Syndicate content

Recent stories...


By Maleea Acker, November 2015

Carmel and Woody Thomson show how love of place can keep it safe.

Back in the late 1990s I learned of a legendary property in West Saanich that a few lucky UVic students lived on each September through April. On tiny Maltby Lake, there was a large house for communal living and a smaller off-the-grid cottage for a couple. When I finally visited one fall, the students renting from caretakers and part-owners Woody and Carmel Thomson were playing banjo on the lake’s dock, stoking the woodstove and exploring the hand-cut trails that circle the lake and fan out through its forests. The paths wound through Douglas fir and cedar laden glades, into open meadows of Garry oak and moss and along headwater streams for the Tod Creek watershed. I thought I had stumbled on paradise. 

By Aaren Madden, November 2015

Amy Frank’s art practice encompasses creative expression, advocacy and powerful coping tools in her struggle with mental illness.

In Amy Frank’s illustration “Changing Seasons” (see this month’s cover), a crisp maple leaf floats on the surface of the Goldstream River. Rendered in pale yellow, brown, green and gold pencil crayon with a black ink line whispering around each of its interior veins, the leaf emerges from the picture plane due, paradoxically, to its simplicity. Below the suggested surface of the water, a cacophony of colour and pattern causes the eye to dance from one visual target to another. The fine detail is thereby temporarily contained, pulling the leaf toward the viewer. (Fun fact: this common phenomenon is called saccadic suppression.) Simultaneously, the intricate patterns in the background evoke the rush and babble of the river and create a multisensory capsule of place. 

By Amy Reiswig, November 2015

Arleen Paré explores tiny but sometimes momentous moments of intersection, where we connect unexpectedly.

Questions can be a strange weight. From early insistent childhood, we ask in wonderment: Why? How? As we get older and are initiated into life’s more painful realities—like loss, loneliness, injustice—those simple questions become more heavily freighted, as frustration and even anger mix in with our lingering awe at the world. In her new collection He Leaves His Face in the Funeral Car (Caitlin Press), Governor General Award winner Arleen Paré shows us how seemingly small packets of poetry, with language that is at once filament flexible and titanium tough, can receive and help carry the weight of those questions. 

By Mollie Kaye, November 2015

An early music ensemble from France is expected to perform magic at Alix Goolden Hall this month.

Jaunty, popular songs from 100 years ago bear so little resemblance to the strains of what today’s teens are writhing to on their iPhones that it’s hard to believe the top hits of both 1915 and 2015 foundationally share something in common. They do, though, since both employ polyphony, defined as “a texture consisting of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody.” 

If you go back 1000 years, you can find the earliest known polyphonic songs. And if you go to Alix Goolden Hall in the middle of this month, you can hear them performed live as part of the Early Music Society of the Islands’ concert series. 

By Monica Prendergast, November 2015

Ronnie Burkett returns to town this month with his puppets and improvisational-style theatre.

There are a number of countries in the world, following an original initiative by Japan, which designate certain people to be “Living National Treasures.” These treasures are artists or crafts persons who have achieved high levels of excellence and significantly contributed to national and international culture. If we had such a program in Canada one of the first theatre artists I would nominate is Theatre of Marionettes founder Ronnie Burkett.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, November 2015

The story of a young soldier from Victoria helps us remember why we should strive for peace.

In this month of remembering our veterans, I bring you the story of a young Victoria soldier who fell from the sky without a parachute and survived. He was Norman Wharf, born on the Gorge in 1920 and a “telegraph boy” in his mid-teens, delivering telegrams by bicycle at three cents apiece. 

Against his father’s wishes he joined the Royal Air Force and became a rear gunner. He was typical of airmen in those days—exceedingly young and with less training in flying and gunning than it now takes to get a driver’s license. He was only 24 when his plane was shot down.

Focus readers, October 2015

Stop Harper—and beyond

In her comment piece, Jo-Ann Roberts condemns party discipline in Parliament. I disagree with her for three reasons:

First, permitting more independence for local MPs would reduce democracy as much as it increased it. It is unusual for voters to know local candidates well enough to vote for them rather than their party. Most of us vote based on a party’s policies and its leader, not on the opinions of our local candidate. I have no idea what my MP’s personal views on many issues are, but I do know what his party’s are.

Second, empowering local MPs could lead us into the morass that the US is in, where congresspeople vote based on the needs of the local interests that finance their elections. This means that wealthy local interests control many representatives’ votes. Goodies for local business interests are tacked onto unrelated bills to buy the votes of individual congresspeople.

By David Broadland, October 2015

There’s no scientific case for sewage treatment in Victoria, but the community faces a billion-dollar price tag anyway. Where do the candidates stand?

At a UVic election forum on the role the federal government should play in scientific research and support, NDP candidate for Victoria Murray Rankin told the mainly-student audience that “We’re not proud of what Stephen Harper has done to science. His war on science is everywhere to be seen and his victims are everywhere in our system.”

The Green Party’s Jo-Ann Roberts, running against Rankin, went further. “This is not just a war on science, it’s information and knowledge in this country that is under siege. Canadians are angry and embarrassed that ideology is replacing evidence when it comes to policy making.”

Appearing for the Liberals, Saanich Gulf Island candidate Tim Kane declared, “The war on science ends with a Liberal government.”

By Judith Lavoie, October 2015

Rankin acted on behalf of an American mining corporation in its successful bid to sue Canada using NAFTA.

A startling ruling by a North American Free Trade Agreement tribunal last March could force the Canadian government to pay Delaware-based Bilcon more than $300 million because an environmental assessment review panel rejected a massive basalt quarry and ship-loading facility on the Bay of Fundy that scientists believed would threaten endangered right whales.

By Leslie Campbell, October 2015

The provincial LNG fiction-writing exercise has some lessons towards October 19.

Here’s a cautionary tale, gleaned from a recently received Freedom of Information request, one you might want to keep in mind as we head to the polls this month.

By Briony Penn, October 2015

The Unfair Election Act is coming soon—very soon—to a polling station near you.

In September 2, Chief Councillor of Tseshaht First Nations Hugh Braker QC made a phone call to his local Elections Canada office in Port Alberni. He was calling on behalf of the members of his community, many of whom are elders, new voters, or those without computers. He recorded the conversation and it went like this: 

Office: Hello, Elections Canada 

HB: Hi, I am the chief councillor for the Tseshaht First Nation. Do you have any printed material on how to register to vote that I could give to my members?

Office: We have posters here in our office. You can come in and write down what it says. 

HB: No, I want to give it to the members and help them register. Can I get a poster from you for our office? 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, October 2015

As she leaves us, our correspondent reflects on a decade of First Nations treaty negotiations, court rulings and attempts at reconciliation.

Eleven years ago, I wrote my first article for this magazine. A profile of author Sylvia Olsen, it appeared in the June 2004 issue of what was then called Focus on Women.  

Now, with considerable sadness, I am writing what will be my last piece for the magazine—at least for now. Next month, having worked previously in both New Zealand and in British Columbia as a treaty negotiator, I am returning to New Zealand as a Chief Negotiator for that government. In my new role, I will be helping to conclude some of the remaining Maori land and marine settlements in the country.  

By Gene Miller, October 2015

That $90 extra million on the bridge could have transformed Victoria.

A scientific report informs us that the brain of an octopus is organized in an unusually sophisticated way for an invertebrate. Octopus brains possess 64 distinct lobes, and they increase in size and cell number throughout the octopus’ entire life. The creatures are capable of learning, discrimination and spatial awareness, and have impressive memories. The report concludes with this startling existential observation: “But we do not yet have evidence that they can process suffering as we do.” 

By Liz McArthur, October 2015

Why are marijuana dispensaries the growth business in Victoria?

In downtown Victoria empty retail storefronts are quickly being filled with marijuana dispensaries and business is booming for the legally ambiguous operations. In what has been likened to a new gold rush, it is not the federally approved “Licensed Producers,” but these rogue dispensaries who are successfully tapping in to an eager market. If marijuana is Canada’s new gold rush, then British Columbia is the Wild West. Regardless of a warning shot fired at them by Health Canada in September and proposals to regulate them at the municipal level, the retail marijuana industry seems likely to grow.

By Cheryl Thomas, October 2015

Halting the decay of our democracy isn’t difficult. It starts with valuing your vote. UPDATED

On September 30, 2015 Cheryl Thomas announced she had resigned her candidacy, stating:

"I want to take this moment to apologize unreservedly for past comments on social media that have come to light. When looking back at them, I understand that they are offensive and have no place in our political discourse. I want to apologize particularly to the Jewish and Muslim communities for these insensitive statements. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have utmost respect for all religions and communities and those past comments do not truly reflect who I am. As someone who has worked in the Middle East and interacted with the various communities, I know firsthand that my comments were inappropriate.

By Maleea Acker, October 2015

Thanks in part to volunteers like Dorothy Chambers, coho salmon are thriving in Colquitz River—but for how long?

A walk along the Gorge Waterway in the months of October and November usually yields the occasional splash of a salmon.  Last fall those splashes, amidst the smooth currents of the waterway, became a leaping river, as mature coho salmon returned from the open sea to their natal spawning streams. “It felt so amazing, exciting and satisfying” to see the high returns, Dorothy Chambers tells me. “Close to 4000 passed under the Admirals Bridge.”

Chambers, a Gorge-Tillicum resident and nurse, assisted in counting 1600 coho in the Colquitz River in 2014. This year Chambers, a Colquitz River Steward and 25-year volunteer for Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park and the Gorge Waterway Initiative, is hoping again for thousands, but climate anomalies may pose the newest threat.

By Amy Reiswig, October 2015

Briony Penn’s new biography of beloved BC conservation hero Ian McTaggart Cowan.

A friendly, knowledgeable voice, perhaps somewhat mysterious, encourages you to explore deep secrets in hidden places. For a child, it’s the stuff of dreams and adventure—an invitation to Wonderland. Such was the young Briony Penn’s first meeting, in words, with BC biologist-naturalist Ian McTaggart Cowan (1910-2010) who, in his influential 1956 handbook The Mammals of British Columbia, invited us to join him in “unraveling the innermost secrets of the lives of mammals.” 

By Aaren Madden, October 2015

Rod Charlesworth celebrates both place and paint.

When a viewer stands close enough to the surface of an impressionist painting, he or she will see the image disperse into its component parts. A sun-dappled tree, say, will become flecks of brown, yellow and green; a field of flowers flies apart into dashes of red. The image at close range speaks to the perception and activity of the artist, revealing choices made that result in a recognizable arrangement of colour and form. Not only does the viewer realize the relationship between the whole and the sum of its parts, but there is a kind of communion between painter and viewer that moves beyond seeing toward a sense of shared experience.