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Life in BC

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“I would say just the weather in Vancouver in the winter can be kind of unforgiving.”

Brandon J McLaren

Here be some photos of a wintery weekend in Vancouver.

Brrrr!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidThese guys had some bottle!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIn the midst of last week Victoria was basking in pleasant sunshine with temperatures hovering in the mid teens Celsius. By Friday morning (at the point at which our kitchen ceiling and all of the insulation had been ripped out, leaving the main floor of the house open to the attic and the fresh air vents therein) the temperature had plunged to around zero.

On Thursday night a storm blustered its way across the Saanich peninsula and we suffered the first power outage of the season (the which lasted more than three hours!) as the lines were brought down by falling branches. When I was awoken in the middle of the night – by all of the lights coming back on – I looked outside to find the garden (yard) covered with a blanket of snow!

All of this caused no little consternation since I was due to travel to Vancouver on the Friday to join the Kickass Canada Girl (who had been participating in a work conference there) so that we might attend BC Place for the much anticipated rugby encounter between Canada and the Maori All Blacks. It was our further intention to enjoy a weekend of wild hedonism in Vancouver before slinking back – tail between our legs – on the Sunday evening. According to the forecast, however, the weather was clearly in no mood to co-operate with our agenda.

Further concern arose from the realisation that – as our retreat into the basement for the duration had been accompanied by the closing off of the heating vents on the main floor (along with the cutting of a temporary return air feed into the downstairs ductwork) – the heating thermostat, being yet upstairs, was faced with the futile task of trying to engender some warmth into what had effectively become an outdoor space, whilst in the process almost incinerating everything that was now below stairs. The only alternative seemed to be to turn the heating off completely and to let everything freeze. The thought of going away and leaving the house in either state for the weekend did not fill us with enthusiasm.

Fortunately – having some little experience with cabling – it was not a overly difficult task to disconnect the thermostat, to pull the cable back down into the furnace room in the basement (being careful to leave a draw-wire in place for later reinstatement) and to reconnect the thermostat temporarily to service the lower floor alone.

Mighty glad by the end of the (chilly) weekend that I did so!

The Maori All Blacks? Well – no unexpected tales there. They gave the nearly 30,000 strong crowd a great exhibition of the finer points of the game of rugby and Canada a lesson from which they should learn a-plenty!

And we had a great time…

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Giving thanks

Growing up in the UK and paying little attention to matters beyond the confines of those verdant isles, my only vague understanding of the North American tradition of Thanksgiving came from the sort of cultural osmosis that arose from the post-war mid-Atlantic homogenisation of the entertainment industry. Even then I had no idea what it really signified and indeed thought little enough at all about it, except to wonder why on earth the Americans had instigated another turkey-based festival so close to Christmas.

I most likely assumed that the celebration had something to do with the secession of the US from its former colonial state, or was perhaps somehow related to the civil war. Either way I figured that it had little to do with us Brits and that given our long and (in)glorious history we probably didn’t feel the need to hold any special festival because we were permanently thankful for who we were.

The gentle reader will be unsurprised to hear that I received a rapid education in such matters when the Kickass Canada Girl and I moved in together. I learned that the Canadian and US Thanksgivings were different things and that they take place almost a month apart. As in so many areas the Canadian variant comes first! Whilst yet in the UK we celebrated the festival on a number of occasions with a gathering of Canadian expats and most enjoyable it was too.

What I still had not gleaned (a fact I can only blame on the sad decline of brain activity that comes with age) was that there is after all a correspondence between Thanksgiving and a UK feast day. I refer, of course, to that excellent pagan celebration – Harvest Festival. Doh! In my defence I would point out that Harvest Festival is not a public holiday in the UK, being traditionally celebrated on the nearest Sunday to the Harvest Moon. I was also misled by the lateness in the year of the American version – way after the harvest has been safely gathered in. Nonetheless, now that I have been enlightened it all makes perfect sense.

The long and the short of this inconsequential musing is that we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving last weekend with our dear friends from Saanichton and were treated to a truly magnificent feast. A good time was had by all and the harvest was well and truly lauded.

Hoorah!

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The Victoria Fringe Festival has already made several appearances in these postings (here and here – should the gentle reader feel inclined to backtrack) as the Girl and I have become regular supporters in the couple of years a that we have lived on the outskirts of the city.

This year there is – of course – a significant difference in that I am now a member of the board of Intrepid Theatre – the splendid organisation that runs the fringe (and other theatrical festivals) in Victoria.

The practical difference for me is that the period during which the fringe takes place – twelve days at the end of August and the start of September – is now considerably busier than it has been in previous years. When compared to the sterling efforts put in by the company’s staff those of the members of the board pale into relative insignificance, but there are duties incumbent upon them (us!) during fringe season which require time and effort.

