Stumbling on orcas

October 1, 2011 at 9:53 pm | In scenes_victoria | 4 Comments

At around 3:30pm this afternoon, hobbling around on a dog walk at the Dallas Road walkway that borders the cliffs on the Juan de Fuca Strait, the spouse noticed that 2 or 3 commercial whale watching boats had stalled their engines really close to shore, right near Clover Point. They were quickly joined by several private vessels – three sail boats and an outboard. Well, must be some Orcas just under the water!

Sure enough, they appeared, spouting and spewing – about half a dozen. By the time I got around to taking the photo, below, the mini-flotilla (which periodically would start up to follow the pod, then turn off engines, then start up again, etc.) had reached Finlayson Point and was dispersing. In between, the Orcas put on a major show – I swear the lead mammal had a show-biz complex: when the shore was truly ringed by scores of land-based viewers and the flotilla had grown to six or seven vessels, he or she splashed up a storm.

All of it was preceded by the most delicate ballet of the finely-nuanced sort, with the junior members showing discrete bits of fin and flute (white underneath …how odd). But when Big Mama (or Daddy) got going, the small fry moved out of sight until s/he was done. Loop-de-loop, up into the air, twirl, flip on the back, dive in nose first. Rinse. Repeat.

It was really joyful.

There’s much to enjoy here. 😉

Dying Downtown Victoria BC

March 21, 2011 at 8:26 pm | In architecture, business, dying_downtown, johnson street bridge, land_use, scenes_victoria, victoria | 12 Comments

If downtown Victoria BC storefronts were teeth, this city would need a new bridge.

…Oh, wait. That’s a bad joke (see posts tagged with Johnson Street Bridge)… We are getting a new bridge. But as the following photos will show, what we really need is economic revitalization.

This afternoon, I was walking down Fort Street to Monk’s at Fort and Blanshard. I passed one empty storefront after another – just on one side of the street, just on one street, just on three-and-a-half blocks.

This is what many parts of downtown Victoria look like.

We start at Fort and Cook Streets, the northeast corner, before we head east on Fort St. (we’re traveling on the north side of the street).


We see 1090 Fort St, and there isn’t just one empty storefront, but two.

This is Kona Coffee Shop – or rather: was. Now gone.


Next up, same building:

This used to be a hair salon. Even a hair salon can't survive here?


Next up, in a small, low building a few doors down:


Charles Baird Antiques – closed


The next one’s demise (just a few doors down) was new-to-me:

Plenty Epicurean Pantry will be closing next. 🙁


Nearly next-door to Plenty (ironic name) is the Korean specialty clothing boutique that closed earlier this year. The sign claims that someone new is taking over, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Right now, the place is empty and bereft:


Specialty knits boutique – closed earlier this year.


Ok, we’re still in the same block (1000s), and here’s another place that has been sitting empty for months and months:


This used to be a niche home decor store. Has been empty for months. No new takers.


Ok, we now come to the 800 block of Fort St. (The 900 block on the north side of Fort is mostly surface parking lots – next to Lund’s – and a grassy trash-lot in front of View Towers. So, there are only a few stores in that block anyway…)


Seeing that this one is closing was a shocker: it's a Korean grocer, next to a French butcher. Why is it closing?


A couple of doors down, there’s the carpet place, which recently started claiming that it was closing. Probably just a ploy, but I thought I’d include this to replace Marvan (in the 1100 block of Fort, on the south side), which is closing, sadly:

I'm guessing this store isn't really closing. It's just a cheap ploy to convince rubes there are deals to be had.

The alleged going-out-of-business carpet store did take over (in a most unattractive manner) an empty storefront next door – yes, another one, and it has been empty for …what?, years now?

The ex-Miroirs home furnishings store, an empty storefront for months upon months, currently being used by the carpet store two doors up (the carpet store that's claiming to go out of business, too)…


Now we’re in the 700 block of Fort. I can’t even remember what this store used to be – but it’s empty, and will probably stay that way for ages…

Empty storefront in 700 block of Fort St.


And next door to the above, the former Cairo Coffee Merchants, defunct:

Cairo Coffee Merchants, closed, empty, …for how long?

