In the last week the British news has been following the visitof the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, to Canada, culminating in their departure by float plane from Victoria, BC.
During my visit to Victoria, British Columbia, in April this year one thing I never got around to was to take a seaplane/floatplane trip to view Vancover Island from the air. Somehow the availability of aircraft and me never coincided.
I do regret the missed opportunity, and so the third in line to the throne has already experienced at the age of three something that I never achieved at the age of sixty-two. But from the photographs it appears that he did not relish te experience as much as I would have.
As an aside from discovering my father’s service on Vancouver Island, I took the opportunity to visit Fort Rodd. This fort was constructed in the late 19th century, but is unlike the contemporary forts that I have visited in the UK.
Whereas on the southern coast of England the forts were constructed from a fairly standard pattern and the chalk hills were cut to accomodate the forts, in this case the fort was adapted to accomodate the granite landscape.
I hired an audio guide for my tour of the fort which was most useful – even if the “character” voices were at times unbelievable. The fort was upgraded at various time from around 1890 to 1950, with various percieved enemies: USA, Russia, Japan, USSR…
Ironically, considering the initial purpose of the fort, when approaching the forward defences my mobile phone automatically swithed to a foreign (USA) network.
A selection of photographs is attached below:
While visiting this site I picked up some beach souvenirs to match the shells, pebbles and detritus found on our last major transaltantic holiday to Floriida I thought a selection of Atlantic beach and Pacific beach collections would make a nice reciprocal set. On returning to the hotel I found that by pure accident the most recent souvenirs could be arranged thus:
After a quick visit to talk to the British Columbia Aviation Museum staff (see the previous post) I set off to search for the location of this photograph of three RAF types waiting for a lift back to base. (My dad is the middle of the three.
I thought I had found it, but nowadays the road junction and its signage are far less impressive.
I continued up the road towards the park, and arriving at the car park spotted someone erecting a signpost. “Aha,” I thought, “he might be able to cast some light on the picture.” As it happens, he was not only a local park volunteer, but has written a history of the park and the area and confirmed that I had found the correct location. I gave him all my spare copy photo’s from Dad’s album. He was very interested in my pilgrimage and he advised me of a short walk that I could take if I had half an hour to spare.
Walking through this ancient forest land was almost like wandering into a location for “Jurassic Park”. I have walked through ancient woodland in England, but it is totally different to this area. Some pictures below:
On my return to the car park, the park volunteer introduced me to a passer-by, who turned out to be an ex-pat “Geordie”, whose father-in-law served at RAF Patricia Bay at the same time as my dad. He told me that he had a copy of the squadron photograph at home, so we drove the short distance to his house and took a look at it. We were unable to identify either of our relatives – every man being dressed near identically does not help – but it was another unexpected bonus to my trip.
But can anyone explain this?
Why would First Nation Cultural Activities involve the use of chainsaws? I take part in historic cultural activities, but very few involve chainsaws, even for the evening cultural campsite conviviality.
Having investigated my preferred option of public transport I decided to hire a car, which was a lot cheaper than I had envisaged.
I was now able to drive, within reason, wherever I wanted. I had already discovered that Vancouver Island is a damned site bigger than expected and that I would not have time to explore as much as I had hoped. In fact Vancouver Island is a tad larger than the mainland of Great Britain, so covering it in a week was out of the question.
So I set out to tentatively look at the area where my father actually lived in 1942-3. My first stop was at the British Columbia Aviation Museum, which is on the edge of Victoria Airport, formerly RAF/RCAF British Columbia. When I got there the museum was not yet open, but this place was:
The name “Mary’s Bleue Moon Café” is a tribute to the Blue Moon coffee shop that was demolished with expansion of the airport.
Here are the adverts from 1942.
Well, whatever else has changed, Mary’s Coffee Bar is still The House with the Friendly Atmosphere. I was greeted as I entered, but was more taken aback by the decor:
Apart from the model aircraft over the bar, every wall was festooned with memorabilia in the form of photographs and documents. I was soon moved to tears. A selection below:
The staff here were so friendly, and so interested in my pilgrimage and what their coffee shop had added to it, that I admit to sitting in a corner and blubbing for a few minutes.
