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Notes on the Geography of Canada (B.C.): Victoria's Houses 1

American visitors rave about Victoria's beauty and its civility. The charm centers on houses and gardens: bungalows and flowers galore. The label Garden City fits, even if--like Beethoven's Appassionata--it's corny.

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"That's it! That's the one I want." So speaks she who must be obeyed. The house itself is modest, but the lot is deep.

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Less inviting: Government House, the official residence of B.C.'s Lieutenant-Governor. The house itself is from the 1950s--and as dowdy as Canada of that day. Still, Government House set a tone for up-scale residential development in the city's formative years.

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Only the porte-cochere dates from then.

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Or 1912, to be precise.

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Across the street from Government House, Craigdarroch Castle is a monument to the success of James Dunsmuir, Vancouver Island's coal magnate. Dunsmuir died before its completion, and it wound up sawed-off. Inside, there are oddities but also a magnificently panelled central staircase with blonde oak by the carlot, all sawn in Arkansas, milled in Pennsylvania.

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Almost a cottage in contrast.

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This time, shrubbery is allowed to hide the lower floor, as though the owners didn't wish to preen.

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Updated with lighter colors, this bungalow spreads out on the waterfront and looks east to the Cascades of Washington. "Not half bad," you're thinking.

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A hilltop eyrie, now cut into apartments.

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The owners here have pretty much given up on gardening, but people with long memories remember that the garden here was once stocked with many mature (and valuable) plants.

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A bungalow is squeezed onto a small lot in the Fairfield district. To the right, one of the city's many awful but inevitable apartment buildings. Their construction is bitterly opposed, but where else are young people to live? Certainly not in half-million-dollar homes like this one.

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Similarly downscale, but on a big lot and very well maintained.

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Barely visible, but you can see why tourists gasp at they drive around.

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A baby bungalow, tidy on a rock outcrop. That's real leaded glass.

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Land values are so high in Victoria that the will to subdivide often proves irresistible. This house originally sat on 2.5 acres not more than 300 yards east of Government House. It had no dormers, the hedge was lower, and the view was unobstructed over wildland sloping toward the sea. Developers were up to the challenge. Six houses now share the land, and the old backyard is now mostly street and driveways. In 1968, the rent for the "unimproved" version was $225 a month.

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