Ok, that was depressing.

It never fails to amaze me that Victoria is full of attractive neighborhoods, bounded by gorgeous scenery that’s unparalleled.

But go downtown, and you have to wonder why Victorians hate their city so much that they let it die.

Note: this post is the first of a series of three – it just kind of happened that way. Part 2 is here and part 3 is here.

Not more cowbell, please

February 23, 2011 at 8:18 pm | In just_so, scenes_victoria, victoria | 5 Comments

It snowed today. Depending on what part of the world you live in, this might not cause you to raise an eyebrow. But if you were where I am, you’d be really surprised – especially since this snowfall was a) unpredicted; b) unusual (for us); and c) really substantial.

Just a few days ago, while out walking at Summit Park, I took photos like these:



Today, however, we woke up to this:


…And that was just the start. Check out this photo from a friend who lives in a high-rise in James Bay – it gives you a good idea of what the roads looked like.

It snowed on and off for most of the day – we’re on a corner lot and shoveled the sidewalk on both streets three times. In the end, for just one day, it was fun, …in a weird sort of way. That said, I would appreciate a big melt now, with a return to regular (for here) programming, thank-you.

Late this afternoon, I went out to “beat the bushes.” Lesson learned: you don’t know how much you have until you have to take care of it. Years ago, I wrote a blog post (My Dominion) about my secret garden in the back, enumerating all the shrubs and trees. They are legion, squeezed into a tiny footprint of land. And there are more in the strip of side-yard and the border that runs along the front of the house. By the time I was done beating the heavy snow off their branches (the temperatures will fall tonight, and those branches would be likely to break under the weight), I was half-way cursing the abundance.

Anyway… What the heck does cowbell have to do with any of this, you may be asking (in case you’ve read this far). “More cowbell!” is a SNL parody (see the video here) of Blue Öyster Cult recording the song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” A fictional band member plays cowbell and wrecks the piece – all the while encouraged by a daft record producer (played by Christopher Walken).

“More cowbell!” means a stupid obnoxious noise that interferes with real signal.

The cowbell I heard this morning on Twitter sounded along the following lines:

“Snow on the ground and Victoria grinds to a halt, again.”


“Snow: Grinding Victoria to a Halt Since 1872.”

Now, I’m not trying to single out those two voices – they’re merely echoing a refrain (that Victoria “grinds to a halt”) sounded each and every time it snows here.

It doesn’t snow here very often. But every time it does, the cowbell chorus starts up: Oh gawd, Victorians are soooo stupid, they’re such wussies, they’re such wimps, they can’t handle snow, blah blah, and so on. We’re such wimps – the rest of Canada laughs at us, we can’t handle real weather, …and more along those lines.

Here’s the thing: Victoria did not anywhere near “grind to a halt” today, and given the extreme snow at such an unexpected time of year (for us), it was actually a miracle that so much continued to function normally. Yes, there were fewer cars on the road, but that’s because the roads weren’t cleared. Why weren’t they cleared? Because: what we need isn’t more cowbell-in-a-chorus, but more snowplows.

Schools were closed, but I’ve seen schools close for less …in New England, that alleged mecca of snow-hardiness. The grocery stores were open. The used bookstore was open, as was the used furniture store. The restaurants were open, ditto the cafés. One hairdresser was closed. Just as well, it was a bad hair day anyway.

Many of these places were open because the buses were running, regularly, which meant staffers could come in to work. People who did drive were driving responsibly – not, as the cowbell mythos would have it, like silly snow-scared ninnies.

In short, the reality did not mesh at all with the perception that Victorians are soft and inept.

So what’s up with all the cowbell?

I think people need the dissonance, the wrong noise, the clang of disharmony because it confirms their specialness. Seriously: we would be just like “everyone else” if we didn’t have this handicap of being the stupidest people in Canada (who happen to live in one of the nicest places in Canada) who can’t even deal with just. a. little. bit. of. snow.

It actually wasn’t just a little bit of snow, and we dealt with it rather well, thank you. And that makes us merely stinkin’ normal, doesn’t it? Whereas “more cowbell” is the dissonant clang that insists we’re different and special. Too bad it makes such a dumb noise.

