Victoria

The Levee, the Westie and the Lieutenant Governor of BC

Having had the most uneventful New Year’s Eve on the planet, in bed by 10 p.m., I sprung out of bed on the first day of the New Year at about 6:30 a.m., a typical time for me. Well, you know what they say about consistency and routine and sleep! I’m on it.

I wanted to partake in something I’d heard about the year before which was the New Year’s Day Levee hosted at Government House with the Lieutenant Governor, Janet Austin, in attendance.  

The word levee (from French, noun use of infinitive lever, “rising”, from Latin lev?re, “to raise”) originated in the levée du soleil (rising of the sun) of King Louis XIV (1643–1715). … It was in Canada that the levee became associated with New Year’s Day.

I didn’t know what was going to happen at this levee but I was looking to get some exercise and the 45 minute walk from James Bay to Government House fit the bill. It was a beautiful morning and the streets and Beacon Hill Park weren’t completely empty but they were silent. Just the odd dog walker and photographer there the way early mornings are on a holiday.

The event started at 10 a.m. with advisement to go early.  By the time I walked through the gates of Government House, I had it in my head that surely I would be one of the first to arrive. As the house came into view I saw a huge line of people, two by two and three by three, including one of my coworkers and his partner, standing in a snake of a bloody long line that wound around the front of the old regal place right on up onto the red carpeted entrance. I couldn’t believe it. I got in line behind two women who either said they’d come every single year or hadn’t ever been in spite of having lived in Victoria most of their adult lives. One of them was the President of the Victoria Bluegrass Society.

We eventually stepped over the threshold in a consistently moving line and were directed down the red carpeted stairs into the basement, past the Susan Point prints that flanked each side of the staircase, past the official necklace on display, past a billiards and games room, snaking back around on the other side of the hall. Then  back upstairs and through the main entryway again, past the collection box to drop a donation into for The Cridge Centre for the Family and eventually past an attractive police officer who appeared to be high ranking, for all I know he may have been the Chief of Police for Victoria.

Next there was another man dripping with medals who asked my name and proceeded to repeat my name to the Lieutenant Governor by way of formal introduction who proceeded to wish me a happy new year as I did to her as she shook my hand.

When I woke up that morning, having no idea what I was about to partake in, focused mainly on getting some exercise, I threw on my sweat pants, was still wearing the T-shirt I’d slept in the night before under my Gore-Tex jacket and laced up my MEC lace-up boots.

I wasn’t anticipating being up close and personal with a government dignitary, The Honourable Janet Austin, before 10:30 am on New Year’s Day. That poor woman! She had to shake more than, and I’m guessing here, 500 hands first thing on Near Year’s Day and one can only imagine the names that came at her, forcing her to attempt them or just let them slide by, the number of syllables so many, no point in even trying, a smile and a greeting having to suffice.

After that, we entered a gracious wooden room, grand staircases sweeping up to the landings on either side that ran the full length. I could hear a military band playing but couldn’t see where the music was coming from. I looked up and more uniforms with instruments were crammed into the very front of the second floor, like the prow on a ship, the light from the big windows gleaming off their shiny bits. I felt like I was on the Titanic.

There was a grandiose feeling of anticipation. More and more people were streaming in. The sound of bagpipes were wafting in from some distant part of the building. There were tables lined with cups (Styrofoam I might add. Change that for next year if you please!). The right side of the table was set out with alcoholic punch and the left, non-alcoholic, the Styrofoam cups filled and ready for the taking.

Further on there was another busy table with little bags being set out like gifts, and staff replenishing the bags as people took them. Inside the bag was a small bite-sized quiche tart, a shortbread, a chocolate chip cookie and a tiny croissant. Tasty! Thank you very much.

I wandered around taking in the scene, feeling like a true Settler, like I’d stepped onto some movie set of some soiree of colonial re-enactment.

I made my way up to the second balcony on the opposite side of the room and soon enough, the pipe band was being introduced and marched towards the front of the room, the whirring of the pom poms on the drums, and later, my co-worker describing the antics of one of the drummers who was throwing his sticks in the air as confident and proud as the majorettes at the front of the marching bands in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl Parade.

