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By Aaren Madden, October 2012

Even after losing his job measuring marine contaminants, Peter Ross is more concerned about the country’s future than his own.

Peter Ross is Canada’s only marine mammal toxicologist. At the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, he studies the levels of toxic chemicals found in a wide range of creatures, including sea otters, seals and whales. This determines effects on their health, the health of their food sources, the oceans, and aboriginal food sources. “This is knowledge that informs policies, regulations, and practices that enable us to protect the ocean and its resources for today’s users and for future generations,” he explains. 

By Gene Miller, October 2012

Influenced by the adolescent fantasies of Ayn Rand, the extreme right wing rejects any form of collectivism as evil socialism.

My friend Denton (remember his Blue Bridge “rocket launcher” on the back cover of Focus, months ago?) handled the Blessed Event so right-mindedly that I thought it would be worth memorializing. 

Receiving his first post-65 government pension cheque, he took it upon himself to find some local social-serving non-profit organization with whom he could volunteer. He was explicit about this: a national culture able to do such a good job of looking after its citizens by providing a reasonable pension deserved his continuing services as a show of appreciation and as a way of keeping the account in balance. What a nice view of the human community! What an unerring expression of the relationship between the individual and the collective! 

By Amy Reiswig, October 2012

In the Nuu-chah-nulth world view, life’s major purpose is the development of harmonious relationships between and among all lifeforms.

To make. Seemingly such a simple verb, it encompasses everything from the smallest humble action to the greatest work of genius. It is also the most literal meaning, I am told, of Umeek, the Nuu-chah-nulth name of hereditary chief, UVic associate adjunct professor and author E. Richard Atleo. “It is one of those words always lost in translation,” he explains by phone from Winnipeg, adding, “In our culture it is a chief’s name, so it means ‘chief’s work,’ which is to provide for his community.” 

By John Luna, October 2012

An upcoming exhibition displays the resourcefulness and innovation of Vancouver Island-area potters of the 1970s and early ’80s.

When she directed the Cartwright Street Gallery in Vancouver, Diane Carr used to find herself thinking that if she could take a box of Wayne Ngan tea bowls around to the heads of local corporations, extracting a promise from each to use the bowl every day for a month, the money would flow in. “I think ceramics are very contemplative,” she says. The day-to-day encounters with a humble tea bowl are part of a continuum that includes the artist’s movements, the behaviours of clay and fire, and the domestic impressions that form a rhythm over time; a texture carried in the hands, a contour brought to the lips. As Carr confirms, “you have to use more than just your visual sense.”

By Aaren Madden, October 2012

Starting a conversation on eroticism in contemporary Kwakwaka’wakw art.

Cultural anthropologist Wilson Duff wrote in a 1976 essay, “sexual symbolism is so important in the arts of the world and elsewhere that I feel that its virtual absence on the surface of Northwest Coast art permits us to suspect that we might find it in metaphorical forms below the surface.”

In what may be a first-of-its kind exhibit, seven contemporary Kwakwaka’wakw artists have embraced the task of exploring eroticism in Northwest Coast art tradition. For the October show at Alcheringa Gallery—called Lusa’nala (The way we came into this world)—they have created thoughtful, sometimes playful, two and three-dimensional artworks on the theme.

By Briony Penn, October 2012

The restorative powers of nature help immigrants as well as grandparents and their grandchildren.

There’s a different type of grandparent on the island these days—they play games, but it’s unlikely golf or bridge, and instead of Alaskan cruises with their peers, it will be a ferry ride to Galiano for an overnight camp. 

These are the grandparents-raising-grandchildren and they are heading for the newly-established Galiano Restorative Learning Centre. According to Ken Millard, the driving force behind the Centre, providing a place to relax and play on beaches, lakes and in forests, prepare home-grown food, and sleep out under the stars with other families is one of the main goals of the new Centre as a project of the Galiano Conservancy Association. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, October 2012

Both mother and daughter survived the trip.

By the time this issue of Focus is out I’ll be counting down the last two weeks of our eldest daughter’s year-long adventure in Southeast Asia (The emphasis is mine: Who knew that time could be such a trickster, crawling through the endless hours of a loved one’s absence while flying through life’s usual rigours at the same time?)