That magical west coast light…

March 9, 2010 at 1:00 am | In just_so, scenes_victoria | 2 Comments

Overnight, our weather turned. After weeks of very mild temperatures and early blooms, we woke on Monday to a cold spell.

The upside? Predicted rain didn’t materialize – instead we got cold, but bright, sunshine.

Also on offer: a particular acuity through the late afternoon slanting light, a fullness in the colors, and some spectacularly showy cloud effects. Almost heartbreakingly beautiful.

Walking my dog along Dallas Road, I tried capturing some of those effects with my little Casio pocket camera.

(I should add that there were actually quite a few people about. I just happened to frame my shots in such as way as to make the stretch look practically deserted.)


















Mr Softie is still missing, as is Democracy

February 11, 2010 at 9:20 pm | In advertising, guerilla_politics, ideas, local_not_global, politics, scenes_victoria, victoria | 1 Comment

I got a huge kick out of a funny poster that playfully references the ubiquitous “missing cat” notices in my Fairfield neighborhood. (For an earlier note, see Darren Barefoot, who wrote about Mr. Softie, a “heavier set” cat gone missing last year in our ‘hood.)

Today’s poster is truly brilliant. Check it out…

Democracy: lost!

Democracy: lost!


Just for the record, I’m taking no political sides myself (and yeah, go ahead and hate me for that) – just sayin’ that (aside from the misplaced semi-colon) this is a damn good place-specific political poster that hits all the right notes for this particular neighborhood.

Clarifying what you want

May 2, 2009 at 1:22 pm | In just_so, local_not_global, scenes_victoria | Comments Off on Clarifying what you want

I got to meet blogger Victoria Klassen through Twitter at several local tweetups, but I feel I really get to know her through her writing. Today she published a wonderful post, A Forrest Gump kinda interview…, based on customized interview questions sent to her by Raul Pacheco (aka Hummingbird604).

I was really impressed by the clarity of Victoria’s – or Tori’s – responses. Jealous, actually, since I seem to be in a hazy sort of funk where clarity stands no chance against the shadows. In particular, I thought her answer to question #2 (“Which element of communications is the one that makes you most passionate?”) was awesome:

Same thing that excited me most about being a journalist: the opportunity to explain difficult subjects to a lay person with accuracy.

She then goes on to describe the various topics she deals with in her professional life as a public servant …and, well, wow. Just go read her post.

And as if that isn’t enough, there’s her personal history, into which she gives readers some glimpses. It sounds like quite a life, with plenty of ups and downs. But as her blog’s name Samothrace indicates, she’s a marathoner who’s in the race for the long haul: clear-headed, authentic, role-modeling, and having fun. A winner, for sure.

Oz, BC

March 17, 2009 at 7:53 pm | In local_not_global, scenes_victoria, victoria | No Comments

Oh my.

I got my hair cut at a new place today, and it turned out the two stylists working there knew all my old places (and faces): more or less my age, they had attended the same schools and we knew all the same fools. Good fools, fun fools: places to hang out, to dance, and the right foolish people to do it with.

Turns out some of us grew up to become rather interesting people.

I got my hair cut by Michael Farrell, who also writes and directs films. You can see a trailer of his latest “short” (17 minutes), Lions, Tigers, Bears (shot entirely in Victoria) on YouTube here.

It’s an action-suspense thriller about the organized crime underworld and one man’s quest for power. The film was produced by Coast to Coast Films, directed by Michael Farrell and written by Michael Farrell and Teri Robinson. Michael and Teri are recent award winners for best dramatic writing at the 2008 Action on Film Festival International in Los Angeles. (source)

The star, Christopher Mackie, played the “bad cop” in Theatre Inconnu’s The Pillowman last March – he was fantastic.

