Vancouver + Toronto = Victoria

7 May 2018 – So here I am, Vancouverite me, at the ferry terminal, about to make the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay crossing that will eventually take me to Victoria. Where I’ll spend a few days with a Toronto friend, who is doing a spot of house- and cat-sitting while there on vacation.

Smooth, easy crossing. I contemplate islands, mountain ranges, all that magic B.C. coastline stuff. Also the ferry’s wake, endlessly spilling out in its endlessly same-but-always-slightly-different patterns. Chaos theory made visible.

That thought would never have occurred, but for yesterday evening’s  BBC documentary, host theoretical physicist Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, on quantum physics, chaos theory and the natural world.

So, at least temporarily, I “read” the wake with a more appreciative eye.

Nothing temporary about my appreciation for cats! The house cat is a charmer, and — when not asleep in his basket — amazingly lithe for an 18-year-old.

Much to appreciate outdoors as well. We are in Vic West, just across the Upper Harbour from the heart of downtown.

Downtown can wait; today we stay on our side, walking on up the Galloping Goose Trail along the Gorge Waterway. Total delight.

Joggers, runners, speedy cyclists (in their speedy-cyclist lane), mums & tots, oldies with canes — and, of course, a happy young guy snoozing under a tree. While racing boats power on by.

We’re down around the Railyards Development, the reinvention of old railway/industrial land with parks, condos, and shops. Simple materials & lines for the buildings, punched up with colour.

Next day, downtown & beyond: our target is a pair of public gardens. One, the grounds around Government House, unknown to me but highly recommended; the other, the Abkhazi Garden, a remembered enchantment.

But first, into downtown via the Johnson St. bridge — the new one, that is, open barely a month and the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada. (One of the largest in the world, come to that, at just under 46 metres.)

I’m not thinking about that. I don’t even know that, not yet. I’m just enjoying its sleek, white curving lines, and their contrast with the blocky heft of the old bridge, now being dismantled.

We walk waterside along Wharf St. for a bit, dancing around sidewalk reconstruction. Reconstruction with a commemorative purpose, I see, when I focus for a moment on the bricks in the nearest wheelbarrow.

I don’t know the story. I don’t know who these people are, or why they are being honoured. But I do like the thought of Poppy Franc Rekrut, “Honourable Gentleman,” and of George & John Haggis, “Father Son Sailor.”

We grant ourselves a genteel pause in Murchie’s Tea & Coffee on Government St., where my attention is soon focused on the decidedly ungenteel back alley I glimpse through the window, with its splashy mural.

My friend grins. She knows exactly what will happen after our coffee break. Yes. I tear down the alley, to see that mural close up.


I walk to the end, and discover a less-elegant offering down at the  T-junction. No artistic images here, just the power of the alley-scape as a whole: tagging, wheelies, brick walls, bright orange door.

Right! Time for those public gardens.

It all turns into a 12-km hoof, and worth it, both for the gardens and for sights on quiet residential streets along the way.

This neatly clipped rose, for example, tucked carefully into someone’s front-yard fence.

Gates to Government House: suitably dignified, armorial and splendid for the home of the provincial Lieutenant Governor. Even the logistical announcements — hours, leash-your-dog — are dignified.

Another notice on the adjacent railing explains why it is a good idea to obey the rules, and keep Fido on leash.

See? Fido vs. Deer in Rut? We all know who’d win.

The grounds are wonderful, we linger, we enjoy, we blink for a while on a bench, and then we walk on (with occasional guidance from passing pedestrians), making our way to the Abkhazi Garden on Fairfield Rd.

“The Garden that Love Built,” says a brochure, and for once PR is an understatement.

Exiled Georgian prince crosses paths with young woman in 1920s Paris; they are both interned during World War II (he in Germany, she in Shanghai); post-war she makes her way to Canada and buys a wooded, rocky chunk of land in Victoria. Each thinks the other dead; they find each other again; Prince Nicholas Abkhazi marries Peggy Pemberton-Carter; they spend the rest of their lives developing this garden, its legacy now protected by The Land Conservancy (and many other supporters).

The couple planned their garden from this tiny Summer House at the back of the property, here peek-a-boo through trees toward right rear; only later did they build a modest bungalow home (now the tea room).

We leave only when staff is, literally, closing the gates.

Next day I’m in reverse gear, on a bus to Swartz Bay, starting the trip back home. One last unexpected visual treat, as we wind through the town of Sidney enroute the ferry terminal. Me staring out the window, at nothing in particular …

Crows! Images-of. Look! Dormer windows, this cottage-y little home.

My kinda people.



Into the Islamic Garden

8 July 2015 – I gave you a small taste, last post, a hint of what drew me to revisit the Aga Khan Museum on Saturday.

The museum itself is special, the first devoted to Islamic culture and civilization in all North America, but it is only one of three elements in this extraordinary complex known collectively as the Aga Khan Park. The second element is the adjoining Ismaili Centre; the third is the formal Islamic Garden that, literally, grounds the other two.

It is why I am here.

I had last seen the complex in winter snow. Now, in early summer warmth, I want to see the garden. It has been officially open barely a week: on 29 May, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, whose Foundation caused all this to happen, joined Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for the ceremony.

I could have driven; instead I take the easy but long streetcar ride north-east from downtown. Car or TTC, you enter from busy Wynford Drive. The dome of the Ismaili Centre rises above a tall buffer hedge of conifers.

Ismaili Centre, from Wynford Dr.

You feel you are about to enter another world. Step past the conifers and, yes, you do enter another world — a world, says its creator, Lebanese landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic, of symmetry, geometry and sensations.

Ismaili Centre, from just inside hedge buffer zone

And … a world of water. “Water is the main element of an Islamic garden,” he says.

No splashing fountains. Instead, five large, calm, granite-lined reflecting ponds. Ponds surrounded by serviceberry trees and soft gravel, which — says WordPress blog Ismailimail, serve as “mirrors that draw the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum into the formal garden.”

I am mesmerized by the ponds. This bright, calm day, they are indeed mirrors. I look at the peaceful rows of serviceberry trees; I drop my eyes to look at them again, this time in a pond …

rows of servieberry trees, in a pond

and then I walk between two of those rows, toward the Ismaili Centre. Another pond, another reflection of the Centre.

the Ismaili Centre, from between tree rows

I turn, look back at the Aga Khan Museum. It sits quietly across a bed of gravel, with two more ponds in counterpoint. One, from this angle, is perfectly black. One reflects the museum.

across the gardens, toward the Aga Khan Museum

I step through a different line of trees, and smack! I am up against the park’s other boundary.

How narrow this magic world really is, caught between Wynford Drive on one side and, on the other, the roar of the Don Valley Parkway just past this fence and down an embankment.

from the park, down into the DVP

I double back on myself, back through the trees and, immediately, the DVP disappears. Not just visually, but — and perhaps because visually — psychologically and aurally as well.

Now I see greenspace and hear the soft crunch of gravel beneath my feet.

tree shadows on the gravel

I walk past the Museum itself one more time …

the Aga Khan Museum

and I leave, still entranced by water.

detail, one of the pond edges

The soft murmur of the water, the endless gentle shimmer of the water as it falls away to infinity on all four sides of each pond.

“The park builds on a long established tradition of Islamic gardens and greenspace,” says Ismailimail. “… [T]hese outdoor spaces offer quiet respite in which to pause, reflect and gather.”


    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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