For a start – there is an ambassadorial role to play. It is our job to meet and greet members of the fringe-going public, to make them feel valued and cherished, to listen to their views and criticisms and to build – where possible – the sort of ongoing relationship without which an organisation which relies so heavily on the support of the local audience could not survive.

The second (but closely related) role is to raise funds. Intrepid receives considerable and most welcome grants from government bodies without which it simply would not survive. Given that the ethos of the fringe is that all of the proceeds of the venue box offices go directly to the performers, the central costs of running the fringe must be covered by other means. Some of this shortfall comes from the sale of fringe buttons – a badge without which one may not enter a venue – but the rest must be raised by generous donations and other fundraising efforts led by the board. This year these included a fifty/fifty raffle draw that ran throughout the festival.

My direct involvement in the fringe was restricted to the first week only (for reasons that will become clear in a subsequent post) but in that brief period I worked at the Fringe Preview evening, at Fringe Kids (an event for children in Victoria’s Market Square) and – selling fifty/fifty tickets – on the queues of fourteen shows. In addition the Girl and I managed to see a total of seven shows.

The standard this year has been as high as any. Herewith our personal picks of the fringe:

  • Local comedian Morgan Cranny as ‘Vasily Djokavitch‘ (get the pun?) – billed as ‘Russia’s #1 State Approved Comedian‘. Highly amusing and directed by none other than Mike Delamont!
  • Gigantic Lying Mouth‘. Glaswegian spoken word artist Kevin P. Gilday in a dazzling blend of poetry, imagined conversation and multimedia – blending humour with much that was thought-provoking on the subjects of life, art and death.

…but perhaps best of all:

  • Englishman Charles Adrian as Ms Samantha Mann in ‘Stories About Love, Death and a Rabbit‘. Adrian has won awards for this show – a gentle confection of storytelling about love, loss and bad poetry – and it is easy to see why. It is a joy to see an actor so completely in control of timing, rhythm and inflection. Perfect!

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Having been out for a significant chunk of the day on Friday last (not returning home until around six o’ clock of the evening) I realised on our return that I had not yet checked the mail.

Now – for our first month in this house, back in 2015, the post was still delivered to the door. Ever since then we have been obliged to scamper along to far end of the terrace to the new roadside mailbox stack – an ‘improvement’ to the service which has naturally been planted in quite the most inconvenient of locations. These days I usually break out the bike and cycle up the road: Friday being no exception.

As I went to get my bicycle from the store in which we keep all of our outdoor equipment I glanced – as is my habit – out to sea. I was immediately taken by an unusual pattern of marine movement; an odd assemblage of a not insignificant number of assorted vessels. One gets quite used to the tracks that boaters take across the bay and this unusual gathering of craft – some eight or ten of them – was definitely not normal. Something was up.

We live up on the hillside above Highway 17 (the Pat Bay) at a point at which it follows the coast quite closely (a little below the uppermost ’17’ on the accompanying map) on about the same latitude as the top end of James Island. It takes less than five minutes to ride down the hill and to cross the highway on the pedestrian bridge to get to the shore. Coming back up takes a a little longer as one might expect, for the gradient is quite severe.

As I rode along the terrace I could see that the cluster of boats below was still extant, though now moving slowly southwards down the coast. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided that I just had to ride down to see what was going on. Once I reached the waterfront I could see that the craft had arranged themselves into a broad U-shape between the shore and James Island – a stretch of water called the Cordova Channel. There was clearly something unseen at the centre of this formation.

Image by djmboxsterman on PixabayA little patient watching and waiting revealed the answer: a pod of some five or six Orcas! My best guess is that the boats were trying to guide the Orcas out of the channel into the open ocean, thus preventing any of them becoming beached in the shallows around Cordova Spit.

What a stunning and beautiful sight! Inevitably I had neither camera nor mobile phone with me (hence the splendid stock image accompanying this piece) though I very much doubt that I could have got any decent shots in any case.

This is not a sight that one sees every day. Had anyone suggested – ten years ago – that on a Friday evening in August I would have been watching a flotilla of small boats shepherding a pod of killer whales past the bottom of my garden…

…I would have had a good chuckle!

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Now that the wildfire smoke has dissipated – from the coastal regions of southern BC if from nowhere else – much of the Salish Sea and its surroundings have sprung back into their normal summer focus… with bright sharp colours and sparkling vistas.

A trip with good friends on ‘Dignity’ to Sidney Spit provided an opportunity for some relaxed photographic reconnaisance:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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For the past twelve days the Georgia Strait and surrounding areas have been enveloped in a miasma of smoke from the wildfires (to which I made reference in this earlier post) which are still ablaze in the BC interior. The image at the head of this missive (and at the top of my last post) give an idea of the impact that this effluvium has had.

There have been mornings on which my customary first gaze out of the windows has given the rapid impression of a seriously hazy day, only for the realisation to dawn that the layer of vapour was not the result of any early morning micro-climatic condition, but rather a dense layer of smog lying immovably atop the sea.

