Sarah Chrisman pets the resident cat at Abkhazi Garden the day after being asked to leave Butchart Gardens. (Gabriel Chrisman)

Sarah Chrisman pets the resident cat at Abkhazi Garden the day after being asked to leave Butchart Gardens. (Gabriel Chrisman)

Port Townsend couple ejected from garden for Victorian dress

Gabriel and Sarah Chrisman were asked to leave Butchart Gardens in Victoria because of “costumes.”

VICTORIA, B.C. — A couple from Port Townsend who live a Victorian lifestyle are trying to move on after being asked to leave the world-famous Butchart Gardens in Victoria for wearing “costumes.”

Gabriel and Sarah Chrisman were in Victoria to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary on Aug. 11 and were shocked they had to leave the gardens for being dressed too nicely, Sarah wrote on her blog This Victorian Life.

Sarah wore a blue-striped print dress that covered from her ankles to the top of her neck and Gabriel was wearing a suit — nothing unusual for the couple.

“It is what we wear every day,” Gabriel said. “I’ve stopped thinking about it being unusual.”

The two are dedicated to living a Victorian lifestyle. Sarah wears a corset every day. Gabriel’s glasses are all from the 19th century. Neither have cellphones or watch television.

In Sarah’s book, This Victorian Life, she writes about 19th-century culture, cooking, fashion and technology.

By wearing their every-day clothes, the Chrismans broke a longstanding rule of the gardens, which has been prominently displayed on its website for many years, Butchart Gardens said in a news release.

“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 onsite,” Butchart Gardens said in the press release.

“This includes persons wearing period style, historical dress, or adult clothing that could be viewed as a costume as they could be mistaken for entertainers or interpreters hired by The Gardens and could detract from the experience of other visitors.”

On the Garden Etiquette page on the website is a rule that guests must not wear costumes of any sort. The site also says period style or historical dress is not allowed at the gardens.

However, Gabriel said that is new language the gardens added after the incident. An Internet search shows it was added after the Chrismans’ visit.

“Prior to going up there they had a notice about no costumes, but nothing about period dress,” he said, referring to Internet archives. “They’re just claiming it was always there and I don’t think that is true.”

When they arrived, they were immediately told they couldn’t wear costumes at the gardens, so they wouldn’t be mistaken as staff, Gabriel said. Then, it was suggested they wear extra staff uniforms to avoid the costume issue.

“I thought that was ridiculous,” he said. “Especially when their first reason is people would assume we work for the gardens.”

At one point, the Chrismans were asked to remove their hats. This was long after the couple knew they weren’t going to be staying, he said.

In the statement, Butchart Gardens said staff immediately refunded all the couple’s costs, including bus fare, admission fees, meal costs and were provided a paid taxi back to Victoria.

Sarah wrote in her blog that this is only after they insisted on the refunds.

While this incident put a damper on the first day of their three-day vacation, Gabriel said he and Sarah were able to make the best of their trip.

“We turned it into something positive,” he said. “The rest of our trip there was really good.”

The following day, the couple ended up going to Abkhazi Garden where they had an opportunity to meet the resident cat, he said.

They were greeted by helpful staff and volunteers who didn’t have issue with their clothes, he said.

Since the incident — and international media coverage — the couple has received an outpouring of support from people around the world.

“I got a lot of feedback from people saying their museum or gardens wouldn’t treat us that way,” he said. “We got a lot of positive responses, which we really appreciate.”

What he hopes people take away from the incident is to have a broader view of diversity, including diversity of culture and choice.

As a white man and woman, the Chrismans aren’t typical targets of discrimination, he said. But because of the cultural choices they’ve made, they were subjected to this incident.

“Hopefully people will think again about the way they judge people and react to people who are different than them,” he said. “Hopefully this makes people think of encouraging diversity rather than discouraging.”


Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at [email protected].

Gabriel Chrisman tours the Abkhazi Garden in Victoria the day after being asked to leave Butchart Gardens. (Gabriel Chrisman)

Gabriel Chrisman tours the Abkhazi Garden in Victoria the day after being asked to leave Butchart Gardens. (Gabriel Chrisman)

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