Ross Bay Villa: A historical family and the volunteers who love them

Kathryn McAllister, tour guide.

The children’s bedroom with the quilt and the horse, lovingly restored.

A contemplative view of the tree from the kitchen.

One of many events that happen throughout the year. Taking place today, Sunday, Jan. 21 at 1-3 $15 including tea and Victorian cake.

The pantry

A work party of women hand sewing felted squares for a new wallhanging.

There are few things I like better than to rise early on a weekend, the whole two days stretched before me, and just head out, a vague idea of how the day might come together. Maybe I have figured out the rough plan ahead of time or I have just heard of events that I’ve mentally noted as they have come to me through a reading of a community newspaper or on social media or because I specifically and earlier in the week sought to find out what’s up.

Yesterday was one of those days.  Somewhere in the middle of the week I had come across something called the Ross Bay Villa. What a grand and elegant title for what is actually quite an unassuming little place.  At 2pm every Saturday for $5 you can have a tour of this heritage house across from the Ross Bay Cemetery at 1490 Fairfield Road.

As I entered the property two men were working the front lawn, pouring sand onto the grass and a young woman greeted me. Only one other person, a young guy, a very quiet history buff, was there for the tour.

I learned that Kathryn McAllister is the tour guide’s name and on the Society’s website, I see she was awarded an Emerging Storyteller Award from the Storyteller’s Guild of Canada. She’s a font of local historical knowledge and not surprisingly, she’s a history student at the University of Victoria. Her passion for the old place was bubbling over. Just this summer, she got married under the apple tree out front.

She took us through the rooms describing the Roscoe family and their five children who had made their home there from 1865 to 1879 when Mr. Roscoe took his own life, or at least that’s the best that can be determined. But what really stood out from all of Kathryn’s stories was the magnitude of work that went into saving the old place after it had fallen into disrepair following a series of owners.

Finally, somewhere around 1999, through creativity and elbow grease, volunteers came together to begin to restore the place and even own it through the creation of a society.  What really struck me was just how much commitment to authenticity still seems to exist. From researching wallpapers to having authentic rugs hand sewn in England to stitching by hand the white on white bedspread in the children’s room and the lovingly restored rocking horse.

The quilt on the end of the child’s bed was made with cotton swatches of fabrics authentic to that time, available in the U.S., and the wallpapers were recreated with stencils. The oil cloth flooring in the front hallway was hand painted.  The Ross Bay Villa Society has painstakingly recreated what a middle class family, such as the Roscoe’s, would have lived in at the time.

Throughout the year, they host events such as the one happening today with parlour games. There’s storytelling and special speakers and in July there’s some sort of big community potluck or tea in the front yard to celebrate the house’s original construction more than 150 years ago.

They even have a gift shop in the very finely renovated shed out back. The famous local tea shop, Murchies, has created a tea in the home’s name.  A crafty volunteer creates some fabulous old-fashioned apron smocks for sale, the kind that cover your dress from shoulders to hem. Great for artists and bakers alike. My grandmother used to wear that type.  Cloth tea towels have been silk-screened with the same design of the wall paper in the children’s bedroom which required a volunteer to go into at night with an infrared light to be able to see the design that had been left on the walls in order to copy it accurately before it being silk-screened.

The floors are covered with oil cloth and the wallpaper in the front hallway was made to look like the regal square panels of wood you might find in an old fashioned library.

It’s a true labour of love and you can only imagine what the Roscoe family might feel if they could know how lovingly their original home in Ross Bay has been restored. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Roscoe had to sell off everything, to bring her five young children back to England, making their way  up the Coast and finally to New York before setting sail for the old country.

There’s even a connection between the Roscoe family and the famous children’s illustrator and writer, Beatrix Potter.

Visit the Ross Bay Villa Society website for year-round events.

 

Camino de no thank you

The only person I know to have walked the Camino de Santiago was an acquaintance from The SFU Writer’s Studio, Barb Kmiec. Before I heard a few stories from Barb, it was something I thought I might like to do one day.  I was impressed that a) she did it alone, and b) she survived it. I’m not positive she did the entire route, but I do believe she did complete enough of it to get the certificate.  After hearing about it, I made a decision right then that I could check off this quasi-desire and label it, Camino de no thank you.

