Points North

By James Fife

I never thought that buying our home in James Bay would develop into a crusade of sorts, but bit by bit, it now clearly has become a 'mission' for us both. The nature and origin of that curious attitude is the subject of this installment.

I like to believe I'm a tad bit less selfish than the average person, but I'm no Mother Theresa either. The usual degree of 'me-first' is tempered by a stronger sense of duty to others that I've had from way back. But it never entered my mind that buying a home in James Bay would ever be an act of altruism. The germ of the idea to buy a retirement home here was very spontaneous, but once the decision was made, it was on the clear basis that we were buying our retirement home. After all, retirement is one of those near-totally self-centered events in our lives. For some people, it's one of the few times where they stop and do something major for themselves, rather than for the benefit of others. So, neither Marilyn nor I had anything in our thought processes during the 'plunge' to buy that resembled any concern for others. This one was for Us.

After the hubbub of the purchase and the renovation was over, however, an unsuspected aspect of our new ownership of a home in Victoria began to bubble to the top. We knew that we liked our new home and city very much, and we repeated the reasons frequently, as people asked why we bought a home 1,000 miles away. But as we went on about our justifications, we realized we were making a pitch, as we ended each explanation with, "So, you should come up there yourselves and see." This was the seed of the new interest in providing a place for guests to stay and see BC.

Eventually the need to explain was taken over by the pure desire to inspire others to come visit. At first, this was aided by several joking inquiries (getting more serious as election day approached) as to whether we had a spare bedroom in Canada to receive refugees from down south. But our focus on inspiring friends and acquaintances to see Vancouver Island just grew and grew, and with it, our enthusiasm for Victoria and a continuing appreciation of the great features of Home North. We eventually found that every time someone raised the subject of James Bay, we began to enthuse uncontrollably, ending with the exhortation to come, see, enjoy.

I'll give just two examples of how the idea for a 'retirement' home had morphed into one of a 'guest' home. Marilyn is not to be underrated as a creative force. When she gets an idea in her head, she'll run with it and come up with a result that is original and impressive in its stylish quality. In this case, it started with a pretty mundane idea that maybe we ought to leave a few notes to guests about how things work in the home and some tips for a better stay. Well, that's all that Marilyn needed. She spent hours at the kitchen table plugging away at the computer. The result was a guest info pamphlet that would make any hotelier envious at its design and usefulness. Marilyn printed out several copies of a full-colour, multi-page booklet with pictures and bulleted information about operating the appliances, where to find guest linens, and all sort of useful facts, combined with a listing of our favourite James Bay sights, merchants, and eateries. It was very obviously over the top. But the fact that she plunged into a pretty simple task with such gusto and the near inability to finding any tid-bit that could be left out again showed the way our affection for Victoria had hit near manic levels.

Second example: I'm not known for being very forthcoming in conversation, particularly about myself. People who know me get used to pretty short and concise answers about most things, tempered by a certain level of rambling that is a left-over, occupational disease from my former academic days. So, it must have been very surprising recently when a co-worker casually asked me how things were going in Canada and when we expected to visit again. My answer started out casual enough, but something unconscious took over, and without even realizing it, I was telling her about not just the status of our place, but then how we were looking forward to going next, then to why, and before you know it, I'm gushing again about what you can do there, how it is so different from Vancouver (where she had been before and loved), to what else was available on the Island, even to the ways of getting to Victoria (the various sea and air routes), etc. I may have gone all the way back to James Douglas, I can't tell—I was in a trance, apparently. When I finally paused for a breath, my co-worker looked at me bemused and said simply, "Well, you should get a commission from the Victoria tourist board for making it all sound so great."

These episodes made us admit that, as much as we subliminally liked Victoria over the 15 years since our first visit, we were now definitely smitten. It must be sincere and not just a passing impression, because it was coming to the surface so spontaneously. Of course, in our sober moments, we are fully aware that Victoria is not Paradise; it has its share of problems, like all places. There's the Tent City, the drug epidemic, the Bridge, the sewer circus, even the (so Canadian) issue of the Helmcken exchange Bunny-gate. We are not blind to these things. But, like our reaction to the legendary Canadian politeness, it's not so much a blindness as a winking, a choice to see the best and downplay the less nice, to take people and places at their best, and not classify them by the lowest common denominator. Perhaps that is a lot like tourist-bureau boosterism, but, at least in our case, I now know it is sincere and real, because it just comes out, unbidden, when someone ventures to ask.

So, we are happy to have become, and recognized to have become, semi-ambassadors for James Bay and its environs. And we are happy to encourage others to get a slice of Victoria. Maybe it is just a way of reassuring ourselves that we are not crazy, that it really is a wonderful place full of large and small delights. And if we can do a bit to pay it back by encouraging others to go see it and to aid that process by doing our part to see that our guests get a warm welcome while there, then I feel we are just doing the Canadian thing and giving back a little for what we have generously received. Well, maybe we should ask about that tourist board commission after all.