There’s an interesting Behind-the-scenes video that chronicles the making of the film. The all-white stark-ish bar scene was, I bet, filmed in the Jelly Fish Lounge, which used to be a grungy biker and stoner and poet bar called The Churchill: another favorite haunt from old skool days…

Speaking of schools, Michael Farrell’s Lions, Tigers, Bears will be showing at St. Ann’s Academy on Thursday night, part of a festival of shorts: Special one-time only Victoria, BC screening of shorts on March 19! 7:30 PM at St. Ann’s Academy Auditorium, 835 Humboldt St., admission $5.

Quick note on Victoria politics and level playing fields

February 18, 2009 at 10:42 pm | In politics, scenes_victoria, victoria | 4 Comments

If I were perfect – and perfectly unencumbered by domestic and other obligations – I would write at length about two city of Victoria-related political events I attended in the last 24 hours.

Since I’m not perfectly unencumbered, however, that’ll have to wait.

But here’s foretaste (which serves also as a reminder to myself, in case I never get to the long version): the events were (A) a meeting called by the Victoria West Community Associaton and Victoria Member of Parliament Denise Savoie to gather public input regarding the proposed “mega yacht marina” project at the Songhees, 2/17; and (B) an Urban Development Institute luncheon featuring Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin who spoke to the assembled crowd about his – and his council’s – “vision” for Victoria’s development, 2/18.

Re. (A): I think this might be another case of putting all of one’s eggs into one basket – a large basket, but still a single, non-diversified basket. Not a good idea at the best of times, and since these are not the best of times, it’s even less of a good idea. I’m not worried about the alleged environmental impacts of dredging that section of the harbor (it’s even likely that dredging the harbor of its industrial and lumber gunk will restore seabed health), but I worry about the wisdom of asking multi-millionaires to fork over many thousands of dollars for the privilege of mooring their multi-multi-million dollar yachts at a marina where summer float plane traffic from the Harbour Airport proceeds to dump huge amounts of jet fuel residue and odor on patrons who are likely not to appreciate it. Bottom line: the Songhees condo dwellers already spend enough time kvetching about the working harbor (which includes a real airport with hundreds of flights from 7am to 10pm in the summer, not just a convenient water surface for occasional take-offs and landings), so what’s the benefit of adding a second constituency that will doubtlessly complain as loudly if not more so? Further, the condo dwellers are a captive audience and will continue to pay their property taxes to the city, while the second constituency is mobile (on luxury, aka “mega” yachts) and can just leave. Then what? A purpose-built facility built for just one purpose and for a very narrow niche market (admittedly lucrative) doesn’t seem like the best idea, given the scale of the project, the required investment, and the undeniable impact on the harbor and its current users …and the fact that the patrons can just sail away.

Can this one. Sorry. It’s clunky.

As for (B) – this one is trickier. Can’t sum it up in a few words, but let’s just say that I don’t buy Mayor Fortin’s talk of a “level playing field” for development. Let’s not forget who has the power to decide where the goalposts on this allegedly level field are (the current council). If you control the goalposts, then all talk of level playing fields is just BS.  One of the goalposts, for example, is called “skyline.” Here in Victoria that’s a loaded word, and code for a quite a few sore points. And here’s another thing that jumped out at me: Joe van Belleghem of Dockside Green introduced the Mayor in glowing terms, lauding him for his sense of direction and for being so accessible. Van Belleghem told us how he only managed to get to speak to the previous mayor once (that would be Alan Lowe, who was mayor for 3 terms – 9 years; Joe, you got to talk to Alan just once?, for real? hard to believe), but that he has been able to speak to Mayor Fortin 3 times already (since Nov. 08, i.e., in 3 1/2 months).

Yet here’s the contradiction: when Mayor Fortin spoke, he made a big point about how his new level playing field means that there’s no point in developers calling him to talk their projects over, that he and council work together and there’s no smoothing of paths by the mayor, and that all developers at any rate need to go see the Planning Department first and to get direction from Planning.

So who’s telling it straight, and whose level playing field are we on? Mayor Fortin named some names of people he favors and admires, including architect Franc d’Ambrosio (a personal friend of mine – at least I think he’s a friend, maybe he isn’t if he reads this?) – but Franc is known for preferring a low-rise skyline and as someone who believes that Victoria should emulate Paris with 6 to 7 storey buildings. Hmm. Level playing field, or just “these are my (our) conditions, take them or leave them”? Granted, there could be an advantage to that insofar as often enough one really couldn’t be sure which way the wind was blowing with the previous administration.

