Disney comment on Victoria: “you would swear you were in England”

October 3, 2007 at 11:14 am | In architecture, authenticity, canada, cities, heritage, innovation, media, public_relations, victoria | Comments Off on Disney comment on Victoria: “you would swear you were in England”

It seems the Canadian Pavilion at the Epcot Center (in Orlando, Fla.’s Disney World) has a new version of “O Canada,” the promotional film for this country. According to an article in today’s paper (Ottawa feeling underexposed in Disney’s new Epcot film), Ottawa is ticked off that it rates barely a mention.

But how would you like to be Victoria, narrated along the lines of “you would swear you were in England”?

There are two YouTube clips available to view the “First Official Screening” of the new & improved version of “O Canada”:

Part One (nearly 10 minutes, with the first 5 1/2 minutes taken up by an intro; at around 6 minutes the actual film starts, with Martin Short): this link to view
Part Two (another 10 minutes, this time all film, except for a few seconds at the end): this link to view

What I find interesting is that Martin Short starts by explaining the origin of the name, Canada, as deriving from the native word for “village” or “settlement,” but then the film spends at least 5 minutes going on about how Canadians practically live outdoors, in the wilder wilds of nature. Did you know, for example, that ice skating is apparently our national mode of winter transportation…? No? It was news to me, too.

Aha, but then, after many views of bear & caribou & so on, Short adds this: “Most Canadians live in cities.”

What follows is a quick cross-country city tour, with each locale highlighted for something or other. Victoria is cited for its architecture — incidentally the only city to be distinguished for that aspect. Yet only our relatively slim pickings of wow! buildings (the Empress and the Legislature, both designed by Francis Rattenbury) are part of that highlight. We are not commended for anything new and recent.

And I say “relatively slim” not to disparage the magnificence of the buildings exposed in the film, but to point out that once you’re in the downtown neighbourhoods of Rock Bay or Harris Green or North Park, those buildings will mean little to you, because what you’re dealing with instead are the rather uninspired uglinesses on either side of the street…

So, in context, the “you would swear you were in England” remark is actually part of this statement: “The architecture of this charming city is so inspired by its British heritage that you would swear you were in England.”

I guess the question might then be, “How long can we continue to live off inspiration alone?” Even Disney gives it up to innovation, often and repeatedly…

Letting others colonize the imaginary you is not a good idea…

July 29, 2007 at 11:01 am | In authenticity, business, canada, cities, media, public_relations, virtually | 2 Comments

This is pretty hilarious, but somehow pathetic, too… Those of you who’ve been to Epcot Center in Florida know the set-up: tourists visit “national” pavilions where they are bombarded by various cliches or story-book ideas about the country. Some pavilions are more high-brow than others, stocked with political information, and others are …less “serious,” if that’s the right word. If I recall correctly, some (all?) have restaurants attached that serve up the “typical” cuisine of that country (Norway: smoked fish, for example).

Now, read this (emphases added) and tell me what you think “O Canada,” the film shown in the Canadian pavilion, is telling the hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the globe who trot through there every year. I can’t believe this wasn’t retired years ago…

Outdated Canadian film due for Epcot makeover

Tony Atherton
CanWest News Service

Sunday, July 29, 2007

OTTAWA — The year was 1982. Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, the Jays played at Exhibition Stadium, Vancouver’s False Creek was an industrial wasteland and a film called O Canada! was the star attraction of the Canada Pavilion at the brand-new Epcot Center at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

A quarter of a century later, the 18-minute, 360-degree film is still packing ’em in at Epcot, but its dated and often hokey portrayal of the country has become a painful embarrassment for Canadian tourism officials and for many of the tens of thousands of Canadians who visit the theme park each year.

Ancient footage of the RCMP Musical Ride, flannel-wearing fishermen, fleeting and outdated aerial shots of Canadian cities and voice-overs by actors affecting bad Newfoundland and Quebec accents are all cited in the steady stream of complaints about the film fielded each year by the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Soon, however, Canadian visitors to Epcot may no longer be blushing as bright as Mickey Mouse’s red lederhosen. Seven years after former Canadian Tourism Commission president Jim Watson launched a campaign to have the Disney-made film updated, it seems a new version of O Canada! will debut Aug. 25 — with help from some high-profile Canadians: Gatineau’s Canadian Idol winner Eva Avila and, Disney buffs say, comedian Martin Short.

The folks at Disney won’t confirm or deny rumours that the film is being relaunched next month. Walt Disney Canada spokeswoman Angela Saclamacis will only say “we are expecting some good things over at Epcot … but we’re not prepared to announce anything officially at this time.”

However, an official Disney website notes that the O Canada! film exhibit at the Canada Pavilion — a circular room with nine large screens surrounding an audience pit — will be shut down from Aug. 20-24 for “refurbishment.”

Avila’s manager Jim Campbell, and a spokeswoman for her record company Sony BMG Canada, say the singer has recorded a theme song for the pavilion to be launched next month.

Short, rumoured to be the new film’s onscreen narrator, could not be reached for comment.