The walking appeals to me. The hordes of peregrinos (pilgrims) and the sleeping options would preclude my taking the first step. Not to mention that lately, my weak right ankle, (an old basketball injury), and one crooked toe that I’m guessing has some minor arthritis, would have to get sorted out. The thought of sleeping in a room full of others, in a bad bunk, after a day of walking 15-25 km, reminded me of the worst hosteling experience I had in London in 2001 and in Edinburgh somewhere on the Royal Mile.

In London, just after arriving, wide-eyed and a little overwhelmed because I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for a long time at that point, I was kept awake all night by man in the bunk above me. He was non-stop snoring. He didn’t speak English. We couldn’t communicate and we were the only ones in the two-bunk room. This went on for three nights. By the third evening, I was practically homicidal. I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to just ask for a different room. Duh!

I do not want to re-experience that or sleep in a room full of people in an uncomfortable bed that thousands of others have slept in before me. I do not want to deal with disgusting, painful blisters to do a pilgrimage that, from a spiritual perspective, I don’t really know at this point why I’d do, and for me, the spiritual, not the physical, would be the point, although I gather they’re inextricably linked.

I’m telling you this because last weekend I found myself ordering a small guidebook, Camino Francés, written by Bryson Guptill, from P.E.I., that I’d seen referenced recently on social media. I’ll call it a no frills guide. You can read it in a night or less. You’ll get the route he took with tips, some photos, and exact GPS-plotted distances. If you’re looking to whet your appetite, this could be one book to have in your arsenal. I do have to give a warning about the quality of its binding however. It would probably not survive more than a few days in a pack. Maybe he’ll rethink that on the next printing and use a cerlox bind instead.

“Are you going to walk the Camino this year?” he asked me in an e-mail that he wrote back to me when I ordered the book.

‘No,’ I said. ‘Not this year. Probably not at all. But just in case.’

And it was that part of the sentence, ‘just in case’ and the fact that it had popped out of my mouth, [where the heck did that come from?], that left me both curious and a little worried. I mean, that I actually took the time to order the book did not escape my curious attention either.

Then yesterday morning after reading his book, I was up, unintentionally,  way too early, and I decided I must re-watch, The Way, with Martin Sheen. But it wasn’t to be found on Netflix.  Instead, I came across another film, Footprints: The path of your life, a documentary about 10 American guys led by a young Catholic priest from Arizona. I thought it was really good because of its focus on spirituality (in this case Catholicism) and besides you don’t often see a movie about 10 guys, with at least one who’d had some major losses to overcome, make it happen.

At some point, past the halfway mark, the group realized that the slowest members had to come first, regardless of how slow they might be. Halfway through they found a unique solution for making that happen on the major inclines. You’ll have to watch it to discover what that was. Apparently seven of the 10, just in case you’re still romanticizing such a trip, had to seek medical attention during the 40 day experience (this little tidbit runs quietly across the screen at the end of the movie).

I couldn’t stop thinking of my friend Dave Brent when I watched it  For all I know, he’s way ahead of me and he’s in training for it with all the walks he leads around the Lower Mainland as a secret warm up.  Dave, are you holding out on us as to your ultimate walking motivation?

So just wondering, how many of you secretly desire to do the Camino de Santiago? Have you already done it? Got any unique tips?

Not that kind of revival: Lekwungen

The other evening I went to the Royal BC Museum to an event billed as a storytelling event by Indigenous people.

In my mind, I was going to show up and First Nation’s people were going to tell me stories that I could romanticize all chock-a-block with salmon and ravens and full moons and North West Coast mythology. And afterwards, I’d be full, as if I’d eaten too much bannock. My belly would ache but emotionally, I’d feel satisfied, probably self-satisfied to be more accurate.  Reconciliation with a capital R. I’m all in.

