Tag Archives: victoria

I miss the Salish Sea

In 2010, the Canadian and US governments made a decision to recognize the “Salish Sea”. This is the network of waterways that meander from the northern end of Vancouver Island to the southern end of Puget Sound. It includes the Strait of Juan Fuca between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula as well as the Georgia Strait between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland.

Salish Sea Bioregional Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail ~ Map ...

I am from a city at the heart of the Salish Sea. Growing up, I thought that Victoria would never change. I thought even Vancouver was reaching the apogee of its change when I left in 2004. Now, I have to say that the cities on its shores are the places I used to know by heart. Not because those maps and vistas and landmarks have faded out of my heart, but because those places have changed. Victoria has moved into its future, and has become a real Canadian city instead of the lost British colony it was for so long. Vancouver has become even glassier and more unattainable for my generation to stay in.

I am growing used to change in my homeland. I am adapting to the idea that these places cannot stay the same as they were in my childhood. And I have never lamented change on the Island so much as I regret that I am home so rarely as to be surprised by it. Even changes a decade old are new to me, like the SkyTrain extensions or the Olympic Village in Vancouver. Vancouver Island has changed less than the Lowe Mainland, as it is is made up of a series of towns built on exploitation of natural resources and indigenous peoples in the 1980s and 1990s. As the exploitation subsides and those industries run out, the Island will change. As Vancouver continues to be more and more expensive and more difficult to live in, more of my peers will take their families over the Straits, and the Island will change.

In order to adapt to change in British Columbia though, I have to actually see it. My family were supposed to be in Victoria a few weeks ago, together. My sister, mother and I were supposed to be bringing everyone to our home. We were supposed to stay four days in our old neighborhood in Victoria, followed by four days in Parksville and one in Vancouver. We wanted to revisit the magical time we had with Ben and his cousins last summer on the shores of the Salish Sea.

MAGICAL I TELL YOU. Kids in Bastion Square, Victoria

Obviously, this trip did not happen for a myriad of COVID-19 related reasons, not least of which was that we did not want to risk bringing COVID-19 onto Vancouver Island. We canceled all the flights and hotels ages ago, accepted the loss as a minimal event in the upheaval of April, and moved on. It would take a lot of entitlement to complain about not going on vacation, especially in the wake of the disaster and mass death that is the spread of the coronavirus. To complain about my inability to travel to a high-end hotel would be a whole new level of self-centered. The only appropriate reason to publicly lament a lost vacation would be to express regret at not being able to spend tourist dollars in an economy that depends on that income.

“Disappointed,” however, is how I might have expressed the sentiment felt at the loss of a trip to any place but BC. “Grief” feels closer, even if it is “grief lite”. It’s sadness, it’s a sort of longing, it’s homesickness. We are lucky in that we are not grieving a loved one, like so many families this year, and we are only grieving the loss of time with our loved ones. It feels like the culmination and the apex of all the longing I’ve had to just be with my family during COVID is represented in the loss of this trip to BC. We had hoped to be together in the place where we are all most at home, where my sister and I are most ourselves, in the place we know by heart. We were supposed to be together, on the shores of the Salish Sea, the place where we scattered our father’s ashes. We were supposed to there with our mother, our husbands and our children, connected to the islands we know by heart.

Instead, we are still separated, and still unable to say when we will be able to return to British Columbia. I am here in Toronto, back in Canada, but still in self-isolation for one more week until Ben and I can actually hug our people. We are still not able to be with our family, and can only wave at them when they kindly stop off to bring us food or games or books to make the quarantine more bearable.

It still feels a little safer here than in the United States, knowing I am home, knowing I am back in a country that places a higher premium on the common good than on demonstrating individual liberties through an absolute lack of compassion. Being in Canada, especially since 2016, always makes me feel at ease, as I slip back into the emotional pajamas of the culture I was raised in. I know Canada isn’t the kind, accepting, cultural mosaic that I always wanted to believe it was, but it’s a kinder, more accepting, and more welcoming place for diversity than the United States. That’s a low bar, but it’s still always comforting to be in Canada.

