Victoria, British Columbia
I had been to Canada before, once to Ontario during a visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan and once on my second honeymoon trip that included a driving tour of Niagara Falls, a trip through Maine to the eastern Portland to catch a ferry to Nova Scotia – my second husband’s favorite place to be. It had been ideal and our future plans included moving to the Northwest Coast so we could continue exploring the beautiful states of Oregon and Washington, as well as the coasts of Canada and Alaska. An early death knell brought those plans to a halt shortly after we moved to Florence, Oregon.
Although I lived in Florence for sixteen more years and did explore Oregon and Washington, I had gotten no further than Seattle. This trip that included the Inside Passage of Alaska as well as a stopover into Victoria, British Columbia was the culmination of our dream. I know Tom’s spirit was with me during the entire trip because he is the person who guided me from my urban outlook to one that included all of the natural world and its splendor. As the ship docked in the harbor facing the splendid city of Victoria above, I was still carrying that serenity resulting from, as Thoreau stated, “my time in the woods.” Therefore, I had no interest in any of the tours that included the one to Butchart Gardens which would have taken up most of the time we had at port. Since I was traveling alone, I had no desire for a romantic carriage ride through the evening twilight as the waning sun brought the lights adorning the city to life. Once again, I hoped to lift the romantic veil and try to get to know the character of the people who lived and worked here. I picked up a map of the city center and hopped onto the free shuttle that would take me there. I had no interest in Wi-Fi because I now had my phone service back!
On the drive up the hill to the city, I noticed how splendidly clean and organized this part of the city was. Every piece of land that could be utilized was carved into elegant apartment buildings and condos and everywhere I looked I saw beautiful window gardens and plantings. I saw two parks that advertised hiking and biking trails. It was 6:00 in the evening, so I supposed the people who lived here were having dinner and making plans for this Friday evening. The driver of the shuttle dropped us off at the corner of Government Square and told us the shuttle operated every twenty minutes and we could pick it up at an intersection that was right in the middle of the retail district. Map in hand, I set out to visit the Empress Hotel (named after Queen Victoria and famous for its afternoon high tea). As I walked into the lobby lo, and behold there was a handsome Mountie in full dress uniform (be still my heart) walking through the building. I have always been fascinated with the Mounties and I do love a man in uniform! The Mountie was with a woman so I politely asked if I could take his picture. Not only did he agree, the woman with him offered to take a picture of us together. With that beginning, I felt the courage to ask a few questions.
“Are you an actual Mountie or are you just doing this for the tourists?” I asked.
“I am the real deal. I am actually on duty. I met my girlfriend for dinner and I was walking her back to her car.”
“So, Mounties are really the police force here?”
“Yes, we are a national police force originally formed in the 19th Century to protect the Northwest Territories. Since that time, we continue to provide the provincial police force in eight of the ten provinces and three territories.” Ottawa and Quebec have their own provincial police forces.”
I remembered the mounted Bobbie I had seen working at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace when I was in London so I asked, “Are you on a horse?”
The Mountie smiled and said, “No, we only ride in parades and formal ceremonies now.”
I noticed another tourist coming up to the Mountie so I smiled and said, “Thank you,” and walked away delighted that I had encountered an actual Mountie.
Twilight had taken hold of the city by the time I left the Empress so I proceeded as quickly as possible to the Parliament Building and the square filled with monuments. The first place I visited was Totem Park. The ensuing darkness made seeing difficult and all the buildings were closed, so I spent the rest of my time in the square looking at other monuments. My curiosity about the indigenous people who lived here never subsided, however, so I did some research on my own about the Kwakiutl people – nomadic people who fished along the coast of Queen Charlotte Strait and never really settled into tribes until around 500 BCE after returning home.
