Dallas Road cliffs. Photo © Stewart Butterfield, via flickr and Creative Commons

We live in a part of the world many other people envy us for. We have ocean, mountains, beach, forests, a pretty darn awesome year-round climate for a place just south of the 49th parallel, and a number of big-town services and restaurants for what is, in many ways, a small town.

And on one of those perfect summer or fall or spring or even winter days, you just have to stop and say to yourself, “Seriously, why do I live in such a hell-hole? Let’s just stop the clock, and the moon and the stars and sun, and hold this moment. Forever.” More »

PKols sign-Mt Doug, Victoria, BC

Atop Mount Douglas—PKOLS—Victoria, BC.

When University of Victoria anthropology and computer science students joined forces in 2011 with the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group out of Ladysmith and local Elders to develop a video game, they were furthering the concept that names confer power and presence.

In the game, players embark on a virtual journey through Coast Salish landscapes, and explore uses of the land, historic place names, and traditional knowledge through video, audio, maps and photographs. Based on an earlier board game developed by the treaty group, the game serves as a step towards reclaiming culture, history, and presence in the region.

It followed two significant events in which First Nations cultural geography on the coast was reclaimed. In 2009, B.C.’s Queen Charlotte Islands were officially renamed Haida Gwaii as part of a historic reconciliation agreement between the province and the Haida Nation, and in 2010, the coastal waters off the province’s south coast became known officially as the Salish Sea.

Last year, the progression towards reclamation took another step. Local First Nations publicly proclaimed PKOLS as the original name of Mount Douglas, a site of cultural significance. They held a ceremony on the mountain, and commemorated the mountain’s deep roots in their history with a carved cedar sign near the summit. They have submitted a formal request to B.C.’s Geographic Names Office to have the old name reinstated.

They also announced plans to reclaim Mount Newton within their historical and cultural geography of place names. The mountain, or ȽÁU,WELNEW (place of refuge) is sacred as the site where the Saanich people escaped a great flood about 10,000 years ago.

Names are much more than mere labels. They signify culture and history. They indicate relationships and responsibilities between people and provide glimpses into long-held knowledge. They denote connections between people and places.

Benign or otherwise, renaming causes what existed before to be filtered through a new lens. It can obscure prior relationships, and even erase them….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Gonzales Observatory served as Victoria's weather and time station. Photo © Cindy Andrie via flickr and Creative Commons


We lost an hour last night.

Don’t send out a search party. The hour is not hiding under the bed, or communing with dust bunnies at the back of the closet. It hasn’t eloped with a dish or a spoon, or ridden a cow bareback over the moon.

Our concept of time, with its discrete hours, minutes and seconds, is a result of our need for predictability and stability, and the progress of our technology.

Before moment-to-moment measurement became possible, we relied on the Earth’s tilted, spinning loops around the sun to measure time. Every sunrise, sunset, high noon, or full or new moon brought a new unit of time. The sun’s creep along the horizon signaled seasons. Animals and our own patterns provided points of approximate precision to our days. Wrinkles creeping across faces, children becoming adults, saplings maturing into trees, and other signs indicated decades.

Technology overturned that. Fire and electricity made night into day. Clocks introduced minutes and seconds, and made promptness, regular schedules and shift work possible.

Even after clocks became portable, sailors relied on the sun to determine how far east or west they had travelled. Ships’ captains determined high noon where they were, set one time piece on board to that time, and compared the difference against another time piece. On any ship flying under the Union Jack, that second time piece was set to Greenwich time, in England. In those pre-GPS days, time accuracy was essential for ships in port to set their time pieces and measure position.

As a major shipping port for the British Empire, Victoria benefited. For example, in February 1859, the Victoria Gazette reported that Captain Trevett of the Hudson’s Bay Company steamer Labouchere, which was in harbour, consented to fire a gun at noon every Thursday, so that the citizens of Victoria could “regulate their time pieces and obtain the true time.” Two decades later, the Work Point garrison established a time-keeping routine by firing its time gun at eight or nine o’clock on Monday nights….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Heat wave. Photo © Steve Harris, via creative commons and flickr

The Environment Canada website for the Victoria forecast pronounced “Be prepared for … HEAT!” Normally the notices above the daily weather predictions warn of coming high winds, storms, freezing temperatures, thick fog, or heavy rains. This last week, however, it cautioned us to expect a heat wave.