Right now though, I would give almost anything to be home, in British Columbia, on the shores of the Salish Sea, just to have the solace of being in the place I love the most in all the world, at a time when the world is at its worst. I have never regretted my decision to leave, and to go out into the world, because I belong in a much wider world than the cities of the Salish Sea. I still miss my home though, every day, and losing my time there to COVID-19 has amplified homesickness into a sense of loss that is hard to move past.

Add it to the list, I suppose, the list of the hundreds of cuts that bleed my emotional strength every day. Compared to the fear for my neighbors and for New York City, this should be a minor concern, a small loss. And yet, at a time when every emotional impact lands in a different way, when the world wears on each of us in disparate, yet consistently exhausting ways, I grieve for that lost week on the shores of the Salish Sea in a way that is greater than the loss itself. I physically feel the loss at a higher intensity than I typically feel the low level of homesickness that has dogged me at every step of my journey in the States.

I do not have a path that takes me back to any of the Salish Sea cities, nor do I intend to create one. I only hope that the world rights itself soon, and the movement I took for granted, the roads and ferries back to my homeland, is restored to me and my family.

dreaming of the edge of the world

Douglas Coupland wrote, in Shampoo Planet, that home is where you dream, that it’s part of your brain’s hard drive.  That we’re all hard wired for our dreams to be set at home.

I’m not terribly sure where I dream these days.  Many days my dreams do exactly what they should do, and parse through the mundane things that have happened to me each day.  Some days, they are pop culture references – TV, movies, books.  And then other days, I dream of my own home, of that corner of British Columbia I grew up in, took for granted and left.  I dream of Victoria.

With no close family left in BC, I’m unlikely to return, even for a vacation, because I know I’ll always prioritize the rest of the world over returning to that corner of it I know by heart.  And yet, every day, I think of random places and it catches my breath in sadness.  I’ll  be caught by a random memory of Oak Bay in summer, or I’ll look at a street in Manhattan and see the West End.  It is forever and ever part of my permanent memory, my own hard drive.

For the past year, since I said goodbye the last time, since I wept my way back across Canada on a red-eye flight back through Toronto last November, I have been trying to push back those memories and focus on my actual present in Brooklyn.  I love Brooklyn, after all – I love New York the way I loved Vancouver.  This is the most Vancouvery place I could have settled with my family, after all, with its hippie food co-ops, overpriced real estate, bike lanes and beaches.  New York City is ten times the size of Vancouver and yet I get it because I lived there.  And I chose to be here, and I work every day to stay here and I love it here.  And so, rather than focus on the past, I chose to push it away.  I thought that would be the smart thing to do.

The problem with the past is that it won’t be pushed away.  It’s been half a lifetime since I lived on the Island, a dozen years since I left Vancouver, and yet I still dream of home.  It’s taken me the last twenty years to realize that not everyone feels homesickness like I do, and not everyone has the emotional attachment that those of us born in the Pacific Northwest do to our homeland.  Maybe I should be celebrating that and shining that light into my own memories instead of drawing the curtain on them. Maybe I should choose to follow those memories for a few minutes each day – not enough to be lost in nostalgia, but enough to accept the sorrow and the joy that comes from spending the first twenty years of my life in a lost English colony on the edge of the world.

And so, I’ve chosen to spend a few minutes memorializing my own memories of Victoria.  The neighborhoods and streets are still there, and many are actually protected by heritage and building laws.  The Victoria in my memory is frozen in time between 1988 and 1998, in an era before the Internet had pictures, a time between when the natural resource industries crashed and the tech industry started, yet it doesn’t look much different than the city I said goodbye to in 2015.  There will never be skyscrapers in Victoria the way there are in Vancouver…but there will be condominium developments, and there will be growth, and there will be big changes yet to come.  When I remember places – a half-finished Songhees walkway, Vic West of abandoned industrial zones, an Oak Bay Marina with Sealand of the Pacific (yes, of Blackfish fame) – they are memories of places that no longer exist except in memory.

