By sea and by land: Rolling on and off the water on a drive and ferry trip to British Columbia

By Gary A. Warner

The Orange County Register (MCT)

Published: Saturday, Oct. 20 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

To Victoria

Distance 20 miles by car

Quote: "S-O-C-I-A-L-I-S-M is the only way. S-O-C-I-A-L-I-S-M is here to stay."

— "Canadian Dream," song by Sam Robertsheard in downtown Victoria shopping area.

Along the way: The Fairmont Empress Hotel, Victoria. Built in 1908 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as the western crown jewel of its string of transcontinental, castle-like hotels, it's a grand outpost of colonial-style British tradition in the far west of Canada.

Good eats: High tea, Fairmont Empress Hotel. No import recalls the old country more than that most expensive yet wondrously pretentious experience of "high tea," a formal riot of pots and silver, scones and jams, finger sandwiches and the extraordinary creation from Devonshire, clotted (like your arteries afterward) cream. Our bill came to $152 for two people, including tip. The price is steep, but having Earl Grey and a plate of cucumber, curry chicken, tuna and salmon sandwiches at 4 p.m. is more than enough for me as both lunch and dinner for the day. 721 Government St.; 866-540-4429; www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria

Why Victoria: The most British bit of British Columbia. It was "discovered" in March 1778 by Capt. James Cook, the British explorer who seemed to have "discovered" every other place between Alaska and Kauai. One of Cook's senior officers was William Bligh, he of the future HMS Bounty mutiny. Within a year, Cook would be killed in Hawaii, his head cracked open in a fight with natives over a small boat.

To Courtenay

Distance 147 miles by car

Quote: "The British who came west loved British Columbia. They made it more British than Britain."

— George del Falco, who moved to British Columbia 39 years ago from Ontario in eastern Canada.

Along the way: Paradise Fun Park in Parksville has two "world class" 18-hole miniature golf courses. The easier one is called Surf n' Turf, but I manned up and went for the tougher Treasure Island, built around the three-masted S.N. Sinkaputt. Around the hills, down the slopes, past the cuckoo clock and the sign noting it is 4,773 miles to London, I battled bank shots, chutes, clanking drawbridges and windmills. Result: Eight over par. A round will cost you $7.50 Canadian. 375 W. Island Highway; 250-248-6612; paradisefunpark.net

Good eats: Atlas Cafe, Courtenay. An eclectic mix of Canadian, Japanese, Greek, Mexican and anything else the chefs set their minds to. You can start out with hummus, continue with togarashi tuna salad and then have the sockeye salmon burger. The approach is more whimsical than pretentious, so expect to share the room with local families and serious foodies out for a romantic night. 224 Sixth St.; 250-338-9838; atlascafe.ca

Why Courtenay: It's the nearest major town to the ferry port at Comox. Since it wasn't ski season and the hordes weren't heading up to nearby Mount Washington, the plentiful supply of motel rooms made for a cheap night after the high life at the Empress. And it's a great place to see streaking Canadian jet fighters over the waterfront from the big base just to the north.

To Powell River

Distance 33 miles, mostly by ferry

Quote: "This was supposed to be a worker's utopia. The owners cared. Healthy hearts. Healthy hands. Healthy minds. Happy employees would make good citizens. For a long time it worked. The foundation of this town is unlike just about anywhere."

— Ann Nelson, former Anaheim and Buena Park, Calif., resident living in Powell River.

Along the way: The Patricia Theatre. Run by Nelson and her son Brian, the lovingly restored 1928 theater is the centerpiece of the town's renaissance as an arts community. The restoration of old homes and shops has spurred a mini-boom, with the population now at 14,000.

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