater!

Full Circle

All roads – or walks – lead back to Market Square, where you’re as likely to stumble on one of the city’s many festivals and events, a fashion show, or an outdoor concert.

But what makes Market Square some of the most relaxing shopping around are the beautiful surroundings.  Dining in the open-air courtyard which dominates the center of the Square, surrounded by Victoria’s historic brick buildings and colorful hanging flower baskets, you’ll feel unaffected by the rush of modern Victoria as you simply take in the scenery and breathe the heritage.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Amazing Vancouver Island and a clickable link back to this page.

Publisher of Amazing Vancouver Island. Doug grew up in Kamloops and Vancouver. He is also the President of KIAI Angency, an Internet Marketing and Branding agency in Vancouver. He is an avid photographer and you can see his many pix of Vancouver Island on Flickr.

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