Monday, October 29, 2007

Across the water is the place for me
Oct. 26, 2007

As beautiful as the Capital Region is, it has taken me a long time to click into this place. I’m a Courtenay girl originally, and there’s not much that feels familiar in Greater Victoria if you hail from just about anywhere else on the Island.
But then my partner and I moved to Esquimalt in early 2006. And for whatever reason, things just kind of fell into place.
All of a sudden, I find myself taking an interest in goings-on in my community. Before I moved here, I wasn’t even sure what my “community” was.
I’ve recently caught myself reading with great interest about the proposed redevelopment of the local shopping mall, and pondering what kind of retail mix I’m secretly hoping for. I care about how things will turn out at Kinsmen Gorge Park after new facilities are added, and whether one of my favourite bird-watching fields along one side of the park will be affected.
Those are healthy signs. If I live here, I ought to care about what’s going on in my community. I should be paying attention, and feeling engaged.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve felt that level of engagement all along, on behalf of whatever neighbourhood I was living in at the time. But in all my years in the region, I just never felt the love until I moved to Esquimalt.
I’ve cast my lot in with several communities in the region since moving here in 1989. First came Sooke, then Highlands, albeit a mere electoral district in those days. I lived in the Hillside area for a while before finally settling in Saanich for 14 years, most of it spent in Gordon Head.
We lived in a perfectly nice neighbourhood there, and I don’t mean to suggest that there’s something wrong with Gordon Head. But I admit to feeling like a visitor all those years. It’s hard to pin down what makes a community feel like it’s the right fit for you; all I know is that I couldn’t find mine.
For the longest time, I thought it was just the way it had to be. After all, our region is a final, fabulous stop for people from around the world, all of whom come with their own definition of the “perfect” community.
For that reason alone, it’s always going to be a challenge to build community in our region. With a few exceptions, we tend to be a community of people from other communities. We have a common love for the scenery and climate of the southern Island, but that’s really not much to go on when it comes to community development.
One night maybe two or three years ago, I found myself on the way back home from somewhere and needing to run into the drug store at Colwood Corners. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time, but something must have been in the air that evening.
I walked in the door and suddenly it seemed like I was back among people I recognized - people like me, whatever the heck that means. I’d be hard-pressed to define it. But that night, I felt it.
That’s when it dawned on me that I might be living in the wrong part of the region. My “people” lived elsewhere - in the Western Communities, perhaps. Had it not been for the Colwood Crawl and the prospect of tedious daily commutes in creeping traffic, I might have packed up right then and there.
Fortunately, Esquimalt has turned out to be the happy mid-point. I’d been hearing the jokes since I moved to the region about how different things were “across the bridge” and am delighted to discover that indeed, they are.
Is it the proximity to the water? Could be. I suspect my fervour for kayaking has something to do with a daily routine that regularly leads me past eye-catching stretches of the Gorge and Portage. While I have no more of a water view now than I did in Gordon Head, the wonderful scent of the ocean definitely lingers more on this side of town.
Is it the interesting trails in every direction for cycling and walking? Yes, that’s significant. Recent expansion of the Lochside Trail has made a big difference for the Gordon Head area, but for cyclists in particular it’s still difficult to go for a ride without having to endure unpleasant stretches on roads like McKenzie and Shelbourne.
More than anything, I think what I respond to in Esquimalt is the people. It’s not that they’re nicer, or dramatically different from those in other parts of the region. But something about them just reminds me of where I came from.
The funny thing is, I have no urge to return to Courtenay, and barely recognize the old place anymore. But there must be some Courtenay state of being that I’ve been missing all these years, and for some reason the people on this side of the bridge just seem to bring it to mind more often.
Home. Nice to finally find a neighbourhood where that word feels like it fits.

1 comment:

Ian Lidster said...

Good stuff. I've been following your series avidly.