An elderly woman beside me, in great shape, stood to attention as soon as the pipes and drums sounded  and she began to mimic with her hands as if she were playing her own imaginary drums. I got close and spoke loudly to ask her, “Did you used to play?”

In a voice that could have been Robin Williams’ accent in the role of Mrs. Doubtfire, she said, “Oh, dear, I’m from Glasgow, the old country. As soon as I hear the pipes, the wee hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. I once played the Calgary Stampede. That parade was 4 hours long, wandering through those streets. It was so hot. My name is Iona, like the island.”

The Lieutenant Governor was finally piped in and her little dog, a white westie (West Highland white terrier) whose name I couldn’t hear when she introduced it, led her proudly on his red leash. She said some humorous things about everyone being there for the dog. She introduced the elder. She gave a nice speech to greet the New Year and introduced an interesting new initiative focused on conversations about democracy at a time, she said, when we are seeing too often how fragile democracy can be, more fragile than expected, even in the places we never imagined it would seem threatened and to watch out for ways to participate or host such conversations.

Near the end of the event, the band in the balcony played a short version of a song. I wondered why it sounded so familiar. When I asked someone I knew who was there, he said, “It’s Auld Lang Syne, Gayle! Maybe you don’t recognize it because usually you’d hear it after you’ve had 7 or more drinks by then,” referring to the time of night it usually gets played on New Year’s Eve, not to my drinking patterns. I laughed a lot at that witty response.

I was intending to spend maybe 30 minutes at the levee that morning, but greeted by such a unique spectacle, such pomp and circumstance and feelings of community, I couldn’t pull myself away.  Next year, I’ll be sure to dress for the occasion.

Happy New Year!

Talking the walking: one foot in front of the other & health

I guess I come by my love of walking honestly.

Infamously, I once took my father, who was in his 90th year at the time, on a walk around the Stanley Park seawall and we made it from my apartment at the bottom of Robson Street to a good chunk of the wall (about 6K) and finally dropping into our seats for lunch at the classic old Sylvia Hotel on English Bay.

After that day, every time I suggested he come downtown from Surrey for a visit, he’d immediately inquire with palpable consternation, “We’re not going to walk around the park, are we?” I may have traumatized him for life.  To set the record straight, I had given him more than one opportunity to do a shorter route, my concern present right from the start, but being the stubborn Scot he was, he had declined and past a certain point, there’s no turning back, no quick exit, no hailing a taxi.

Most of my father’s walking took place in the army during World War II and then later on, I gather, he did a lot of walking as part of his job as an electrician on the Rayonier site in New Westminster where, as an aside, in the 1960s, a huge fire broke out on August 20, 1966 in the grasses between the Scott Paper Company and Rayonier. That enormous blaze eventually ended up requiring the Mars Bomber to be deployed with that massive aircraft gathering tons of water from Sproat Lake near Port Alberni to drop on the fire in New West. I was five years old then, and I vaguely recall my brother and I being taken by my mother to watch the spectacle from a safe distance, awed by that huge aircraft flying so low overhead and dropping a veritable waterfall on the site.

In fact, it was my father’s good health and his Forrest Gump style of walks that eventually led to his decline. One day, he miscalculated the steepness of a hill, having taken a detour on some construction site, and ended up in Emergency thanks to whomever, some construction workers possibly, who found him.  In spite of his advanced age and having to stitch up gashes on his head, the ER folks never bothered to do a cat scan which then required, a second trip to Emergency later that day, a proper diagnosis of two hematomas and a six week hospital stay. This is a warning against walking down steep inclines, especially should you make it into your nineties. He was more fragile and cautious after his recovery, having to finally resort to using a dreaded walker on future outings.

Some of my favourite walks have taken place on B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands. I loved my almost daily meandering jaunts down Walker Hook Road in the North End when I lived there. I’d leave the old cottage I’d rented off Hedger and take my time heading towards the Fernwood Dock admiring the view towards Trincomali Channel and the arbutus trees canvassing above the road, the wild flowers in the ditches. Surely, I thought, heaven must look and feel like the peace on that stretch of geography.

I’ve walked a fair amount on Mayne Island as well. From Miner’s Bay to the Lighthouse and back again and then down to Bennett Bay and I really believe that everyone should experience the absolute freedom and ability to be alone with their thoughts, as the breeze blows their hair, noting scents and scenes that would have been missed while riding in a car as their own two legs provide the only mobility.

