T&O: Happy Homeless People in Canada

Let me preface this by saying that I categorically know diddlysquat about the specific realities of homelessness in Canada, and I take it as a given that the situation is far from perfect; what follows therefore are simply my PERCEPTIONS as a well traveled individual who has had the “privilege” if you can call it that of having seen poverty in many countries over the course of my 51 years.

So let me give an example. A few years ago I was driving around Shanghai China with my dad and his girlfriend. …
Well, let me back up: At that time I had been working as a professor of Marketing in South Korea for about two years, at Kyung Hee University’s Seoul campus. (Yes my PhD was in anthropology, how I got from that to marketing is a long story.) My dad, who had been a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University (he passed away just over two years ago now) had been invited to China in order to give some lectures at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, and he had arranged for his girlfriend (a once upon a time professor of Hebrew Literature at Tel Aviv University — who had been working as a successful therapist for many years since) to also give a lecture, so that she could come along with him on the trip. This was right around the Jewish High Holidays, so my father decided that I should fly from Seoul to Shanghai so that we could all attend prayer services together.
….. After we’d been there a few days, we were driving around the town and my dad’s girlfriend started to talk about how impressed she was with the affluence of Shanghai. How all the apartments we had visited (both she and my dad had contacts in town) were so fancy, and our hotel (4 star) was so plush, and how everyone was wearing the latest styles of expensive designer clothing, and the expensive jewelry everyone wore (the Chinese love their bling).

To this I responded… “well that’s interesting, because I’m seeing something entirely different than you are. I see all of what you saw, but I also seem to be seeing things you are not.” She of course took offense, and asked me to explain, so I went on… “What I see are fancy apartment buildings that are surrounded not just by gates, but with 12 ft concrete walls that have barbed wire at the top with limited entrances and exits where there are guards that ‘actually guard’ (not just for show), which tells me not only is crime a major concern, but possibly even riots. And while I see people wearing bling and the latest in designer fashions, what I also see are jobs like garbage collection which in western countries would be done with garbage trucks, but here I see people doing them by hand, many of them elderly with hunched backs dragging behind them carts heavy with trash to the dumps, or recycling plants. What I see is a really horrible discrepancy between the rich and the poor, with many homeless, dirty, and miserable looking people sitting around looking unhappy. So while I saw everything you did, I also saw it not as this wonderful amazing thing, but as a problem … and those concrete walls with barbed wire? What they tell me is that the rich elites of this town are very much aware that they are sitting on a potential powder keg that could, if they are not very very careful, explode at any time.”

So… returning to the issue of Canada a few people have asked me what were my major observations of the differences between Canada and the USA… and while granted there are a few… for instance I used the go-along with that statement that EVERYONE seems to say about the Canadians, namely that ‘they’re the nicest people on the planet’… but having spent three months there I have now revived that to, ‘I wouldn’t say Canadians are Nice, so much as I’ve decided that the Canadians are incredibly polite — a bit like the Japanese’… but I’m not going to go into what I mean by that here… it’s too complicated.

What I want to talk about now is the inherent differences I observed on the streets between homelessness in Canada and the way it looks in the USA.

The poor and homeless in Canada just seem… happy, they seem healthy, they even seem, dare I say it…  peppy…

American homeless rarely if ever look any of that, and if they do they usually haven’t been homeless very long. … again, just my perception.

At one point in Victoria, I saw a girl who looked to be in her early 20’s, pretty, but with the sort of ‘dirty’ look of someone who lives on the street, who was sitting on the side of the road in the center of Victoria’s tourist district (between the historic hotel and the bay), with her puppy on her lap, trying to collect funds. So I stopped to talk to her; she started of by telling me that she was actually from Vancouver and had come over as a passenger on the ferry to visit friends (for an adult non student fair it costs just under $18 Canadian, or around $13.50 US for walk on traffic, but I’m guessing her status may have qualified her for some sort of discount). She told me that after having been here (in Victoria) for a few days that she didn’t have enough money left to go back and was just trying to collect enough funds to take the return ferry.

So, like the anthropologist I am, I sat down to ‘interview’ her about being homeless in Canada. I also wanted to bounce my perceptions off of her, to see if I was right about how much happier the homeless seemed here, and my thinking that maybe in Canada dropping out and being homeless was actually a choice people sometimes made, rather than something they were forced into by adversity. She said that she thought that was probably correct, that it was something you could just choose to do and a lot of folks did. She had not been to the US side of the border, but she had heard other kids talking about how being homeless there was categorically different, and a lot scarier. She said that in Canada she gets good health care even though she has no job (and isn’t even looking for one), and that there’s no shortage of homeless shelters that feed her well, and that sleeping in those shelters feels perfectly safe to her… 

Another day when I was walking around I passed a what I’m sure was a little group of three homeless girls, one of whom had really radical colored hair. So I talked to her and I asked her who she would suggest as someplace I could go to to get my hair done. She said that she and her friends would do it for themselves, using cheap stuff they got from the pharmacy. I told her I wasn’t into doing that and really wanted someone who could do it for me, and do it well. She pointed me towards the Aveda Beauty school that is only two blocks from my apartment saying one of the girls who they hang with from time to time, who was not in fact homeless would get it done there and was happy with the results… When I think of homeless youth who are doing things like experimenting with hairstyles, I tend to think England or Germany, i.e., other countries that also have a strong social security net (as Canada does)… not the US.

