Childhood Musings and the North (Of BC)

Towns, cities, villages, settlements have always interested me. I remember visiting with my friend Jon when we were younger (early teens) and talking about what makes a town. Why some grow, and others shrink, and what creates a community. This was during PM Harpers big Arctic push and we were debating whether it would be possible to grow a city in the far north. How to attract people, how you’d create jobs, issues with permafrost and freezing temperatures. (Yeah, we were strange ones).

I hadn’t thought about that in a long time until this Christmas season when visiting the in-laws. E and I were going to visit her parents on a lighthouse where they work for the coast guard. We drove from the southern tip of Vancouver Island to just shy of the Northern Tip.  It’s about five hundred kilometers from Victoria to Port Hardy. We passed through many towns I had lived in previously and it was fun to see how they have grown in the years since I left. Campbell River is becoming a fair sized city and it was interesting to see how it has changed in the last ten years. Port Hardy on the other hand seemed like a sad community and it started me once again thinking about what makes one place grow and another stagnate or shrink.

I at first thought that maybe Port Hardy could be the same as any northern township in BC, but then we sailed to Prince Rupert.

The trip to Prince Rupert was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone. The inside passage is five hundred kilometers of serene landscapes. It was a peaceful journey that I feel helped me connect with the settlers and explorers or British Columbia. It became clear why certain parts of the coast are settled and others not. Cliffs. Everywhere along the trip are steep islands that have no safe landing. Beautiful though. The trip is dotted with shuttered canneries and occasionally an indigenous settlement.

I like Prince Rupert. It’s a small town of 12,000 people or so. Small, lively, and hopeful. We went to the cities museum to explore the history of the north. I think what set Prince Rupert apart from Port Hardy was this sense of hope and optimism that permeated the town. The museum was a demonstration that the people of Prince Rupert have predicted their success since its founding in the early twentieth century. (This is despite many set backs). And it once again looks like the city will start prospering. The Port cuts days off shipping from Asia and the port has expanded a couple years ago and is looking to do so again. The town has also attracted the ludicrous cruise ship business.

View from the Lighthouse tower that was the reason for this trip.

It seems obvious that what makes a town thrive is a good economy, but I think it’s more than that it’s the hope that a person gets when they feel useful and success. What ever that means.

Although, One pilot we spoke to said the best feature of the town was that there are many ways to get out of it. Rail, ship, flight, and driving. Although I’m not sure that is a ringing endorsement.




Greece Part II

What really struck me in Greece and has lingered in my mind since then is nationalism in Greece. Museums, art galleries, archaeological digs enable a country to create their narrative and create a unified sense of self, this seemed to be entirely lacking on the Peloponnese.

Greece’s modern sense of nationhood is rooted in the Ancient world, as the founders of Western Democracy, political thought, and theatre, just listing a couple. And each city still seemed to view itself in terms of independent city-states. There is no unified narrative among Greece’s cultural institutions, Each city we visited: Athens, Acro-Corinth, Nafplio, Mystras, Nafpaktos, Delphi, showed why their own history was superiour to their neighbour. Reading plaques  on the history of the wars with Persia was what initially had me intrigued. Athens museums showcased that city as being the key to defeating the Persians and has little mention of allies. Acro-Corinth did the same thing, barely mentioning other city-states contribution to defending Greece. I saw this time and again on the trip.

On our trip we met up with a Greek professor and over coffee I asked her a little bit about how Greeks view themselves. Dr. E told me how in Athens few people actually identified themselves as Athenian. She explained how Greece had rapidly urbanised, but the connection to the home village was still strong. She herself had grown up in Athens, but saw herself as from her families ancestral home in the Peloponnese.

I wonder whether some of the modern disconnected narratives of Greece are rooted in the fact that city-states were independent actors. If a country is using that kind of myth as its base identity does it not invite fraction? When Greece revolted it was the first time an independent Greek state had existed for two thousand years (the Byzantine and Latin Empires were arguably not Greek but Frankish, Italian, and Roman). Oh to go back in time and find out whether Greeks in the 19th century viewed themselves as those ancient Greeks who gave us so much.

Part of my conundrum is that I am sitting in Canada, I am Canadian, and the idea of having a history that reaches back millennia  is befuddling. Our history as a state goes back 150 years, with settlement occurring somewhere in the last 400 years. Presently on Vancouver Island a fringe on the periphery of Canada was only considered for settlement in the mid 19th century. For most of Canada’s history our identity was as a part of the British Empire and this continued on after Confederation. The massive settlement of the Prairies at the start of the 20th century as well as the gold rushes in British Columbia took all the energy of the government, there was little concern with nationalism.

