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By Linda Rogers, April 2011

Running a library is a lot like conducting an orchestra.

Former Ontarian Maureen Sawa may have visualized a flood of books swimming across the Saanich farmlands when she flew into the Victoria airport prior to her first interview for the top job at the Greater Victoria Public Library. Did she see the potential for harnessing the force of a paper tsunami, the ultimate transformation? Like the great Mogul generals, Sawa has campaign history and a bird’s eye view of Constantinople and Samarkand, cities built on cultural excellence. She must have been considering what it would take to shape the random energy of our notably literate population into a Victorian Golden Age. 

By Briony Penn, April 2011

How much does your daily dose of water weigh?

Imagine walking from Royal Oak into downtown Victoria to fill up a large plastic container with water and then walking home with the 20-kilogram load supported by a narrow head strap. Then imagine that you have to do it every other day while feeling weak, sick and hungry, and with children to mind along the way. Add in the fact that a prolonged drought has left the rivers low and harbouring disease and hungry crocodiles, and you’ll understand the plight of the Masaai women of Oleleshua, Kenya.

By Amy Reiswig, April 2011

Michael Elcock on the hiding and finding of old things, the concealing and revealing of information.

Installed by the fireplace with a cup of tea, a tortoiseshell cat in my lap and the meandering magic of Philip Glass filling the room, I can’t imagine how Michael Elcock gets any of his many branches of work done. 

Elcock, who grew up in both Scotland and West Africa, is a man of curiosity and action. With degrees in history and education, he has been Athletic Director at UVic (he describes cutting  jogging trails with a machete back in the ’70s), taught mountain survival in the Scottish Highlands, headed Tourism Victoria, lived with his wife and daughter in Andalusia to work on Spain’s Expo ’92, travelled and published widely. 

By Gene Miller, April 2011

A road trip to California prompts a pondering of the faultlines of America’s current, overwrought version of freedom.

I had a US road-trip epiphany mid-March that I would like to share before it flickers and then winks out completely (how like an epiphany). It is that…Dammit, gone already! I remember it was triggered by a bumper sticker I thought up after seeing a real bumper sticker driving south on I-5 in Oregon’s rural southern reaches: “Oppose the liberal agenda. Stop socialism now!” Mine was: “Conservatives have the best lines…and the worst policies.” Aren’t I clever? That and $2.50, and I’m on the bus.

By Rob Wipond, April 2011

Our general belief that jobs are created by businesses needs a little refinement.

When Mayor Dean Fortin began proposing a gradual reduction of the business tax rate in Victoria relative to the residential rate, he argued it would help protect and create jobs. In resounding endorsement, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business agreed it would help companies “hire more staff.” A feature in the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s Business Matters magazine, “Local Government’s Role in Business Prosperity,” similarly endorsed this idea. 

When federal finance minister Jim Flaherty announced the Conservatives’ latest corporate tax cuts, he explained that this would allow Canadian businesses to “create jobs.” 

By Christine Clark, April 2011

Dave Barnes’ creations tickle our nostalgia glands. And you know where that leads...

During the long drive out into the deep dark woods of Sooke, I felt completely uncertain about who I would find when I arrived at the home studio of artist and illustrator Dave Barnes. We had never met, and in an email leading up to our visit, he wrote, “Would love to have you out…only thing is…we’ve got a colicky newborn, and I don’t have a cool/interesting separate studio, just…a room in our house…so it might not be worth the drive?” It seemed a bit enigmatic (or timid?), but the person who greeted me was thoughtful and friendly, if a bit reticent, and even a little excited, and he put the cookies I brought out on a plate and immediately offered me a cup of coffee. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, April 2011

The whispers of the elders grow louder: food is a valuable commodity.

