When she isn’t painting in her downtown studio, artist Laura Harris finds inspiration while walking around her hometown, Victoria—a city on the tip of Vancouver Island offering ocean views on three sides
Tapping into the energy of Victoria, British Columbia, Laura Harris’s large-scale abstract paintings captivate viewers in galleries across Canada, high-profile private collections, and corporate environments such as Ritz-Carlton hotels and the offices of Mercedes-Benz.
“My family has been in the city for four generations, and for good reason,” she says. “Since the 1960s, Victoria has been a creative hub, with the emergence of the university’s art department, and now with the rise of the so-called ‘makers movement’. We have a thriving scene for jewelry making, clothing design, music, and art of all kinds.”
The hottest property market of 2018
Considering Victoria’s mild climate and cultural flair, it’s easy to see why the city ranked as the hottest (primary) luxury housing market in the world in 2018, beating Orange County and San Diego, among other high-value locations. The market continues to be buoyant, with even more availability of homes over USD $2 million than last year, according to Jack Petrie, managing partner of Newport Realty, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the city.
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“Victoria is the sweetheart capital of British Columbia because of its beauty, its invigorating sea-swept air, the snow-capped mountains, Douglas Fir trees, year-round tourism and double the sun days of Vancouver and Seattle,” says Petrie, adding that the city’s population of 90,000—or 350,000 if you include the outskirts—is an eclectic mix of retirees, hipsters, university workers, artists, tech entrepreneurs, and government staffers.
There is a vibe and an energy in the air that’s particularly good for stoking creativity.
Petrie’s clients like the fact they can golf and walk year-round in Victoria without battling slush and snow. As in the rest of Canada, the political landscape is relatively untroubled, making it particularly attractive to American buyers with dual nationality. Victoria is a bike-friendly city, with dedicated cycle lanes provided on many of the roads, and popular mountain bike trails at the wooded Bear Mountain Resort.
“This is a cordial place,” says Petrie. “Visitors comment that it has an almost nostalgic feeling. We have neighborhoods with both turn-of-the-century homes and modern design. Exclusive urban areas such as Rockland, Fairfield, and Oak Bay have huge trees and views of the water.”
Living and working in Victoria
Between the landscape, the climate, and the culture, artists like Laura Harris have many reasons to set up studios in Victoria.
“There is a diverse mix of people to keep things interesting—tattooed skateboarders and pierced chefs next to millionaires at the same café,” says Harris. “There is a vibe and an energy in the air that’s particularly good for stoking creativity.”
“The city’s cultural calendar is jam-packed,” she says. “Along with year-round programming by Ballet Victoria, the Belfry Theatre, and Dance Victoria, there is the Victoria International Jazz Fest (June 22—July 1) and the Symphony Splash event in the inner harbor (August 5). It’s magical. The orchestra sets up on a barge and there are fireworks overhead.”
Harris also recommends a trip to the Royal BC Museum to walk through a recreation of Old Town life in the 1800s, then a visit the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria to see the only authentic Japanese Shinto Shrine in North America.
“For contemporary art, wander through the Martin Batchelor Gallery and Madrona Gallery downtown, just an eight-minute walk apart, then head to Oak Bay for the Winchester Gallery,” advises Harris, who accepts visitors at her spacious loft studio on Yates Street by appointment. “To get a feel for what emerging artists are doing, there’s the Arc.hive, an artist-run center with exhibition space and studios on site.”
For fine dining downtown, Harris orders the penne at her favorite Italian restaurant, Zambri’s, or the steak frites at Brasserie L’Ecole—often preceded by a dirty martini at her favorite cocktail lounge, Q Bar in the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
“In Oak Bay or Rockland, you can easily walk to Vis à Vis for charcuterie, cocktails, and craft beer, or the Penny Farthing Public House for classic British comfort food,” says Harris. When her sweet tooth beckons, she has two chic destinations. “Fol Epi is a wonderful organic bakery that makes artisanal French pastries, and Bon Macaron Patisserie—run by two transplanted Frenchmen—is a delight. They have an astonishing selection of macarons filled with buttercream and ganache.”
Retail therapy downtown and beyond
If you want to shop, Victoria is a known destination for fashion and lifestyle retail, whether you’re seeking women’s clothing boutiques or a man’s tailored suit.
“Downtown has many independent fashion boutiques, like Hughes, Bernstein & Gold, or Outlooks for high-end menswear,” say Harris. “But I’m happiest when browsing through the linens and homewares at Open House and Pigeonhole in Rockland. You can find local designers, leather handbags, and unique items from all over the world.”
What better way to end a shopping spree than with a visit to the spa? “Without question, the most relaxing experience in Victoria is at Boathouse Spa on Oak Bay beach. The outdoor mineral baths are literally on the ocean—seaside. It’s spectacular.”