This pathway is narrow, completely enclosed by a towering canopy of trees. My bike moves me silently over the bark mulch path. Emerging into sunlight again, on the eastern edge of Beacon Hill Park, I ride through a quiet and tree-lined neighborhood of Victorian homes, and then back to our temporary residence. A working vacation brought us here; we rented a small basement apartment on Dallas Road, a few blocks from Beacon Hill Park. Running parallel to Dallas Road is the linear Waterfront Park, a wonderful series of bike trails, separate pedestrian paths and green space, all fronting the shore of the Straits of Juan de Fuca. The Waterfront Park and the trails are frequented by bikers, rollerbladers, runners, walkers and more dogs than I have ever seen in one place.
During the day I can look across the Straits to that long attenuated arc that is the Olympic Peninsula. At night the distant flash of the Dungeness Lighthouse reminds me of my childhood in nearby Sequim, Washington.
At the west end of the Waterfront Park is the cruise ship terminal. These massive, fourteen-story, carbon-belching floating petri dishes arrive, disgorge four thousand gawking passengers for eight hours, and then depart again, off to the next scenic destination. What a way to kill the planet, in total luxury.
I am not a fan of British colonialism, but I have to make an exception for their late Victorian domestic architecture, on full display here in Victoria. The fronts of these old homes are delightful, with stairways, porches, balconies, railings, stained glass, stonework and flowerboxes. Their small front yards are equally delightful: instead of stereotypical bland lawns, they sport a profusion of ornamental plantings, together with curving walkways and statuary. About every 33rd house is a modern black box (literally), a soulless, blank construction of glass and prefab. Their total lack of architecture is bad enough on its own, but in the context of these Victorian neighborhoods, these newer homes stand out like warts. I agree with my colleague who says: a house needs a face.
Bikes, many of them electric, are everywhere in this town. The City has gone to great pains to make the urban streets bike friendly, and an internet-based biking map lets you plan your route to minimize riding in traffic. The Dallas Road bike trail has a counter that typically registers six hundred bikers a day. When I am on one of the City’s dedicated two-way downtown bike lanes, with a concrete barrier between me and car traffic, I feel like an unworthy member of the privileged elite. Victoria has recognized that urban biking is here to stay, and has built the infrastructure to accommodate it. I wish the towns and cities of my home valley of the Okanagan would do the same.
I have had a lifelong interest in snorkeling, and I was able to indulge myself in the waters along Dallas Road. As a rather large person, I struggle to get into wetsuit, boots, gloves and bonnet, even though they are all XL. By the time I am fully suited up, I am exhausted. But then I immerse myself, adjust to the cold of the Straits, unfog my mask, blow out the snorkel and allow the magic to take over. Drifting along with minimal effort, I look down into a totally alien but fascinating environment of seaweed, rock and sand. My vision is tunnel, only encompassing a square meter or two, but it is a moving picture of total fascination. My very being floats in a state of unhinged serenity. The occasional crab or bullhead or starfish is simply an added delight.
My first time snorkeling here was at Clover Point, but then I discovered it is Victoria’s sewage outlet. I changed locations immediately, but it did remind me of Mr. Floatie, the wonderful enormous brown turd costume, complete with sailor hat and bowtie, worn by protestor James Skwarok. James objected to Victoria dumping its raw sewage into the Straits. He and his fecal alter ego were instrumental in forcing the City to finally begin treating their sewage.
In my urban cycling explorations, I was struck by the number and size of heritage churches. Most early immigrants to Victoria were English or Scottish, and yet Catholic churches are everywhere, testimony to the early missionary zeal—and wealth–of that religion.
The first morning after our arrival, the traffic on Dallas Road was incredibly noisy. I was about to seek other accommodations when I discovered it was Deuce Days, a parade of old hotrods and souped-up vehicles. Later I was scanning the Times Colonist newspaper, and found this scathing letter to the editor, which I quote in full:
Deuce Days, a redneck celebration of toxic masculinity and dinosaur car culture, is the last thing Victoria needs.
Inviting this invasion of older white heterosexual males to parade their fetishized internal-combustion vehicles only perpetuates their notion of entitled privilege and the deeply entrenched interests of car culture, both of which Victorians have fought long and hard to put behind us.
Deuce Days belongs in a backwater hick town where these good ol’ boys can hide from progress and hope for a return to the good old days when men were measured by the length of their car.
This letter triggered a whole tirade of angry response letters. I get the sense that Victorians have strongly held opinions.
Cities and nature are inimical to each other: that is a fundamental axiom. However, I do see a glimmer of collaboration in Victoria. Of course nature has outdone itself here by providing meandering bays, points and estuaries, frequent unbuildable rock outcrops, and vegetation that lends itself to parks, walkways and tree-lined streets. Still I have to congratulate the hundred thousand residents of Victoria; they have done a far better environmental job than has Kelowna, a city of comparable size.
Victoria’s upscale neighborhood of Oak Bay intends to ban all gasoline-powered lawn equipment by 2026. I can’t wait to read the angry letters to the editor, from the owners of fetishized riding lawnmowers.