Finally, one day I had an “interesting” conversation with a homeless guy (complete with a shopping cart full of his stuff) who was all pissed off because apparently the night before he had given CPR to a fellow homeless guy who was over dosing on heroin, and he said the cops, rather than thanking him for saving a fellow human being brought charges against him for having done it (I had difficulty following his logic of why that was). Then he went on to talk about how he was also a heroin addict. Now, granted, the guy struck me as being part of that small percentage of folks who are homeless because of mental issues, but for a homeless heroin addict with metal issues, I have got to say he looked to be an amazingly healthy and well fed homeless heroin addict.

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A Tent City in Victoria: in Pioneer Square, across the street from Christ Church Cathederal

Victoria, B.C., Great Destination town

I spent a full month living in Victoria, a popular port-of-call for cruise ships, and liked it so much that it is now on my list of favorite cities on the planet (and I’ve been to most of the good ones) … so much so that I could almost see retiring there, if the Canadian Government would allow it.

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So … as an explaination of WHY I like it much, let’s start with with a seemingly insignificant fact ….. no bugs — seriously! And this lack of annoying little critters extends to all of the Island, not just British Columbia‘s capitol city, Victoria.

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One of the seemingly infinate pieces of outdoor art to be found along the streets of Victoria

Now, granted, of course there are bugs, there wouldn’t be life if there were not bugs… but not so much that you’d notice; and more to the point, other than chiggers (out in the woods) not much in the way of bugs that bite. I was on Vancouver Island  for two whole months and only suffered ONE … seriously… ONE mosquito bite. And it really doesn’t seem to matter what time of day we’re talking about. Granted this may seem trivial, but after having spent a few months in places like Florida or parts of the upper midwest — where you’ll be eaten alive at certain times of day; and when you are bitten you run the risk of things like zika and other nasties … 24 hours a day; and let’s not forget to mention myriad places on the North American continent where if you drive at dusk, within miniutes your car will become so THICK with dead bugs that you’ll have to get it washed, and the job will HAVE to be by hand, or you won’t to get rid of them all (and if you don’t … you’ll have the pleasure of watching other bugs swarm your car to feast on the carcasses of their dead friends. So, really, you learn to appreciate ‘no bugs.’

Beyond that, let my list the other reasons why I love Victoria so much:

Architecture

As my pictures will show, it is a visually GORGEOUS city; the local government has put laws into place that require that all historical buildings be maintained (at the very least their facades) and/or restored. The result is panoply of colors and designs to delight the eyes. Architectually it’s buildings range from Stuart influenced Victorian British and early 19th century Americana, to a smattering of modern glass and steel on the outer edges of town.

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This is the capitol building for British Columbia

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The red pagoda looking building is a school that serves the Chinatown community

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History:

Victoria it is a city that with British zeal embraces and honors it’s history in a myriad a ways; if you pay attention, stop, look and read, you almost don’t need a tour guide to learn about the place; and it’s not allways done via obvious things, like this memorial to Captain Cook,

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The plaque below it reads:

Capt. James Cook, R. N. (1728 – 1779)

“After two historic voyages to the South Pacific Ocean, Cook was cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest on his third and final voyage, with his two ships, Resolution and Discovery. He was searching for the western exit to the legendary Northwest Passage. In March 1778, they put into Nootka Sound for repairs and to trade with the native people. With him on the voyage were Mr. William Bligh as master of the Resolution and midshipman George Vancouver.

This statue was commissioned by the Victoria Environmental Enhancement Foundation and unveiled by The Honourable William Richards Bennett, premier of the province of British Columbia. July 12, 1976.”

Rather, in Victoria you really need to pay attention and look, because the place is RICH with historical documentation, but it tends to go overlooks; for instance, one of the things I noticed (during my month long stay in Victoria where I passed this statue almost daily) was that MOST tourists never seem to stop and take notice of is the LONG line of smaller plaques all along the wall located right behind that statue (see picture above), and all along the dock which memorialize all the notable ships that docked in her port (below are just a few example, but they line the whole dockside):

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Another example is that there is ample evidence and explaination regarding the location of the original fort on the main shopping street in Victoria, but if you don’t stop and look (as the Asian tourists who were being led by a professional guide — the guy in the red shirt — are doing in the picture below) … you’ll miss it:

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The large tan and white building, across from where the fort had stood, was the first office building of the Hudson Bay Company, when Victoria transitioned from a fort to a city
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Every name memorialized in these bricks is that of a founding citizen of the city

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And then every single historic building that’s been renovated and repurposed (and there are LOADS of them) has attached to it a sign explaining the history of the building. Below for instance is a bank building that is now a bar.

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img_9582And then Victoria has different districts, and again, if you stop and look you’ll find plaques, and the like, explaining the area’s past.

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And then in the front of the Government building, there are little vignettes, describing the history of the city, performed by the Parlimentary Player’s, a group of young actors dressed in historiacal garb that try to ‘bring history to life’ in a way that might be more appealing for those who don’t enjoy reading — including one playing the role of Queen Victoria herself. After which, you can enjoy a enjoy a tour of building itself (either self guided with a pamphlet, or led — for a fee, see my blog post).

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That said, it is STILL worth your while to invest in one of the many historically themed walking tours, because they will often add more information than the signs and plaques, not to mention point out little historical tidbits that city has overlooked — or chosen not to — document… for instance, as you walk along Fan Tan Alley in Victoria’s China town you might easily walk right by this little piece of history which links back to the active opium trade that used to exist in the area.

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What the picture doesn’t show (or at least well) is that across the alley from the door are two peep holes in the opposite wall. From here, guards would check the alley for cops, and if they gave the all clear, the metal door would open, handing a customer his or her opium.