Over the past two months I’ve been outlining our specific quandary with food waste here on the island. To recap: A family of four, in this land of both abundance and recession, wastes an average of 732 kilograms of food per year, according to Statistics Canada. CRD findings tell the same story, but from a different angle: Almost a third of the garbage we put out is food waste. Because it’s more than the Hartland Landfill can continue to swallow, organics will be banned from garbage by the end of 2013. 

By Danda Humphreys, April 2011

In the ’70s, the Bawlf brothers breathed life into a crumbling city block.

Victorians have had an unexpected treat for the past few months—a Winter Market in the appropriately named Market Square. This latest addition has helped draw attention to an area that, despite its long and colourful history, had until recent times been largely ignored by local citizens. 

By David Broadland, March 2011

The City of Victoria wants its citizens to believe all is well at City Hall. Just don’t scratch below the yellow paint.

The awesome power of public relations as a tool for making civic governance work better for the governors than the governed was on full display last month in this city. On February 17 the City of Victoria’s Director of Communications Katie Josephson sent out a press release announcing reassuring news for city residents. Under the headline “City Wins Canadian Award for Financial Reporting for Sixth Year in a Row,” Josephson stated, “The Canadian Award for Financial Reporting has been awarded to the City of Victoria for its 2009 Annual Report by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA). This is the sixth consecutive year the City has won the prestigious award.”

By Briony Penn, March 2011

With feds like these, who needs enemies?

Southern resident orcas are set to swim back into Canadian and US courts this spring with the hopes of jumping two major legal hoops that could finally protect the marinescape for these endangered species. 

The Canadian courts are reconvening after the federal fisheries minister launched an appeal against Justice James Russell’s historic ruling in December 2010. That ruling said it was unlawful for the minister to exercise discretionary powers regarding the protection of critical habitat under the Species At Risk Act (SARA). 

By Gene Miller, March 2011

Oak Bay doesn’t allow secondary suites, but there’s pressure to change that. Would anything be lost?

I recently woke up wondering: what passes for tectonics in Oak Bay these days? And there in the February 4th Times Colonist was the heaven-sent answer.

Reported under the headline “Secondary suite meetings plan sparks residents’ concerns,” were remarks from John Foxgord, lifetime Oak Bay resident and spokesman for the newly formed Friends of Oak Bay Neighbourhoods (FOBN). While he was not intentionally opening himself to parody from cheap-shot artists (fortunately, none such writes for this magazine), his remarks did carry just a whiff of Oak Bay “let them eat Tim Hortons.” Still, I understand this was not his intention.

by Leslie Campbell, March 2011

Political cartoonist, singer, mandolin player and...social butterfly?

I’ve always found it gratifying that Victoria’s most famous person is an artist—a female artist whose passion for this place and the natural world lit her art aglow. But like many present-day artists, Emily Carr had to struggle to practice her art—and be patient for recognition. She was 56 when she “emerged” on the national arts scene. Perhaps that helps explain the common perception of Carr as a rather lonely old eccentric who preferred pets to people. 

When I expressed an interest in “The Other Emily,” an exhibit starting in March at the Royal BC Museum, I was invited to the museum’s “vaults” where I was treated to a fascinating show-and-tell—a modest preview of what is being billed as “the first-ever exploration of the artist’s life before she became famous.” 

By Rob Wipond, March 2011

Métissage creates a stirring view of our shared oppression.

 

It was a very unusual way of discussing power and discrimination. And it left me thinking we should be doing it more.

After lunch in a lounge for about a hundred people during the University of Victoria’s recent Diversity Conference, we prepared to hear actors recount true experiences of an anonymous UVic female custodian, Aboriginal technical worker, black office worker and student, and female sessional instructor. 

During introductory remarks, the co-directors, theatre PhD candidate Will Weigler and educational psychology instructor Catherine Etmanski, explained that the project had hatched out of a growing awareness that UVic’s own challenges in achieving a healthy, diverse workplace for its non-faculty staff are rarely openly discussed.

By Aaren Madden, March 2011

The energy-efficient home could well be the radical seed that develops into a green city.

