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By Amy Reiswig, February 2013

Susan Musgrave’s new novel illustrates our potential for endurance.

I started reading Susan Musgrave’s new novel Given on the day newspapers announced the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The book’s opening epigraph of “We lose our children not once, but over and over again” (Neil Gordon, The Company We Keep) was, on that day, particular indication that I was in for a heart-squeeze of a read.

Centred around a trio of women, one living and two dead, who met in prison after being convicted of killing their children, Musgrave’s book would be a punch in the gut no matter what was in the news. But the book’s dealing with so much love, loss and grief means it’s open, and benefits from being open, to the importation of each reader’s own emotional experience—threads we pull through the fiction like guide ropes in a dark forest. 

By Aaren Madden, February 2013

Even while they amuse, Carollyne Yardley’s paintings ask the larger questions.

Consider the squirrel. Its ubiquity is, for most of us, inversely proportional to the amount of thought we devote to these creatures that share our urban and rural spaces. Unless, say, they are raiding your birdfeeder or digging up your daffodil bulbs, they live out constant but seldom-noticed dramas of survival under our noses every day. 

By Lisa Szeker-Madden, February 2013

Nancy Argenta sings Henry Purcell at this year’s Pacific Baroque Festival.

This year’s Pacific Baroque Festival continues its tradition of presenting inventive and engaging programs by exploring the music of Henry Purcell (1659-1695). He was considered the greatest English composer of his age. And, as the centuries wore on without a successor, he simply became the greatest English composer, unequalled until the coming of Benjamin Britten in the 20th century.  

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, February 2013

Life is richest and happiest when shared, complexity and messiness not withstanding.

When the moving truck—or in this case, the decommissioned handyDART—rolled out of our driveway yesterday with two daughters and all their worldly possessions on board, emotions went off in my head like fireworks. 

First: The Girls. There they go again, the eldest with plenty of independence under her belt and the youngest who first left home last summer. I’m lucky they’re only going across town to where a cozy apartment awaits, but still. I miss them already and I know their empty bedrooms will start shouting at me as soon as I head back indoors.

By David Broadland, January 2013

Saanich councillor Vic Derman worries the six-year effort to envision an environmentally and fiscally sound sewage treatment plan is, so far, a failure.

For a moment the board room on the sixth floor of the CRD’s Fisgard Street headquarters erupted in pandemonium. Shouted insults, derisive laughter and expressions of disbelief filled the room. As two people stalked out of the December 12 meeting in apparent disgust, chairperson Denise Blackwell pounded her gavel and called for order.

By Leslie Campbell, January 2013

The annual cost to taxpayers of an average City worker is $91,000.

Because Victoria City council has resolved to limit tax increases for each of the next three years to 3.25 percent, City staff have been busy trying to figure out how to keep that resolution. But they themselves may be the elephant in the room. At a presentation to media on December 13, Brenda Warner, director of finance for the City of Victoria, compared the challenge to turning a huge ship around. She expressed confidence in being able to make enough adjustments for 2013, but admitted it would be more difficult in the following two years.

By David Broadland, January 2013

Will a couple of letters from high-powered lawyers awaken City of Victoria councillors to their duty to protect the public interest?

On December 19, 2011, senior engineers from MMM Group—the company providing the City of Victoria with project management on the Johnson Street Bridge project—met with City engineers in Victoria. A document obtained by Focus through an FOI shows that at that meeting MMM Group engineers expressed “concerns regarding the City’s approach to FOI requests.” City engineers present asked MMM to “send a letter to the City” addressing MMM’s concerns.

By Briony Penn, January 2013

Pension-owned companies may be liquidating our forests, but some communities are fighting back.

John Woolley, a retired public school teacher, recently blockaded a logging road with family and fellow islanders on Cortes Island to protect the 2,700-acre forest from an unlikely adversary—his own pension funds. Woolley is the latest kind of Vancouver Island activist: a pensioner appalled at the way his pension is being invested in the liquidation of private forest lands on Vancouver Island by companies in the portfolio of BC Investment Management Corporation (bcIMC). Says Woolley, “We are killing our own local economy and we are doing it to ourselves.” 

