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by Aaren Madden, October 2010

Karel Roessingh sees transportation system improvements just waiting to be taken from the waste stream.

Awhile back, my fella Warren and I bought a 1985 Volkswagen Westfalia. Then we swapped out the engine for a diesel from a 1997 Volkswagen Golf. Ultimate goal? Running on 100 percent biodiesel. Lower emissions, renewable fuel source, all that. 

Enter Karel Roessingh, accomplished arranger, composer and pianist, current Highlands councillor and former mayor. Along with engineering consultant Don Goodeve and Victoria Symphony violist Kenji Fuse (musicians and biofuels, what gives?), Roessingh co-founded the Island Biodiesel Co-op in 2007. He braids the three seemingly disparate skeins of his life together at his Highlands home, where I met him one morning with a dual purpose: talking dream cities and joining the Island Biodiesel Co-op.

By Danda Humphreys, October 2010

“Our Emily” will again stand tall and proud in the city she knew so well.

This month, at a special ceremony on the northeast corner of Belleville and Government streets, the latest addition to Victoria’s Inner Harbour will be unveiled. Larger than life-size, with a sketchpad on her knee, beloved pet monkey Woo on her shoulder, dog Billie by her side, Emily Carr will sit in splendour on a bronze boulder before the stone pillars flanking the original horse-and-carriage entrance to the Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Except when she was studying in the US, England and France, or travelling the length and breadth of the West Coast to visit First Nations communities, Emily lived her whole life in Victoria. We tend to think of her only in James Bay, but during the course of her daily life she touched many parts of our city. 

by Gene Miller, October 2010

In the face of debt and crumbling infrastructure, a well-functioning city demands funds and engaged citizens.

So there you are still dressed in the hospital-issue green pyjamas, bathrobe and plastic ID wristband you were wearing when you bolted the Jubilee, having shown up there four days ago complaining about the demons invading your brain. You’ve been popping mood levellers like they were M&M’s, trying to duct-tape your rickety mental apparatus. With shaking hands you page-turn a discarded Times Colonist, hoping for normalcy; but you spot the following and you know, with something approaching liturgical certainty, that you are not the problem:

by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, October 2010

At least kids today don’t have to worry about being hit by a teacher.

Like everyone else, I get my share of forwarded emails about adorable animals, inspirational verse and assorted nostalgia, much of it overdone with animation and music. Every once in a while someone sends me fluff extolling the Perfect Past, when common sense reigned supreme and everything was reportedly settled to satisfaction with a pat on the head, a handshake or some good old-fashioned discipline. Those were the days when men were men, women knew their place, kids toed the line, schools delivered a great education and everyone lived a happy life.

by David Broadland, September 2010

Round 2 in the battle of Johnson Street Bridge finally gets underway

"My recommendations and conclusions will be along these lines: Retrofit rather than replace...retrofit to lifeline standards can be achieved by installing a new, relatively flexible foundation to relieve the existing timber pile arrangement. Together with electrical/mechanical upgrades, painting and other rehab items this retrofit option is currently estimated to cost in the order of $8.6M." —Dr Joost Meyboom, November 21, 2008

by Leslie Campbell, September 2010

How corporate media killed quality journalism.

It’s not every month that Focus gets threatening letters from a big corporation. But this month the Times Colonist took issue with one of our web commentaries by Sam Williams. We were confronted with the possibility of being sued by an outfit with deep pockets—or making a small change. We chose the latter.

by Gene Miller, September 2010

A different set of maps might help extend humanity’s stay on planet Earth.

As I write at the start of August, I’m coming across the occasional online speculation that while the oil at the surface of the Gulf of Mexico appears to have dissipated—broken up by storms and wave action, magically re-absorbed by the biota in the seawater, dispersed by chemicals—there is a “lake” of oil a mile down, held in place by the enormous cold and pressures of the ocean depths. 