In addition to the history that exists in historic parts of town, There are more historical spots, just on the outskirts like the  Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site (see my blog about it), which host historical events, Craigdarroch Castle (again, see blog), and Christ Church (ditto).

Public Art:

Public Art is visible almost everywhere you look; be it street art, murals (government sanctioned or otherwise) that either celebrate the city’s history and rich cultural past — or simply decorate boring buildings, sculptures that range from monuments to famous people involved with the city’s history, to the more esoteric and fanciful, Victoria almost doubles as an outdoor museum.

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Mother Nature, Natural beauty:

Although one could argue that Victoria’s proximity to the ocean is such an incredible an asset, that the aforementioned, massive investment in public art, is “gilding the lily” just a bit …

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And in addition not only have the Canadians inherited the British love of gardens, but they the almost perfect weather for a wide variety of flowers and plants. The weather is SO good (not too hot, not to cold), that it is considered to have a mediteranian climate (PALM TREES growing outdoors, north of Seattle, REALLY!).

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To that effect, a short drive away (maybe 20 minutes) is the world famous (see my blog post on) Butchart Gardens, which not only hosts musical events, but also serves up a very nice afternoon tea

Shopping:

I was really impressed by the shopping in Victoria. The prices for pretty much everything are low (well, at the exchange rate at the time, that could change); And there is great shopping from high fashion to antiques;

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A bank, converted into a book store

img_3255The guy who owned this store, which was stocked with stuff that made my history major heart swoon, said that he USED to have significantly more WWII era stuff, but that the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. bought out most of his best items a few years ago.

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This next store was probably the coolest of of the MANY gaming stores I found in Victoria, as in one every few blocks — apparently gaming is a popular activity there. You could come with friends, or join up with other folks already there, play board games, etc., and buy them if you enjoyed them… plus it was a cafe.

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The owner of this next, historic store, which is the oldest contiuously running store in the city, said he was worried now that US and Cuban relations were about to normalize, as a large chunk of his business was selling Cuban cigars to Americans tourists who couldn’t get them at home.

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Once many years ago, while in the UK, I accidentally purchased a t-shirt made of hemp, found it to be an amazingly comfortable, sturdy, and breathable fabric, and have been looking for clothes made of it ever since; hemp clothing was difficult to find in the US, till quite recently, because of it being a variety of cannabis plant, i.e., marijuana).

So when I saw this store, I got excited; Now, granted, there wasn’t much I could buy — since living out of the trunk of a car limits one’s closet space,  but since I was supposed to attend the orthodox Jewish wedding of an old friend a month later, and didn’t have anything appropriate to wear, I had a reasonable excuse to buy myself a really nice formal (yet informal) dress made from hemp.

Safe!:

From the perspective of a girl from Chicago, Victoria has an impressively low crime rate (see happy homeless people for part of why that is) so that as a single woman I felt completely comfortable walking around alone, even at night;

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Great resturants:

There are no shortage of really great resturants,  (see the blog post about my favorite, the Ferris Grill) all of which have fresh from the ocean seafood obtained from the local, and more importantly working, (see my blog post about) Fisherman’s warf; so that I got spoiled with buck-a-shuck amazingly fresh oysters, most of which were HUGE… and then keep in mind the exchange rate, so that from my viewpoint it was actually cheaper than $1 each. While there is a China town, I was not overly impressed with the Chinese.

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RedFish BlueFish is a VERY popular foodstand on the dock across from the fancy hotel (not fisherman’s warf)

Music and Art:

There is an active music and arts scene! (Although, sadly, not much in the way of Theater) For instance, there are free concerts almost every week day in front of the city hall, not to mention orchestral presentations at the local cathederal, and a plethera of street performers.

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Tourism:
From a straight tourism point of view, there’s relatively little in the way of “tourist trap” attractions (which is not necessarily a bad thing). There’s the aforementioned fisherman’s warf area, there is one really good museum (see my post about the Royal British Columbia Museum) which hosts really impressive traveling exhibits, and a few small ones. There are also in addition to the aforementioned historically themed walking tours a few tour different bus tour companies, whose offerings are for the most part, the same (I took two of them).

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of the multiple tours the most amusing one I spoted (although not for me as I don’t drink) was the rolling pub tour.

And, as a Jew, I was very excited to see an active Jewish community (albiet a tiny one) that was active in the city

Ferris’ Grill & Garden Patio, Victoria B.C.

Back when I was living in Victoria, British Columbia for a month, Ferris’ Oyster bar (upstairs Grill & downstairs Patio) became my go-to restaurant, and over the course of a month I worked myself through much of their menu. The seafood is amazingly fresh, well prepared, and very reasonably price (and if you factor in the US to Canadian dollar conversion rate, down right cheap).

There are in fact two restaurants with overlapping but distinct menus: The fancier one is up a long flight of steep stairs and the more laid back one is located on the ground floor.

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Bouillabaisse (top left), a selection of their baked oysters, steamed clams & mussels, and seared rare albacore tuna (bottom right)
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Seafood Laksa in Malaysian coconut curry broth, Fresh B.C. Halibut in miso dashi , Bouillabaisse in fennel broth w/Saffron Ailoi, Warm Cauliflower Salad,

EVERYTHING I had was tasty, but of everything my most favorite meals were firstly the bouillabaisse served at the downstairs restaurant (the version in the upper pictures, the upstairs one has too much fat for my diet), the laksa (although the coconut milk is verboten for me), the halibut and the warm cauliflower salad.