I think about a long walk I did on the Isle of Mull in Scotland passing those hairy Highland cattle and inhaling the whiff of the salt off the Firth of Forth with Duart Castle being the daytrip’s destination.

I remember the beautiful city of Bath  and walking back to an Italianate mansion turned hostel on a hill through grassy fields that allowed an expansive view of the town and the weir below as the sun was setting.

Closer to home, my friend Dave Brent organized his friends to do some major walks and I recall the last steps of one of those that started near Value Village in Coquitlam, passed the Boulevard Casino, onto the area under the Port Mann Bridge, carrying on, and on the homestretch over the Pitt River Bridge where some cars had been parked to take the overheated back to the Gillnetter Pub on the Mary Hill Bypass because the pub at the end was always the point really. Two bridges in a single walk is one bridge too many for me.  He’s since ditched the walks for mega hikes all over the North Shore mountains and beyond.

When I saw this article posted by a friend on Facebook about an Irish neuroscientist named Shane O’ Mara, who has proven how good walking is, not just for the body but for the brain, he put into words, what every walker already knows and can now feel a little bit smug about.

The emotion of Art

I was at the Jane Siberry concert in Victoria last night. And she was singing Calling All Angels.

In the row in front of me,  there were what I guessed to be three generations of women in a family. A grandma. A mother. A daughter. And when Jane Siberry started singing her song, Calling all Angels, the daughter in her late 30s started to cry.

She was wiping tears away from first the right side of her face and then the left side with the fatty palm of her hand and she made those motions for quite a long time. Had she not been doing that, I wouldn’t have noticed that she was crying. I was wondering what had caused her feelings to push to the light. I noticed her mom didn’t even turn her head. Was that because she didn’t notice? Or was it precisely because she had? And when I found myself mesmerized by this young woman’s emotion, I realized how much it made me feel better to experience her crying.

Just seeing her response quickened something in my own chest. I closed my eyes and reached for it. I wished I could take that journey right alongside her. I was envious. It was like a memory I’d lived so many times before but have now pushed so far down, again.

Earlier in the day, I went to Chelene Knight’s presentation about home related to her book, Dear Current Occupant. She was speaking about what home means and how do you know when you’re there? Do you feel at home because of a physical place or what factors make somewhere feel like home? Afterwards, a woman in the small audience couldn’t get through her comments to Chelene without her voice quivering and the tears pouring out. Chelene’s book and the thoughts about home she’d evoked were able to touch this woman so deeply that she couldn’t help but be there in that moment fully, emotionally, in feeling.

So to that woman and to the young woman last night at the Jane Siberry concert, I bless you for your tears.

You’re alive and you can still feel it.

Here’s the beautiful song in case you’re not familiar with it:

Blessings for Judith

You can’t measure love in time. You can spend a lifetime with someone and not develop the kind of feelings you might expect to have, not really. And then, you can spend just a few weeks with another and know you’ll never find anyone like them again.

Your unique combination of togetherness creates the magic of a loving friendship or of a love relationship and don’t ever think that friendship is less important than romantic love.

These are the thoughts I’m having as I think about my friend Judith.  In spite of the short amount of time we spent together, her calm, quiet, loving and accepting nature surrounded me and calmed me down whenever I was in her presence. It’s a way of being I admire, desperately need in my life, wish I was more like, hope to be around again, and will miss so very much. I always knew that she was farther along the path than me, in consciousness, and we all need that in our lives, to do and be better. She also had the same dry humour that turned shared amusements into delicious moments, the kind you think of afterwards and that still bring a smile.

Judith passed away yesterday after an incredibly difficult five months. She died of lung cancer; Mesothelioma to be exact. She could only guess that the cancer may have been growing in her lung from the time, as a young girl, she would go with her father, a plumber, to some of his work sites and where they were both unknowingly exposed to asbestos.

The picture above was taken on June 24th, 2018, one day before she had any indication that she was ill. Although, the very next day she told me that she was having some trouble breathing that day. It hadn’t been apparent to me and she hadn’t said. I took this photo across the table at a beautiful end-of-day meal on Salt Spring at the Treehouse in Ganges. The wine glass looks ginormous. It wasn’t! We spent a wonderful day on the island because I knew she would love it there and I wanted her to see a place that has been such an important part of my life over the years.  