Often we attribute Canadian nationhood to the Great War and the Canadian Corps, baptism of fire and all that. But even then I wonder whether this is a modern myth that didn’t take root until the 20’s or 30’s. What makes us Canadian is hard to say but it is a growing concept.

Greece on the other might have too much to work with, or maybe being occupied by various kingdoms and people washed away unity, and like Canada is struggling to find a modern sense of self.


For most of last year Elsie and I joked about going to Greece for research. It remained a joke until she mentioned it to her professor who got agreed it would lend her thesis credence. So to Greece we went.

This wasn’t going to be a the long sojourn of the year previous where we hopped from country to country and city to city. No. We spent nearly three weeks going around the Peloponnese, to villages, castles, resorts, and archaeological sites.

Elsie had decided the towns she wanted to go to and I planned how to get there. This sounds easy, but may have been some of the most difficult planning I have ever had to do. Unfortunately. the Greek government has ended train service on the Peloponnese; unfortunately, there are no online bus schedules; unfortunately, Greek bus stops and stations don’t appear on google maps (or any other map); unfortunately, Greek bus lines charge extortionate fees to call and don’t speak English. Fortunately, I am stubborn. With no little stress I managed to plan transit between small towns in Greece.

And with barely a week before we flew out I decided to learn Greek. I hate being illiterate, in the Germanic and Dutch countries I can muddle through because of the similarities with English, in Italy I got through with the similarities to French and English. But in Czechia and Turkey I was lost, it sucked. So I picked up some Greek. Learned their alphabet, the phonetics, and some sentence structure. I can stress enough how useful this was, it helped with travel, finding places, and general comfort.

Athens, oh what to say about Athens, it was hot (47 degrees), grimy, and busy. The largest city in Greece, but a city that no one admits to being from. (Eva explained to me that many Athenians identify more with the village their parents were from than Athens, a result of massive urbanisation). Despite this we actually enjoyed the city. The only time we felt we were in a tourist trap was when we were at the Parthenon, apparently the only site people go to in Athens. While most people seem to focus on the Parthenon the city has many other attractions, many ruins to explore, and fantastic museums (Benaki, archaeological, Byzantine, and the Parthenon museum). My personal favorite was the Byzantine-Christian museum, it gave a truer image of modern Greek national identity than any previous site, plus… it has air conditioning. Oh and we met up with Elsie’s professors and children, they showed us around the city and took us out for a nice dinner before we headed in different directions.

From Athens we went to Acro-Corinth. We explored the ancient ruins in the village and hiked up the mountain to the fortress. Yeah, that was insane, it was a five kilometer trek which doesn’t sound bad, but in the heat and glaring sun, the steep roads, and our general out-of-shapeness, it was insane. And once we got to the castle it continued to be uphill. Eventually we made it to the top of the tower, and oh man what a vista. DSC_6080

And here is what we climbed.DSC_6093.JPG

Quite invigorating

From Acro-Corinth we traveled to one of the reasons for the trip. Nafplio.

We met back up with Elsie’s professors at this point. We had frappe and chatted about the town, what to look for and the history of the Greek revolution. And then they were off to Monemvasia.

In Nafplio we got down to business, finding and documenting Ottoman ruins, and gaining  a sense of scope. We hiked up another mountain to a Venetian castle. There were a lot of stairs.dsc_6131.jpg

We climbed up, and up, and up. Then it started to downpour and thunder, so we climbed down, and down, and down.

There are actually three castles in Nafplio, so we went to the older Byzantine one and played archaeologist. We found layouts of old buildings, potter sherds, and a some mysteries. We came across a couple concrete circles and stood there debating what they were. I eventually realised they must have been gun emplacements from the second world war (this was later confirmed). Elsie wouldn’t let me go into the bunker. Probably a good decision.

The site was very open and so we wandered into places we probably shouldn’t have, but it was in the name of learning!DSC_6228.JPG

From Nafplio we Bused to Sparti and Mystras, but that will have to wait until next time.

Take Off

So here we are, after hours of planning our trip Elsie and I are leaving and won’t be back until May. Our first country to explore is England where Elsie will ooh and aww at art while I debate how much trouble I’d get in if I touched the Rosetta stone. But before all that we have hours of flight between Victoria and London. Hopefully I can keep those updated that wish to be and sneak in a picture or two to keep things interesting. Excuse me while I go and check in.