Friday, July 25, 2008

Salt Spring Dispatch #3: Vancouver, then Home Again, Home Again

I'm home now, but I did want to leave you with some thoughts on my adventures in Vancouver on Monday and Tuesday.

First, let me just say that while the idea of spending three hours on two different ferries just to get to the mainland seemed a little daunting when we first worked out our itinerary, the ferry itself was so luxurious that it seemed more like a short cruise on luxury liner. On the way out, anyway. The trip back was on a somewhat older, shabbier ferry, but still quite comfortable.

We decided to spend a night at the Ramada on Pender, which is a beautiful old hotel (especially on the inside) located just on the edge of a somewhat sketchy area of town. Still, as long as you're in before dark it's quite nice, with the most awesome used/antiquarian bookstore ever on the corner.

We arrived too early to check in, so we decided to head straight over to Stanley Park and the Vancouver Aquarium which is HOLY FRICKIN' HELL EXPENSIVE!! Seriously, SEVENTY BUCKS for two adults and a teenager?! Plus the requisite crazy expensive lunch? When we managed to see everything there in about two and a half hours? Ugh.

Ok, so the otters were really really really cute. Not quite as cute as this when we were there, but still...

After the aquarium it was on to the totem poles and the drive around the park where we managed a fleeting glimpse of the Big Hollow Tree that is now completely fenced off awaiting the final decision on its fate. And all the while I was seized by a burning desire to rent a bicycle and ride the whole way around the seawall. Go figure.

Then we checked into the hotel, and hooked up with a couple of The Beaver's ink stained wretches, Alision and Bob, along with Bob's S/O who, along with my husband, made sure that we didn't spend the entire time talking about politics.

This was the first time that I had actually met other bloggers IRL, and it was absolutely wonderful. Alison and Bob are even better in person, and I hope this won't be the last time I have the pleasure of their company. You guys are welcome here any time.

Meanwhile, we had set the boi loose with fifty bucks and specific instructions to head West instead of East. He of course headed east - straight into East Van, Chinatown, and eventually to the other side of a bridge somewhere. Still, he managed to make it back safely without getting mugged for his backpack or getting addicted to heroin. As he reminded me, he's a big boy now (turning sixteen next week), and since we've now left him on Salt Spring for an extra two weeks, I guess it's high time I learned to trust him to his own devices.


On Tuesday we spent at least an hour getting lost in the jumble of McLeod's Books, where I picked up a nice Penguin paperback of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', plus a firsthand account by one of Burgoyne's troops of events leading up to the Battles of Saratoga in 1777, the first of which was fought on my ancestor's farm. Fifteen bucks total. Score.

We were going to go do the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but after getting fleeced at the aquarium we decided to check out my sister's old neighbourhood instead and go shopping along The Drive.

'The Drive' is Commercial Drive, and it's a very interesting place from a local economy perspective. It's an old Italian neighbourhood that is now filled with cool restaurants and funky book, music and clothing stores. My sister tells me that its total lack of corporate franchise stores (except for Starbucks, of course) is due almost entirely to a concerted effort by the local community. I am very curious as to how such a thing could actually be accomplished on a local level, since it's exactly the kind of thing we could use here in Milton. Hmm...

On Salt Spring Island, "local" is practically the local religion. Local food, local wine, local wool, local crafts... local jobs.

It all makes perfect sense on an island, of course, where anything non-local will cost you half a day's travel and a rather expensive ferry ride. What surprised me is how pervasive this attitude was off the island. Even in Vancouver, where most of those cheap Asian imports first make landfall in our nation, local wines and beers top the list in every watering hole, the sustainable fishery debate is alive and well on every menu (damn you, tasty salmon!), and you can find entire neighbourhoods where corporate franchise stores are not only absent but actively banished by the community.

Except for Starbucks, of course.

I have no idea what effect (if any) this love of the local is having on BC's economy, but I can't help but wonder if they might be on to something. Imagine if we started putting a premium on local products and services here in Ontario, instead of forever chasing the elusive greenback. Sure, some things might be more expensive, but would that not be balanced by higher wages from local jobs?

More on this later.


  1. Please tell me the title of the book about the battle of Saratoga. My husband's great x 4 grandfather fought there (he was the map maker/engineer) and was taken prisoner. We'd love to find a copy to read.

  2. "With Burgoyne from Quebec" by Thomas Anburey; ed. with intro by Sydney Jackson; 1963. I had two Loyalist ancestors there: John Freeman and Walter Scott. Their families both ended up in Quebec after the battle and settled in the Eastern Townships.

    I actually managed to visit the battlefield on the day of the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Freeman's Farm. There was hardly anything going on (Americans prefer to celebrate the second battle in October), but it was still amazing standing on the hill where my ancestor's house once stood, looking down on a field where the bones of the dead are still buried, unmarked.

  3. Many thanks for the title of the book. We'll keep our eyes open for it.
    Some day we'll get to Saratoga National Park. We keep meaning to but never find the time. By accident we found out that one of the re-enactors plays Simon's g x 4 so it would be sort of fun to see it all.


  4. I guess it's high time I learned to trust him to his own devices.

    Is that "devices" or "vices", Mother? :)

    Loved your Vancouver recount - quite on target, I must say! We have actually not experienced the local aquarium due to the extravagant pricing structure.

    Please come back and visit for a longer time and let us know before you come. We'll check out some local establishments to see if we can save you some $$$ . . . .

  5. A cheaper version than the extravagant Capilano suspension bridge is the Lynn Valley one: free. Next time you visit of course.

    I'm sure Commercial Drive is quaint in it's own way, not unlike Roncesvalles village in Toronto.

  6. The has never been a star buck's on salt spring island but there is a thrifty foods.