40 Years In Victoria

I recently celebrated 40 years of living here in our lovely provincial capital. In those years, the city has changed considerably, but I have never once regretted that move.

The last place I lived before packing up my meagre belongings and my cat, Boots, was the West End in Vancouver. I had a one bedroom apartment on the 9th floor of a high rise on Haro, close to Robson, and I walked to work every day. Boots and I were used to noise, to lots of traffic and people, people everywhere.

It was a fun part of the city to live in as a single person. I was within walking distance of pretty much everything; shopping, entertainment, and all kinds of different restaurants. I saw a lot of great concerts and ate some spectacular meals.

But there were definitely the down sides.

I would pass by street people sleeping in the doorways of stores every day on my way to work at the library. When we opened the doors in the mornings, the same people would come inside it to sit so they could warm up. Sometimes they’d stay all day.

I was actually robbed at work once, and one night, I was mugged while walking home from a movie with a friend.

They grabbed my purse and ran off down the street. And what did I do? I was so mad, I started running after them! When they saw me raging towards them, they ran even faster. Cowards.

Fortunately for them, I never caught them.

On another evening there was a bang at my door. It was the police, showing me a picture of a deceased woman, asking me if I could identify her. Her body was found in our underground parking lot. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night.

So, yes, a big city like Vancouver had, and still has, its challenges.

On my first night in Victoria, in a little house on Cook Street near Maplewood, I tossed and turned because it was too quiet. Over time, though, I got used to it. And Boots got to be an outdoor cat. He liked that.

My cousin, who had worked as a letter carrier in Victoria for a couple of years before that, asked me why I wanted to live here. He said it was a boring city where they routinely rolled the sidewalks up by 9pm. Obviously, he had different priorities.

I moved here because of a guy, of course. We decided to try this “living together” thing out.

That first little house we bought on Cook Street cost us $66,000. You could maybe get a new car for that now. Maybe.

But don’t let me get started on the high cost of everything these days…it drives me crazy!

Take a breath, Irene.

Victoria was definitely a more laid back city in the 80’s. It was a nice place to raise a family, which we did. But things didn’t always happen very quickly back then either.

For instance, Blanshard Court on Blanshard Street between Bay and Kings, sat as a hole in the ground for what seemed like years. I mean, it was an actual hole in the ground. Development wasn’t quite as robust as it is now.

These days, I look out my upstairs window towards the city and all I see are new high rises, and cranes hovering over even more construction.

In the 80’s when I drove downtown, it was quick and easy. That was another Victoria-centric expression at the time; everything here was only 10 minutes away.

These days the same distance takes maybe twice that. A lot of it is because of road blockages which, of course, come along with construction and road work. But there are also a LOT more vehicles.

The street in our neighbourhood of Oaklands, where we moved to in 1988, was also pretty quiet back then. Just the occasional car here and there. At first.

In the last couple of years, even with traffic “calming” strategies by the city, there are more than 2000 cars whizzing past our house every day. I know that number because my neighbour actually went to the trouble of counting those cars recently. He wanted to complain to city council.

That’s why our present day felines, Lucy and Buster, are exclusively indoor cats. Too many cars. Along with the fact that I love birds.

There have been positive developments in the city too, of course. More, and bigger events. The Memorial Arena, which was known back then as the “Barn on Blanshard” became the beautiful, new Save On Foods Memorial Centre.

I got to see James Taylor there a few years back. You can’t beat that.

We have all the shopping we could dream of. Except IKEA.

Yes, there actually was an IKEA here back then. I miss it.

We have wonderful restaurants, and although many of them have struggled recently, especially during COVID, the diversity of cultures and flavours has grown by leaps and bounds.

Our inner harbour, the Leg, the Empress (I still call it just that), and everything else in the area is still the envy of guests visiting our city.

My family members love the new bike lanes and take full advantage of them often. But cycling up Fort, we also see the consequences of Victoria itself becoming a bigger city.

There are so many more people on the streets now, suffering from addictions, poverty and mental health issues. They sleep in makeshift tents and store fronts, just as I remember from my days in the West End.

Change is a complicated thing.

I follow social media posts and groups from Vancouver and Richmond where I grew up, and there’s always somebody wishing a return to the “good old days.”

