Sunday, October 31, 2010

Vic West

Vancouver is a much larger city than Victoria by a few orders of magnitude, and yet as a cab driver who worked in both cities I can vouch for the fact that Victoria is much the harder to learn. Vancouver has a few peculiarities but it is mostly built on a grid pattern. Outside of the downtown areas most of the east -west streets are numbered and the north-south streets have names. Kingsway, the original route to New Westminster, is the main peculiarity because it runs diagonally to the grid pattern. This confuses the newcomer but the numbering system is still fairly logical. The other peculiarity is that the numbering of addresses don't correspond to the street numbers. Broadway, which would be 9th if it had a number, is actually the 2500 block.
Victoria is the elder of the two and until the transcontinental railroads came along it was also the larger. Victoria is full of Kingsways, and unlike Kingsway our off kilter streets are short, change names, and seldom follow straight lines. We have a numbering system but it's very difficult to make any sense of it. And we don't have any numbered streets. Well, we do have a Fifth street. No Third, Sixth or any other, only a Fifth.
Victoria is essentially a 20th Century city grafted onto a 19th Century city. We have grids but they are small and isolated from each other. That's because our main streets were originally roads to farms and other parts of the Island. In an era of horse transportation it obstacles such as hills were circumvented. Like Kingsway, the roads gradually became streets. Street cars made it easier for people to get to town and so the spaces between farms gradually filled in and smaller streets were built to service the new houses. Then as the population became denser the farms were converted to smaller lots for residential construction. All this took place very haphazardly, different stages at different times without any overall plan. That's why the older neighbourhoods have houses of many different styles and ages.
We're in the post industrial age now... or I should say environmentalists and big unions have pushed the industrial age over to China where neither the environment nor the worker count for much. The downtown side of the Upper Harbour is still quite industrial. Not everything can be shunted off to China. The Vic West side is quickly becoming yuppified. Formerly the area was covered with railroad yards. There has been an interruption in this process due to the recession, but it has changed drastically since I have been here. The rail yards were gone but not much had come along to replace them. Some marine related industry remained but it was otherwise derelict. Now it is decidedly upscale. I would call it an entry level settlement for the upwardly mobile. And it is a lovely area close to downtown and to a new office/residential complex on the other side of the Selkirk Bridge, either way easily walkable along the Galloping Goose Trail, now nicely paved and cobbled with landing spots for kayaks and racing shells. A regatta was underway on Saturday.
Vic West historically has been on the 'wrong side of the tracks.' It remains to be seen if the new development will succeed in promoting it. To a casual visitor Vic West seems to be in Esquimalt. At the end of Esquimault Rd is the west coast headquarters of the Canadian Navy. Along the Gorge Water side of Vic West the border is at Arm Street, in fact in the middle of arm street, one side of which is in Victoria and the other in Esquimalt. And since the numbering of streets is different in Esquimalt, the 1400 block on one side will be the 900 block on the other. Very exasperating for a new cab driver. But I have grown to love the wonderful illogicality of Victoria.
I'm glad to see some liveaboard boats moored in the Gorge again. That surprised me. There used to be many more but several years ago complaints from shore dwellers led to their eviction. So how is it that they are back? Apparently it has been discovered that this particular section of the waterway is still under federal jurisdiction and therefore the city has no authority here. Since most of the people living on the boats were obviously poor, I thought it was strange that the same people who complained probably profess extreme anguish over the homeless problem and the lack of affordable housing. I always liked to see them there when I crossed the Selkirk Bridge. The person who informed me of the new situation was not happy with their presence, and there are important considerations, ie sewage and other wastes, safety, among others. But I think it shows a lot of initiative for a poor person to acquire and maintain a boat. It sure beats camping in parks. It seems to me a bit of intelligent regulation would solve most problems.

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