The original film, apparently inspired by an enormously popular circular movie created by Canadian director Robert Barclay for the Bell Canada Pavilion at Expo ’67, was largely shot in 1979. The Disney film has been described by Barclay as “a superficial, glib look at the country.”

“It could have been a Wal-Mart commercial,” Barclay told a reporter in 2000. Watson, now Ontario’s minister of health promotion, has said the film represents an American’s stereotypical view of Canada.

O Canada! features snippets of Canadian folk music (including Stan Rogers’ Bluenose) and an overweening 1980s-style pop song called Canada, You’re a Lifetime Journey. Footage shows cars and clothes a generation out of date, and cityscapes that have changed tremendously since 1982. The Toronto footage, for instance, features the CN Tower but not the Rogers Centre (former Sky Dome) which has stood prominently beside the tower for 18 years.

About half of the footage is new in the restyled movie, according to contributors to Disney fan websites and to an unofficial online Disney tour guide. It is not clear who paid for the changes, which Watson once estimated would cost several million dollars.

Over the years, there have been several attempts to bring Disney together with private Canadian investors with an interest in tourism to fund an update. The federal government has previously declined to become involved.

Epcot Center is one of four theme parks at Walt Disney World, and the Canada exhibit, which includes the Victoria Gardens (inspired by Victoria’s Butchart Gardens), the Hotel du Canada (based on the Chateau Laurier), some totem poles and an ersatz canyon as well as the O Canada! film, is one of 11 countries showcased at the park.

By showing outdated aerial shots of Canadian cities, the film perpetuates the convenient myth that Canadians live rurally and in wildernesses, but not in cities… The cynic in me wonders whether that wasn’t a convenience not just for Disney’s view of Canada, but also for parochial Canadian government views. And if the movie represents such a stereotypical cliche of Canada, why did Canadians (tourism industry and government) let it rest for so long? Is there not enough imagination in the country to come up with a national image of our own?

So “fast,” I’m nearly invisible

July 18, 2007 at 4:40 pm | In business, cities, fastcompany, public_relations, victoria | 8 Comments

Really important update — scroll down…

I have been so fast, I’m nearly invisible, which is not as it should be! Perhaps I should make sure that I’m at least leaving tracks — digital footprints, like tea leaves or entrails…

First, a quick personal update for everyone who sorta-kinda heard that I might be moving to Seattle: I am not moving to Seattle after all. I’m staying put in Victoria, and I’m actually very happy about it. There’s so much happening here — I want to stick around for Part II, for the sequel, for the To Be Continued.

Second, I really will get around to putting my magazine articles online soon. The publication I write for (FOCUS Magazine) doesn’t have an online presence (aside from a webpage), but I should do the work at least to put my articles up, perhaps as a “page” on this blog.

Third, …no, wait, I can’t talk about that! (Sorry! ;-))

Finally (for now), why the “fast” in the title? A: I did one of my crazy things the other day — and it again has to do with Victoria, which I find intriguing and fascinating these days. I read all the articles in FastCompany related to the 2007 listings for “fast cities” — and felt aggrieved that of course only Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto were included for Canada. Waterloo and Montreal were included as “reader-nominated” “fast cities.” “Reader nominated,” eh? At that, I felt motivated to act, of course. (Update 7/19: Edmonton is up, too, reader-nominated.)

So naturally I nominated Victoria — which would probably horrify many Victorians, but it’s about time some of us zippy types got to have some say, too. In my nomination of Victoria, I wrote this:

The City of Victoria, designated a 2005 Canadian Cultural Capital, is the core municipality of a metro region known as the Capital Regional District (pop. ~350,000 and growing). It is home to several universities (University of Victoria; Royal Roads; and the recently-founded private University Canada West, which plans to have a downtown campus by next year), as well as a number of colleges and technical and trade schools. The Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Park serves as incubator for high tech companies, and Victoria’s high-tech sector is expanding greatly. Victoria is BC’s provincial capital (seat of government) and, in addition to its growing high-tech sector, Victoria commands a thriving world-class tourism industry, which benefits from the city’s rich inventory of intact heritage buildings (late 19th and early 20th century). Long considered a “sleepy” city (its island location tended to isolate it in the past), it can now leverage today’s networked business climate. Victoria is also undergoing a renaissance in urbanist thinking, manifesting in a construction boom that’s creating a vibrant downtown filled with residential towers and new office buildings. A highly desirable place to live (mild climate, beautiful scenery), Victoria is enriched by the “three Ts” (as defined by Richard Florida), which are crucial to city-making today: talent, technology, and tolerance.

No sooner had I submitted my nomination, I realized that I hadn’t mentioned all the “fast” companies (high tech types and others) that are creating a foothold here. So I tried to add to my submission a couple of days later (today, in fact), but you can’t “double-dip” or double-submit, as it were.


Naturally, I didn’t want to be deterred and so wrote an email to FastCompany‘s editors directly, asking them to pass my supplementary information on to the appropriate editors of the “fast cities” feature. Here’s what I sent today:

In my initial submission I neglected including information about all the interesting locally-founded and locally-based Victoria companies we have right here. Many of them at times appear to have a Vancouver connection (instead of Victoria), but that’s only because Vancouver is the source of most of the press releases. The following companies in fact are actually Victoria-based.