Some houses have enough air leaks that, added together, would equal the diameter of a basketball. But if you seal them all without reworking your ventilation, you can end up with nasty mould, even sick-building syndrome. A house has to breathe. 

The process by which it is made to breathe in an optimal fashion is what Peter Sundberg, executive director of City Green Solutions, calls building science. “It’s actually just the systems approach. When you change one thing in a home, it impacts something else,” Sundberg explains. He assures me that often the solution can be as simple as the right bathroom fan.

By Christine Clark, March 2011

She’s disciplined and ambitious, fiercely individualistic, and burns her “unsuccessful” paintings on a beach she named after herself.

As we sit at her kitchen table together, with a bag of salt and vinegar chips between us (snacks she bought in case I was hungry), Tara Juneau answers all of my questions about the validity of realism in painting with a steadiness of purpose and eye quite disconcerting and totally in discord with her age, her big hair and the domestic chaos of her kitchen. 

She is surprisingly young for such an accomplished painter, one who has won many awards at local art shows. The youngest painter ever represented by Morris Gallery, she’ll be participating in its 11th Anniversary Show in March.

By Amy Reiswig, March 2011

Book writers and sellers discuss the self-publishing trend.

With ads promising to “Print Your Book in 2 Days” and websites pointing to Mark Twain as a successful self-publisher, many writers are turning to self-publishing as a vehicle for both self-expression and potential income. Even more encouragement arrived recently with CBC’s Canada Reads Contest: Terry Fallis’ book Best Laid Plans won. Originally self-published, it also won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour, before it was picked up by McLelland & Stewart.

Both Twain and now Fallis are good examples of the bootstrapping nature of self-publishing culture. Successful self-published authors—those who make some money from their books—tend to be entrepreneurial spirits. They are wily, tough, and maybe a little iconoclastic.

 

By Linda Rogers, March 2011

How a Polish construction engineer transformed herself into a Victoria painter.

Slowly, during an extended conversation in her recently renovated house with a view not only of the Chinese cemetery but, on a fine day, all the way to China, Elka Nowicka reveals the title for her show at the West End Gallery. But not yet. English is not her first language and she chooses her words carefully; “I loved to read when I was a child.”

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, March 2011

With the Hartland Landfill so overburdened, food waste is the next frontier.

This past month, each person in the Greater Victoria area has, on average, walked just under 10 kilograms of food waste to the curb. That’s the equivalent of every person having put two 10-pound bags of potatoes in the garbage. Or to put it yet another way, every day another 140 tonnes of residential food waste is trucked to the Hartland Landfill. According to my middle school math, that translates into almost 31,000 bags of potatoes.

Now picture all those heavy garbage trucks delivering all those spuds to the landfill. Every day. And imagine also that for every truckload of potatoes through the Hartland gates, two trucks of other residential garbage also come by to dump a load. No wonder our landfill is forecast to be full in 24 years.

By Danda Humphreys, March 2011

A clock hangs as a reminder of conflict between citizens and City council around downtown development.

In March 13, clocks spring forward again as we rush headlong toward summer. In downtown Victoria we have several public clocks, including some that show the time on all four sides. The most titillating of these timepieces—suspended from the ceiling of our major downtown shopping mall—“comes of age” this year.

By Leslie Campbell, February 2011

The rising tide of dementia demands more solutions.

David and I did the Colwood crawl this past month as David’s mom Patricia was in the Victoria General Hospital for three weeks. She had landed there after a sudden decline in her mobility and vitality. Many tests and good care later, it’s still not precisely clear what’s wrong—besides the lymphoma and dementia which we already knew about—but a new problem with her kidney means she will have to wear a catheter from now on. 

Pat is taking the indignities that come with aging and disease with grace and good humour. While much of her memory is gone, she still recognizes us and can still recite Shakespeare on cue: All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances…Indeed. Dementia’s course is known, and it’s largely a grim journey.