Matthew Simmons, Houston-based oil investment banker and peak oil whistle-blower (Twilight in the Desert, 2005), a cold-sober observer of industry doings, wonders about the potential for ocean storm turbulence to dislodge this oil from its resting place, releasing not just the tarry substance but the exceptional toxicity of methane and related ingredients and, potentially, forcing the hasty human evacuation of a vast coastal arc of the Gulf. 

by Briony Penn, September 2010

The birds and the bees are missing in action and so, as Stockwell Day says, what we need are more prisons.

I couldn’t agree more with Stockwell Day that there is a rise in “unreported crimes.” I have been keeping a tally this summer of crimes against our life systems that no one reports. The interesting thing about such unreported crimes is that not only is the activity itself a crime, but the lack of reporting is one too. And both are escalating precipitously. 

I have absolutely no data to prove the degree of assault on ecosystems. All I have are my eyes and intuition, because the federal scientists who normally gather statistical data on population declines and environmental impacts and threats have either been let go, muzzled or resigned in passionate frustration. 

As for evidence of lack of reporting, I only have the absence of data to go on. 

by Aaren Madden, September 2010

Environmental activist Zoe Blunt focusses on protecting the places she loves.

For Zoe Blunt, the health of our ecosystems and the sustainability of our cities depends on the same thing: a paradigm shift, in which wilderness, community and human connection to the land are the most valuable currency. It starts with seeing things as they really are, and protecting that which makes a place unique.

by Mollie Kaye, September 2010

Can art and celebration generate more local appreciation of this world-famous landmark?

When I first met the Johnson Street Bridge seven years ago, I was a wide-eyed tourist gawking at the spectacular raising of the decks; a proud local explained the history and mechanism to me. The utilitarian romance of funky old things thrills me, and always has. As an art student, I wore an 80-year-old pocket-watch on a chain. When asked for the time, I would ceremonially produce the ancient thing and pop open the spring-loaded case. It was not simply a timepiece; it was a piece of time.

And so it is with the bridge. When it slowly rears up its decks to allow marine traffic to pass below, I get the same rush. When I drive over it, the vibration of the steel tickles our bums and my kids giggle and hum along. 

by amy reiswig, september 2010

Dan Savard brings a detective’s passion to the treasure-chest of photos of early First Nations peoples.

Tucked away behind the lab coat and eyewash station, a blue-eyed detective sits at a desk belonging to TV gumshoes of old. Dim gooseneck lamps, industrial metal shelving and horizontal blinds closed over small windows—this is where some of the real sleuthing happens at the Royal BC Museum.  

by Linda Rogers, September 2010

Nick Fairbank’s heart belongs to Cassie.

On a recent summer evening I met Nick Fairbank—composer, choir leader and pianist—to discuss his life in music over a scotch (maybe two) at Spinnakers. The eldest of four siblings, Nick went to Shawnigan Lake School when it was most famous for its Olympic medal-winning rowers. There he was encouraged to play the pipe organ in the school chapel by his music teacher. That, as we shall see, began an addiction.

He started his music education early. After being caught sneaking out of bed to hear his parents play chamber music with friends, he was offered piano lessons. The love of classical music stayed with him even though he has dabbled in other genres and played instruments as diverse as guitar, penny whistle, banjo, harpsichord, clavichord, ukulele and oh, I hate to say it of such a personable man, accordion.

by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, September 2010

A new movement advocates simplicity and straightforwardness in our communications.


Years ago I was in a writers’ group that met monthly to ruminate on our varied poems and tomes in progress. Among us were those who loved elaborate vocabulary and convoluted sentences. The bigger the word the greater the genius behind it, the logic seemed to go. There was, according to this line of thinking, no greater evidence of a writer’s intellectual superiority than a confounded reader.

By Danda Humphreys, September 2010

William Pendray’s James Bay home is a reminder of early industries that thrived on—and polluted—our Inner Harbour.