Caution, indeed, is needed when so many studies document a link between high temperatures and aggression. Aggression can range from snappish impatience at home, at work, or in line at the grocery store, to road rage, verbal abuse and violent crimes such as assault, rape and murder.

The link even shows up in our language. The words “temper” and “temperature” share the same Latin origin, temperare—meaning to restrain. In that wonderful way the English language molds and changes words and their meanings, the definition of temper—anger—has deviated from the original definition. In fact, temper (anger) often has little to do with restraint.

Common expressions reinforce the link between heat and aggression in English. “Tempers flare,” “a hot temper,” “hot under the collar,” “hot headed,” “short fuse,” “slow burn,” “let off steam,” and “smouldering resentment” come to mind.

Psychologists and sociologists who study how heat influences emotions and behaviour believe high temperatures exacerbate already near-boiling levels of stress in people, bringing them that much closer to losing control.

Heat is, in itself, a stressor. It makes people physically uncomfortable, leading to impatience. It can also lead to dehydration, which affects energy levels and the brain’s ability to function and reason. The combination of discomfort and dehydration interferes with a person’s ability to regulate emotions. It causes the brain’s fright–fight–flight centre to react to even mild events, and short-circuits the reasoning part of the brain that would normally temper (restrain) temper (anger).

And that’s looking at heat’s effects at an individual level. Warming temperatures and climate appear to also affect peace and wellbeing across entire societies….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, on Little Saanich Mountain, Victoria, BC. Photo © Caylin (plums_deify, flickr)

No lights shine at the Centre of the Universe today.

The staff who ran the interpretive centre at Little Saanich Mountain’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory cleaned out their desks yesterday, turned the light out, and vacated the building. So ends 12 years of educational programming about astronomy and Canada’s place in scientific research.

The National Research Council, which operates the centre, had the unenviable choice this year of cutting outreach or cutting even deeper into research.

It was one of many challenges the federal agency faces. The government recently adjusted the NRC’s research priorities to match private sector goals that focus on applied, or practical, research

Applied research is important. It can lead to patents, jobs, manufacturing, and all that good economic stuff.

However, the shift at the observatory is ironic.

In 1910, when astronomers suggested Canada’s government build a new, bigger, better national observatory, they specified it be purpose-built for studying astrophysics.

Not astronomy. Astrophysics….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Dallas Road dog park. Photo by Martin…T (flickr)I find the recent cooler days and periods of rain a relief. My garden does, as well, but more to the point, the cooler weather means things smell better. The effect is particularly noticeable along the dog-park section of Dallas Road and at Thetis Lake’s unsanctioned dog beach.

I realize dogs (and their owners) need a place to be dogs (and owners) and to socialize with their kind, but after 30-plus days of blue skies and warm temperatures, the resulting accumulations of ammonia, methane and, well, toilet can make the driest eyes water and the strongest stomach clench.

Rain and cooler temperatures help dampen the fumes of the dog days of summer.

But let’s get something straight. The phrase “dog days” does not refer to Fido or his doo-doo. Nor does it describe Rover’s snooze-all-day-in-the-shade summer behaviour.

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed Sirius — the Dog Star, not the radio satellite — influenced summer weather.

When I mentioned this to Nature Boy, he looked at me blankly, then burst out: “That’s impossible. Sirius (the star) is a winter star. At this time of year, it’s barely over the horizon.”

Yup. Sirius is the largest and brightest star in Canis Major, and this, the Big Dog constellation, chases the constellation Orion the-hunter-with-the-studded-belt across the winter sky.

At this time of year, the sun’s light hides Sirius, except just before dawn. At that time of day, at this time of year, if you peer toward the east, near where the sun will first peep over the Earth’s curve, a bright, party-coloured star glimmers just above the horizon.

That’s Sirius, the Dog Star, the bright, glowing heart of the Big Dog constellation.

The observant ancients noticed the hottest days of the year coincided with the star’s appearance in the same part of the sky as the sun, just before dawn.