By Rob Wipond, September 2012

Safety pronouncements for the waterway relate strictly to fecal coliform—but what about industrial chemicals?

My sense of place spins like I’m in a celebratory party version of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Wow, I’m splashing in a Bermuda bay amidst California beach boys and Hawaiian dancing girls! No, my mind reminds me as I flutter about in warm ocean waters below a fervent August sun: This is downtown Victoria, British Columbia, and I just dove into the Gorge inlet. 

It shouldn’t be so unexpected and disorienting. The Gorge’s shallow waters can take two months to turn over during dry summers, and so hover above a balmy 20 degrees celsius. But decades of unregulated pollution from industrial, sewage, boating, and urban sources transformed the once-popular swimming area into a liquid dump peppered with designated contaminated sites concentrated with lead, mercury, hydrocarbons, PCBs and more. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, September 2012

The BC treaty process turns 20 this month. Will it make it to 21?

Sometimes it seems that for every step forward in the BC treaty process, we take two steps back,” says Chief Treaty Commissioner Sophie Pierre, the frustration loud and clear in her voice. 

At its inception 20 years ago, there was optimism that the treaty process would be complete by now. It’s not even remotely close. Only two treaties have been completed, the Tsawwassen and Maa-nulth agreements. 

By Leslie Campbell, September 2012

The news is both heartening—and surprising.

Watching a video produced by Enbridge the other day, my first reaction was: This is not a fair fight. Enbridge has a lot of money to throw at deceptive marketing and PR. And they also seem to have a pretty powerful member on their team: Our resource-extraction-obsessed prime minister, with his determination to limit environmental assessment periods and dig up and export Canada’s resources—quickly.

But in recent days there’s been news on a variety of fronts that makes me realize that, despite its significant resources, Enbridge may well lose this fight. 

By Aaren Madden, September 2012

Tara Ehrcke on why education in general, and class size in particular, needs to become an election issue next spring.

It’s September, and another school year is about to begin. Usually this season puts people in mind of fresh starts and the exciting potential represented by all those sharpened pencils and crisp sheets of loose-leaf. For teachers in BC, though, it will mean a return to the same issues they have faced for years and fought for in tumultuous contract negotiations and job action through most of the last school year. The implementation of Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, in June forced a temporary settlement, effective until June 2013, at which time the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation may or may not be a different government’s problem. 

By Gene Miller, September 2012

SNC-Lavalin’s “zero tolerance” for unethical behaviour apparently doesn’t include a billion-dollar overstatement of the benefits of a proposed LRT for Victoria.

1. Lucky Sevens

The prospect of criminal prosecution is keeping the news alive that England’s Barclays Bank, with the likely cooperation of JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, UBS, Canada’s Royal Bank and others, has for years been manipulating the London interbank offer rate (Libor) so as to sweep a few additional hundred million crumbs into its lap. 

By Briony Penn, September 2012

Victoria becomes a hub for re-connecting children to nature.

When the CBC asked Washington DC resident Roger Wood to describe the impacts that the summer’s freak storms, heat waves and electrical outages were having on his family, his response was not one that earlier generations could ever have anticipated. He replied that his three-year-old son Jordan “was bored.” Wood recounted how Jordan, cut off from television, internet and video games was miserable, revived only by the Cooling Centre where the Boys and Girls Club had set up a generator-run, air-conditioned computer room. 

By Amy Reiswig, September 2012

How Canada’s cruel polices around immigrant Chinese workers affected one family.

Since 1885, Canada, and particularly British Columbia, has been faced with the problem of Oriental immigration.” So declared the Encyclopaedia of Canada, originally published in the mid-1930s and now cited in Victoria writer May Q. Wong’s family memoir A Cowherd in Paradise (Brindle & Glass, April 2012). Wong is the Montreal-born daughter of Chinese immigrants who were victims of Canada’s discriminatory head tax and restrictive immigration policies. In a work of diligent research, Wong reveals those policies to be the real “problem of Oriental immigration,” one that often tore families apart.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, September 2012

We’re very good at convincing ourselves we’ve progressed, not so good at the actual progress.

