You are in Victoria on Vancouver Island and are looking for a day of literary fun? Check out this handy bookcrawl guide inspired by The Victoria Bookshelf. Pack a little picnic, and let’s go!
University of Victoria Bookstore
Buy a day pass for the bus (currently 5 CAD) and take bus 4 up to the university grounds in the north of Victoria, where the first store on the tour can be found next to Exchange Bay 1. As the university bookstore, it features everything students might need from required reading over notebooks to university merchandise. A vast array of academic non-fiction from all programs offered by the university is balanced with a well-stocked fiction section. After your visit, stroll the campus to spot deer, owls, or rodents.
Book recommendation: Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them by Shakil Choudhury
Return on bus 4 and get off at Hillside at Shelbourne. While Bolen Books is located in the rather unappealing Hillside Mall, the store itself has a friendly and well-organized interior. As a bookstore aimed at serving all tastes, interests, and age groups, it offers graphic novels, cookbooks, travel writing, self-help books, science-fiction and fantasy, games, puzzles, and gift cards.
Book recommendation: The Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust
Return to your trusted friend, bus 4, and exit at Hillside at Quadra. Turn right onto Quadra Street to find the Camas Bookstore at number 2620. It is the first specialty bookstore on our tour. To locals, it is simply known as “the anarchist bookstore”. It is named after the camas flower, a flower with cultural importance for the First Nations in the area. All staff are volunteers who promote alternative ideas and community through the store’s large selection of left-wing and anarchist non-fiction. As in every alternative space, you can find a corner with free items. Have a look around the surrounding neighborhood of Quadra Village before you go on the next stop.
Book recommendation: The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
Sorensen and Chronicles of Crime
If it’s a sunny day and you’re wearing comfortable shoes, follow Quadra Street towards the town center and eventually turn left onto Fort Street. If it’s rainy and you’re unsure whether you might need your walking power later on, take bus 6 to Downtown, get off at Quadra at View, and turn left. Our next stop at 1048 Fort Street is a two-in-one bookstore: When the building with her shop across the street was torn down, Cathy, the owner of Sorensen Books, moved in with Frances, the owner of Chronicles of Crime. While Sorensen has a focus on books from the 1940s and 30s as well as art and history, Chronicles of Crime, as the name suggests, specializes in everything to do with crime fiction and even offers writing classes to aspiring mystery and crime writers. The age group of 18 to 35-year-olds is their largest consumer demographic. Asked about the impact of online shopping on book sales, Frances says they have nothing to worry about: People still value bookstores with dedicated and passionate staff.
Book recommendation: Vanishing Games by Roger Hobbs
Turn right and follow Fort Street to another bookstore gem: Russell Books at 734 Fort Street is one of Canada’s largest secondhand bookstores. You can browse the labyrinthian building with stacks of used books on every topic imaginable for hours. Friendly and knowledgable staff are available in store and on the phone to help you find exactly what you are looking for. The store features an antique book section, has its own merchandise consisting of t-shirts and mugs with its logo, and puts on events regularly. If you find yourself exhausted after this visit, check out the Dutch Bakery & Coffee Shop nearby.
Book recommendation: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Follow Fort Street into the center and take a right turn that will take you to Munro’s at 1108 Government Street. The pompous building used to belong to the Royal Bank of Canada. Named after its founder, Alice Munro, it is Victoria’s most famous bookstore. The interior is calm and almost serene. There is a large travel writing and local interest section. Staff can be a little curt from time to time.
Book recommendation: Days without End by Sebastian Barry
James Bay Coffee and Books
Continue your walk along Government Street and stroll along the pier with a view of the British Columbia Legislature, where only the totem poles remind you that you’re not in Britain. Wait, are those horse carriages? They sure are. But don’t get distracted, turn right onto Belleville Street, then left onto Menzies Street, which will lead you to James Bay Coffee and Books at number 143. The store features an eclectic mix of used and new books and is mostly frequented by regulars from the surrounding James Bay neighborhood, which is composed of students and retirees. While the coffee is nothing special, the staff are very friendly and sometimes offer fun activities like tea leaf readings.
Book recommendation: Old Songs in a New Café, an essay collection by Robert James Waller
You made it, congratulations! If your feet still carry you, walk over to the scenic Beacon Hill Park, have a victory picnic, and flip through all the books you bought.