In your heart of hearts, where would you prefer to live, Vancouver or Victoria?
I had that exact question presented to me a few months ago when a potential job opportunity came up on the other side of the Strait of Georgia. I thought about it long and hard, but a few determining factors kept me rooted to this city: my current job, my Vancouver mortgage, and my wife’s professional need as a touring musician to be as close to a major international airport as possible. But Victoria kept creeping back into my mind.
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to ferry over to the Garden City to host the Western Canadian Music Awards at the historic McPherson Playhouse (which is nice, but no Orpheum). The big winner of the night was Tanya Tagaq, the acclaimed throat singer from Nunavut, who took home three trophies. And home isn’t far: Tanya Tagaq has recently moved to Victoria.
Let’s compare. With the rainy season upon us, the first stat that may be of great interest to you is this: Victoria gets twice as much sun and half as much rain as Vancouver. Other perks: Victoria’s housing prices are high, but aren’t Vancouver-crazy. Transit, taxis, and the general cost of living across the board, is cheaper in Victoria. Downtown Victoria has far less density, is easily walkable, and rarely sees a traffic jam (you’ll find that on the highways on the outskirts of town during rush hour). The Garden City is filled with independently-owned restaurants, clothing shops, and bookstores. The neighbourhoods – Cook Street Village, James Bay, Fairfield – all feel extremely livable and relaxing, most with great proximity to the ocean and parks. Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada. Walking under that giant, ornate, Gate of Harmonious Interest, you really do feel transported to another age.
On the flipside, what about the old cliché that Victoria is nothing but “the newlywed and the nearly dead”? There might actually be something to Victoria’s two major demographics being the young and the old: when I was in town, the Rifflandia Music Festival was raging. By night, the entire city was crawling with twenty-something hipsters in Cowichan sweaters. It felt like a cross between South By Southwest and Danger Bay. During the day, the town felt more like a cross between Cocoon and Coronation Street.
Victoria’s ocean beaches are unswimmable: the harbour is too industrial; the ocean temperatures on the outer rim are bone-numbingly freezing that close to the open Pacific Ocean, even at the height of summer. Vancouver has safer, divided, and designated bike lanes. We have big league sports teams and mega concerts. Victoria serves high tea at 4pm. Vancouverites get high at 4pm(ish).
Legendary Victoria punk rock band NoMeansNo were honoured at the awards show, and in their acceptance speech, they probably summed it up best, speaking of the initial creative positives about isolated island living, but noting that they eventually had to leave to follow their career dreams to the next level. In other words, for the upwardly mobile middle stages of life, living by the schedules of ferries and seaplanes can be the ultimate deal-breaker. Besides, how can I write a column called Vancouver Shakedown if I lived anywhere else? In my heart of hearts, Victoria is awesome, but Vancouver is home.