Vancouver Island is about 300 miles long and has a population of fewer than 300,000, half of whom live in Victoria, the provincial capital, on its southern tip. Nanaimo, the second largest city, is about 75 miles north of Victoria on the island’s east coast. Most of the population live in or near these two cities. Although they have their charm, each could almost be in California, New York, or Ohio. I like the smaller places, Ladysmith, Chemainus, and Port Hardy. These villages still have quirks and blemishes; they remain unsullied by lattes, big macs, and strip malls.
Cycling through a forest, I encountered a doe and fawn. The fawn, new and curious, stopped to look at me; so close we could nearly have touched noses. I held my breath, not daring to fumble for a camera. Later, I watched a pair of Bald Eagles, the American national bird, fishing. An old dock rat told me they feed on small dogs too – one sometimes finds a collection of wee collars near their roosts. I suppose the odd Jack Russell is a healthy variation to one’s diet, but no one eats the garnish. Nylon spoils the digestion.
Back in Ladysmith I met a woman who told me my own story. Seeing Ms Von B, she said ‘Say, that’s a folding bike eh? There was a guy from Ireland here a couple of weeks ago taking one of those around the world on container ships and trains. …’ I laughed and introduced myself. Without a daily newspaper, people still talk to each other to keep track of village comings and goings. I’d made the morning news.
Gale, my Ladysmith host, took me to two rehearsals at their Little Theatre, both excellent entertainment. I saw a first rehearsal of ‘The Departed,’ a dark comedy, and a near-ready presentation of ‘Stones in his Pockets,’ an Irish drama by Marie Jones featuring 15 parts performed by Mort Paul and Torry Clark, two talented, high-energy actors. In the play they change character more nimbly than politicians lie. Maybe they should enter the presidential primary.
One warm evening we went to an outdoor concert at the Ladysmith Amphitheater on Transfer Beach. As we were settling in, a power boat traversed the shoreline. From its fore-deck a familiar bikinied blonde waived to her admiring public. Lady Pamela Anderson (now titled!), Ladysmith’s home-grown celebrity, had made a cameo appearance. I thought of the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz, made brave by the award of a medal.
The soul of Vancouver Island is its deep wilderness. Emily Carr, the island’s celebrated painter, was finely attuned to the voices of the ancient, nameless spirits of the forest. After hiking and cycling through the woods, I found deeper appreciation for her work. The Greater Victoria Museum has a good, representative collections of her paintings. Not far away is the Carr House, Emily’s home, a small treasure in old Victoria. Stop in for a cuppa.
As I hiked across the restored Kinsol Trestle, a railway bridge deep within the trees, I thought about Emily Carr, her courage, character, and independence. She was a new woman living in late-Victorian British Columbia. Feature that!
- The Probus Club for a friendly hike in the forest.
- Islands Folk Festival for old folkies boogieing in the rain.
- Diego the Buggy Horse in Chemainus, the Mural City.
- Goats on the Roof Emporium.
- Unsworth Restaurant and Slow Food for a wonderful meal.
- Lanzville Big Sing for ‘The Song for Mira.’
- Yellow Point Lodge for a peek into elegant vacationing.