Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Victoria's Gardens

Though intended to capture the spirit of the entire country, Epcot's Canada pavilion is a very charming pastiche of Victoria, British Columbia. It's understandable that it would be very difficult to encapsulate the second-largest country in the world in a mere one acre of space, with all of its variety and ethnic diversity, and therefore they focused on the space around one particular city. While the cobblestone streets upwards of Hotel du Canada are intended to represent the old city of Quebec, and the mountains are apropos of nothing since they're the wrong colour and shape of anything in Canada, the combination of grand hotels, English heritage, Native totem poles, and beautiful gardens is most clearly indicative of that quaint city on the Pacific Coast.

Epcot's Canada.
Epcot Canada's Victoria Gardens.
An actual photo from Victoria... Not Epcot's Canada!
The Empress Hotel in Victoria's Inner Habour.

One of the main features of Epcot's Canada is the Victoria Gardens, which have two main inspirations. The first of these is Victoria's main civic park, Beacon Hill Park. In its past, the hill served as a lit marker for passing ships to save them from running aground. Now it is as charming and sculpted an English pleasure ground as can be found anywhere outside of the British Isles. Sundial gardens, cricket pitches and putting greens are set between lily ponds and weeping sequoia. One half expects to see Mary Poppins cavorting over stone bridges on a jolly holiday.

A memorial to Robbie Burns, set in a putting green.

Yet this is not the British Isles. This is the farflung coast of the colony, as far West as one can go before they find themselves in the Far East. Wild spaces still erupt from Beacon Hill's green, manicured lawns. Local tradition is that the fields of wild Camus flower formerly nurtured by local First Peoples reminded the English settlers of their homeland, their Spring blossoms blooming in nostalgic, melancholy shades of blue. Into Autumn, these same fields have turned gold, dessicated by the harsh ocean wind blowing in from the Salish Sea. These grasses fringe bubbling bedrock and gnarled Gary Oaks. Within the park is a reminder of the people who came before: one of the world's largest totem poles. Beacon Hill itself stands over all, fields declining to a rocky shore, a windy sea and the Olympic Mountains beyond, so frequently masked by mist and fog.

The second influence - identified by name in the pavilion's signage - is the famed Butchart Gardens. In 1904, Robert and Jennie Butchart moved from Ontario to Vancouver Island to develop a cement factory which, upon the quarry's exhaustion, became a grand ornamental garden. The Butchart Gardens are a floral fairyland, with various themed gardens, like the Mediterranean and Italian Gardens. Garden designer Isaburo Kishida was imported from Japan to create the Japanese Gardens which, while still impressive are not much like Japan. They also created gardens specifically for roses and a star pond for Mr. Butchart's collection of fancy ducks.

The Private Garden and former Butchart residence.

The Italian Garden.
The Star Pond.

Two views of the Japanese Garden.

The most iconic of the gardens is the Sunken Garden. It is not merely iconic because it is famous, adorning millions of Canada's tackiest souvenirs and even replicated in a fashion at Epcot's Canada pavilion. It is iconic as a metaphor for Victoria, British Columbia and Canada. To reach it, one must pass through a grove of cedar, fir and fern, the constituents of the primeval forest. Yet pathways are paved through it, lined in the rough rocky walls that are so common to Canada's national architecture. Then one sees the Sunken Garden itself, sunken because it rests in what was once a limestone quarry. It is stunning in its colour and its attempt at carving order from chaos. Still, it is pressed in by ivy-covered limestone cliffs crowned with the forest. The Sunken Gardens are symbolic of the Canadian experience as an Old World nation eking itself out of the New World, with stunning beauty both natural and civilized.

Epcot's Canada Pavilion is a charming pastiche and it is certainly interesting to see what other people decide is significant to depict about your own country. If one is romanced by what Epcot has to offer, then I may humbly suggest taking a trip to the authentic thing in Victoria. Except for the bus trip or rental car one would have to take to Butchart Gardens, one can find Victoria's Inner Harbour, Beacon Hill Park, Chinatown, the Royal BC Museum, the heritage home of Canada's most celebrated painter Emily Carr, and the Empress Hotel all within a space only slightly larger than Epcot itself.

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