British Columbia

Faux Victorian couple ejected from Butchart Gardens for fancy attire

A Washington couple resplendent in Victorian-era attire were asked to leave the Butchart Gardens tourist attraction for looking a little too authentic.

Costumes and period style or historical dress not permitted in the gardens

While Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman might look like they belong in Butchart Gardens, they were asked to leave for wearing period apparel they insist is not a costume. (Gabriel Chrisman/Facebook)

A Washington state couple preoccupied with reliving the Victorian era — from their icebox to their undergarments — were asked to change out of their traditional costumes or leave Butchart Gardens near Victoria.

The Saanich tourist attraction has a rule: No period costumes, no matter what.

It's right on the website under "Garden etiquette: Please note, costumes and period style or historical dress is not permitted in the Gardens."

Gabriel and Sarah Chrisman had travelled to Victoria to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary on Aug. 11.

The Port Townsend couple booked tickets to lunch at Butchart Gardens in advance and couldn't wait to see the world-famous floral displays.

Sarah wore a floor-length striped frock and hat, while Gabriel looked smart in a suit.

But they could not believe it when they arrived and were refused entry — because of their clothes.

"We've worn this type of clothing before and we've never been turned away before. Never had this sort of official banishment," Gabriel told CBC News.

Sarah Chrisman enjoys the foliage in her finery at Abkhazi Garden in Victoria. (Sarah Chrisman/Facebook)

"These are not costumes — it's just our everyday dress," Sarah told CBC News

The couple blog and write books about their favourite era. They cook with a cast iron stove and even ride a replica 1885 Victory bicycle.

They protested loudly on their blog This Victorian Life, and many readers chimed in with their dismay and support.

The couple said there seemed to be a concern at the gardens that they'd be confused for Butchart staff members.

But then they were offered the loan of staff uniforms so they could still tour the premises, which made no sense to the resplendent pair.

Longtime policy

"It would go entirely against our principles to do so. Our clothes are part of our identity," said Sarah. "Clothes are far too intimate a thing to allow someone to strip off of us."

Gabriel Chrisman ponders the massive rhododendrons at Abkhazi Garden. (Sarah Chrisman/Facebook)

The couple felt further insulted when they were asked to remove their hats on the short walk back to the gate.

"Sadly, we encounter dreadful ignorance and intolerance all the time," said Sarah. "We refuse to let other people dictate how we should live our lives."

In a written statement, Butchart Gardens said the policy to ban costumes has been in place "for many years," as it distracts visitors trying to enjoy the gardens.

"For the enjoyment and safety of all visitors, and to preserve our tranquil atmosphere, the Butchart Gardens joins many international attractions … in not permitting costumes or masks to be worn on-site," Butchart said.

The gardens noted that Disney theme parks, SeaWorld parks, and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts also have costume and mask restrictions.

Butchart said Sarah Chrisman would have been welcomed had she not refused to take off her hat. 

"Upon this refusal we immediately refunded all their costs including bus fare to the gardens, admission fee, meal costs, and they were provided a paid taxi back to Victoria," the statement read.

Others also turned away

The Chrismans are not alone. Others have been turned away, including one person dressed as a ladybug and another as a bumblebee, Sarah said.

On Trip Advisor, one former visitor also complains she and her partner were deemed too formal for the grounds.

Sarah Chrisman tours Abkhazi Garden through a pathway on the property once planted by Prince and Princess Abkhazi in 1946. (Sarah Chrisman/Facebook)

As for their anniversary trip — the Chrismans didn't let it ruin things.

They returned to Victoria and hit other Victorian-era hotspots: Beacon Hill Park, Craigdarroch Castle and Abkhazi Garden.

Once back in Victoria, they were approached by a large Muslim family applauding their finery and asking for pictures, which "warmed" their hearts, and they received greetings from several Victorians who recalled the pair from their last sojourn to the city with the namesake for the period they love.

A sunflower-lined path in Butchart Gardens is inviting to visitors, but off-limits to those wearing period costume. (Butchart Gardens)


Yvette Brend

CBC journalist

Yvette Brend works in Vancouver on all CBC platforms. Her investigative work has spanned floods, fires, cryptocurrency deaths, police shootings and infection control in hospitals. “My husband came home a stranger,” an intimate look at PTSD, won CBC's first Jack Webster City Mike Award. Got a tip?