The International Writers Magazine: Visiting Canada-West
Victoria BC - Island of Flowers
Fred C. Wilson III
Canada is a country so square even the female impersonators are women.
Canada is a plumb of a country; it’s pretty. Of the many places I’ve visited Canada is bar none the cleanest, most organized, with Japan coming in at a close second from my overall observations.
Photo: Empress Hotel
The 1 ½ hour ferry ride from Vancouver to the provincial capitol Victoria on Vancouver Island was idyllic. The sun shown bright in the early August sky, the air was calm, clean and the girl I met on board was typical of the people I met in that part of the world; friendly, open, non-aggressive and a fun person to be with. For a 1 ½ hour trip the price of a round trip ticket was a bargain by any standard. The scenery enhanced the pure joy of being alive.
I could never afford a real cruise but the short trip hit the spot. There were seagulls flying low over our little ship, the sea was calm so unlike a later short sea jaunt my wife and I took from Hong Kong to Macau where the strong storm winds buffeted our hydrofoil that made most passengers sea sick. The winds were so strong that my fellow passengers and I thought old Neptune himself was playing ping pong using our little vessel as the ball. The rough seas made that short voyage purgatory for my poor wife, who hates the sea. For a woman born on an island part of the Philippine archipelago why she never learned to swim beats me. I learned at a little neighborhood YMCA in the roughest part of Chicago when I was a kid. Later they demolished that Y since the area get even rougher (Englewood ) so rough that they shoot at police officers for target practice. A cousin on my wife’s side, a Chicago Police officer lost her detective friend to one of the ‘locals’ in a gun fight.
The trip from Vancouver to Victoria was mild by comparison to my Chinese experience years later. The unearthly stillness stirred my soul and made my spirit soar.
|| The blue waters that merged with the equally azure sky above gave me an eerie feeling. When the two matching blues met it was though the horizon line had disappeared or never existed. Try to imagine being on a ship with no visible markings that separated the sky from the sea with no land to be seen in any direction. If you think about it hard enough it will frighten you. The experience was like being in a room immersed in blue. Once we were about half-way the shores on both sides seemed to vanish into this weird picture of blue.
Victoria is on Vancouver Island, 76 miles (107 km) southwest of Vancouver . British Columbia . It has two ferry terminals that sail mainlanders to the island from Vancouver ; one at Tsawwassen, the other Horseshoe Bay (see photo). Both provide access to various points on the big island, the Gulf Islands and Sunshine Coast . Both ferries sail one to two hours on the hour depending upon the weather.
Victoria is more an experience than a city. Like Canada on the whole walking through the streets of this provincial capital I got sense that here’s a place ran by the numbers; this was a controlled environment where everything and everybody is just so with few deviations. Victorians appear to be a quiet lot; nobody rushed. Despite its urban setting calm and quiet was the order of the day. Another thing that struck me as odd was the city was clean with nary a cigarette butt or a single piece of trash in the streets. This was so unlike my Chicago home were even in upscale neighborhoods dog owners customary walk their pets on sidewalks, private lawns, parking lots and even street corners anywhere Poochie care to poop and pee; trash is strewn all over the place.
If I were to live there Victoria it would take time to accustom myself to the people and their serene surroundings. From the stares and smiles I received from passersby I must have seemed like a man from another planet; in their eyes I was. There were even a few sniggers as I walked pass them. Here in Chicago fire and police sirens wail 24/7. A few months ago Chicago was voted the loudest city in the United States. I didn’t hear a single siren throughout my day long visit. Even in the supposed upscale ‘Gold Coast’ neighborhood where we live crime is sky high. Three weeks ago at the time of this writing I, along with a number of people around our building were robbed at gunpoint! I sensed that British Columbia ’s provincial capitol had a very low rate of criminality. Crime knows no boundaries however.
When I travel I make it my special point to peruse ordinary neighborhoods; to eat where the locals eat, stay in places the locals recommend and always mingle with the people. Aforementioned in previous articles I avoid touristy sections. I like to bond with the locals and blend into the surroundings. Victoria was no exception in spite of my brief stay though I didn’t meet many people. Victorian’s aren’t snobbish or standoffish, they’re shy. I ask myself could I ever live there in such sanitary and serene surroundings; quite possibly. Though the city and its’ people are squarer than a pile of building blocks I think I can get used to it; beats being shot at anyway.
My wife loves the excitement of Chicago life. Point—a few years ago when we relocated to the suburbs I fell in love with the pristine surroundings; the vast nature preserve nearby, the huge ‘front lawn’ just outside our window and even the large deer that used to come up to our window and stare as we slept. The large beast used to stand guard at our window long hours into the night. Despite my less than ideal upbringing I loved it! My wife sensed a change in my personality. I became civilized. The quiet nearly drove her crazy. In time she pressured me to move back to Chicago where the high priced living units the size of glorified closets, malicious neighbors, sky high crime rates frenetic pace of living was something I had to reacquaint myself with.
When I was a teenager a visitor from British Columbia encouraged me to relocate there once I completed my studies. The Victoria native said I would be more than welcome to live and work in BC but ‘warned’ me that I wouldn’t have any luck getting girlfriend my being non-white. A few years later when I was passing through and more years after that when I returned to work a trade show I found the women exceptionally friendly, gregarious and they found me ‘exotic.’ The man lied. BC women are wonderful!
