Renowned B.C. garden ejects U.S. couple for dressing in Victorian-era garb

Gabriel and Sarah Chrisman are shown in Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria in a handout photo. A Washington state couple expelled from a well-known Vancouver Island tourist destination for wearing Victorian-era clothing says they're hoping to put the past behind them.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Javiera Rodriguez

SAANICH, B.C. - A Washington state couple says they knew they'd face the occasional unanticipated challenge when they began adopting a Victorian-era lifestyle seven years ago, but they never expected their decision to get them tossed out of an internationally renowned tourist attraction.

Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman of Port Townsend said they were shocked last week when they arrived to Butchart Gardens just north of Victoria to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary and were turned away after being told their period clothing, which they wear on a daily basis, was forbidden.

The couple said they bought tickets for admission and tea on Aug. 9 in advance of their three-day visit to Vancouver Island and had double-checked the rules posted on the gardens' website, which listed "costumes" as banned.

"We never would have thought that that would apply to us. We don't think of what we wear as costumes," Gabriel said in a phone interview.

"When we got there ... instead of a greeting we got, basically, you can't wear those clothes here."

A news release from the gardens says staff treated the pair courteously, but the couple said it didn't feel that way.

"It was terribly unpleasant," Sarah said.

"We tried to explain that these are not costumes, that these are what we wear every single day."

Butchart Gardens is a privately owned National Historic Site just north of Victoria. The facility boasts an elaborate, mostly year-round floral display in an abandoned limestone quarry that doubles as a sunken garden. Its website says nearly a million people visit the attraction annually.

In a statement, the gardens said its policy to ban costumes follows similar practices at other international attractions, such as Disney Parks and SeaWorld, calling it a safety issue that distracts visitors.

A statement from the facility said the Chrismans were told if Sarah removed her hat the pair would have been welcome to enter the gardens, and when they refused they were immediately reimbursed for their admission, bus fare and tea reservation.

The Chrismans dispute this version of events, saying they were asked to remove their hats only while being escorted off the premises, which they said they declined "on principle," and that their money was returned only after the pair insisted on a refund.

Butchart Gardens didn't respond to requests for further comment.

The Chrismans said they are both passionate and fascinated with the Victorian era, specifically the British period spanning the 1880s and '90s, and began adopting the lifestyle as a research experiment.

They live in a Victorian-style home on the Washington seaside near Seattle, spurning refrigerators and automobiles while wearing homemade period clothing and using a wood stove and icebox.

Sarah said the pair refuses to let the experience sully the memories of what she described as a warm and hospitable visit to southern Vancouver Island.

"What happened at (Butchart) Gardens last week, we're just working hard to put that behind us and move on," she said.

"We hope the people who learn about us will concentrate on the good that we do … and the message that everyone deserves a chance to be themselves."

— By Geordon Omand in Vancouver, follow @gwomand on Twitter

Editor's Note in response to allegations from Vernon RCMP Supt. Jim McNamara
Editor’s note: • Watch shifts at the Vernon detachment have fallen to as low as three roadable officers. • The department suffers from chronic understaffing. • Sources, who we trust and who have knowledge of the s

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