While all the food is amazing, the more I went there (and I’d been there maybe 12 to 15 times) the more I grew to dislike their downstairs wait staff. Don’t get me wrong, they’re highly efficient, and good at their jobs, but I increasingly got the impression they don’t much like their jobs and would be thrilled if they didn’t actually have to interact with customers. Also, it seems like there’s a high turnover in the downstairs staff because I rarely saw the same folks twice, even though I always sat in the same place. And no, I don’t think it’s just me. I have watched and listened to their interactions with other patrons… same deal.

By contrast the upstairs staff was MUCH friendlier, seemed happier, and did their jobs better.

That said, I will miss both restaurants.

MooseJaw Canada

MooseJaw, is located halfway between Calgary and Winnipeg alongside the Trans-Canada Highway (population 33,000), and has enough local history and street art to be worth a two day visit (I really regretted only having a few hours). The Moose is impossible to miss from the highway, and stands adjacent to the city’s tourist information center/ the starting point for a guided tour of the city in an antique looking trolley/bus, a good way to begin your visit.

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I had initially wanted to stop in Moosejaw in part because I had remembered hearing about this town (with a name like that it’s hard to forget, although I forgot in what context) … but after having been massively let down by towns like Medicine Hat (really not much to see), I had decided to just drive through… and then I saw THIS along the highway… and of course, I had to stop in order to take pictures, and utilize the facilities

Once I was inside the building I realized that Moosejaw, even though it is a tiny little town has REALLY invested their tax dollars into doing everything they can towards making itself a worthwhile tourist destination. There is a Casino and a geothermal spa, and its the home base for a lot of fight training (both NATO and Canada’s equivalent of the Blue Angles — which quite humorously, are called the Snowbirds — a term that most people associate with something quite different) — none of which I had enough time in my schedule to enjoy. In fact I had totally underestimated how long it would take me to drive cross country and I had theater tickets already for the night of the 9th of August in Stratford, Canada, so in retrospect (once I realized JUST how much there was to do there) I quite simply could not give this town the time I think it deserved.

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From inside the information center I learned that Moosejaw HAD been an important railway town, at one point, from which agricultural goods from the surrounding area were shipped to the cities, and that there was museum in town devoted just to that topic, that was in fact part of an area wide network of museums.

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And that precisely because of the existence of that train line from Canada to Chicago, MooseJaw had become embroiled in, and received a massive economic boost from, the prohibition era in the U.S.A.

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I knew already from my previous reading on the topic (I had in fact only JUST finished a really good book on the topic a few months previous) that while the town “makes plenty of hay” from Capone having been in their town, there’s actually no hard historic evidence to support the claim.

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According to ‘what a local told me’, Capone had stayed here

While walking around the tourist information area, the two things that really sparked my interest (in terms of what to do during the few hours I could invest in the place), was the local tour bus and the tunnels that apparently run below the city. Apparently, if I had timed my stay for a weekend, at night the tour bus, which gives only a general tour of the city during the day, on weekend nights will do Ghost and murder tours of the city.

However, there was a ‘treat’ offered to the regular daytime tourists that unfortunately my diet would not allow me to partake of… a local pizza parlor that was a bit off the beaten path was offering free slices to anyone who took the tour (as a way to draw business).

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The bus took us all around town, and in particular made a point of showing us all the local street art, of which it was very proud

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Although, I will admit now… Pokémon-Go had come out a few months before, and while waiting for the bus I realized that this town had all sorts of RARE Pokémon I had not seen before, so I got a bit obsessive during the ride, putting more attention towards trying to catching the Pokémon than on listening to the tour guide (me bad — but I will note I’ve NOT seen any of these guys, well except the purple one, since this town).

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After the tour was over, I drove over to where the tunnels were, only to discover that while the tours of them leave every hour, the fact that I had arrived during a local holiday period meant that they were overwhelmed with tourists, and the wait to get into one of those tours was a good three hours, meaning I didn’t have enough time to be able to do one; and there are two, one about prohibition, one devoted to the Chinese population of town who apparently lived mostly underground (??) … as such I strongly suggest booking these tours in advance.

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Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria Canada

This Royal BC Museum of natural and human history is 130 years old, and is located right off of the TransCanadian Highway at the western edge of the ‘tourist’ area of downtown Victoria, next door to the British Columbia Capitol building. It is a VERY good museum with interactive/experiential display, that make learning more exciting while still protecting the exhibits. I saw something with my actual eyes I never expected to ever see in my life, an actual mammoth.

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The museums displays extend beyond the building, to encompass the entire property, and all ingresses and egresses from the building; and this includes some of the doors themselves, which in some cases are beautifully carved; as such, it really is worth while to explore the entire property, and not just B-line it to the front entrance.
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Inside the museum (assuming you came in via the front entrance), the first thing you see is the Imax theater, and the adjoining gift shop (which has some REALLY nice stuff with much BETTER prices than I saw for similar items at the local tourist shops). This included a lot of T-shirts, hiking gear, clothing, etc. There are in fact TWO gift shops, on the ground floor, so it is worth it to check both of them out. The one in the picture below is smaller, and tends to have more ‘useful’ type stuff, while the 2nd larger one has more ‘artistic’ sort of things.
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Based on my math, if you intend to go there at least three times in a year, the one-year-pass is by far the smartest buy. And since I was going to be living for a full month only a few blocks away from the museum, and expected to see it at least that many times during my stay (rainy days, etc), and maybe even take in some of their IMAX movies, I bought the pass.

