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By Rob Wipond, July/August 2013

The data is being processed.

Last year we threw cold water on the Gorge Swimfest by reporting that only fecal bacteria safety levels were being tested. What about the industrial pollutants in the sediment, or flowing in through sewer outfalls? We discovered that no one was testing if those toxins were getting into swimming areas.

However, the Capital Regional District and Vancouver Island Health Authority have begun collaborating on broader testing.

“We have done more extensive and comprehensive water quality testing both in the fall of 2011 and the summer of 2012,” says the CRD’s Supervisor of Stormwater, Harbours and Watersheds Program, Dale Green.

By Simon Nattrass, July/August 2013

Elders’ stories illustrate challenges.

Misconceptions abound when it comes to active illicit drug users in our community. Police, Block Watch programs, and neighbourhood associations repeating the not-in-my-backyard mantra too often encourage us to view addicts as people to be feared and avoided. 

In early June, I was one of the few people outside Victoria’s street community to be invited to the second annual Convergence of People Who Use Illicit Drugs. The day-long event is the culmination of a program called Street College, organized by and for members of the street community in partnership with AIDS Vancouver Island and the Society of Living Illicit Drug Users. 

By Aaren Madden, July/August 2013

Renee Nault draws viewers into a vivid, dreamlike world.

In artist and illustrator Renee Nault’s “High Ground,” a fox clings precipitously to a moss covered rock while a waterfall courses past. In “Leaving,” created for The Los Angeles Times, the departing swish of a woman’s intricately patterned skirt tells all that is needed about two gold rings abandoned in the storm cloud of her shadow. In “Fleeting,” a winged, antlered deer—with a fawn’s spots and the tail of a lion—glides across the page. It’s a creature out of Nault’s imagination, evoking a mythology that is as unique as it is hauntingly familiar. Like so much of her illustration work, each of these have an uncanny way of opening a door into a larger narrative, one that offers glimpses into a dreamlike world of her own creation.

By Amy Reiswig, July/August 2013

Friday night poetry gatherings have birthed a book reflecting life in the whole.

As backyard sun filters through amber liquid crowned by green leaves of mint, I think: poetry is a lot like making tea. Words, like herbs and flowers, are gathered carefully, thoughtfully, into compact packets and dropped into the often bland water of our daily lives, infusing minds and moments with new ideas, imaginings, observations, meditations, passions and perspectives. Depending on what we’re in the mood for, we can choose from a variety of forms and flavours—sip on an elegy, lyric, prose poem, sonnet or sestina; savour something on love, death, family, nature or art itself. And if Victoria’s Planet Earth Poetry reading series is anything to go by, poetry is also a good thing to gather over with friends.

By Joe Wiebe, July/August 2013

A one-night stand led to an unexpectedly long journey, including that night in the Volaré. Damn right.

Victoria’s Theatre Skam turned 18 this year—quite a feat given its humble origins. Co-founder and current Artistic Producer Matthew Payne recalls a simple phone call from Amiel Gladstone back in January 1995.

“Ami called me up and said, ‘I think there’s this café owner who’ll let us do a show and there’s these two gals. Are you in?’ And I said sure.”

Before the four friends could stage a night of five short plays under the title “Table for Two,” they figured they had to call themselves something. Maybe an acronym based on their names? But none of their surnames began with a vowel—Donald, Gladstone, Payne, Turner—so that wouldn’t work. What about their first names: Sarah, Ami, Matthew and Karen? 

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, July/August 2013

Artful ways to build community.

Imagine. There is no Empress Hotel. No Chinatown. No Crystal Gardens. Before James and Amelia Douglas. Or Emily Carr. Or Francis Rattenbury. 

Imagine this place before any Europeans arrived here. For thousands of years, Coast Salish people from around our region came together to share food, honour their elders in celebration and give thanks to the bounty of the land. They danced, sang traditional songs and told theatrical stories. Often these gatherings had a spiritual component. 

Fires burned, people joked and laughed, children stayed up late. 

Were these coming-togethers called festivals? No, not really, not as we think of a festival in today’s world. But they involved a “feast” and were, no doubt, “festive”—words that are etymological cousins to the concept of festival.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, July/August 2013

Our standard measurement of economic success is at odds with most things we truly cherish.

Ah, the wily gross national product, the statistic that has government and commerce cheering each time it moves brightly upward like the fundraising barometers often seen around town. That’s the sign of a robust economy, and when the economy is healthy, so are we all, right?

By David Broadland, June 2013

What do Christy Clark's LNG industry, the CRD’s sewage treatment plan and Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge project all have in common?

Key elements of the BC Liberals’ blitzkrieg-like bombing of the NDP in the recent election campaign began coming together last February. This included delivery of a report produced for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas by the accounting and business advisory firm Grant Thornton LLP that seemed to provide respectable, independent verification that the province was on the verge of an explosion in jobs related to production and export of liquified natural gas. The report predicted the creation of 114,600 jobs in BC, instantly providing Christy Clark with her campaign mantra of “100,000 jobs for BC families.”

By Rob Wipond, June 2013

Over 20 years, Bruce Saunders has built Movie Monday into one of Victoria’s most enduringly popular arts events.


The police looked uncomfortable the night they came to Movie Monday. We’d just watched Crisis Call, an absorbing, emotional documentary exploring often volatile, sometimes deadly encounters between Canadian police and people with severe mental health problems. After the film, host Bruce Saunders introduced us to two Greater Victoria police officers whom he’d invited to share their perspectives and answer audience questions. 

By Leslie Campbell, June 2013

Will the break-through win of a green politician reshape BC’s politics?

The historic election of a Green Party candidate to the BC Legislature should be encouraging to that party and to the rest of us too. Let’s forget the complaints about “splitting the votes,” which can be used against any candidate—or voter—and embrace the possibilities inherent in a Green win. It’s a party that foregoes the old right vs left dichotomy, and for now at least, endorses free votes in the legislature and proportional representation, and is opposed to corporate and union donations. These are some of the measures I believe are needed to re-energize our democracy.

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, June 2013

Kelly Paul’s Island marathon aims at awakening hope among First Nation youth.

In May 2012, the Cowichan Tribes, population 4,400, declared a local state of emergency in response to a horrifying spike in community suicides. Several people had died at their own hands in just the first five months of the year; 52 suicide alerts in total came into Cowichan’s tribal health centre over the same period. 

Sadly, Cowichan Tribes are far from being the only First Nation haunted by shocking suicide rates. It’s a statistic that plagues hundreds of Aboriginal communities across the country. Among Aboriginal youth, the rate shoots up to as much as six times the national average. “We are losing our most valuable resources—our children and our caregivers,” Cowichan Chief Harvey Alphonse lamented in 2012. 

By Rob Wipond, June 2013

Thousands of Victorians affected


The international war raging between the titans of psychiatry and psychology may not seem like “local” news. However, tens of thousands of local citizens have been seriously injured and now desperately need caring attention.

By Briony Penn, June 2013

Three Peace River residents talk about the changes they’re seeing as resource extraction ramps up.

“The feeling you get up here is that the Peace region is the sacrificial lamb for bailing out the economic troubles of the province. For many people, we are out of sight, so out of mind. But even people in industry up here are thinking: ‘this is getting crazy.’” 

This is the message that local Peace River valley farmer Ken Boon wants people in the capital region to hear. Decisions about the Peace will be made in Victoria, yet many local residents and First Nations don’t sense that urban British Columbians are hearing their voices over the clamour of LNG boosters, political fear-mongering about job losses, and corporate ad campaigns. 

By Amy Reiswig, June 2013

Growing food locally is a political act of community preservation.

Summer is a-comin’ and those not worshipping the sun at the beach might be found, as Victoria poet and food writer Rhona McAdam says, on their knees in their yards, doing their part to earn Victoria its reputation as the City of Gardens. But what kinds of gardens? Consider the aggregate acres of lawns, hedges and ornamental flowers; then consider that Vancouver Island only grows about five percent of its own food. Something has grown terribly wrong. 

“But what can I do?” It’s a thought said often to one another and to ourselves in the face of Big Concerns demanding attention. Climate change, pollution, poverty and human rights, to name just a few, compete with issues like food security for the limited emotional energy and time we have for learning how to make a difference, whether in the wider world or our own communities. 

By Gene Miller, June 2013

Why do we penalize those who are trying to densify the city core?

I’m tempted to devote this entire column to the news that while the McDonald’s on Pandora Avenue and Vancouver Street charges four cents less for a large coffee, the McDonald’s on Esquimalt Road near Esquimalt’s Archie Browning Recreation Centre is a masterpiece of tasteful, intimate restaurant decor, especially the leather armchairs and the booth seating. Yes, leather armchairs, booth seating.

The Pandora McDonald’s is straight out of the prison cafeteria riot school of interior design (the “lockdown” look), and evokes Agent Smith’s disgust in The Matrix when he describes humans as a disease, a virus. The beautifully furnished and finished Esquimalt restaurant, however, communicates trust, love of people, belief in the goodness of the human community, faith that someday we will overcome our differences and all be as— 

By Aaren Madden, June 2013

With light and shadow, Catherine Moffat creates sanctuaries in paint.

Picture a girl of 17 standing in front of a gallery window staring at a painting. Intently—with intent, in the truest sense of the word. She is absorbing what she can before she returns from her lunch break, back to pressing down, ca-chunk, on the keys of an old Underwood in an office of the Legislature building. 

That was Catherine Moffat, creating her life as an artist. “I had to stand in front of [the painting] until I learned something that you could put into a sentence,” she recalls. “I really tried to study, and fantasized that I was studying under a master; I would give myself exercises to do. It was just so corny,” she laughs dismissively.

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, June 2013

Emerging artists are attempting to thrive outside the mainstream arts infrastructure.

They are not exactly dropping like flies, so maybe it is a little early to call it a trend. About a year ago, the 50-year-old Vancouver Playhouse Theatre called it quits. In February of this year, Toronto’s Queen of Puddings Music Theatre announced it was closing in the fall after 20 years of producing new Canadian opera works. Today, I got a message that Stage West Theatre in Mississauga, one of the last dinner theatre venues in Canada, is finishing its run after 27 years. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, June 2013

Most of us are lucky enough to be able to choose our health destiny.

A few months ago the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation released an ad that’s both jarring and profound. On a split screen the video streams two very different scenarios for life in the senior years—one from the vantage point of robust health and the other from the chronic sickbed. “What will your last ten years look like?” asks the narrator as the actor laces up his runners in the left screen but struggles his foot into a slipper on the right. “Will you grow old with vitality or get old with disease?” Wheels roll across the screen, those of the actor’s bicycle on the left and his wheelchair on the right. Dinner on the left happens at table with family over a glass of wine; on the right the actor is in his hospital bed, unable to lift a styrofoam cup without help.

“It’s time to decide,” the narrator says grimly.

By Leslie Campbell and David Broadland, May 2013

Its $17-million purchase of property in a residential neighbourhood as a possible location for biodigesters has critics—and at least two NDP candidates in the BC election—calling for a rethink of the entire plan.

The day after we attended a Victoria West Community Association meeting, a massive explosion destroyed a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, where 15 people were killed. Most Victorians wouldn’t have made any connection between the explosion in Texas and a proposed sewage treatment facility in Victoria. But along with a hundred or so other citizens at that meeting—called to discuss a CRD proposal to locate several anaerobic biodigesters in a residential neighbourhood—we heard land economist Chris Corps say such biodigesters occasionally blow up. There’s nothing like the possibility, however faint, of an explosion in your neighbourhood to focus the mind.

By Rob Wipond, May 2013

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Registrar of Lobbyists are hot on their association’s trail. But a former BC police chief and solicitor general doubts they’ll ever be caught.

There’s one thing the police tell you never to do when they want to question you, right? Run. Running makes you look even more suspicious. So why do British Columbia’s chiefs of police keep running from me? Fortunately, I’ve gained some high-profile help in this now year-long chase.