I have pushed back memory because I am afraid of homesickness, of the addiction of nostalgia and the past.  These are terrible temptations in stressful times.  I have questioned many times since I left the Island if my desire to go home was pure homesickness or just a longing to return to a time that was less complicated.  After all, wouldn’t everyone like to have the responsibilities of their nineteen year old self for a few days instead of the responsibilities of their thirty-eight year old adult self?  So it is with the fear of addiction that I risk reliving memories of British Columbia and choose to describe them.

So.  I remember Oak Bay, Victoria, the Island.  I remember Vancouver, the Lower Mainland.  I will allow myself to revisit the place I know by heart.  I will trust myself to accept the strange mix of loss and comfort that is growing up someplace that borders on the unreal in sheer beauty, and then having chosen to leave it, as every small-to-medium town kid does, to See the World.  After all, being able to call one single place home means that, as long as I live elsewhere, I am forever on a journey.

When I am self-pitying, that is when I tell myself I’m living in exile Off Island.

When I am hopeful, that is when I can see that journey as being a lifetime of adventure.

And living in Brooklyn, that is exactly the adventure I dreamed of as a teenager in Victoria. I do not need to convince myself of the sheer awesomeness of my present, I just need to come to terms with the contrast it has with my past.


separation from church and state winery

wineryWhen I went up to Canada a month ago, to look at wedding venues in Victoria, I went through seven in three days. Hatley Castle, four hotels, the Union Club downtown, and the Church and State winery. Of the six, I decided that I liked the idea of the winery the most. It was very New B.C. – all light wood and granite and an exposed stainless steel kitchen. And it sat on beautiful grounds with gorse on the hills, and a view of the Strait of Georgia a half-mile to the east. That’s my mom (left, in the blue turtleneck) and her best friend Janice (right), on the ceremony site on those pretty grounds. (My Flickr set of the place is here)

The only problem was the wedding coordinator, a girl about my age who was, well, a bit flaky. She’d forgotten we were even scheduled to meet, to start with, and we only caught her by dumb luck. But I decided to let that go. I forget meetings all the time, after all, unless I have Outlook in front of me to remind me. So we toured the building, and talked about the event, and agreed that she would send a proposal in a week.

Two weeks went by, and nothing. I called and got her voicemail. I left a message. More days went by, and then she called the next Monday to reassure me. No, she’d been on work/vacation in Napa. She hadn’t forgotten me. She would send a proposal by end of week. I was mollified and stopped worrying. Until the end of the week came with no proposal.

Finally, the next week, she sent it. To my mother. With my name spelled wrong on it. I looked it over, calculated it out to include taxes using my Wedding Calculator Spreadsheet, and agreed. They wanted US dollars, which made it more than they would have charged a Canadian, but the exchange is close enough that I would accept that. I’d renegotiate if the US dollar regained some strength. And I said the proposal was fine, let’s move forward. Next step: determine the exact costs so I could send a 20% deposit.

No reply. Again. I sent a reminder email later in the week, and received a reply. “I’ll send menus by the end of the week.” This was about ten days ago. Surprise, surprise, no menus. And no response to my follow-up email from the Tuesday after the due date. No word since.

I know that this venue is not that keen on weddings. They said it’s too much work, that they didn’t do weddings at all last year for that reason. But if you don’t want my business, don’t say you do. Don’t tell me you’ll meet me, and forget. Don’t say you’ll send a proposal, and send it two weeks late, after I’ve had to call you twice. Don’t miss a deadline to send a catering proposal and then not respond to my followup messages. That’s three strikes. If you want the business, you have to do the work. If you don’t, don’t waste my time. Because if you’re this sloppy and negligent now, how are you going to act once you have my non-refundable deposit? How much more stress will you cause me on this project?