The layout of the Museum is more narrow and tall, rather than low and wide, like most museums; as such in order to enter the exhibits sections of the museum (laid out on three separate floors), you need take an escalator — at which point you will be asked to show your tickets and or pass (or the elevators, available for handicapped access). This can be a bit confusing as you can easily spend a full day on just the first exhibit floor (2nd floor of building) and spend so much time there that you end up missing the other exhibits.

On the first floor, just where you exit the escalator, they have the rotating exhibition rooms. When I went it was an excellent exhibit on mammoths that really awed, over whelmed and stunned me. The first rooms taught you all about mammoths, and was very high tech and interactive and interesting.
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But the stunner, was after that room you entered a very small and very dark room which included an ACTUAL baby woolly mammoth.. they have named Zhenya.
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When you first entered the room, your eyes actually need to adjust a bit, but I assume this is to protect this oh so priceless find… which I’m actually kind of shocked they’ve allowed to go on tour.
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Seriously, I cannot overstate my excitement, delight and awe at being able to see in the flesh, an actual woolly mammoth, even if it was a tiny baby. I was completely farklemt.

(I will note, whoever was in charge of curating the display was not particularly careful in setting it up — look carefully at the photos and see if you can pick up the major OOPS!)

In the next room (well lit) there were more interactive displays to help teach kids about the lives of these now extinct animals
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Another set of rooms was about the Natural environment of the British Colombia region, and displayed taxidermied local animals arranged into impressively ‘simulated natural’ settings — remarkably natural, some of them even included moving water.

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this was followed by a very Steampunk/ Jules Verne, ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea type esthetic, showing off the underwater life of the area.
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Another section of the museum is devoted to the human history of Victoria, as a seaport town belonging to the British

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Their collection includes George Vancouver’s Uniform, among others

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AND — and I thought this was really cool, the “actual” dagger (or at least it’s believed to be) that was used to kill the famous explorer, James Cook.
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Alongside these displays is life size “walk through” of the dock, and of a section of a British Sailing ship, with all the appropriate sounds (and some smells) piped in.

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This is followed by a small section devoted to the Gold Rush that help make the navel base /trading post into a city, where you can try your hand at sifting gold

(What the sign says: “Wig and Case: within a year of the rush to the gold fields in 1858, British law was imposed. As head of teh law enforcement, Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie was responsible for justice … The wig was just one of the many effects used by the judiciary to impress upon the sometimes rebellious gold rushers that British justice was paramount.”)

In another section of the museum there is a reconstruction of what Victoria looked like back in time, that is again, completely lifesize. You can walk into stores, go into the movie theater and watch a black and white movie, or walk through a hotel and see the rooms.

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And then there’s a whole section of the museum devoted to the First Nations (Canadian term for their Native American Tribes, which is gaining acceptance in the USA as well), their languages and their art.

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Congregation Emanu-El, Victoria B.C.

More than 150 years old, Congregation Emanu-El is located in Victoria, British Columbia, right off of the TransCanada Highway, and is both the oldest continuously operating Jewish congregation in all of Canada (1859) and the oldest continuously used synagogue (built in 1863) along the west coast of the North American Continent.

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Historically, the development of Victoria was similar to that of San Francisco, which had grown from a Spanish garrison on the Presidio (and it’s requisite* nearby lazy mission town in 1774) with only about 500+ non Native American inhabitants, to having achieved ‘vibrant city’ status almost overnight. As we all remember from our history classes, this occurred because of the 1848-1855 California gold rush, when tens of thousands of prospectors flooded into the area. In both cases, this sudden influx of miners drew along with them a smaller flood of entrepreneurial businessmen who were less interested in something as exciting as mining, than in setting up the far more dependably profitable, albeit dull, secondary businesses necessary to support the minors’ endeavors. In fact the business people as a whole, were the ones who made financial killings, while most of the minors went home penniless. Among these shop keepers, far more so than among the miners, were a relatively large number of Jews (because, lets face it, we’re Jews), so that by 1870, San Francisco had the largest population of Jews outside of New York, comprising a full 10% of the city’s population.

*Tangent alert! I say “requisite” because the Catholic Spanish  justified their heavy handed, military, colonialist, expansionism as being the spreading of G-d’s word via his ‘true church’ (i.e., Catholic); and, keeping in mind Spain had (till 1492) been a part of the Muslim empire, they initially did it with a jihadist zeal (I will make you love G-d’s word, and if that means killing one hundred of you in order to get just one true believer, that’s good math). Granted, this Islamic influence had tempered out over time, but even in the late 1700’s, ‘ideologically‘ what ‘mattered’ for the Spanish was the church, thereby allowing them to kid themselves that the military was just their to ensure the church got the job done; and, of course, it was all for the benefit of the native peoples being converted rather than any greed on their own part (imagine me faking a sneeze while saying *bullshit!*). This is not to say that Protestant governments did not do the former (military expansionism) … granted, they did, but arguably with a bit less of a concern for the latter (spreading the word). As I studied history I often got the feeling that the military men of protestant countries (of that period) sort of suffered their missionaries as a necessary evil and encumbrance, rather than viewing them as their raison d’être; as in protecting the missionaries who insisted on being out among the ‘savages’ rather than staying close to or better yet, behind, protected walls, just made their jobs harder… rather than being their jobs.

