Largely the Truth

Sprawlapalooza, or That Time I Agreed With the Man in the Hemp Trousers

What is it that makes Victoria so special? It could be any number of things I suppose: a mild climate, clean streets, or the Mr. Magoo-like way city hall overlooks the thriving sex and drug trades while fussing over how new downtown liquor licenses will affect public morality. Perhaps it’s the way so many talented people nod knowingly when the discussion turns to the job market and how it’s harder to get into than Doris Day’s business back when the getting was good. Or the heartstring-tugging way they wave goodbye, like kids on the way to a weekend at their mother’s, when’ve run out of money and steam and they light out for points east, taking all their enthusiasm and creativity with them.

My decision to move to Victoria rather than Vancouver was based on two things, the first being that I thought the place was drop-dead gorgeous. The second? Victoria was a busier place than the one I left, with far more options for work and play, and yet it managed to retain the feel of a small town. What’s more, you could see the horizon downtown without having your view obstructed by some priapic concrete monstrosity built solely for the purpose of providing foreign investors with somewhere to put their money other than Switzerland.

It was with some disappointment I learned that instead the city was dotted with smaller, more tasteful condominiums affordable only to Hong Kong businessmen looking for a place to stash their third mistress.

Since there’s no end of people moving to the city who would like to own their own property development has expanded outward, towns like Langford growing fat on Victoria’s exiled middle class. That has, in turn, driven up property prices in those bedroom communities and pushed development even further.

If you were to get in your car and drive west from Victoria you’d run out of road in a little town called Port Renfrew. Aside from the very beautiful Botanical Beach and the always-dependable Port Renfrew Hotel - try the “Angels on Horseback” oysters - there’s not much out that way that the average city-dweller would call entertaining. For those inclined to the outdoors, however, the west country is an almost unparalleled treasure.

In 1996, four small parks between the Port Renfrew Highway and the coastline of the Juan De Fuca Strait were connected by a strip of parkland and named the Juan De Fuca Provincial Park. According to a February 20, 2011 article in the Times Colonist by David Anderson, “[the Juan De Fuca Provincial Park] was designed to protect the previously existing Juan de Fuca Marine Trail which stretched 47 kilometres along the coast between Port Renfrew and Jordan River.” The areas between the park and the highway were private forest land under tree-farming licenses, which made them unavailable to developers, so there was a buffer of green space between the natural world and the fire-breathing steel golem that is progress.

I am told, by wise-looking bearded people educated in such things, that the biological diversity of the park is world-famous. I am also told, by similarly wise yet clean-shaven people, that the park and neighbouring green space is taking up some serious coastal real estate just begging for a Jamba Juice and Curves Fitness Centre. In the eyes of those who run the world the only thing more beautiful than a dewy meadow is the shopping mall waiting to be discovered beneath it. And so, a few years ago, the provincial government removed the Juan De Fuca private lands from the tree farming license, which opened them up to sale and development.

Now a development has been proposed along 12km of the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail – 200+ residences and a lodge are to be built right in the heart of the west country. This has not gone down well with local wilderness enthusiasts and advocacy groups and so a number of talks and rallies have been held to try and halt the development. The latest effort was Sprawlapalooza, a six hour concert and protest rally held on Saturday, April 30 and aimed at raising awareness for what’s happening along the Juan De Fuca. Wilderness Committee, Forest Action Network & the Dogwood Initiative

The event began at 3pm in Centennial Square, or Spirit Square as no-one calls it, with traditional Native song and dance by Esquimalt Nation members Auggie Thomas and Sean Brown Bryce. Then a handful of speakers, including Lynn Hunter from the Capital Region District, weighed in with words of encouragement and progress reports on the status of the opposition movement. What I gathered from the speeches was that things look rather bleak, as in “odds are we’re going to lose this but by God we’re going to make them work for it.” In the fight between money and what’s right, what’s right has the moral high ground but money has a length of lead pipe hidden in its trouser leg and friends on the jury.

I hope I’m wrong about all this but as long as there are nursing school grads who want to own a condo until they can marry someone from CFB Esquimalt and buy a house in Langford, and downtown property costs more than Hell’s last sno-cone, the bulldozers won’t stop until they hit the sea.

There is no love lost between me and the green movement - so many of the people who espouse its philosophy are pompous hypocrites who talk about “the noble poor” then ride off on $5,000 bicycles. The kind of people who eat the 100 Mile Diet so they can lord it over everyone else like a Boy Scout badge awarded for learning to hold your breath with your head up your own ass.

There is no love lost between me and the green movement but this time I’m on their side– Victoria’s proximity to the kind of beauty that’s found on the Juan De Fuca Trail makes the city special in a way that places like Uptown can’t. The beauty of the region, the thing that attracted me and so many other people here in the first place, is what makes bearable having to swallow your pride and your education before serving chicken wings to poorly-mannered urbanites with more business cards than original thoughts.

Developing the Juan De Fuca Trail would be an a devastating loss for the environment and for us – just because you’re not inclined to the outdoors doesn’t mean that your kids won’t be.

What follows is a photo recap of the first three hours of the rally, including opening song and dance by Auggie Thomas & Sean Brown Bryce, of the Esquimalt Nation, as well as music and dancing from the performance by Kuba Oms. Pictures were taken by me and my good friend Dan Eastabrook of Real Life, Real Light Photography.