But does that really exist? Because there are good and bad things about every generation, about every growing community, every time of life.

When I first moved here, Victoria was the place of the “newlyweds and nearly deads.” I became one of those newlyweds. Now, 40 years later, we’re retired, so I suppose that makes us “nearly deads”.

I prefer “nearly old”, even if it doesn’t rhyme. And I’m still happy to call Victoria home.


A Day Without A Phone

Just after my daughter left to go home the other night, I realized that she had forgotten her iPhone at our place. I picked it up and asked my husband what I should do. I mean, I couldn’t CALL her.

Then I looked out the window and saw her drive up again. Phew!

She told me that her Apple watch had warned her that it was no longer connected to her phone, and that made her realize she’d left it behind.

Holy geez, technology, eh? I could have used that little trick a couple of weeks ago.

My husband and I were heading over to the mainland, walking on the ferry to spend the day with family. But it wasn’t until we sat down in the waiting area at the BC Ferries terminal that I realized I’d forgotten my phone at home.

It’s not the first time I’ve left my phone at home, but this time I was going to be without it until we got back late that night. So ALL DAY.

Isn’t a strange feeling to not have your phone? I mean, you feel kind of lost, and a slight case of panic sets in. Sometimes more than a slight case.

What if I miss a news alert? What if someone texts me? What if…I don’t know…ANYTHING happens with my phone and I DON’T KNOW ABOUT IT?

I looked around the waiting area at the terminal and saw that at least half of the people there were staring at their phones. I started to feel jealous.

Then I thought, jealous? I laughed to myself. I mean, come on Irene. You lived a huge chunk of your life without a cell phone! What’s the big deal?

I looked around again and challenged myself to have a different kind of day. And this time, looking at all of those people glued to their phones, I started to feel just a little bit holier than thou.

A lot of them didn’t see the ferry come in to dock. Or the flock of seagulls swooping around, chasing each other in the sunshine. Most didn’t even realize the ferry had arrived until the announcement came on.

They may have briefly looked up to see if the passenger line was moving, but then their heads dropped back down to their phones again.

When I come to think of it, that’s a pretty common sight these days; heads staring down at phones. Especially with younger people.

I go for walks at least twice a day around our neighbourhood and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone look up from their phone, surprised to see me walking towards them.

And then there are the ones who even dare to cross the street with their heads down.

I’ve noticed that a number of times while I’m driving. People literally walking in all kinds of traffic, oblivious to everything but that darn phone.

This distraction causes what some experts say is a “loss of situational awareness.” And it can create all kinds of dangerous scenarios.

For instance, there was a story in the Washington Post recently about a seventh grader in Warren, Michigan named Dillon who, along with his school mates, was travelling on their school bus.

He was the only one who noticed when something went wrong. The school bus driver had fainted, and the bus started drifting to one side.

Dillon ran up, grabbed the steering wheel and stepped on the brake.

Why was he the only one who noticed? Because he didn’t have a phone. The rest of the students on the bus were staring down at theirs and didn’t realize what was happening until the bus jerked to a halt.

As Dillon said “What else are you going to when you don’t have a phone? You’re going to look at people. You’re going to notice stuff.”

When we found our seats on the ferry, I had a book to read so I did that for awhile. And I looked out the window in wonder at this amazing place we live. The water, the islands, the mountains. Spectacular.

Had I been swiping through Twitter or Facebook, I might have missed all that. Just as about half of the ferry passengers actually did.

I did notice one thing that irritated me more on that ferry trip. Oh my lord, can people please learn how to turn off their car alarms? Who’s going to steal your car ON THE FERRY?

At dinner with our family later that day, I was completely engaged in the conversation. There were no annoying news alerts beeping on my phone to distract me, no temptations to check it “just in case”.

On the ferry ride home, I watched the hockey finals on the TV in the sitting area. Is it just me, or are half the games taken up with fighting? For pete’s sake, just score a bleeding goal!

But when we got home that night, I have to admit I ran into the house to look for my phone. It was a huge relief when I finally had it in my eager little hands.

What did I miss? Some news alerts about what some crazy politician said, and the final score of the hockey game. Big deal. Already knew that.