By Gene Miller, January 2013

Close to 3000 new Downtown residences are under construction or in the development pipeline. Only 22,000 to go.

With the headline “Alligators Guard Pot in Stripper’s Home,” the Huffington Post recently created an informational dilemma: file under pets, home security, agriculture, careers, or real estate?

By Simon Nattrass, January 2013

A First Nations group denies access to its sovereign territory.

After hours of searching through a labyrinth of logging roads, local activist Julie Anne Gilchrist and several others arrived at the Wedzin Kwa (or Morice River) crossing at 4 am under the light of a full moon. The bridge was watched over by a sign declaring “No Access Without Consent. Stop and Honk,” placed there by activists from the Unist’ot’en Action Camp to ward off surveyors for the Pacific Trail pipeline. That’s the pipeline planned to deliver natural gas from northern BC and Alberta to a proposed liquid natural gas terminal at Kitimat for shipment overseas—key infrastructure in BC’s drive to become one of the biggest exporters of LNG in the world.

By Pete Rockwell, January 2013

Is Victoria just too darn cantankerous for pipeline PR personnel...and review panels?

Energy giant Kinder Morgan wants to build a new pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet. This would facilitate pumping solvent-diluted bitumen over the Rocky Mountains and across southern BC to Westbridge Marine Terminal, where it would be loaded onto oil tankers. Oil tanker traffic—through Burrard Inlet, past Vancouver, across Georgia Strait, through the Gulf and San Juan Islands, past Victoria, and out the Strait of Juan de Fuca—would increase by 500 percent. Preceding their application to the National Energy Board for this project, Kinder Morgan is holding “public information sessions” in various places along the proposed route. I decided to attend the one held on December 5 in a back room of Saanich’s Cedar Hill Recreation Centre.

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, January 2013

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”—John Cage

The place is packed: it is a sold-out house. Theatre-goers, with nowhere to seat themselves, stand in the back, craning to get a peek at the celebrated composer. The set is bare bones—a wooden table, an old-fashioned round desk clock, a glass of water.

The theatre is all abuzz. Finally a tall man with an impish grin, 70-plus years old, walks out to sustained applause and sits at the table. He offers a short, yet complex, explanation about word fragments chosen from the bible using a strict methodology involving the I Ching. He looks up from his notes, grins again, and starts into it.

“Thddg ghat zooh frrrrrr dineeg wll nooi lask...” sound after sound after sound, sounding just like these sounds. 

By Amy Reiswig, January 2013

The Garry oak meadows of southern Vancouver Island were shaped by more than nature.

Typically, January is a time for contemplating little life changes, when the expression “turn over a new leaf” is heard. While the saying refers to pages of a book—perhaps a blank page to write a new story, a new chapter for oneself—it might equally refer to the fallen leaf of a tree you’ve seen a thousand times but never taken the time to really notice, a leaf you turn over in your hand to experience fully and freshly for the first time. 

Both of these meanings are apt for writer and ecosystem restorationist Maleea Acker’s new book Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star Books, November 2012). In it she changes tack from a writer of poetry to non-fiction and explores a familiar and iconic local landscape that deserves a renewed look.

By Aaren Madden, January 2013

Portrait artist David Goatley believes everyone has a story that’s worth telling.

The Reluctant Sitter” is an oil painting by David Goatley depicting a common scene in the Montmartre district of Paris. A suited man sits awkwardly at an outdoor café table while a thin man with graying, long hair, large clipboard propped against his waist, looms over and sketches. His face is angled to allow his gaze to flit from paper to his unwilling subject’s face. Though his back is to us, we sense the sitter does not know quite where to direct his own eyes. His dining companion’s are cast down, intent on his meal, actively ignoring the unfolding drama. The crimson café sets off the two main characters by contrasting their cool grey clothing, thrusting the tension forward. The painting is about looking; specifically how we look at each other, and what we reveal or conceal in doing so. 