She was from the prairies and lived much of her life back east, and then for a few years after her and her husband amicably separated, she lived in Nelson, B.C. She was a life-long meditator and yoga practitioner and a yoga teacher.

I knew very little about her life actually except that she’d been married for about 28 years, maybe more, and had three children now grown in their late twenties/mid-thirties, all living back east. I met both of her daughters and they are the beautiful people I would expect she would have raised. Her youngest son made it to B.C. twice, but we never met. I also met her ex-husband who was incredibly helpful to her when she needed him. It was unfortunate that she was on the other side of the country from almost all her family members when she became ill. They managed to re-arrange their lives to be with her as she needed them in these last months.

I met Judith in February 2018 at the Victoria Film Festival. We were in the line-up and started chatting and she sat beside me in the film.  I think the film was The Gospel according to Andre. Afterwards we went for tea at Wild, that very New Age coffee place on Yates Street in Victoria. From that first meeting, our friendship was formed. I was relieved and excited to make a connection with someone in Victoria who, from the instant I met her, I just knew I wanted to have in my life. You can meet so many people who are perfectly fine individuals but just don’t come close to fitting into that category.

I believe she’d just moved to Victoria from Nelson the month before. I’d arrived a few months before her. That type of connection doesn’t happen very often and yet every time I’ve acted on those feelings, the end result has proven my initial gut instinct to be correct. Judith was my closest friend in a city where I have yet to meet those she referred to as “my tribe.” “You will find your tribe here,” she said. “Just keep trying.”

On the day of this photo, we went to Salt Spring to the gatehouse on Stowel Lake Farm and I recall her saying that she could “feel the love” that had gone into creating that wonderful place. She hoped to go back there for a meditation retreat one day.

We went to the Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm and the Saturday Market and visited the cottage in the north end on Marjorie’s property where I’d lived before moving off island. I wanted to give Judith a sweet first-time introduction to a place I knew she would love. I believed then that this would be the first of many more visits with her. We didn’t even have time to visit Ruckle Park that day.  “You have to see the place that is my touchstone,” I said. I was looking forward to future visits with her.

The day after that fantastic day, June 24, 2018, I got a call from her telling me that she was having trouble breathing and her chest hurt. I immediately thought she was having a heart attack. I wanted to call an ambulance. She refused.  I convinced her to go to a walk-in clinic across the street from where she lived. It wasn’t long, maybe a day or two, before she was in Emergency having her lung drained of fluid. And then it happened again. Finally, after a few weeks, the diagnosis was made. She even endured an operation to remove fluid from around her heart. In her usual private and quiet manner, she carried on and when she was well enough, we’d meet for lunch, for a drive and then in her apartment where I’d bring a special treat from a nearby bakery or her daughters would make brunch, her husband ordered in Thai take-out. I didn’t get to see her before I went to Hawaii. She wasn’t up for a visit. She was struggling with pain.

I’m convinced her life-long meditation practice and personal spiritual beliefs enabled her the dignity to accept what she could not change. But I’m also shocked to know that in this day of modern medicine, it did not seem possible to manage her pain to the degree one would expect and desire for any human being. I’m confused by that and so sorry she had to endure it.

Now that she has left us, I will hold her spirit close to mine and remember her as the beautiful being of loving kindness that she was, knowing that I was lucky to have her in my life for the short time that I did.

I like to imagine her now dressed in a flowing, colourful gown, the kind she would not have typically worn on earth because it would have been too bold. She is leading a yoga class in a beautiful tropical environment, mingling with other spirits and a light is beaming off her because she is free, of pain, of all worldly concerns, journeying in peace. I will miss her so much.

Seedy Saturday and entrepreneurial gardeners

Took myself off to Seedy Saturday at the Victoria Convention Centre. I love Seedy Saturday and apparently there are an ever exploding number of Seedy Saturdays that happen all over Canada now.

Even though I don’t own land, a girl can dream, can’t she?

Besides, like a lot of things, dreaming about an incredible garden is often better than reality. Because reality means I’d actually have to haul dirt and weed and water and spend weekends working and if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past five months now that I have a full time job again, it’s that every second of my weekend is precious. No squandering weekend minutes or seconds doing anything I don’t want to do.