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Back to Victoria: Originally founded in 1843, as Fort Victoria — a military and Hudson Bay Company fur trading post (along side a naturally protected harbor), the explosive growth to city status was, again, a direct result of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush (1857), which brought in that same influx of minors, and supporting businessmen — who were again dis-proportionally Jewish (compared to the population of most Canadian Towns); and by ‘same minors’ I mean that most of them had traveled north along the coast from the overworked gold mines of the United States, to this new opportunity in Vancouver Island. In fact, gold had been mined in the Vancouver Island for a while before that, but news of the fact hadn’t reached San Francisco until the then Governor of Victoria (population again, about 500+) had sent a shipment to SF for minting into coins; and he probably had genuinely mixed feelings when what he got back a month later were his coins AND the unexpected and unprepared for influx of 30,000 men (“a record for mass movement of mining populations on the North American frontier, even though more men in total were involved in the California and Colorado“). How he felt about a large percentage of said men being Jewish businessmen, I can’t imagine, although I’m guessing they were the least of his problems, as “The influx of prospectors included numerous European Americans and African Americans, Britons, Germans, English Canadians, Maritimers, French Canadians, Scandinavians, Italians, Belgians and French, and other European ethnicities, Hawaiians, Chinese, Mexicans, West Indians, and others” (same Wikipedia source as above).

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According to the woman who showed me around the temple, the first thing the congregation (formed in 1859) did, was to arrange for the purchase of land for a consecrated  Jewish cemetery, which they did in 1860, rather than for the Shul (the building wasn’t built till 1863) — as the former was by far the more pressing need at the time. It was ultimately established on a 1.5 acre parcel, that was purchased by one of the members, a gentleman with the unenviable name of Lewis Lewis, who bought it with his own money and donated it to the congregation. And, according to the woman, the parcel purchased was so large and the community of the Shul (which for a long time was the only one in Victoria) has remained so small… that over 150 years later it still isn’t full.

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To a Jew, the fact that they were more concerned with a cemetery than a synagogue makes total sense, but let me explain why: unlike Catholics, Jews don’t actually require priests/rabbis or ‘churches/temples’ in order to pray, just a knowledge of the prayer or a copy of the book (hence the religion of the book) — and in fact the 16th century Protestant Reformation returned this attribute to some sects of Christianity. For Jews, most praying can be done alone… although there are a large number of specific prayers — for instance the prayer for the dead, or Kaddish — that require a minyan (a quorum if you will) of 10 Jews who have all had their Bar’Mitzvah ceremony (or bat — if you’re not orthodox). In fact, if you arrive at a synagogue early enough for morning prayers, it’s not the rabbi that you will find the group waiting for, but rather the quorum of 10… with, if necessary, you see individuals running out into the hallways (or the street, if it’s a Jewish neighborhood) to drag people in so they can get started. As such, prioritizing the creation of the graveyard over the building of a synagogue (or shul), makes perfect sense from our perspective…

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I first learned about this Shul during the Canada Day festivities when my friend Gina was visiting. As we were walking around looking at the local ‘group’ displays we came across one for the local JCC (Jewish Community Center) and the woman there told us about this historic shul just a few blocks away, and invited us to attend services, if we wanted to. Apparently they only have about 200 families in their entire membership, most of whom only show up for the high holidays. And they don’t do anywhere close to the normal amount of services (technically there should be three a day), but only manage to pull together a regular minyan for Sabbath prayers, and only once a week (Most shuls in major cities do two, Friday night and Saturday morning), and they only manage to do the 2nd Sabbath prayer once a month. She also said that if I came by the office during business hours, they’d be happy to show me around, even if there were no services that day — which is what I ultimately did.

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Even though this is a conservative shul, the construction of the temple implies that it started out as orthodox, where men prayed on the fist floor and women sat above, looking down on their husbands and sons. (This is highly likely, since the Conservative Jewish movement, which among other changes allows men and women to sit together, was created about the same time as the shul was built.)

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The boards with the names (Yahrzeit Memorial Plaques) are traditional, and visible in most shuls around the world. They show the name of all former members and memorialize the date of their death in both the Jewish and Christian Calendars (they are different), with the lit lights reminding friends and family to remember that this week they need to say the prayer for their loved ones (“The Mourner’s Kaddish”).
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You have got to love the town where the parishioners feel it’s completely safe for the regulars (those who attend services regularly) to leave their Tallis bags just sitting out in the open like this. At our shul in Chicago there’s a locked closet. These bags will contain the things men need to pray, a Kippa — assuming they don’t wear them all day (orthdox will), their Tallis (or prayer shawl), and Tefillin (the little boxes attached to leather cords that are wrapped around the head and arm during prayers — “…and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.” — Deuteronomy 11:18).

Apparently one of the walking tour-companies (the ones I seen where the leader has a mic and all the followers have Bluetooth earphones) offers a Jewish Victoria tour once a week that walks around looking at the various historic buildings, pointing out the ones that were originally Jewish stores… am thinking about it.

Malahat Chalet, Malahat B.C.

A tasty seafood restaurant with an AMAZING view located alongside TransCanadian Highway Route 1.

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I drove by this place on a semi regular basis during my one month stay in Schwanigan Lake, and never tried it (stupid me) until I had moved on to Victoria. The main reason is, you really do NEED to know it’s there, and have it as a set in your mind as your destination — and if your not local, preferably set your GPS to it so that you have ample warning of when to slow down and turn; this is necessary because it sits alongside a severely graded, winding highway with cars wizzing along it at dangerous speeds… so you can’t suddenly realize you’re there and throw on the breaks without the very strong possibility of creating a multi-car pileup.

When I finally did set my GPS to this location I was very happy with my meal and amazed by the view.