Incidentally, the overflow crowd at last night “mega yacht marina” meeting at City Hall had me sitting on the floor of the back corridor behind council chambers, which is normally off limits to the public. At one point Mayor Fortin left the meeting by the door I was crouching at, and he joked, “I see they’ve let the riff-raff in.” Very funny, Dean, and I know you were kidding, but I’m not just any riff-raff. I have a blog, I’m a citizen journalist, and I’m listening carefully.

Victoria BC on Vimeo Videos

February 13, 2009 at 5:49 pm | In scenes_victoria, victoria | Comments Off on Victoria BC on Vimeo Videos

While searching for Victoria, BC-based tweeples a little while ago (wondering if MetroCascade should eventually integrate Twitter streams and/or other media) I saw a pointer on Will Wilkinson’s stream to his ~3min. Night Drive video, which he posted to Vimeo. (In a very Victoria “two degrees of separation” scenario, it turns out that Will is in my daughter’s class at school, and that he’s the brother of Andrew Wilkinson, who demo’d his latest venture at our last DemoCamp in October 08. Small world…)

Anyway… Will’s video is a lot of fun to watch if you know the city – it takes you from Oak Bay (the municipality), down Oak Bay Ave., past “the Junction” (that’s where Oak Bay Ave. ceases to exist and meets up with Fort St. and Pandora Ave. – and Johnson St. just a bit further down). He continues down Pandora, past the Johnson St. merge, past the Conservatory, past City Hall and A-Channel, into Old Town, before turning left at Wharf to head to the Inner Harbour area/ Belleville St. I really like the editing (speed) and soundtrack here.

After watching this, I searched for additional Vimeos tagged with “Victoria, BC” (again, thinking ahead to how these might be integrated – eventually – into MetroCascade) and came up with a couple worth mentioning.

(Side note: They mostly feature guys – young guys – in the active roles. Not sure why that is…)

So: check out vicwest by warrenfosterphoto – this one is amazing, it was shot at the skatepark in Vic West, a Victoria neighborhood just on the other side of the Upper Harbour, across the Blue Bridge (Johnson Street Bridge). (Full disclosure: I don’t think I could skateboard to save my life, so I watch the antics with fascination, envy, and …well, horror.)

Also related to the skatepark – which has a bike section, too – there’s Island Jam posted by Brydon Sudds. In this one it’s all guys (again) – they’re on funny little bikes that appear to impart superhuman skills to the riders.

Twenty-three seconds of last year’s gregarious Pride Parade were captured and posted to Vimeo: this one is fun to see because it reminds us of how sunny and just …nice it will be in a few months. (We’ve had an unseasonally cold winter – at least it seems that way – and while the tulips are pushing their way through dirt, and some of the ornamental fruit trees are starting to bloom, it’s still bloody cold, afaic.)

Speaking of unconventional dress (of which there’s always a lot in the Pride Parade), Tom Williams (CEO of GiveMeaning) shops for women’s high heeled shoes at Freedman’s, gets a pedicure at Spa Sereine (both on Government St. downtown), and heads up a parade to benefit the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre. See A Mile in Her Shoes by Red Pilot Media. The parade starts at Centennial Square on a weekend morning, and it all looks pretty deserted (except for the participants’ presence), but they raised ~$11K, not bad at all.

Finally, Project GreenScreen posted a cool “how to become a youth volunteer” video, Volunteer Victoria – The YouthCore Virtual Tour, which features some outside footage, although most of it is shot inside the Central Building on View St. between Broad and Government Streets. (In another “two degrees of separation” moment, the cameraman for this video is almost certainly Joseph Boutilier, who I know, and who ran for Victoria City Council last fall. He and Simon Nattrass were the youngest candidates ever, but among the brightest and best. Neither one was elected – maybe next time.)

Ok, I still don’t know how/if the extra media can/will ever be integrated into MetroCascade, but there’s lots of it out there…

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