I sat in on three talks, and learned so much. The day started with a medicinal plant talk by Jessy Delleman who owns Fireweed Farm and School.  It was interesting to see slides of how she transformed a piece of land in about 4 years and built a business that includes seed selling, workshops, walks, plants, and healing tinctures all focused on native plants.  Her business is focused on native B.C. plants.

I then moved on to Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seeds talking about ancient grains because he has a new book about that and his rant about Monsanto was fantastic. It was worth sitting in on just to hear that.

I had no idea that he grew about 700 different crops on his farm on Salt Spring. When he began a long time ago, he’d actually started with soy beans and had a lot of hope of getting some funding for those except the powers at be didn’t believe that he could grow those successfully. Of course, he’s been growing them successfully for years.

It was so interesting to listen to him speak about soy and quinoa and amaranth and Ethiopian barley (no, there’s not just one kind) and how when he started growing, he was convinced that amaranth, not quinoa, was going to be the trend that took off. He still thinks amaranth’s day has yet to come. It was interesting to hear the hope he had about how things are really shaking all over B.C. and on Vancouver Island when it comes to local producers and how that’s beginning to impact consumer purchasing. He pointed out that it’s actually how we eat and how that food gets distributed that’s the largest contributor to greenhouse gases.

The last talk I attended was by Chris Hildreth and his company TopSoil Innovative Agriculture along with production manager Scott Mellett. It’s so impressive to see someone with a vision pursue it and figure it out and through action and hard work help make changes in zoning in the City of Victoria so that now, urban agriculture and making that happen here is apparently a lot less daunting.

His initial idea was to grow vegetables for restaurants by utilizing unused rooftops in Victoria. But, it wasn’t just about filling some market need. His vision was all about local and sustainable and making sure the people in the restaurants were an integral part of the plan. He learned the hard way, that his initial vision needed reworking and now they grow produce, mainly greens, by using land that has yet to be developed at Dockside Green. His 10 years of experience in the local restaurant industry meant that instead of like many urban farmers who may be approaching restaurants from the outside in, he was approaching them from the inside out.

His business is totally sustainable in that he works with a small number of nearby restaurants like Canoe Brewpub, Fishhook, Fiamo, Lure and others so that everything is either driven or cycled to the restaurants that are very close to where the produce is grown. The produce gets delivered in reusable boxes, so there’s no packaging or plastics to throw away by the restaurant staff and then the boxes get picked up and the restaurant’s composting gets recycled by another company and delivered back to his garden and the cycle begins anew. In the spring and summer they also sell directly to consumers from their market stall on the same property. I know where I”m going this summer for produce.

It was all so inspiring.

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.

 

A canvas for new beginnings

As seen from my balcony, at a distance, at 8:00 am, New Year’s Eve Day. Taken with my 55-300.

CANVAS

I wake up every morning now,

only a short distance from

Emily Carr’s heritage home on Government Street,

and that makes me happier than it should

because of who she was and who she became

even though who is she to me, really?

Just another woman who struggled to live

how she wanted to live — no more, no less.

On canvas and across her days, an original.

Not as easy a feat as that might seem.

Love her or reject her still?

Settler that she was, that almost all of us now are.

So much to learn about this old city.

Peering down from my eighth floor concrete perch,

each day book-ended by

watercolour washes of lucky accidents

and in the distance, three deciduous.

I’ve named them The Triplets because

three tall tops poking above the rest is what I see.

Regal and stretching, their tippy-toe branches

resembling that delicate ancient art: Crewel embroidery

except, in this case, offered up to the gods.

All it takes is a little imagination to transform this morning’s vista:

blacks

blues

pinks

grays

into an orange horizon on a distant savanna.

The heat from a tanned land blurring the whirling dervish of far away hands.

Nowhere near, as I am and The Triplets are, to Mile Zero on the West Coast of Canada where Terry Fox runs, in stillness, towards eternity.

____________________________________________________________________

Wishing for you this year, as I do for most everyone who has touched my life, ever, good fortune, stellar health, memorable conversations, fulfilling friendships and as C.S. Lewis describes in his book of the same name, The Four Loves.

Use bright colours to decorate your canvas in the next 365 days. Happy 2018!