Living country in the city

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, October 2011

In some ways, country living in Victoria is better than the real thing.

My large family includes just two urbanites: A sister in Toronto and me, here in Victoria. My sister in Toronto—God love her, as the elders in our hometown would say in solace—has been trying to escape to rural Prince Edward Island for years. I, on the other hand, have been living country on my standard suburban lot for almost two decades.

I haven’t always realized this, since my ideal country vignette once included a winding lane flanked by an old apple orchard on one side and on the other a field for placid, cud-grinding cows with eyes half-closed as if in the trance of some delightful herbivorous reverie. Victoria was definitely not country, in my mind. But then we planted a vegetable garden and several trees, added a gazebo, and tucked in a couple of bird baths. Up and down the street, saplings matured and houses began relinquishing their dominance on the landscape. Presto—well, maybe not “presto,” but suddenly, it seemed—we were in the country.

Victoria is a dynamic combination of urban and rural, the best of both worlds in many ways. On the Galloping Goose Trail, I can cycle to farms in Saanich or the downtown core in 30 minutes. The Goose and other trails offer safe hiking and biking throughout the city. On some sections you’d swear you were deep in the wilderness.

In the country you can buy super-fresh food straight from the farmer. In Victoria you can too, either from a farm stand just a few kilometres “up the road” or at one of several local markets around town. Other home-grown products also abound. One of my neighbours sells the most gorgeous dahlia bouquets I’ve ever seen.

I grew up on a farm surrounded by fields that were perfect for walking and pondering. Now I find rural solitude at the local park, just a five-minute stroll away. These days I’m also finding blackberries there, so many that the whole neighbourhood could pick unrestricted and still there’d be a million sweet jewels left dangling on the bramble. Parks and nature sanctuaries provide needed nectar for the body and soul. Fortunately we have so many in the region that walking to one is an option from most homes in Greater Victoria.

Backyard chickens, now allowed under new bylaws, further infuse a rural ambience, although we’ve always been an animal-loving city. Everyone has a dog, it seems, and the pastoral peninsula is dotted with cows, horses and the occasional sheep, pig or llama. Those wanting a closer encounter can visit the Beacon Hill Petting Zoo, or sit on their own front porch and watch roaming herds of semi-feral deer decimate the delphiniums. Okay, that last bit was a tad sarcastic. A deer in the distance is cute but even the real rural folks would find three in the garden highly intolerable.

Our clean air is pure country as well. Thanks to the city’s ample green space and near-complete absence of heavy industry, we have the luxury of breathing easy, a blessing that’s never more apparent than when returning from a trip to almost anywhere else. Many cities have grown so large that the insidious smog from industry and traffic pollutes far beyond their own perimeters, tainting rural enclaves that are, ironically, their own most important breadbasket. (Memo to ourselves: We can’t afford to ignore our own growing transportation issues, and our search for solutions must not be appropriated by partisan interests and their push for expensive, piecemeal fixes.)

In some ways, country living in Victoria is better than the real thing. Our heritage homes are in better shape and probably more plentiful: In James Bay you can find whole eye-popping rows of them standing shoulder to shoulder behind cheerful cottage gardens. The internet service is reliable, and schools, hospitals and libraries are just minutes away. A trip to the dentist or night on the town does not have to be preceded by an hour’s drive. Getting groceries isn’t an all-day event.  

It’s pretty darn easy living the country lifestyle. Taking care of our city will keep it that way.

While writing this article Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic harvested food from her garden, bolstered the deer fence and read a Harrowsmith primer on raising chickens.