During the summer, thousands of cruise ship passengers arriving at Ogden Point head straight for the downtown area. There are many ways to get there, including bus, horse-drawn trolley, limousine or pedi-cab. Those who choose Shanks’ Pony often get their first view of our Inner Harbour from Pendray Street at the western end of Belleville, named for a businessman who, over a century ago, had a home and a business nearby.

by Gene Miller, August 2010

Musings on the loss of faith in ever-lasting improvability.

On July 1, Canada Day morning, long before the dawn, I sat nursing a coffee outside a Fairfield convenience store. A highly spiced Chinese dinner the night before had given me vivid dreams and the small comforts of a short sleep; and I woke at 3:30 am to a diminished and horizon-less view of prospects—my own and everybody’s. Appropriately, the grey sky threatened rain.

Fred, the clerk who works the intermittently quiet graveyard shift, killed a few minutes with me outside the store. By appearance, he’s in his mid-late sixties, and the coffee was my first purchase under the new HST regime. When Fred quoted the new price, we exchanged looks. Sometimes, a look is all you need.

by Rob Wipond, August 2010

While journalists help the Liberals drum up hysteria, health spending has actually remained relatively stable for decades.

It was one of those articles that makes me think, “Wow, I’ve been so stupid.” I love reading those.

We’ve all heard alarms about health care gobbling 40 percent of BC’s provincial budget. Our Liberal government asserts that, at current growth rates, health care will be mainlining 100 percent of BC’s budget by 2040. You can’t help but start screaming with the expanding mob, “More cuts! De-fund Viagra! Privatize! Unplug the elderly!”

by Amy Reiswig, August 2010

Carolyn Herriot believes it’s best done in your own backyard.

From the parable of the mustard seed to salad days, gardening is a time-honoured source of symbols and stories. The issue of reaping what we sow, in both the literal and symbolic senses, underlies Carolyn Herriot’s new book on self-sufficient gardening. Alluding to the popular 100-mile diet concept, The Zero-Mile Diet: A Year-Round Guide to Growing Organic Food (Harbour Publishing, May 2010) provides month-by-month advice on bringing our food footprint even closer to home and examines what that means for us as a society.

by Aaren Madden, August 2010

Calvin Sandborn of the Environmental Law Centre stands on guard for the environment and public interest.

Every year, a volume of oil equal to the Exxon Valdez spill is carried into Puget Sound through stormwater runoff. This is due to the 20th-century’s fixation with pavement, which, instead of letting natural systems do their work, sends rainwater away through pipes as if it were garbage, rather than the resource it is. In our region, the ramifications are felt and seen as threats to public health (polluted beaches), food security (local shellfish beds closed due to contamination), environment and ecology (the spawning salmon used to be so thick in Colquitz Creek, you could walk across them), and overall quality of life. 

by Leslie Campbell, August 2010

A new community co-operative provides a model for primary health care, one emphasizing local control, accessibility, collaboration, and prevention.

From my perspective as a child of elderly parents making frequent use of the health care system, it’s easy to imagine the system being totally swamped when I and my fellow boomers hit 75 or so. We obviously have to take a different tack, but few—and especially those in power—seem willing to ignite the serious conversation we need to have, let alone propose creative solutions. 

A 2009 study, jointly-funded by the BC Medical Association and the BC Ministry of Health, showed that if five percent of those with chronic disease had access to a primary care physician or nurse practitioner, BC would save $85 million per year.

by linda rogers, August 2010

Like his father and grandfather before him, Tony Hunt has distinguished himself and his culture by giving his life to his art.

It was hard to believe I wasn’t hallucinating when I saw a canoe floating in the duck pond at Government House yesterday afternoon. The ducks didn’t seem to mind at all, so this must be their new normal. I have been following the progress of the new cultural industry at the vice-regal residence and I was waiting for Spain to score that one semi-final goal so that Chief Tony Hunt would return to the carving shed at Government House and I could continue the longest interview in history (about 25 years).