British manners endure in this far outpost of empire. Bookings are essential to take afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel, overlooked by the statue of Victoria Regina herself.
For more casual diners, the top attraction is fish and chips on the harbour front, where the obligatory Canadian smalltalk is to blame for the long queue. When I visited last week, the city had just been ranked as the world’s ninth friendliest destination by Conde Nast Traveller. The local newspaper celebrated with the headline: Come to Victoria and enter the friend zone.
It must have been difficult for Victorians to that same week smash the twin touchstones of their identity, Britishness and politeness.
In taking down the statue of Canada’s founding father, John A Macdonald, feelings were hurt: a sign explaining its removal from outside City Hall was defaced with scrawls of “communism” and “1984”. It also struck at bonds to Britain: Macdonald, the former MP for Victoria, was born in Glasgow. His role establishing the system of residential schools for indigenous children prompted a reevaluation of Macdonald’s legacy.
In the USA, a campaign to topple statues of Confederate generals sparked deadly clashes. Imagine a bid to remove monuments to slave-owners Washington and Jefferson.
With characteristic relative quietness compared to its southern neighbour, Canada is slowly confronting discrimination and violence in its past.
It will be a complicated process: the newspaper that celebrated Victoria’s friendliness is called the ‘Times-Colonist’. Macdonald is largely unknown in Scotland. His birthplace, a flat above a pub, was recently bulldozed.
It is too easy for Scots to disown the legacy of empire. Canadians shouldn’t make that difficult journey alone.