Western Canada #01 – Port Angeles & Butchart Gardens

September 19, 2017  •  2 Comments

May 2017

Western Canada #01 – Port Angeles & Butchart Gardens

This is the first of a set of travel logs for a driving trip through western Canada in late May and early June of this year (2017) including parts of British Columbia, Canadian Rockies and down into Glacier National Park in Montana.   I’m writing this in mid-September as wild fires are raging throughout the western half of North America in both the US and Canada, including many of the places we visited.  It’s hard to tell right now which areas have or will burn and which will be spared.  We are fortunate that we got to see, and photograph, some of these areas before the fires and hope that most of them will be spared.

As usual we started our adventure in Palo Alto California.  Rather than taking the more scenic US-101 route through the Redwoods section of Northern California, we opted for the faster, but more boring I-5 route all the way to Tacoma, WA where we hooked up with US-101 which took us to the ferry in Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula.  This is a 15 hour drive but we broke it up into 3 days with several days in the middle spent in Portland visiting our grandchildren.

We’ve taken the drive to Portland and the Olympic Peninsula on many occasions (you can see some photos on my website – www.danhartfordphoto.com) so for the most part just hightailed it along I-5 without any real sight seeing other than what flew by the windows.

Route from Palo Alto, CA to Port Angeles, WA
01 Map 1 - PA to Vicotira01 Map 1 - PA to Vicotira

Port Angeles

The best – well, the only – way to get to Victoria with a car is by ferry as Victoria is on an island.  In fact it is at the southern end of Vancouver Island.  Interestingly enough, the city of Vancouver is not on that island at all but is on the mainland.  There are several ferries you can use to get to Victoria and Vancouver Island from different ports on the mainland but the shortest hop is from Port Angeles on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula.

So, the real start of our Western Canada and Northern Rockies excursion actually started in Port Angeles.  Port Angeles is a small town with a population of around 20,000 on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula.  Currently its main claim to fame is as a base for tourists visiting Olympic National park which borders the town and as a ferry terminal to Victoria.  In addition to tourism of the national park, there are many other tourist activities based here such as whale watching, sea kayaking, deep see and lake fishing, hiking and biking.

The name Port Angeles goes back 1791 when Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza traveled here on an expedition from southern California. He named the harbor Puerto de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (Port of Our Lady of the Angels).  Like many such grandiose names, as English speaking folks started arriving in the mid 1800’s the name was anglicized and shortened to just Port Angeles.  Of course there was a succession of indigenous tribes here before those pesky Spaniards showed up not to mention the even more ambitious “Americans”.  But as was true throughout the entire history of the US, those native tribes were overrun and pushed out by the European settlers.

The first Europeans to the area tended to trade with the Native Americans and around 1856 a small whaling, fishing and shipping village developed, which traded with Victoria.  Shortly thereafter approval was granted to move the Port of Entry from Port Townsend to Port Angeles.  This came about when a local customs inspector, Victor Chase, convinced President Abraham Lincoln to designate 3,520 acres on the coast line as a federal reserve for a lighthouse along with military and naval purposes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers then created a federal town site on the reserve land and laid out the street plan which still exists today. In fact, Washington, D.C. is the only other city officially laid out by the federal government.  This led the U.S. Board of Trade in 1890 to dub Port Angeles as the "Second National City."  Even so, not many people moved to the area and the Port of Entry was returned to Port Townsend at which time Port Angeles sank into obscurity.

But the prospects for the town began to change when in 1884 a hotel was built and the trading post was expanded into the first general store for the area. A wharf was built and the town grew from around 300 in 1886 to 3,000 by 1890.  In 1914, large-scale logging began with construction of a large mill and a railway connecting the hinterlands to the mill. Other mills were soon built and the lumber mills supported the economy of the area for many decades.

In the 1950’s and 60’s tourism started to replace lumber as a major economic factor for the town.  This was especially true when the Hood Canal Bridge opened in 1961 that took a big hunk out of the drive time to the area from Tacoma and Seattle.  With the easier drive more visitors were drawn to the Olympic Peninsula by the mountains, rivers, and rainforest of Olympic National Park and by fishing and boating along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The mills began to close in the 70s and 80s until only one mill remained in operation.

