Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Its A-Boat Time!

Sidney is a seaport town. It owes its very existence to the waters that surround the settlement at the northern tip of the Saanich Peninsula just above Victoria. Natives used wooden canoes to harvest the bounty of the sea for centuries, and clamming was once a huge activity in the area. When European settlement began some 150 years ago, the local rainforests were cleared for farming and industrial operations, but the waters were still used for transportation and deep-water fishing. Sidney was a favoured spot for settlement due to the many safe harbours in the area. Since the end of World War II both the fishing and local manufacturing industries have declined, but Sidney found new life as a bedroom community and a retirement area. It also serves as a transportation hub to the island with the construction of Victoria’s International Airport and the growth of the large BC Ferry port at Schwartz Bay. Furthermore, while today there are relatively few commercial fishing vessels operating in the area, Sidney has become a favourite moorage for the thousands of avid pleasure boaters who enjoy the sparkling Pacific waters all about.

Thus, when we moved here it was no surprise to discover the huge number of boats clustered in marina throughout the area. There is only very limited moorage in the Victoria area itself, and there are almost no other marinas on the entire southern tip of Vancouver Island except for the Sidney area. Boaters flock to the town to gain access to the waters and to enjoy the scenery and wildlife that is all about.

While this interest in boating was anticipated, one side-effect of all of this nautical activity was not.

We live in a townhouse just two short blocks from Sidney’s the main street. Our immediate surroundings are mostly 3 – 4 story, low-rise apartment buildings. However, just a short stroll to the ‘burbs’ the housing stock shifts to single-family bungalow s built in the 1950s and 1960s housing boom. And just what do the local put on their large, 100-by-50-foot, manicured and pampered lots? As expected, there are many pristine sets of Lawn Smurf and Garden Gnome figures proudly displayed, and one can even find examples of the not-politically-correct Black Jockey holding either the fishing rod or the lantern. And there are always those who have a desire to slap down the phoney Wishing Well on their lawn, or even go all out with the Ferry Doors and the garden dwarf set, as if to suggest that they have a colony of midgets living just outside their doorstep. Likewise, frogs, dragonflys, sundials and even a badly-cements pile of old rocks passing as an Inukshuk abound. (How on earth did that ever become the symbol of the 2010 Winter Games, anyway? If we really wanted a symbol of Canada, it should have been a Stubby Beer Bottle!) About the only thing missing from this Showcase of Suburbia are the once-dominant Pink Flamingos. That fad seems to have run its course, and lacked the obvious staying power of other lawn decorations for the obsessive.

So all of this was not a surprise to us; in fact, the clutter of lawn kitch kind of fits right in with the all-season white plastic Icicle Lighting left dangling from the eavesthroughs.
However, what is remarkable is that there is a completely different item adorning many suburban lots in Sidney. In fact, so pervasive are the numbers of this unique item plunked down on local lawns that they far exceed all of the Tacky Lawn Decorations to be found in the area.

And just what is this thing?

Boats! Boats, watercraft, sailboats and even commercial vessels are plunked down everywhere; right in the middle of the lawn. While there are also a large number of Trailers, Bush Buggies, Campers and RVs scattered about, it is the number and diversity of boats parked on the lawns that is quite startling to non-locals.

I have lived in areas such as Ottawa where boating is quite popular, but never have I seen more than a handful of boats parked on a suburban lot, and these situations were always temporary in nature. No doubt municipal prohibit the parking of such craft in other than designated sites. Obviously, such is not the case here; boats are parked everywhere. Many of them have been rusting in various states of disrepair ever since we moved here. It seems that the ability just to look out one’s window and gaze on the family hulk is sufficient to remind the owner of the pleasant ocean days spent cruising the local waters. No need to actually keep the boat up, and why bother to haul it down to the ocean once in a while? You just have to park the hulk outside the picture window, and enjoy the view all year round.

So beloved by the locals is the sight of a beached boat rotting and rusting on dry land that they have even taken it upon themselves to haul the carcass of the poor old Wanda, a once-proud commercial fishing boat, to the local McDonalds restaurant parking lot at the corner of the main street and the highway to Victoria. There the wretched relic blisters under the searing sun, gets pelted by winter rain-storms, lies humiliated by the potted plants plopped down on its failing decks, gags in the choking auto fumes from the adjacent highway, and serves as a valuable training ground for would-be vandals and aspiring local taggers.

The mere sight of a neglected and decaying beached boat is deemed an appropriate welcoming site for visitors to our little town, where it is no doubt hoped that the woeful wreckage will inspire others to tour the many similarily displayed watercraft on display throughout the town.

All of these photos of beached blight were taken within a few blocks to the north of our home. Trust me; there are many, many more such parked piles of mis-spent passion elsewhere in Sidney. Just at the end of our block there is even the astonishing sight of a large commercial vessel towering in the backyard of a corner lot undergoing what appears to be a compete rebuild. I don’t know the name of the vessel’s owner, but if it were ‘Noah’, I would not bat an eye.

So, to a city guy like me, all this is a very different aspect of local culture. However, to the long-time citizens of the town it is simply part of everyday life here, and they are entirely oblivious to the novelty of it all. So welcome to Sidney, where you can have a Hull of a good time with the crafty locals!

Meanwhile, a little story about Sidney.

When we first moved in, a friendly neighbour made a point of telling us about the local schedule for garbage, re-cycle and garden waste pickup. She concluded the talk with the words; 'So, this Thursday you will get to meet Smokey, our local garbage man!'

Wow, I thought that was pretty cool; the little town is so friendly that the locals even know the name of the their garbageman!

So that Thursday, right on schedule, our faithful garbageman showed up in his big truck to pick up the refuse left at the curb. I had gone out to retrieve our container and I had even thought of thanking 'Smokey', until I suddenly realized that I had been had!

'Smokey' was there all right, along with the ever-present lit cigarette dangling from his lower lip! I have seen 'Smokey' on and off for some 30 months now, but never in all of that time have I ever seen him without the fag dangling precariously as he goes about his business.

It seems that the locals still have the ability to put one over on those smarty-pant city slickers!

Still More Signs Of Confusion.

This one was take in North Vancouver. Even dogs are given their due in the ever-inclusive culture of the West Coast.

This one was on the highway just outside of Saskatoon. Denizens of the Easiest Province To Draw always were a pragmatic and practical lot!

I found this creature at a Farmers Market on the highway to Naniamo. Obviously the species has adapted to a more urban setting, with their large paved areas.

This was taken at a scenic pull-off in Victoria. From the Saskatchewan license plate I have to conclude that they don’t have angle parking in that province. It appears that the poor driver doesn’t know what is indicated by those strange white lines in the parking lot.

Douglas A;
Out Sidney Way;
Saying 'TTFN!'