Saturday, July 02, 2005

Canada Day (one day late)

Yesterday was Canada Day. As it happens, I was recently in Victoria, BC and I thought I would write a bit about it in honor of Canada Day.

This was the year that my lovely wife and I did the Alaska Cruise thing (swell!, and thanks for asking) and one of our six-hour stops was Victoria. We had signed up for an excursion to Butchart Gardens and our Grayline bus driver met us at the docks. His name, as I recall, was Bruce and he was our tour guide on our way to the gardens, which were some miles out of town. He told us about the places we passed as he drove. Bruce seemed a nice fellow: he had a pleasant voice and a decent PA system and was a pleasure to listen to. He was either reciting bits from a Grayline script for the town tour or was quite the Liberal (or both).

Most of what he pointed out to us was some sort of public works project -- government housing for the elderly and the disabled, an abandoned department store building that the government was trying to buy and turn into a library, a part of town where the residents were expected to grow $2,500CN of produce each year and sell it at stands in their yards, a recycling center, a large park where you couldn't buy an ice cream bar because business was not allowed, organic farms and a dairy that produced hormone-free milk, a city-owned recreational lake somewhat out of town but reachable by free public transit, a piece of land near town where the government would rent you a plot large enough to plant a garder for $50CN a month, and large tracts of land on which, by law, nothing could be built.

Butchart Gardens is lovely. If you are ever in Victoria you should plan to see it (and plan for more than the two hours our excursion allowed us). The garden was made from a played-out limestone quarry by the wife of the last man to ever make a profit in Victoria, as far as I can tell. He was in the concrete business and he made quite a bit of money a hundred years ago. According to Bruce Mr. Butchart's son tried, at one point, to sell the gardens to the government for one dollar but was turned down and only later hit on the idea of charging money to all the people who came to see it.

Bruce had (sensibly) allowed a bit of extra time for people to return to the bus and since we were relatively prompt he was able to take the scenic route back to the boat. He showed us parts of downtown Victoria, including the narrowest street in the world (less than four feet wide) and chinatown. We also saw the area near the inner harbour that is leased from the "First Nation" (PC Canadian term for "indians") and will revert in 100 years.

With its temperate climate, Victoria is the retirement capital of Canada. It's a rather expensive place to live so it is mostly the well-off Canadians who retire there (more millionaires per-capita than anywhere else in Canada.) This stream of wealthy retirees provides most of the money that funds the city's projects and the shortfall is made up by stip-mining the fossil wealth laid down long ago by the now-extinct capitalists who once lumbered through its streets.

I used to work for a Canadian company and have spent quite a bit of time visiting Canada. Canadians are very proud of their country and will tell you all the things they think you should admire. They are earnest and sincere, but especially when talking to Americans, they always sound a little bit sad.

So, to our friends to the north, Cheer up, ay? and have a Happy Canada Day!

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