And, for you NFL fans, Port Angeles is the birthplace of football Hall of Famer John Elway. At the time, Elway’s father Jack was the head football coach at Port Angeles High School.  And, while we are on the subject of entertainment, Port Angeles was the base for some Hollywood films.  The Strait of Juan de Fuca north of Port Angeles was used to film several scenes in the 1990 film, “The Hunt for Red October.” Plus, an Olympic Game Farm played a key role in early Disney nature films.

As is our custom (probably a character flaw) we arrived at the ferry terminal way early – which I suppose is infinitely better than arriving even a bit late when the target is a ferry.  So, we checked in, pulled our car into the queue, locked it up and went for a walk around town with the goal of scoring some cold med’s.  It’s a nice little town in a livable sense.  It is not oozing with quaintness or charm like Carmel but is just a place where people live and work and where tourists come to find a room and a meal. 

Port Angeles docks
03 7d2R02-#750003 7d2R02-#7500

Port Angeles Asian buffet
Port Angeles Asian BuffetPort Angeles Asian Buffet

Leaving Port Angeles, WA

05 7d2R02-#750705 7d2R02-#7507

Olympic Peninsula
Olympic Peninsula sky and waterOlympic Peninsula sky and water

Olympic Mountains above Port Angeles
Leaving Port AngelesLeaving Port Angeles


Strait of Juan de Fuca

After a very pleasant (albeit windy on the top deck when not in the covered seating area) passage across the Strait of Juan de Fuca (or if you are in Canada it is the Juan de Fuca Strait) we arrived on Vancouver Island and the city to Victoria 21 miles away.  This 95 mile long Strait is part of the border between Canada and the US and is a major shipping route to the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Victoria and Vancouver to name just a few. 

Okay, how many of you consider yourself at least vaguely knowledgeable of the Seattle/Vancouver area?  On the US side we have the Olympic peninsula and if you go east from there you cross a body of water and you hit Seattle, Tacoma and Everett.  To the north of the Olympic peninsula is Vancouver Island with Victoria.  If you go east from Victoria you hit the same body of water and come to the San Juan Islands, then if you continue you hit the main land where Mt. Vernon and Bellingham are.  That body of water extends from Olympia in the south past Vancouver and then another 230 miles where it empties into the Pacific Ocean as shown on the map below. 

02 Map 2 - Seattle-Vancouver area02 Map 2 - Seattle-Vancouver area

So, here’s the question.  What is that body of water called?  Did you say Puget Sound?  Ha!  Wrong!  Puget Sound is just the southern part of this large inland sea – basically south of Port Angeles.  The part north of the Strait of Juan de Fuca is the Strait of Georgia.  So, in reality the San Juan Islands are not in Puget Sound as most of us think, they are in the Strait of Georgia.  Ok, so what, then, is the whole thing called?  I didn’t know either.  The whole ball of wax is the Salish Sea.  Now you can impress your friends with this tidbit of knowledge not worth knowing.


Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens is located on Vancouver Island about a half hour drive north of Victoria.

Victoria to Butchart
08 Map 3 - Victoria-Butchart08 Map 3 - Victoria-Butchart

Butchart Gardens is one of the most popular attractions in Southwestern Canada with close to 1 million visitors a year.  This is nowhere near Disneyland’s 18 million (in 2015) but then this is a series of botanical gardens and not an amusement park (Disneyland:  A people trap operated by a mouse?).  But, unlike Disneyland, Butchart is a national historic site. 

It all stems back to a fellow named Robert Pim Butchart who started up a cement factory here in 1888 making Portland cement. He and his wife Jennie picked this location because the ingredients needed to make their cement was here.  Mostly this consisted of rich limestone deposits.  One of their quarries was on Tod inlet at the base of the Saanich Peninsula here on Vancouver Island so this is where they established their plant and nearby they built a house to live in.

However, Jennie was quite bored being sequestered so far from Victoria, out in the middle of nowhere.  So, when in 1907 a Japanese garden designer came over to build a tea garden in the Esquimalt George Park in Victoria, she invited him to build one for her on her estate.  And, that was the start of Butchart Gardens.