Sady, it’s beginning to feel, to me, that the planet is going to melt and implode before true reconciliation makes any significant inroads. Too many non-indigenous people aren’t willing to listen and try and understand and it pains me to hear their ignorance.

But on Wednesday evening, I was in the small amphitheater on the fourth floor of the museum where I quickly realized, these stories weren’t going to be told in English. They were going to be told in their own languages, in this case, Hul’q’umi’num’ [Hull-ka-mee-num] and SENC?OTEN [sin-cho-ten].

An elder, Sarah Modeste, was there. Apparently, she’s the woman who turned the knitting of Cowichan sweaters into an entrepreneurial endeavour and, at one time, she had 300 knitters under her coordination. There was a linguist there named Andrew Cienski who works with First Nations’ speakers to develop language skills and resources for teachers and community members working to revive their languages.  The Lekwungen language has one native speaker left. It’s almost extinct.

The moderator who, unfortunately, was non-Indigenous, told us to listen to the pacing and the tone and the sounds. And as Sarah Modeste began to speak, even though at 82, recovering from a recent stroke, she’d sometimes have to pause when she forgot a word, I began to visualize her with her dad, on the beach or in a long house and how he may have spoken to her as she shared a story called “Clam digging with my dad.”

Afterwards, she shared a memory, in English, about how she’d be sitting on the beach and she’d hear the sound of the paddles from his canoe, returning to her, and how they’d knock against the side of the boat, the wake of the water and we’ve almost all heard that somewhere. She brought that alive.

Hearing the language, not knowing the words, brought home the reality that, OH MY GOD, THERE WERE ENTIRE FUNCTIONING CIVILIZATIONS THAT EXISTED LONG BEFORE US in a way that I hadn’t truly internalized before. It’s hard to explain it. Of course I knew that. But I hadn’t really internalized the implications of it until I listened to the people who spoke share their languages.

Sarah Modeste said that when she speaks in her own language, she’s always thinking about the trees and the water and the animals and everything that is the natural world. When she turns to speaking English, she immediately begins to have thoughts like, “I wonder what’s on sale at Walmart? How much did those shoes cost I saw at The Bay?”  English is a universal language of trade.

Other Indigenous people got up to speak, mainly women, and one of them was a Grade Two teacher. Unfortunately, I now can’t recall her name, but when she told her story, she used her entire body, gesturing and modulating her tone and when you hear someone speak a language the way she did,  you understand that when you refuse a people their language, you have destroyed the foundation of their lives.

Right moves and the universe moves too

Moving to new places is so weird. Like relationships, each experience, and how it comes to be, is completely unique.

When, in my mid 20s, I finally moved out of my parent’s house into Vancouver, I lived in a bachelor suite full of suites directly across from Vancouver City Hall. Amazingly, that house is still there, I think. One morning, I opened my door to leave and a dead mouse was perfectly positioned right in front of my door. I thought someone had put it there as a joke. I was indignant. I knocked on my neighbour’s door, who, at the time, I’d never seen nor heard nor met. I quizzed her on the dead specimen on the ground between our feet. Her name was Kelly. We became fast friends. She was at BCIT doing radio broadcasting. That’s how friendship happens. She’s in Edmonton now where she has lived for a long time and has been married forever, which, at the time, I would not have predicted.

When I moved to Salmon Arm all those year ago for a community newspaper reporting job, I moved there in a whirlwind, tears streaming down my face, because I didn’t really want to leave my former Journalism instructor who I was in the throes of the honeymoon phase of a relationship with. And we all know how that ended. Well, those of you who need to know, know. If that was SO LONG AGO, why is it still so completely vivid in my mind, like maybe it just happened ten years ago or something?

When I moved to the West End around 1999 or thereabouts, I moved into an old Art Deco building on Haro Street. It was so hot, every single window in the building was flung open 365 days a year. My landlord was a former youth care worker but a designer/artist at heart. He was in his mid-fifties at the time, I think, and he had a long grey beard and long scraggly grey hair always topped off with one of those square hats. When I walked into his apartment I was completely shocked. It was like walking back in time into some 16th century castle, all dark wood and iron, as if some Benedictine father might emerge from the galley kitchen.