When the museum opposite was open I made a brief visit to ask permission for a later engagement and then went in search of more locations from Dad’s photograph album, of which more in the next posting.
Day three of my trip to Victoria, British Columbia. Armed with photographs taken in 1943, some personal and some small purchased souvenir pictures, I set off with my camera around the city’s landmarks.
The first was obviously the Parliament Building.
In front of the Parliament Buildings is the War Memorial, seen here in 1943
and in 2016, with the addition of 1939-45 and 1950-53.
From there I moved on to Thunderbird Park, a small area filled with totem poles of what are now known as “First Nation” people, but which were in 1943 were referred to as Indians. The “Patrician” of April 1943 devoted several pages to the local Indian people, including these photographs of the totems:
My own photographs are shown below.
The large central picture it the oldest schoolhouse on the island which. along with the First Nation house, was not yet open for the tourist season. We have at home a wooden model of the “thunderbird” totem bought by my father. Checking the souvenir shops I found that all modern versions are cast in resin, which somehow did not make them worthwhile buying.
The final place on my town tour was the Crystal Gardens, which in 1943 was a swimming pool, but now is part of the Victoria Conference Centre. Again, I appear to have lost the 2016 photo, but here it is in 1943.
Having settled into my hotel I set out to explore the downtown area. I had with me copies of advertisements from “The Patrician”, the station magazine of RAF Patricia Bay, and I intended to seek out those establishments that were still active after nearly 75 years. As I was somewhat befuddled, it being around 2pm in Victoria but 10pm in “real time”, I restricted myself on day one to exploring Government Street. Of the dozen or so traders advertising in 1942, only three existed in their original premises.
One was W & J Wilson. I seem to have lost the photograph but this link is to their website.
The lady running the shop told me that when they had a clear out a couple of years ago they found dozens of RAF coats still in stock.
The second shop appeared to be practically unchanged.
This shop retains a traditional interior:
I took the opportunity to purchase a new pipe. When I was a lad my father had a meerschaum pipe with the bowl carved into the head of what we were allowed in those days to call an Indian chief, complete with feather headdress. I believe he bought it in Canada and in all likelihood from this shop. Alas, such things are not now available but this is my tribute pipe:
I have no idea how the business is still running because during the week I did not find a single place except the ferry terminal and the deck of the ferry itself where I could enjoy a pipe. Naturally the hotel was off limits, but so was the balcony. Signs on many shops proclaimed a bye-law banning smoking within 7 metres of any door, window or air inlet to the building. No smoking signs were prominent in the public parks and on the beaches and for obvious reasons in the forests.
Of course the Hudson’s Bay Company still exists but has been transformed into a multi-floor shopping Mall (The Bay Centre), with Hudson’s Bay Co. as a department store at one end of it.
One other establishment still running but in new premises was Brown’s Nurseries. More about them in a later posting.
Arriving in Victoria I checked into the hotel, the Best Western Inner Harbour. I had chosen this hotel partly because I have a loyalty card with this chain and mainly because it was within a short stroll of Victoria’s harbour and downtown area.
Entering my room I was surprised to find a fully fitted kitchen.
This was going to enhance my stay. I checked out the view from the balcony.
Not a very cheery view, until I focussed on this element:
Things were beginning to look better. I don’t know how Canadians do their shopping, but I later spotted that the parking limit at this shop was THREE MINUTES maximum!
I then discovered a second balcony with this view:
A pleasant little park and between the trees a glimpse of the harbour and the seaplane dock. The seaplanes proved to be a bit noisy at times, but in general added to the holiday experience. I was told by the harbour tour guide later that on the day of my arrival flights were suspended for some time due to “Whale on the landing strip”. That beats every other excuse for delayed transportation that I have heard in the past.
And so, unpacked and settled into my home for the week, I set out to explore the city.