Firstly, I have a severely restricted diet due to all sorts of medical conditions I’m trying to simultaneously control with diet. As it turned out this place has ACTUAL chefs who, to quote the waitress, actually relish the opportunity of being forced to get a bit creative, rather than the sort who cook on remote control and get upset if you ask them to veer away from their programing.

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I require low fat & low carb and nothing on their menu met my needs, so after a brief description of what I could eat, they made me a stir fry with almost no oil of shrimp, scallops, and low glycemic veggies that was spiced so as to bring out the flavors… wonderful!

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That said… THE VIEW….

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SO granted, I didn’t eat off the menu, and only ate here once, but what I can say is they have chefs who know how to cook, do wonderful customer service, and have an amazing view and fresh seafood.

July 1: Canada Day in Victoria, B.C.

Canada Day, is not an “independence day” equivalent to July 4th in the U.S.A.; rather, it is a national holiday commemorating a 1867 event when the remaining North American British colonies unified & reorganized themselves (by mutual agreement of the British and their Canadian colonists) into a confederated single country called Canada, but one that remained for another 115 years part of the British Empire, until 1982.

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Source: http://www.victoria.ca/EN/meta/news-archives/2016-archive/join-us-for-victoria-celebrates-canada-day.html

This commemoration event made me realize that my knowledge of Canadian history is woefully and embarrassingly non-existent; I actually had no idea that Canada Day even existed, nor for that matter its date, nor did I fully understand what it was about; so, it was by happy accident that I began my one month stay in downtown Victoria, B.C., the day before this event.

(That said: I am currently looking on Amazon.com, both the US and Canadian ones, in an attempt to rectify that, and just not finding much.)

This ignorance (a state of being I have little tolerance for) was brought home to me when one of my oldest friends, asked me ‘what is Canada Day’ and I didn’t know the answer. Gina — who looks like she could be my better looking, much thinner and slightly taller sister — and I have known each other since kindergarten. She’s been visiting me from time to time as I’ve been doing my road trip, since she likes to travel, but her hubby not so much, and she has neither the time nor inclination to travel intensively, the way I have been doing it. So, from time to time she takes a few days off from work and comes to where ever I happen to be — usually after I’ve been there long enough to have a sense of what she might want to see, and she crashes at my place and I become her local guide. When she therefore asked me, “what is Canada Day” I realized that I genuinely had no clue on how to answer that (it was annoying), other than that I was sure it was NOT an Independence day. Canadian independence from the British Empire happened when I was a Junior in High School, and I remembered it. It was a really big deal at the time particularly in my home, since a lot of my family is British (and by birth, technically, so am I).

So what follows is in answer to Gina’s question of, “well if it isn’t an Independence day, what is it?”…..

Originally called Dominion Day (a choice of words I find interesting), Canada Day Celebrates the confederation in 1867 of the two colonies (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) into a whole, named Canada, which was then immediately broken into FOUR Provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.

This however was not ALL of what is now Canada, as there are actually ten provinces and three territories (not just four provinces), and these are:

Provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador (which apparently count as one), Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.

Territories: Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.

The major difference between the two categories seems to be whether their power is derived from the constitutional act of 1867 (also known as the British North America Act of 1867 — territories) that Canada Day commemorates, or whether their power is delegated by the central government (which I assume means the central government maintains the prerogative to revoke them at some future time, I assume after the territories are more densely settled — must investigate further).

The province of British Columbia, where I currently am, didn’t join until 1871 when it became the sixth Canadian Province, after the negotiation of a few legal and economic points. From my perspective, this sounds a lot like what happened with the Crown colonies joining the US — with North Carolina and Rhode Island being hold outs until their terms were agreed to, or the current on-going and in the news example of European countries and EU membership.

And that said,  I am about to go off on a HUGE historical tangent, which this brings to mind: namely, the historical question of, “Did the Southern States have the legal right to secede from the Union?” (And what the fuck does this have to do with Canada, is what I assume you’re currently thinking to yourself. No really, bare with me.) The answer is predicated on, do you consider the U.S. Constitution to be a contract or a treaty. No seriously, it makes a HUGE difference from a legal standpoint… and MOST legal scholars tend to agree that Lincoln, as a lawyer, must have known that he had no legal right to stop secession, precisely because the constitution was initially ratified in 1789 with only 11 of the 13 colonies/states agreeing to it, and the holdouts adding on later by 1790 — not to mention our ability to add more states as needed without having to write up a new constitution. (Point of fact, one wouldn’t know unless you majored in law or political science: legally, no one can enter a contract after the fact; for that to happen the old contract has to be broken and a new one created that all current members sign. This is not so with a treaty, where others can join on the agreement after the fact, and more importantly, in a treaty signers reserve the right to leave at will with no major repercussions, which you don’t get to do with a contract.) Most legal scholars consider the constitution to be a treaty for this reason. However, that said, since all of the Canadian colonies were under British control (sort of like teenagers legally, rather than full adults) I don’t think British Columbia would legally have the right to secede, but it is an interesting thought anyway.

From the little I’ve read, while prepping to write this — again, I am looking for some good general readers on Canadian History — the reorganization, and the general semi-independence granted to Canada by the British was definitely influenced by what had happened in what were, then, the United States, in an attempt to keep Canada in the Empire. For the most part it worked, and Canada was kept at least legally dependent on the British Empire for another 115 years, or in other words until just 34 years ago in 1982.