In 1909 things changed.  The limestone ran out and the cement plant closed.  Robert didn’t give up though and moved his operations to other locations leaving poor Jennie alone more and more.   The success of the Japanese garden became the start of a hobby which Jennie used to fill her time when Robert was away tending to his business. 

As one can image, a spent limestone quarry a few hundred yards from your home, with the remnants of a cement factory just a bit farther was not the most attractive thing to live with.  So, Jennie set about turning the quarry into a Sunken Garden.  This was completed in 1921 and is one of the most popular and photographed sections of the estate.

It was around this time that they began to receive visitors to their gardens. In 1926, she replaced the tennis courts next to the house with an Italian garden and in 1929 replaced the kitchen vegetable garden with a large rose garden to the design of Butler Sturtevant of Seattle.

In 1939, the Butchart’s gave the Gardens to their grandson Ian Ross on his 21st birthday. Ross was involved in the operation and promotion of the gardens until his death 58 years later and was instrumental in making it a tourist attraction.  This was possible as the automobile was becoming more prevalent and the upper classes of Victoria who were always looking for nearby destinations for a Sunday drive.

Over the years several new additions were installed, making the gardens more and more popular.  For example to mark the 50th anniversary of the gardens in 1953 (math must not have been their strong suit), miles of underground cabling was put in to provide night illumination.  To mark the 60th anniversary in 1964 a dancing waters fountain (the Ross Fountain) was added to the lower reservoir at the end of the sunken garden.

Today, ownership of the gardens remains within the Butchart family.

As you wander through the many different areas spread out over 55 acre, of course you’ll see a wide range of botanical specimens, constantly being changed with the seasons,  You’ll also find statues and artwork in strategic places not to mention a carousel and on many summer nights concerts and fireworks shows.

The sunken Garden built in the pit from a Limestone Quarry
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Bridge in the Japanese Garden
Red Bridge in ButchartRed Bridge in Butchart


Deciduous Azalea
Deciduous Azalea in Butchart Gardens #1Deciduous Azalea in Butchart Gardens #1


Water Basin in Japanese Garden
Garden TranquilityGarden Tranquility


Blue Peter Rhododendron
Blue Peter Rhododendron in butchart GardensBlue Peter Rhododendron in butchart Gardens


Deciduous Azalea
Deciduous Azalea in Butchart Gardens #2Deciduous Azalea in Butchart Gardens #2


Ross Fountain, sunken garden area
Ross FountainRoss Fountain


Nymph statue in Sunken Garden
Sunken Garden NymphSunken Garden Nymph


Dragon Fountain, Japanese Garden Section
Butchart Dragon fountainButchart Dragon fountain


Waterfall in Show Garden
Tropical Profusion  (Butchart Garden)Tropical Profusion (Butchart Garden)


Whimsical Bird Houses
Whimsical Bird HousesWhimsical Bird Houses


Italian Garden
20 5d3R03-#930220 5d3R03-#9302


I hope you enjoyed reading this final episode of our New Zealand trip.  Stay tuned for more blogs – our next one (already late) is a trip we took to British Columbia and Alberta Canada along with Glacier National Park in Montana.


This blog is posted at: 


Or, this whole series at:


These and other Images of this trip are posted in a New Zealand Gallery on my website. 

          https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/western-canada-2017-05   (all images)

          https://www.danhartfordphoto.com/western-canada-favs-2017-05  (subset of images)

Thanks for reading – Dan

(Info from Wikipedia and pamphlets gathered at various sites along the way along with attraction websites)


Bruce McGurk(non-registered)
Hi Dan -
I visited the Butchart Garden long ago, and it looks like I need to go again! Your photos are lovely, as usual, and I always appreciate the history and effort you put into providing the background on the images you take. Agreed that the long drive north from the Bay Area on I-5 is pretty darn dull, but it is the only expedient way to get 500 or 1200 miles north to where it gets good.

Hope all is well with you and Ellen.
Elaine Heron(non-registered)
Thanks. I love the fountain with the flowers and the bird houses!
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