They concluded that the celestial canine must exert some constructive force on our star. The word “Sirius” comes from the Greek for “scorching” or “glowing.”

Because it lies so close to the horizon at this time of year, you see it through a shallower angle of atmosphere than the stars above. The water and dust and everything else in the atmosphere act like a gelatin filter on a stage light, altering Sirius’s colour and causing it to twinkle. It shimmers and glints, and can glow green, red, yellow or white.

This changeability led the ancients to believe Sirius not only made the sun go into heat, but caused people down here on Earth to go off their rockers.

Anybody working in an office without air conditioning or cooling breezes this July knows that heat can make concentration difficult and patience in shorter supply.

Many hot-climate cultures accommodate this effect of heat on productivity by institutionalizing longer lunch breaks that push the end of the work day into cooler, more productive hours of the evening.

Noel Coward captured the sentiment with “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,” and acknowledged that the English, and most northern cultures, “detest-a the siesta.”

Although Sirius appears to be a single point of light to us, it’s actually two stars dancing in tight orbit around each other. We see Sirius A, the bigger, brighter star. Its companion is a much dimmer white dwarf star, nicknamed the Pup.

Preceding Canis Major in pursuit of Orion-the-hunter across the sky is another marker named for our loyal, four-legged friends: Canis Minor, or the Small Dog constellation.

The dog days of summer might refer to celestial phenomena, not our pets, but long-ago European sky-watchers commemorated the likes of Fido and Rover in the heavens.

Long before orbiting cremation satellites and space burials became possible or even affordable, as was announced this week by new high-tech memorial startup Elysium Space, the ancients affected a general glorification for all canine companions in our lives — whatever the season.

Or the temperature.

Read this editorial in the Victoria Times Colonist….

Victoria from cathedral tower, 1897, from http://www.vintag.es/2012/09/old-photographs-of-canada-from-1858-1935.html

Victoria from cathedral tower, 1897, before the mudflats where the Empress now stands were filled in and the causeway built. Victoria was home to a thriving opium-processing industry at this time, yielding substantial revenues for the federal government in Ottawa.

Four former mayors of Vancouver, three former attorneys-general, and municipal councils. All have gone on record supporting the decriminalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana in British Columbia. And now Federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has pushed debate on the issue one step further, stating the drug should be legalized.

And thanks to all these letters and statements, residents of Greater Victoria get to watch history repeating itself. We have front-row seats in this latest development in our region’s long historical association with officially sanctioned production and trade in drugs.

For almost 50 years, beginning in the 1860s, Victoria reigned as the opium capital of the New World. Fifteen Chinese-owned refineries operated between Herald and Johnson streets in the late-1880s, and employed dozens of workers. In one year alone, they refined about 41,000 kg of opium. Okay, nowhere near the magnitude of output of B.C. Bud today, but significant for the time. …

Read the rest of this article in the Victoria Times Colonist….

Spring greens grow. Photo by James Mann, www.backyardgardeningtips.com

As a child of Depression-era children, I experienced the annual toil of backyard gardening early on. Mostly reluctantly, and only because the alternative to spending summer Saturday mornings outside among the lettuces, carrots and beans was spending that time scrubbing toilets and cleaning the weekly hairball out of the shower drains.

Despite the eloquent persuasiveness of that choice, no under-18s in the household at that time considered weeding a privilege.

Now, however, older, wiser and much busier, we each find ourselves spending time mucking around in the dirt to grow our own fodder. Our kitchen gardens range from year-round herbs for seasoning, to seasonal salad fixin’s, to more ambitious items like vegetables and fruit.

Just having the time to muck around is a treat.

It also helps that produce you produce tastes better. Even a little garden parsley and rosemary in soup creates freshness for the taste buds. Potatoes, peas, corn and carrots cooked and eaten within minutes of being picked exist in taste categories on their own.

There’s also the feeling of moral superiority and self satisfaction of getting the ultimate scoop on the 100-mile diet. Footprints from garden plot to soup pot: 20. Carbon footprint: Zero.

You can’t get much more local than that.


Read the rest of this editorial in the Victoria Times Colonist


Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable