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By Chris Creighton-Kelly, April 2013

Let’s recreate the city’s image by putting the land and its peoples front and centre.

He has had a few glasses of wine. So he, a non-native person, insists on telling me this: “There could be colourful banners, murals on the side of buildings, outdoor pole carvers and businesses selling aboriginal art.”

I respond by saying this is what we already have in Victoria. He counters by saying yes, but we need more of it. He is well-intentioned, but apparently, in some cases, there is a limit to the human imagination!

By Aaren Madden, April 2013

Charles Campbell’s Transporter activates a present space from which to imagine possible futures.

In Open Space Gallery right now, five geodesic spheres a la Buckminster Fuller sit about waist high in random locations across the floor. They are made of heavy cardstock triangles with the interior spaces cut away, leaving only the open lattice of supporting sides held together from the inside by simple binder clips. A different repetition of a single image is overlaid onto the surface of each sphere. As such, from any distance, these spheres appear as light and airy as giant bubbles: attractive, playful, and fascinating. In fact, at the opening reception of Charles Campbell’s Transporter exhibition, of which these spheres form a major component, a few people couldn’t resist the temptation to set them in gentle motion, then retreat and watch as they slowly came to rest.

By Joe Wiebe, April 2013

The Balkan Babes have travelled a long way.

In performance, the Balkan Babes exhibit a calm serenity that underscores the eerily beautiful eastern European melodies and harmonies they sing. At their CD release concert in Duncan in early February, the music is mesmerizing, punctuated occasionally by trills or whoops. Some songs are soft and elegiac, while others are belted out with fervent ferocity. For an all-female choir, the range of voices is impressive. Some songs begin with one or two singers and then slowly grow in complexity until all nine women are singing. Even though they sing unaccompanied without a conductor, no one ever seems to miss a mark or wander off key.

By David Broadland, March 2013

Information obtained through three FOIs raises serious questions about how the City of Victoria's FOI office is being run. That office's attempt to block Focus' access to City of Victoria records last fall was misrepresented to City councillors, and the City prepared no evidence for the hearing called by BC's Information and Privacy Commissioner.

By Leslie Campbell, March 2013

Who does Victoria’s harbour authority answer to?

I wasn’t alone in deciding to spend my Valentines’ evening in a windowless hotel conference room. About 100 other people showed up for the 5:30 pm public meeting of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. The woman signing us in ran out of agenda materials just as I arrived; she said she had only prepared for the usual 30 guests. 

What had stirred so much interest was the GVHA’s refusal to accept the City of Victoria’s nominee for a board position. But beneath that concern lay Victorians’ passion for their harbour and for democratic governance.

By Briony Penn, March 2013

BC Liberals go ahead with another giveaway of publicly-owned land to corporations.

Three years ago, in a feature report entitled “The Big Burn,” Focus revealed the findings of a dozen retired forest service professionals about BC Liberal plans to privatize BC’s forests under pressure from what are called “distressed asset managers.” These are the mega-corporations like BAM (Brookfield Asset Management; now the top performing company in Canada) and TAM (Third Avenue Management) that buy up majority interests in distressed logging companies (including Canfor, Weyerhauser, Catalyst, Western Forest Products, TimberWest, Island Timberlands etc).

By Pete Rockwell, March 2013

A proposal for a new 200-unit building shows competing visions for a quiet North Park neighbourhood.

It’s almost warm in the sun on this cold clear day as I walk down Mason Street, which runs parallel to Pandora, just off Cook Street. On my left is a modest park. A few trees. Couple of benches. A small playground where two mothers push their kids on swings. Two older women sit and talk on a bench. A Hipsterish couple walk their dog. Across the street a young guy with a beard talks to his cell phone and leans against the brick wall of a coffee shop called Yoka’s. 

Walking west, I pass the Mason Street City Farm. Neat, well-tended vegetable gardens and a few greenhouses occupy the back and side yards of older wood frame houses. Earlier era houses extend down to the end of the block. Narrow Mason Street seems a modest, friendly, quiet place. So close to downtown, yet a world away.

By Rob Wipond and Leslie Campbell, March 2013

The right to sleep, continued; RCMP agrees to stop tracking innocent drivers; A healing journey in dangerous times; Ombudsperson pans incapability assessments


The right to sleep, continued

If David Arthur Johnston gets his way, the City of Victoria’s bylaw disallowing camping during daylight hours will be challenged in BC Supreme Court soon.

By Rob Wipond, March 2013

There’s growing local interest in land trusts as a way to tackle housing costs and reshape our communities.


"It’s not a housing strategy, it’s about land reform,” said Michael Lewis. The declaration felt rousing, as if we were in an impoverished part of Latin America rather than a comfortable University of Victoria meeting room. Lewis was leading a discussion with representatives from Vancity, Victoria and Esquimalt municipal governments, the Capital Regional District, the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, and local non-profits and other groups searching for solutions to this region’s housing affordability crisis. And though no decisions were reached, there was general agreement that Lewis’ research report (funded by Vancity) and innovative proposal to build a regional Community Land Trust (CLT) to support multi-owner homes merited further discussions.

By Amy Reiswig, March 2013

The WordsThaw symposium brings writers together to discuss how writing and social consciousness coalesce.

An upcoming symposium reminds us that when it comes to the question of how we keep our communities—our families, our markets, even our minds—healthy and vibrant, the wealth we most need to tap into is each other.

Malahat Review editor and poet John Barton describes the March 23 “WordsThaw” event as “an intellectual icebreaker at the cusp of spring where readers and writers come together to exchange and encounter new ideas. Quite simply, words thaw and the writing we love comes to life.” Focus and the Victoria Writers Festival are helping sponsor the event. With three panels plus an evening of readings, the symposium serves up a full day of brain food and an opportunity to engage with local authors talking big topics.