In the West End, I became good friends with a woman named Heather. We met at work. Her husband, whom she’d been married to from the time she was 20, (she was about 40) had just passed away in six months from Multiple Myeloma. I can still recall us sitting in Delaneys coffee shop on Denman, surrounded by mostly gay men, tears streaming down her face, which I could usually turn into that hugely relieving crying-laughing emotion. We had a good friendship for a reason and a season.

When I moved to Salt Spring, I can still go immediately to that time in my mind and be filled with the most overwhelmingly joyous feelings. That little cottage had a little hot tub under the evergreens and a delicate feathering of wisteria climbing up the deck. Heaven! I would be in my car and I’d just be letting out sounds of happiness. I can say without a doubt, I’ve never been happier than when I first moved to Salt Spring.

I tried so many different things in the past five years. I mean, honestly, I don’t know too many people who put things “out there” as much as I did in the past five years trying to make SOMETHING happen. The Writer’s Studio. All those psychology and counselling psych courses trying to gather pre-requisites to apply to a Masters in Counselling Psych. Oxford Seminars, ESL course. Temping. I have the resume of a writer even if I’ve never written a book.

You want to talk to me about your shit. Go for it!  I won’t be taking it on but I’ll listen, with compassion because I. Have. Been. There. At least in my own unique way. Mine all mine. Get your own!

You know you’re really getting on when you’re suddenly proud of all you’ve overcome instead of being ashamed of it. THAT only took 50 years.

The last few years have been job interview after interview and so many stupid questions as if nobody has a brain left in their judging little heads and can’t use their intuition, references, and best of all, me, right in front of them as a good enough reason to say, “Okay, get your ass in here five days a week and we’ll pay you.” I’m still pissed about it but I just have to let it go.

Just a little while before this latest move, I was seriously preparing, mentally, to pack up and just move to Thailand. It’s why I took some ESL training in December even though teaching kids how to speak English, mansplaining in a female way, has never been all that high on things I’ve ever really wanted to do. Still, I was ready to do it.

I even got offered a job working in a place called Buriram or City of Happiness in the North of Thailand. I accepted the job, sent them a copy of my passport and never heard from them again. It just wasn’t MY happiness, I guess. Although I do think it would have been such an adventure. Thailand for the winter or a government job. Which would you take? I accept that if it was meant to be it would have happened. Besides, I’ve already been to Thailand.

I now have a very intimate understanding in a hugely positive way, (Salt Spring), and a not so positive way, (New West), that when The Universe thinks something isn’t quite right, it just won’t budge. And when it thinks it is right, you can practically just ly down, have a nap, forgetaboutallofit and things just fall into place, handed back to you on a silver platter.

I’m now here in Victoria, employed, within walking distance of my workplace which is in a brand new Leeds Platinum complex, which I can actually see from my balcony. Walking to work ETA: 10 minutes or less.

It’s as if your thoughts really do create your reality or something. Go figure?

Not getting on any kind of transportation to get to work was probably my number one criteria for a job, and yes, I realize that doesn’t actually have ANYTHING to do with work but that was my criteria. Now, done!

I’m feeling very positive about this move. I’m feeling like all that stuck nothingness leading up to this is going to be a distant memory very soon.

Hallelujah and gratitude!

A happy introduction to Victoria’s literary community

Victoria Literary Festival at The Metro- (L-r)Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier, Esi Edugyan.

Last night I went to an event as part of Victoria Literary festival. I had never heard Gregory Scofield read and I have yet to read any of his books. Last night he gave a reading of his long poem, Muskrat Woman, about MMIW and it was really compelling. It’s such a great reminder that when writers can also read really well, the audience is silent and they are right there, present, in the belly of the delivery and changed in some slight way afterwards.

I was introduced to Zoe Whittall through her readings. She’s another writer who, I’m sorry to admit, I’ve never read or even heard of. I’m impressed that she can write for some of CBC’s really successful shows such as Baroness von SketchSchitt’s Creek and still have the ability to go back to her own personal writing. And of course, I’d seen/heard Patrick Lane read. The  last time was a long time ago when his book, There is a Season, came out. It was at the Sechelt Writer’s Festival. What year was that? 

