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.
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.
Last week I visited Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada in search of my father.
As reference material I had his photograph album, luckily in the main annotated in his copperscript hand. As a backup I had the collection of his old RAF station magazines “The Patrician” from July 1942 to February 1944.
I flew to Vancouver Airport (My ideal would have been to cruise across the Atlantic and take the Canadian Pacific Railway to Vancouver, but alas it could not be achieved.)
This picture shows why, even on the approach, I could understand my father’s wish to return to live in this beautiful place after the War.