So, back to the fun part:

There was a whole schedule of events lined up for the day, but where Americans seem to be married to the concept of 4th of July parades, followed by music, food, and then fireworks… the Canadians seem to really enjoy forming ‘human flags.’ Apparently — from what I was hearing — every major city in Canada does one of these, and there’s a sort of unofficial rivalry for who can do the biggest one… which Winnipeg seems to hold the record for, and the fact that it included free Canada T-shirts was a definite draw from my perspective.

Unfortunately, by the time we got done brunch (dim sum, not great), and dragged our asses the five or six blocks from my apartment to the lawn in front of the British Columbia Parliament building (the majestic building with the green rooms), they had already handed out all 1,500 t-shirts. We did however get there in time to see them forming the flag by herding people, based on t-shirt color, into specific locations that were marked by bright yellow strings. There were multiple TV stations and Newspapers taking shots, both from the ground, and from elevated positions.

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Along with this, there was also live music (really good live music I might add), activities and a bouncy castle for the kids, many folks touting red maple leaf temporary tattoos on their faces, and no shortage of adults embracing their Canadian Identity with a geeky fervor that I just loved.

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Just off to the side of this were food trucks, and public service groups advertising everything from efforts to revive nearly extinct species specific to Canada, to public service groups. Gina and I are both very Jewish (in our own ways), we met at a Jewish Kindergarten, and were really happy to see that there was a Jewish contingent being represented.

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From them we learned that there are a few different synagogues in town; apparently, the conservative one is not only just up the street from my rental, it is also the oldest surviving synagogue in Canada (I will endeavor to stick my nose in late this month); they had mistakenly said it was the oldest in all of North America — but I knew that couldn’t be right because I (rightfully) thought that one is located in Rhode Island, but I didn’t correct them. However, according to Wikipedia the one in Victoria is the oldest West coast synagogue in North America…  Unfortunately the congregation is so small that they only do Saturday morning prayers regularly, with Friday night prayers only happening once a month. There is also a reform, a Chabad (of course), and a spiritualist new age type community.

Besides this we found rows and rows of local artists selling their wares. Products ranged from hand made native american art, to bucket loads of jewelry and clothing, to bizarre garden gnomes.

One item for sale kind of freaked us out. If you’ve been shopping lately you’ve noticed that fossilized ‘life’ of various forms, and quartz seem to have not only become all the rage, but seem to be selling as jewelry that range in prices from $180 to an almost identical item selling for $5. At one such table I picked up a necklace that appeared to be a fossilized leaf… really pretty, and it slipped from my hand and hit the floor and shattered. I showed it to the guy managing the table and apologized saying, “you break it you buy it” and he waved me off saying not to worry about it, “we guarantee what we sell, so if it broke from one drop, don’t worry about it.” Both Gina and I just “LOOKED” at each other, and walked away a bit freaked out. We both mentally went to, ‘if that cost them so little that they don’t care customers break them, then none of that stuff we’re seeing in stores must be real.’ As in I think the Chinese have figured out how to mass produce this stuff, and the product selling for $200 a pop might be the same crap that’s selling for $5 a pop.

Buyer beware is all I can say about that.

After that Gina and I were both utterly warn out, and headed back to my Airbnb rental to crash. On the way back we passed a very hunky looking Canadian policeman (seriously, hubba hubba), and I asked him where the best places to see the fireworks from were, describing about where my rental was. He suggested a location much closer than the one advertised, and we thanked him…  we went back to my place and we both fell asleep for a few hours before heading out to the fireworks.

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Afterwards Gina noted that this had been two firsts for her: firstly, watching fireworks from an angle where you can actually see the track of the fireworks, and secondly, she had never really watched them fully over water before. It was quite lovely.

 

Astera’s Greek Taverna, Nanaimo B.C.

Exceedingly cute and impressively tasty & authentic, Greek restaurant; owner seems to be a recent immigrant from Greece.

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Found this place via Yelp: To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations when I walked in — even though the place IS very cute looking — because most of the Greek places I’ve been to recently were beyond bad. Like seriously unauthentic and just plain bad… I’m not the world’s best cook but I could have done better using a cookbook than some of these places.

At first, I was a bit irritated because the staff, while friendly, didn’t seem like they had their act together (four of them, plus the owner, running around like chickens with their heads cut off… highly inefficient, getting orders wrong, etc). It took them forever to seat me (even with multiple empty tables), and then way too long to get my order… and then my food never came. The owner came by asking how I was and I said, “Hungry.”

After a 1/2 hour wait I got my taramasalata, and it was very good.

Ultimately, Great Greek food!! Happy food dance. Best Greek food I had had in a long time. My grilled octopus was tasty and not rubbery at all, taramasalata that was fresh and tasty, and the spanakopita (well that’s hard to screw up) 

World’s Biggest Hockey Stick & Puck, Duncan B.C.

Over the front door of the Duncan Arena and performing arts center is a HUGE Hockey Stick and Puck. IMG_1400

This hockey stick weighs 61,000 pounds and is 205 feet long. The Guinness world book of records has certified it is the biggest hockey stick in the world, Minnesota USED to have the biggest but what there is now ranked as third in size.

Ironically, I’d driven past this thing multiple times and never saw it, thanks to the Atlas Obscura website for finding it for me.

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Taken by Thomas Malone

For the obligatory Ken Josephson inspired shot, for those who don’t know…  he was the modern artist who originally explored distortions of scale in photography — and was also one of my favorite teachers at the Art Institute of Chicago, they’ve actually mapped out exactly where you and the person taking the shot need to stand with yellow marks on the pavement.