By Joe Wiebe, January 2013

A diagnosis of MS may have slowed her down, but Sara Marreiros is back with fado nights, a new EP, and a new spirit.

Over tea at a quiet back table at Murchie’s, Sara Marreiros tells me, “Fado resonates deeply in my spirit. When I sing, it just takes me to my other home, which is Portugal. It’s like dropping into the earth there.”

Fado is a musical style that originated in the 1820s in Lisbon and has evolved into the quintessential Portuguese art form. Performed by a male or female singer who is traditionally accompanied by a musician playing Portuguese guitarra (a 12-string, pear-shaped instrument that resembles a mandolin), it demands extreme passion of its performers. Indeed, fado means “fate” in Portuguese, and many of the traditional songs are infused with a sense of melancholy and fatefulness. It is notoriously draining on the singer, both emotionally and physically.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, January 2013

26,000 tonnes of garbage vanishes.

You know the holidays are over when the resulting glut of garbage appears at the curb in the dying days of December. How quickly the sparkle of special foods and beautifully packaged gifts is reduced to a sodden mass of organic and inert trash. The sight of it all is tarnishing somehow, as depressive as stumbling upon a dirty dumpster and furtive cluster of smoking employees at the back door of your favourite restaurant. There’s no getting around the messiness of being human, but really, does it have to be this self-indulgent? 

By David Broadland, December 2012

The proposed Johnson Street Bridge has undergone a quiet transformation in cost and quality since the referendum. So have the records of who knew.

City of Victoria engineering staff spent the first half of November considering the contents of bids submitted by three companies vying to build the new Johnson Street Bridge before deciding which bid to recommend to City council. Then, at an in-camera meeting on November 16, councillors gave them permission to negotiate a fixed-price contract with PCL Constructors West Coast Inc.

We only know that slim piece of information about what’s going on with the bridge project because councillors voted at the secret  meeting to “rise and report.”

By Rob Wipond, December 2012

Effective activism takes dedicated volunteers who, even in the face of open hostility from authority and fellow citizens, can be relentlessly optimistic—often for years at a time—about the potential to make change happen. How do die-hard activists keep despair at bay?

I’ve been receiving more emails lately from people saying one of my articles made them feel despairing. One asked, “How do you keep going?”

Let’s see: In recent months, I’ve written about government corruption, genocide, toxic waste, police chiefs breaking laws, forced electroshock of our elderly… All right, I get the point.

By Leslie Campbell, December 2012

Rob Wipond wins a Jack Webster Award.

In the past couple of editions we’ve mentioned—okay, we’ve beat the drum loudly—that Focus writer Rob Wipond was one of three finalists for three different Jack Webster Awards for excellence in British Columbia journalism. Well, on November 1 he won one. No one is more deserving of this award than Rob, whose commitment to digging for the truth is unwavering. He’s also very talented at bringing his stories to life, which makes it easier for all of us to digest some of the complex information he dishes up. (Times Colonist reporters Rob Shaw and Cindy Harnett, and CBC Radio reporters Sara Darling, Sterling Eyford, and Peter Hutchinson were the only other Island-based reporters shortlisted for the 14 awards.)

By Simon Nattrass, December 2012

Young people on the streets are often denied support by the very Ministry that’s supposed to help them.

In 2008, a conservative estimate by the Community Social Planning Council placed the number of homeless youth in the Greater Victoria region at 616. Educated guesses place that number higher today. The Council readily admits—and most service providers will confirm—that many homeless youth are not visible enough to provide an accurate count, meaning that youth on or near our city streets could number over a thousand. With only 69 reliable beds and a handful of shelter mats, many young people survive by sleeping on couches and staying with friends before seeking shelters and doorways. Unsurprisingly, a good number of them seek help from the Ministry of Children and Family Development at some point in their lives.