During the glorious days of summer I shamelessly abandoned a chronically thirsty garden and most of my other duties to join the legions of Canadians plunked in front of televisions everywhere to watch the Olympic Games. Cheering is a sport in itself, and I happily gave my best to our hardworking athletes who did a great job and made us all proud.

By Aaren Madden, September 2012

It’s the latest word from the city-wide conversation on height, density and marrying new with old.

By April 30, 2014, Victoria’s skyline may have a new benchmark for what’s considered to be acceptable height. That’s the expected completion date for Promontory, a 21-storey condominium tower that will emerge from a hilltop in Vic West. At least until the Hudson tower is completed, Promontory, currently only a very large hole blasted into bedrock, will, at 66.3 metres, be the tallest building in a city where height can be a major contention. 

Skylines speak volumes about a city. Given its height and position in the landscape—off to one side of Downtown’s main core where it will stand out—Promontory will make a strong contemporary statement, even as it attempts to balance that with material choices that reference the site’s history.

By Christine Clark, September 2012

The method—and community—behind the madness of printmaking.

When Victoria Edgarr and her long time partner Alain Costaz, with whom she creates collaborative prints under the pseudonym Chloé, came to Victoria in 1993, they almost immediately “took responsibility for Ground Zero Printmakers Society, [doing] everything from maintenance, design, provisions, keeping things moving, [and] generating the people to work in the studio.”

“We put a huge amount of energy into the community, the meetings…[and] the artists. Artists came through Ground Zero and later had shows or created portfolios, or came to work on six-month projects, and there were older people…working on learning to make art. There was lots and lots of community art and involvement,” she says. 

By Gene Miller, July/August 2012

Once upon a time, Victoria offered the delicious opportunity to transgress at every turn.

Our bearded daily, The Coach and Flyswatter, contained an early May report that Oak Bay residents had just staged a rally to protest a contemporary house going up in the 1000-block of Monterey, architecturally scandalizing the staid manses up and down the block and, like a flailing mouse drowning in the punchbowl, nauseating the people living in them. You should never underestimate Oak Bay’s capacity for hysteria and self-parody.

From the headline alone, though, “Oak Bay home too modern for neighbours’ tastes,” I had brief but unrequited hopes that the object of all this protest would be a house that had dared to erect something truly outre and new-fangled like a wood picket fence along the front-yard property line instead of the traditional pike-topped stone wall festooned with the bloody heads of invading Normans.

By Amy Reiswig, July/August 2012

Gregory Marchand has been searching for the meaning of his near-death—and recovery—for 14 years. Now, the book.

Former Focus writer Gregory Marchand admits it’s a little strange being on the other side of the notebook, as the interviewee for his first book Open Heart Runner: searching for meaning after my heart stopped (Agio Publishing House, May 2012). But over the last 14 years, Marchand’s life—and near death—has come to rest quite comfortably on reversals.

Victorians might remember the story of the 40-year-old Marchand who collapsed in cardiac arrest at the finish line of an eight-kilometre road race on January 11, 1998, and lay without a pulse for 20 minutes. Fellow runners took shifts performing CPR, trying to give him every chance to survive when there seemed no hope he would. But he did. That was reversal number one: essentially coming back from the dead.

By Leslie Campbell, July/August 2012

Holiday wishes: buy local, keep it simple, practice gratitude.

Last year, David and I decided to publish just one edition for the summer—and now we don’t know how we managed to go for so many years without a real holiday. 

So I am feeling particularly blessed as my July vacation nears, and want to say a big thank you to our readers and advertisers who have supported Focus over the years—it definitely takes a village to raise a magazine.

Our advertisers are virtually all small, locally-owned and operated businesses, often family-run and, in this new economic paradigm, they’ve had to be very adaptable and resourceful, very good to their customers, and just plain determined (or crazy, some would say). They have certainly embraced the buy-local movement as crucial to their own well-being and that of the community at large. And that, in part, explains why they buy ads in Focus.