P5250232So I have, in effect, fired the winery. Or will tell them so if I ever hear from them again. Then I went and wrote to choice number two: the Union Club of downtown Victoria. Or, as cracksmurf calls them, “the bastion of white male grumpiness”. It’s an Edwardian-era private club that was used by all the rulers of the province of BC as their hangout. Flickr set is here., and that’s their Begbie room in the photo to the right. I liked the idea of having the ceremony and reception in the same place at the winery, but I can go to Plan B: Beacon Hill Park Ceremony And Union Club Reception. Very old Victoria. Very much the sort of wedding that could have taken place at any time in my home town over the last century. Not unique, as the winery would have been, but the Union Club caterer wrote me back within 24 hours. And since this wedding is just one more project, one more campaign, that I’m buying inventory for, I like that level of professionalism.

destination wedding

For me, it’s home – but for everyone else, it’s a destination wedding. There is so much advertising for Victoria – including a snappy new Tourism Victoria website – that we won’t need to tell our guests much more about where we’re demanding they travel to.

I also have to accept that Victoria is not the place it used to be. It looks like the city is actually getting more sophisticated: better restaurants, better arts and culture, and a tourism industry that is no longer based on “It’s like England – only two hours from Seattle!” The new Victoria campaign is about the city itself, as a unique place – Canada’s warmest city, charming turn-of-the-last-century buildings, a spectacular Pacific Northwest setting. Instead of being the last English colony, now it’s more about being on the edge of the wild – but still being able to match a wine (from a local winery) to the seafood. It’s weird. It’s like Victoria suddenly broke free of being British, and, instead of becoming Mini-Vancouver, like I always figured it would be, it’s become, well, just itself. The new city slogan is, “Beautiful, Charming, And Just A Little Wild.” Since one of the attributes I miss the most, and that I always considered to be paramount to Victoria is that it is on the edge of the Wild, I actually think this is a good campaign. And, as a Victorian, I’m used to mocking the city’s self-promotion more than I am agreeing with it.

Still, it helps that the city IS promoting itself, for my own purposes. Like, we’re getting married someplace that is a pain to get to – but here’s a website showing how much you’ll love it while you’re there! It’s almost like having a destination wedding – except that destination is my hometown. I got lucky. I can’t imagine how I’d justify going home to get hitched if I’d grown up someplace uglier and more practical.

going home

I’m packing to go home. My flight to YVR leaves in eight and a half hours, after all.

Usually, I count down to a trip back to British Columbia. But this time, I have been too immersed in my life in Los Angeles lately to do so. I almost forgot I was going home until the last minute.

And then I was folding a skirt, and a Doves track came on the rotation in my Rhapsody, and I burst into tears. I suddenly realized that, in fifteen hours, I’ll be back on the Island. I’ll be home. I can sleep, in my old room, in my parents house, with my dog outside the door. I’ll be a hundred yards from the clean salt of the Northwest ocean, in the quiet corner of the world I still dream in.

I think it was the sense of relief – I just started weeping. I’m so tired. It takes so much out of me to withstand Los Angeles, to see the damage and the poverty and the despair everywhere in this city, everywhere in America, misery brought in to replace the life drained out of thousands by a senselessly selfish society. I fight the war, I fight the system, I fight the cars…it takes energy, after all, to struggle. To be able to see the world like I do, and I wish, a lot of the time, that I didn’t.

I’m going home, and I can have my mother and father take care of me for a few days, and I’ll be able to sleep, sleep, without waking up to gasp for breath or search for clean water or hear the freeways every waking minute.

I’m going home now, to Oak Bay, to my Shire, somewhere off the edge of the maps. I’ll be back next week, and I’ll miss Los Angeles enough while I’m gone, but I just realized…I do still miss home. More than I realized.

partying on the westside is like going back in time

Usually, if I’m going to go to clubs that involve Top 40 and a dance floor, I go to Hollywood. That’s where the trendier clubs are, and that’s usually where someone’s on the list to get in without paying cover. And when buying into that image, I like to go straight for its source. But last night was a friend’s roomate’s birthday, and she picked Busby’s in Santa Monica, and so, for only the fourth time since I’ve been here, I went to a Westside club. Or rather, to a Westside restaurant-slash-sportsbar-slash-club that attempted to class itself up by charging ten dollar cover and banning baseball caps.
west siiiiiiiiide!