Victoria’s Secrets – Canada

No, not the lingerie kind. The kind held by the small city which is the capital of British Columbia, dwarfed by wet mainland Vancouver, island-based, charming. I was back for a visit after about 12 years, stopping off on my way to family near Edmonton, capital of neighboring Alberta province.

I biked here with a good friend almost exactly 30 years ago: first a train to Jasper in the Rocky Mountains, then cycling down to Banff and east. In 3 weeks of leisurely mountain-biking and tenting we had only a 2-hour stretch of rain and that was as we were heading into Kamloops to stay indoors with friends.

We slacked off for 3 days, losing some of that hard-won tone, then compounded the mistake by setting lazily off at hot midday. The huge, long uphills of the dry Coquihalla Highway dried us out, and we began looking longingly at dirty puddles for water. Pressing on in desperation, we finally found a proper campsite as dark was falling: saved, just!

Within 24 hours of arriving in nearby Sidney, we had perfect jobs in Victoria, driving Kabuki Kabs’ pedicabs, which are foot-powered tourist taxis. This lasted a few necessary weeks before something better turned up as the tourist season was winding down.

We lived in my friend’s grandparents’ caravan in their driveway. Literally a stone’s throw away was the Pacific, a long, stony but quite comb-able beach, which I would walk almost every free morning I had. The thing which I will never forget about these strolls, aside from the endless variety which the ocean would throw up for inspection, was the smell. It might have been mostly seaweed going off, but I detected just salt air. If I could bottle this aroma, I would; it might be the main thing I miss landscape-wise in Svaneti. My friend took me back to the exact same spot on this trip, and again, despite the changed surroundings of 3 decades later, I marveled at the air and its power to snap one back to the time of the associated memories.

Victoria has North America’s second-oldest Chinatown, and seems to be booming. After 3 days I bus/ferried back to Vancouver, where another old friend met me for the Great Road Trip back to Spruce Grove, Alberta. For much of this, we retraced the cycles of that Great Bike Trip of summer 1989, and I marveled at the crazy long hills outside Kamloops again: Did we really bike up those? Well, we were 22, invincible, and yes, we did. Our biked weighed more than we did, but we weren’t going for speed, just for the comfort of mountain bikes. Our shortest days were about 50 km, our longest one 120 and the average 80. We were in such good shape when we finished!

If I ever resettled in Canada, I would choose the West Coast. It’s much milder than the Siberian interior where the rest of my Canadian family live; more expensive; more eclectic, wacky spiritually; it has both the mountains and the ocean, even though I admit the water’s far too cold for more than a splash on even the hottest days. Fruit abounds. Driftwood delights. Sand, salt, sculpture.

Oh, there is the top end of the infamous San Andreas Fault running up there too; rumbling in Richter 6s and 7s down south of late, and threatening to swallow Vancouver Island into the sea if The Big One comes, as apparently eventually it must. The losses would be millions of people. But might it be quick? It might, I suppose, and be more merciful to those submerged than to survivors. So every place has its pluses and minuses, and in my scorebook, the Island still comes out in the black. For now, Georgia remains my chosen home and this only an occasional visiting place. I’m content.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

11 July 2019 18:12