As Victoria seems to be a bit weak in trumpeting its “fast company” highlights, I hope you’ll let me add, for your information, the following (abbreviated) list of local businesses that are developing reputations nationally and internationally:

Abebooks (world’s largest online marketplace for books, lists over 100 million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books from more than 13,500 booksellers, started & grown right here, in Victoria)

Carmanah Technology Corp. (they make solar-powered traffic signs, crossings, bus stops, etc. — used in London, UK)

Tactex Controls Inc. (manufacturers of space-age fabrics like Kinotex that incorporates fibreoptic sensing technology, originally designed for the Canadian Space Agency as a sensory skin for robots — I believe they did something with Canadarm, which was used by the space shuttle… They also manufacture high-tech fabrics that are straight out of The Matrix.)

Triton Logging Co. (again, a locally founded company, which uses a locally invented device called a Sawfish that cuts trees which were submerged during hydro or dam building operations; these are old-growth forests, underwater; Triton has a big contract in Africa; their press releases say they’re in Vancouver, but they’re actually here) (From their profile: Triton Logging is the world leader in underwater forestry technology, operations and certified wood products. It was created to take advantage of the significant forest reserves that stand in dam reservoirs throughout the world, collectively holding timber worth more than $50 billion)

Aspreva Pharmaceuticals (founded here, an emerging pharmaceutical company focused on identifying, developing and, upon regulatory approval, commercializing new indications for approved drugs and late stage drug candidates for patients living with less common diseases)

GenoLogics Life Sciences Software (founded here; a leader in the development of open bioinformatics solutions that assist life science research and pharmaceutical laboratories to manage, integrate and analyze vast volumes of scientific and lab data to advance health research and drug discovery)

ETraffic Solutions (established in Victoria: an eLearning company that specializes in Internet-based applications for staff development, information gathering and analysis, online language training and online learning communities)

Municipal Software Corp. (founded in Victoria, the company provides easily installed, powerful and long-term software solutions that manage the everyday business processes of municipalities; most customers are in the US)

ParetoLogic (a Victoria based international software Development Company focusing on Internet Security and PC Optimization was established in 2004 by four software professionals, who just happened to be brothers; uses proprietary Zheng technology)

ACD Systems (a Victoria company; one of the world’s leading developers and marketers of digital imaging software, including the renowned ACDSee image management tool and Canvas, an advanced cross-platform technical illustration and graphics program)

Agresso Corporation (Victoria subsidiary of multinational Unit 4 Agresso, a $450 million provider of business and security software and services listed on the Dutch Stock Exchange EURONET-U4AGR. Agresso, founded in 1991, and Unit 4, founded in 1980, merged in 2000 to become Unit 4 Agresso.)

Terra Remote Sensing Inc. (GIS technology)

Schneider Electric (used to be another, local, company?, bought out by Schneider, a French firm)

Total Delivery Systems (TDS) (founded in Victoria; delivery service, grown here, now expanding / franchising to the Lower Mainland/ Vancouver)

Beanstream Internet Commerce (founded in Victoria, Beanstream provides payment and authentication services to a growing number of active businesses, service organizations, resellers and sales agents across Canada and the United States)

EDS Advanced Solutions (leading provider of Information Technology and Information Management services focused on the provision of outsourcing services to clients who desire a labour-friendly outsourcing solution)

The University of Victoria Genome BC Proteomics Centre (a not-for profit organization, providing analytical services to researchers internationally; Genologics works in the field of proteomics, too; biomedical fields are growing here; Ocean Sciences is also big, but I didn’t include any companies since I don’t know this field)

Neverblue Media Incorporated
(founded/ based in Victoria; a leading online marketing company that specializes in client acquisition and lead generation)

These are just some of the companies I’ve personally heard about or dealt with in some way. There are literally scores more — for a more complete listing see The VIATec Directory (this webpage was also my source for most of the detail info, above).

N.B .: In addition, Victoria is also home to the Dockside Green development, a LEED certified project headed up by Joe van Belleghem of Windmill Developments and Vancity Savings. You can find out more about this “green” project, which is gaining global recognition (we have delegations visiting from China to learn from Dockside) at this site.

Now, do I think that a big player like FastCompany is going to take Victoria seriously, particularly given that Vancouver out-bullies us on the bully pulpit — which incidentally isn’t difficult to do, since Victoria in part likes to think of itself as a nobody? No, I don’t really expect FastCompany to shine its munificent light this way, but at the same time, I couldn’t help thinking, “hot damn, there is a lot going on here! And this tech stuff is just one part of it!”

Victoria and I perhaps make the same errors: so fast we don’t leave a trace, which perhaps means it’s time to make a pit-stop and send up some signals…


My submission was approved! Victoria is up as a “fast city” on FastCompany! Now please please please: go and rate it — let the world know that you think this is a great place! Click through on this page and give Victoria some linky love!

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