After hours of hiking through the residential sections I got hungry and decided to find a nice place to eat. I didn’t travel thousands of miles to pig out on a bacon and cheese double burger, biggie fries topped with a large Coke. I departed from my usual culinary routine. I went in search of some place classy to dine. I left the neighborhoods for the central business district where the upscale restaurants were. Since I wasn’t dressed like I slept in my clothes I decided to go for it.
||I had a late lunch at this really classy place where the wait staff plied their trade decked out in period costume. Though I forgot the name of this restaurant (Possibly The Gatsby Mansion Inn?) the staff wore clothes people wore during the 1700’s. The restaurant reminded me of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia where waitresses/waiters serve meals and drinks in long dresses replete with those little white frilly mob cabs one sees in those 18th century George Washington movies; cute. As I remember I had medallions of beef as my main course, potatoes, a variety of vegetables and a few local beers.
Photo of The Gatsby Mansion Inn
The costumes were vibrant and the ambiance mentally transported me back in time to the American Revolutionary War era. The owners were kind enough to let me take pictures of the costumed wait staff and the restaurant. The experience was one I never forgot...er except the name. It could have been the James Bay inn...oops.
After the meal I had an excellent conversation with a costumed London bobby of all things; totally out of character for that milieu. The man worked at the restaurant days but studied Mathematics and Physics at night at UVIC, University of Victoria. Most Canadians may be soft spoken compared to us loud, bombastic Chicago types but they know their stuff and don’t waste words with idle chatter.
||Vancouver Island is a photographers/artist paradise. The island is home to many gardens and host a large number of world class flower shows paramount among them the Butchart Gardens . Time constraints didn’t permit me to tour Butchart. I didn’t have to travel cross town to see interesting scenery in the limited time I had on that big island.
|The Parliament building with a seated statue, tiny crown an all, of Queen Victoria atop her pedestal; the capitol buildings were grandiose so huge they could easily rival the government buildings of most national capitols. The Parliament building is lit up nightly by over 3,000 light bulbs! The government buildings, BC’s Royal Museum, Beacon Hill Park, Downtown shopping centers, classy restaurants, the yacht filled harbor and other scenic points of interest and activity centers are located within close proximity of each other on or near the waterfront.
Victoria’s Parliament building was designed by a young 25 year old chief architect named Francis Rattenbury. The building took five years (1893-1897) to complete. It was declared finished in 1897 in time to celebrate then reigning Queen Victoria ’s Diamond Jubilee. Few realize the enormous influence that British monarch had over an estimated 5th of the world’s population that comprised the then British Empire. Never a lady to be trifled with during the American Civil War Victoria forced hero President Abraham Lincoln to release two British diplomats held during that war under threat of immediate invasion. The British monarch stationed 4,000 British troops along the Maine-Canadian border just in case Mr. Lincoln needed to be reminded of the gravity of his situation. President Lincoln wisely returned the detained diplomats. He was quoted to have later said “one war at a time.” The matter was quickly forgotten. The shadow that regal lady cast was enormous. Most of the 19th century is still categorized as the Victorian Age, an era characterized by sexual prudishness, industrial progress, philosophical upheavals, religious and racial bigotry, all which helped spur the European development of Third World countries Africa in particular, the affects of which we’re still plagued with today.
Our good neighbors to the north are a decent lot but Canadian straight laced living may be a bit unnerving to some, your writer included. I’ve traveled to Canada three times and even spent a summer there but I have no desire to take up permanent residency. Point—you think US taxes/food prices are high; go to Canada the only place I know where you can buy a chicken dinner, pay triple what you’d pay here in Chicago and wind up with a portion size little less that half you’d get here.
||Like I said the people are wonderful, the air is clean, no slums except maybe in Montreal, the girls friendly, but Canada’s just too pricy for this old boy. That said, get out of the main tourist center and head to The Stagebar for dinner, right by the Belfry Theatre - currently showing 'Speed The Plow' by David Mamet. You'll meet real Canadians there and have a great meal after or before the show.
Victoria has a storied history. The island was originally settled by Native Americans (First Nation Gallery). Before the settlers arrived a number of Native tribes lived there, whose mainstay was hunting, fishing with an occasional war or two to cull the population. Canada’s aborigines mostly live on reserves reservations aforementioned in a previous article, existing on government subsidies aka welfare handouts. To know the complete history of this beautiful place go to ‘BC History Tours-Official BC Tourism & Travel Site’ and ‘Canada-U.S. Department of State’ for the official low down on traveling to Canada. *Sail there on a Clipper from Seattle and that's a beautiful trip through the Gulf Islands.
The boat trip back to the mainland was as enchanted as the sail over. When it grew dusk the sun sank low over the stillness of the Georgia Strait . We arrived back at port as darkness started to envelop the sea. Granted we have similar sun sets over Lake Michigan but going out late at night in Chicago is dangerous. Chicago nights are times when most criminals come out to play.
© Fred Wilson October 2015
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