A Love Affair to Remember

by Margaret Deefholts

My love affair with the city of Victoria has lasted for more than 20 years.

As in most love-affairs where distance lends enchantment, every visit brings a flutter of anticipation, the thrill of re-exploring the familiar, and the pleasure of discovering the new.

Tourist brochures describe Victoria as "quaint" and "charming". True. But in addition to cliche prettiness Victoria also has an aura of old-world elegance. It is a city, and yet it is not.

The layout of the downtown core pays lip service to the North American grid system, but a five minute walk can take you into tranquil residential areas with wayward roads wandering uphill and around corners, and dappled sidewalks flanked by laurel hedges, spreading trees and ivy-covered heritage homes.

Part of the joy of visiting this my favourite B.C. city is getting there. As my ferry approaches Active Pass, I go out on deck, breathe in the salt tanged air, watch gulls swooping past the ship, and take in the spectacular scenery of the gulf islands wooded hills with cottages half-hidden between the trees, marinas with spanking boats moored alongside, and the occasional bald eagle perched majestically on a high branch, its feathers ruffled by the wind. The sky is milky with thin clouds and the water grey-blue rippled.

Despite the city's wealth of sight-seeing attractions, the Royal B.C. Museum lies at the heart of my fascination with Victoria. It is a museum like no other.

Where else but here can you linger in an astonishingly realistic rain forest, stand a few feet away from liquid-eyed seals, or gaze at a cross-section of a clod of earth magnified hundreds of thousands of times over, to reveal the miracle of insect and small animal life that exists within it.

Or wander along a turn-of-the-century cobbled street, drop in to watch a black-and-white vintage movie clip and stand at a little railway station while a phantom train thunders past the windows, and just a short walk away peer down an alley way in old Chinatown to hear the clack of mah-jong dice in a gambling den.

The museum's First Nations section is unique encompassing as it does a wealth of artifacts and images from museums and private collections, and is the result of a partnership between the Museum and a first Nations group presenting its own story in its own voice.

Within the first few minutes, I am drawn into the soul of a people whose legends, rituals, art and traditions honour the land, the wind, the sky, the Thunderbird, the whale and the wolf. They are represented in symbolic, styalized designs on sacred ceremonial curtains, masks, head-dresses, rattles and woven hats. The exibits are powerful in their simplicity, poignant in the message of universal harmony with the ntatural world; a world of people who are strands in the weft of nature, not in its weaver.

As a certain Billy Shakespeare once said, "parting is such sweet sorrow," and I leave Victoria reluctantly. But like most faithful admirers, I will be back in a heartbeat!