From what I read, the Kwakiutl blended better with the Europeans when they arrived than the other Northwest Coast people. First contact recorded was in the 1830’s when the Hudson’s Bay Company took over the sea otter trade. The Kwakiutl then became wholesalers to the Company’s post at Ft. Victoria. The Kwakiutl traded the sea otter furs for iron, steel and blankets. Smallpox decimated much of the population of Ft. Rupert in the 1850’s. The disease was carried by the British Royal Navy and Bella Coola traders who destroyed several villages, leaving the disease to take care of the population. By the 1880’s, the Kwakiutl were moved to what the government called “reserves” the equivalent of a reservation. At this time, most of the aboriginal territory fell into the hands of the British government. I wished I had had time to visit one of these reserves to see how the people live today, but the priority of my trip was to visit two reservations in North Dakota and Minnesota on the last leg of my trip. I still had a couple of hours in Victoria so I left Totem Park to look at the monuments surrounding the Parliament Building.
There was a tall monument honoring the veterans of World Wars I and II as well as the United Nations police action known as the Korean War. There was another, more recent United Nations peace keeping engagement of Canadian forces, but I didn’t write it down. It was somewhere in Africa or the Middle East.
Directly in front of that monument there was a huge statue marking the visit of the Prince of Wales to Victoria in 1914. I knew who this was; this was the Prince who eventually became Edward the 8th in 1936, serving less than a year before abdicating because he found it impossible to serve “without the love and support of the woman I love.” I wonder what will happen when the current Prince of Wales inherits the throne will he too abdicate in favor of his son, Prince William. I am fascinated every time I delve into history and find repeated cycles everywhere. Maybe Parliament will be more favorable toward Camilla – another divorced woman. As sunlight gave way to street lights, I started walking down Government Street to eventually catch the shuttle back to the ship. I noticed a crowd gathered around an area that afforded a view of the harbor below.
As I took a spot on the wall, I saw a man peering over the easement. He said, “boo” and then proceeded to walk in a backwards handstand down the wall the street below. The man had the appearance of a street entertainer, a bit disheveled but outfitted with some equipment that looked like it belonged in a circus act. There were three men holding a unicycle against a post and a chair and small trampoline with some knives and a hat. The entertainer began instructing the three men who were audience volunteers as he mounted the unicycle and began his act. “When I am seated let go of the unicycle and then get out of the way.” He instructed one of the men whom he called by name to stay and sit in the chair provided. He then called to a young girl whom he called by name and instructed her to throw him a hat. This was followed by a speech about the importance of the tip to street entertainers.
“The basic tip for this kind of act should be no less than five dollars,” he said. He then pulled a five dollar bill from his pocket and handed it to the young girl who smiled broadly as she returned to her seat. At that point he talked about how dangerous his act was and the fact that he had developed osteoarthritis in his hip. That made me wonder about health care in Canada, but my musings were interrupted when the entertainer threw the extra hat directly at me. He asked me my name and told me I was to be in charge of filling the hat with tips from the audience above. The show continued as he juggled the knives and kicked his hat on his head while balancing the unicycle. He ended the show by inflating a black suit and jumping onto the small trampoline below. I stood there holding the hat and pulled out a five dollar bill and put it in the hat thinking that was all I was going to do, but people started putting money into the hat. At the end of the show, I walked below to return the hat and money. The bravado of the entertainer disappeared as he said, “Thank you, Brenda. I really appreciate this.”
I didn’t know what else to say except, “You’re welcome,” as I continued down the street toward the bus stop. As I had concluded, the stop was located at the entrance to the retail district which was alive with music provided by street entertainers and shops with banners announcing, “Come in we’re open.” I was ready to return to the ship so I boarded the next bus that came along and became lost in wonderment about the street entertainers. Where did they live and where would they sleep tonight? Certainly nowhere close to where I had been. Lost in thought I noticed the final image that would stay in my mind as I left British Columbia. There was a solitary woman sitting on a window seat of one of the retail stores. She looked much like the homeless women I see every day in my walks through Old Louisville and Portland. She was surrounded by bags of clothing and a suitcase and I assumed she was Indian and a Hindu. I decided this because she had the red dot between her eyes on the bridge of her nose. She just sat there, saying nothing, making no moves. I wondered, “Where will she sleep tonight?”