By Gene Miller, March 2013

Is there an app for zapping bad buildings?

Twenty or so years ago, I was for a while a development consultant or, as I called myself in private moments of searing candour, a “developer’s finger puppet.” I was paid on a performance basis (“employed by the outcome,” was my trippingly elegant phrase for it), and was of course highly motivated to succeed. As I made the rounds door-knocking in various neighbourhoods and attending countless public meetings, I would listen to a predictable and repetitious litany of neighbours’ concerns: too high, too big, too dense, too close, too much traffic, too much shadowing, loss of privacy, and my favourite change-up: “I support density, just not here.” I knew this repertoire was code for something else, something much more emotionally raw and elemental, like: “I don’t want that monstrosity, that death star, anywhere near me! If it goes up, I’m going to hate my life every day!” 

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, March 2013

If art requires the quality of uniqueness to be art, can web-based expression be art?

In the last Culture Talks, I opened a discussion about the intersection of art and politics. I made reference to Walter Benjamin’s 70-year-old idea of the “aura” that accompanies visual artworks or live theatre productions. It is this uniqueness—in the art object or the onstage performance—that, according to Benjamin, gives art its authenticity.

He also states that by reproducing artworks, this aura is displaced: “...that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art...the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice—politics.”

By Aaren Madden, March 2013

With a keen eye, accumulated experience and masterful intuition, Marion Evamy paints vibrant imagery out of “the mess.”

Though her work is consistently vivid, vital and bold in form and colour, Marion Evamy paints in a wide range of styles and subject matter. The common thread connecting her work is process: “Make a mess, then find the imagery in the mess. That’s the easy explanation of it,” laughs the artist.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, March 2013

If you wait long enough, your pink bathroom fixtures will be back in vogue.

How do you know that you’ve waited too long to strip your bathroom of the pink and grey colour scheme that was so popular here in the late 1980s? By flipping through the pages of a current décor magazine and discovering that the hot new colours for 2013 are…purple and grey as well as “fifty shades of pink.”

By David Broadland, February 2013

Have 200 tonnes of steel and 4600 cubic metres of concrete been concealed in the deal with PCL?

On December 31, a closed meeting of Victoria City councillors voted six to two to approve a contract between the City and PCL Constructors Westcoast to build a new Johnson Street Bridge. A week later, a press release issued by the City quoted Mayor Dean Fortin: “This is an important milestone in the life of this project. This fixed-price contract meets the design, project budget and timelines, and allows us to move forward with confidence on a project that will vastly improve cycling, walking and driving options to and from the downtown for generations.” Even councillor Geoff Young, previously a constant critic of the project, admitted on CBC Radio to voting for signing the contract, saying he had “grumpily” become a supporter of the project.

By Briony Penn, February 2013

Climate policy experts are speaking out against various schemes to export more carbon from BC’s coastal ports.

Truck driver John Snyder retired to bucolic Fanny Bay to live the life, only to wake up one morning three years ago to find a notice on his doorstep—an invitation to an information session on the Raven Coal Mine, proposed five kilometres upstream of his home. 

After attending the meeting, Snyder launched into his new career as a citizen researcher on the impacts of coal mining on his community. With others, he set up the group CoalWatch. As he says, “It started with concerns about how the mine might contaminate our wells, and took off from there.” 

By Leslie Campbell, February 2013

Is the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel shirking its responsibility to include tanker safety in their analysis?

Shortly after the Victoria visit of the Joint Review Panel into Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, Beverley Mitchell, a retired Sister of St Ann, called me. This was not the first time I’d heard from Bev. She had contacted me shortly after reading my Editor’s Letter in Focus’ May edition, describing my experience at the Comox hearings into the pipeline. During that earlier conversation, I encouraged her to write about her own thoughts on the matter.

By Sylvia Olsen, February 2013

Idle No More is a healthy sign, a rejection of victimhood.

Thirty-nine years ago I moved to Tsartlip First Nation on Vancouver Island. The reserve was my home for 35 years. I was an 18-year-old “white” girl then. Now I’m a non-indigenous mother, auntie and grandmother to some of the next generation of indigenous Canadians. 

From my perspective, Idle No More is a movement, make no mistake. My Facebook feed indicates that the news is vastly understating the numbers of gatherings and attendees. But then why wouldn’t there be thousands of frustrated young indigenous people in our country? They are educated. They have been learning their history and it’s not a great story.

By Gene Miller, February 2013

Why don’t more multi-family buildings in Victoria pass the sniff test?

In a recent weekend fever dream, I was trapped in a maze of walled rooms filled with a vast selection of coffee beans in sacks and hundreds of different grass outfits that hung in thin air; and the only way to advance toward an exit was to grind a pound of coffee and to wear a straw clothing outfit in just the right combination. If I got the coffee/straw suit combination right, walls would reluctantly part just enough for me to squeeze through to the next room, where I faced the same task again. Plus, every room featured its own distracting adventure or sub-dream. 

By Chris Creighton-Kelly

Musings on the practical difficulties of mixing art and politics.

I write these words from one of my favorite places. Collioure—a delightful, Catalan village in the south of France just a few kilometers from the Spanish border, where the Pyrenees slope gently into the silver-blue of the Mediterranean. 

It is a place for resting, loving, writing, eating and drinking well, strolling in the sunlight, sitting calmly. For experiencing the extraordinary sense of simply being alive, in this place, in this moment, in this spirit. In short, a place to appreciate the good things in life, to appreciate the good thing that is my life.