The more northerly view from our deck normally reveals Moresby Island, with the higher Pender Island pair behind. On a clear day we can see further – all the way to the mountains behind the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver. The more southerly view stretches out across Sidney Island to the American San Juan islands beyond – and then all the way to distant Mount Baker.

For the last several weeks it has been just about possible to make out Sidney Island, but even Moresby has occasionally disappeared into the murk, leaving only the Little Group visible in the immediate foreground.

It really has all been quite depressing.

The reason that this cloud of noxious fumes has hung low over the sea (and of course over Greater Vancouver and beyond) for so long is that a ridge of high pressure became wedged over the BC coast – depriving the region of the usual cleansing zephyrs that should have dissipated the pollutant.

Finally, yesterday (Saturday), the weather system began once again slowly to move, the winds changed direction and – as if by magic – the banks of smoke dissolved, leaving ‘not a rack behind’. The sun renewed its efforts and Mount Baker became once again illuminated by the late afternoon glow.

Then, as an evening of croquet and good cheer in the garden with our dear friends from Saanichton entered its twilight phase, the first rains for nearly two months began gently to fall.

Today the world (this part of it at least) is a different place!

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid
Smoke from wildfires in the BC interior hangs heavily over the Malahat mountain opposite Brentwood Bay on Tuesday night.

2017 is already one of the worst years for wildfires in recent times and the situation is expected to deteriorate further as the province heads into a heatwave over the next few days, with temperatures soaring into the high 30’s Celsius in places.

More than 800 fires have been tackled since April 1st – of which some 138 are still active and currently being fought by around 3,700 firefighters. Additional firefighters from other provinces are joining the battle as well as – for the first time – more than one hundred from Mexico.

Whereas the early part of the year was marked by above average rainfall (with records for precipitation set in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria during March) it has not now rained in Victoria since the middle of June.

No sign of Mount Baker either…

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Image by Andy Dawson ReidEven so, there were times I saw freshness and beauty. I could smell the air, and I really loved rock ‘n’ roll. Tears were warm, and girls were beautiful, like dreams. I liked movie theaters, the darkness and intimacy, and I liked the deep, sad summer nights.”

Haruki Murakami, ‘Dance Dance Dance’

Summer is at its height and that must perforce mean that Wednesday evenings are spent in Pioneer Park, Brentwood Bay, chilling with friends on the greensward, dining al fresco and listening to some good music.

The season was caressed into life at the beginning of July by the smooth but soulful stylings of The R & B Toasters and the Butterhorns from Vancouver. These guys are all old hands and could probably crank this stuff out in their sleep. They feature one of the tightest rhythm sections I have heard in a good long time and for an outdoor gig their sound was exemplary – punchy and tight. I expressed my admiration to the bass player and drummer at the end of the show and they admitted that they had been playing together for a very long time.

Week two brought us Auntie Kate and the Uncles of Funk. Auntie Kate sings the blues and The Girl and I have seen her before – The Girl many times! We both agreed that she was in even better voice than we had heard previously. There is obviously something in the Vancouver Island summer air that brings out the soul in a performer.

We were looking forward to week three as – it seems – were many other inhabitants of the Saanich peninsula, evidenced by the extensive crowd staking out their spots in the park well before kickoff time. The focus of this interest was Dustin Bentall and the incredible Kendel Carson. Dustin has been mentioned in these dispatches before – being the son of Canadian superstar Barney Bentall – and Kendel is his even more talented other half. We have seen them both with The Caribou Express and if expectations were high they were well lived-up to. Kendel has a gorgeous voice and is a hugely gifted fiddle player – not to mention being ‘awful easy on the eye!’ – as they saying (probably) goes.

Week four’s offering – Echo Nebraska (pictured above) – were always going to struggle to match the Bentalls. They have a decent singer but the rest of the band are a perhaps little one dimensional and they still have much to learn. They are yet young though…

As can be gleaned from the image above, the bands currently play on a small temporary stage just outside the Brentwood Bay library. As of next season they will instead grace a purpose built and very beautiful permanent stage (construction of which has just started) courtesy of the fundraising and organisational efforts of the Brentwood Bay Community Association. Kudos all round – say I – for such a splendid campaign and fantastic effort.

We are in little doubt the the remainder of this season will match the standards set thus far – which means that we are all in for further treats!

Good-oh!

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I am always quick – when friends or acquaintances make appreciative observations concerning our garden (yard!) – to sing the praises of the previous owners of this fair domicile, who clearly knew a great deal more about gardening than do I (though it must, of course, be pointed out that that is not difficult!).

Yet – even though I make reference to the fact that there is scarcely a week during the spring and summer months when there is not a riot of colour and activity somewhere within its boundaries – I still find myself surprised that – just when it looks as though the display is about to peter out – some fresh wonder bursts forth.

All this by way of making apology for yet more photos of plants!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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