I’d only seen Lorna Crozier read at the introductory Growing Room Festival last spring or whenever that was. But to see them together, and the banter between them, was pretty entertaining. I think I know who wears the pants in that family and it isn’t Patrick Lane. But I’m sure, in reality, it’s very give and take. They just seem like the kind of people you’d love to be able to linger around a dinner table with. The evening was quite wonderful.

As a newcomer to Victoria, I got a real sense of the strength of the writing community here just from attending that one event. And it was clear, even with Esi Edugyan facilitating the conversation, that this pair have had a hand in the careers of so many writers who have gone through the UVic Creative Writing program. It was like witnessing a family reunion or something. 

It also made me think that anyone ranting on about the history of CanLit and its white roots, should just get over themselves because these are the people who historically made things happen. Like anything, evolution is a part of that, and the transformation is happening right now as it should be. It’s because of that foundation that a Canadian literature even exists even if it isn’t yet as representative of all realties in the country as it needs to be.

As I sat waiting for the event to begin, I was eavesdropping on the conversation behind me, well, not really eavesdropping so much as not being able to avoid overhearing it. It was that somewhat excruciating navel-gazing about a personal writing process that as writers we’re all so familiar with, especially if you’ve been involved in any kind of workshopping. I feel so done with that.  I just feel the need to find the time to focus on my own writing and it’s pretty clear to me that I just need to show up for that and there’s no need to discuss anything really. I know that might sound harsh but it feels like that phase is over. Let’s not get all precious about putting some words on a page or the process. As Patrick Lane so perfectly described it. “I’ll sometimes write a sentence that I really love  and get really excited about that, until I realize, Oh fuck, I need to write an entire paragraph.” And then keep doing that over and over. Again and again.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to have just one person who I could rely on to be a reader of my stuff to give me feedback, someone whose opinion I trusted and who actually would give me feedback when they said they were going to. Someone who understood the process, especially when it comes to first drafts,  but that’s so hard to find unless you pay someone, or they’re in your life as a partner and into literary things or you just luck out. Not having that is a real lacking for me in so many ways, much more important ways, of course, than just writing feedback.

I also met a young woman who was working for a new self-assisted publishing company (I found that terminology interesting) called TellWell Talent. She is the digital media marketing person for them and we talked about how a lot of authors these days are choosing to self publish because of the control it gives them, the ability to get things done more quickly than traditional publishing and to market the book as effectively, if not more so.

In my books, that all counts as a very satisfying evening. 

The fastest trip to Japan from Vancouver

I spent most of this past weekend at the Powell Street Festival which has got to be one of the best entertainment deals in Vancouver taking place at Oppenheimer Park and the streets around it with events at the Firehall Arts Centre, the Japanese Language School, and the Vancouver Buddhist Temple.

This area was home to the largest concentration of Japanese people in Vancouver prior to WWII before they were banished from the West Coast in Canada and the U.S. as a result of Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbour and a build up, prior to that, of racism and fear-mongering.

I had to get my little fix of Takoyaki (Osaka Balls),  those tasty street vendor treats that instead of the traditional style which are filled with octopus, these are filled with shrimp and scallops, a creamy middle with a crunchy deep-fried outer and with fish shavings on top. I stayed traditional but you can get the wasabi version or with mayo. 

So many interesting offerings  at The Firehall Arts Centre. We were introduced to a HAPA comic from L.A., Katie Malia and her Almost Asian vignettes which are being picked up by Netflix in the near future.

Listened to Dr. Asato Ikeda from Japan talk about a Third Gender in early modern Japan, a spin off from an exhibit at the ROM in 2016 A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese prints. Descriptions of wakashu or boys between the ages of 12-18 who fulfilled the pleasures of men and women and how to hear about that part of cultural history in Japan without imposing contemporary North American values on that part of Japanese history which has been kept under wraps mostly because, if I understood the speaker correctly, of how it fits into the Kabuki theatre in the Edo period. Since Kabuki has been designated the official theatre of Japan, there’s a reluctance to acknowledge the roots of it in this expression of sexuality. Super interesting!

Introduced to two men (both Gaijin or caucasian) Jay Rubin and Ted Goossen, Americans who are elders in the translation of Japanese literature. They spoke about the novelist Haruki Murakami and mostly that stood out for me because it’s always amazing to me how some people just fall into their professions without any effort on their part and that becomes their entire life.

Admired that Joy Kogawa who is looking very fit and in her eighties was open to participating in an experimental performance that included her poetry, a young Hapa poet Soramaru Takayama and a wonderful mime (whose name I can’t find, unfortunately)  as part of a 20 minute performance.

 

Also took in two interesting short films called Born with it and Blasian Narratives about Black-Asian kids’ experiences. I’d never heard the word “Blasian” before.

Listened to a wonderful shakuhachi player who resides on the Sunshine Coast.  Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos, is one of the leading teachers and performers of the shakuhachi in North America who teaches at the Bamboo-In Retreat Centre.  His performance was exquisite and a rare treat. I love the breathy, haunting sounds of the shakuhachi, an instrument that may be the hardest instrument to learn taking years of mentorship and practice.

And of course George and Noriko, a crowd favourite. He’s known as the Japanese cowboy and she’s the Tsugaru shamisen player. Together they have a fun and unique sound. 

Taiko. Walking tours. Ikebana. Martial Arts. My god. It’s a veritable trip to Japan without the hell of the long flight.

Must do a shout out to Leanne Dunic (seated in photo) who led the curation in her first year as the new artistic director.  It’s been a busy year for her. She’s a writer, singer and multi-instrumentalist who plays with the band The Deep Cove. Her book To Love the Coming End published by Chin Music Press was released this year as well.  The weekend was awesome and it didn’t cost a dime. The only thing wrong with it was that I didn’t win the trip to Japan for two or dinner for six put on by Hapa Izakaya restaurant chefs.

The definitive example of how ideas come

July 31, 2017: Watched a Youtube video of a talk from 2001 by *Ray Bradbury recommended on Facebook by a stranger named Pauline Probyn.

August 1, 2017: Woke up to a neon ball of orange as if a graphic on the cover of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 was plucked from the page and pasted onto the sky, your very own slice of sky, a single sky of a billion views.

Met artist for coffee. Artist in search of a home, artist who speaks eloquently about the devaluing of art and the desperation to achieve (needle in haystack in Lower Mainland),  the base level of Maslow’s Hierarchy: shelter.

Listen.

Go about day. Buy tabbouleh and falafel for lunch.

Read one piece of short fiction afterwards luxuriating in a rare ability to focus lately, completely.

Feel the space in device-free time.

Breathe.

Turn on computer in spite of last line.

Scan the Places for Writers’ website. Notice a call. Infinity’s Kitchen. Seeking experimental work that emerges from recipes.

Visualize my mother’s girlhood notebook from her Home Economics classes. Grade VII. Grade 8. Grade 9.

Recognize the feeling of an opening.

Visions of photographs taken from that black book, mixing with her perfectly straight handwriting, remnants of a lost way of life. 1940s.

Stirrings of inspiration.

Every heading in her ever-so-tidy handwriting a historically domestic tombstone.

Duties of Dishwasher
Experiments in Potato Apparatus
Luncheon Creamed Vegetables
Preserving of Peaches
Canning
Flour Mixtures
Sandwiches

Marvel at her achingly neat drawings.

Wonder about the 12, 13, 14 year old she was then. Internal brightening. 

Letters and photos and possibilities collage across imagination as if I am spool knitting (corking, French knitting, Tomboy knitting) who she might have been back then onto the page.

This is how ideas come.

_____________________________

*I don’t agree with Ray Bradbury that “modern” writers can’t write short stories or poems or that we’re all looking for ourselves. Sometimes we’re looking for those who are completely foreign. But I listen to this through the lens of knowing to accept opinions in the context of the age, race, and gender of the opinion-giver.