Touring B.C.’s Southern Interior

Hedley

Hedley

A recent four-day trip through the South Okanagan, Central Kootenays and the Shuswap Valley reminded me of the benefits of slowing down. I would have liked to really get to know these landscapes and villages — what you see here are only glimpses. Thanks to co-tourist Dominic Kotarski for bringing his global perspective, and to the excellent Hume Hotel for a welcome in Nelson.

Many of these towns — Princeton, Hedley, Midway, Greenwood, Kaslo, New Denver — were at their peak in 1900 or before that, riding a boom in silver. Our guide at the volunteer-run historical centre at Sandon said the now-abandoned town was “the Fort McMurray of its age,” the place where young men came to make their fortune. Continue reading

Passionate about Esquimalt

Esquimalt House 1

Fernhill Road, Esquimalt. Garry oak, a tree peculiar to southern Vancouver Island, grows all around this house. The garage-under-the-dining-room feature was popular on the West Coast from the 1910s into the 1940s, but many of these spaces are now used for storage.

Voters in Greater Victoria, population 345,000, are looking at the possible amalgamation of their 13 municipal governments into a smaller number. Possible, but not likely, since so many urban British Columbians are passionate about the randomly-sized cities and towns where they live. Rather than amalgamation, a slight increase in the number of “shared services” — a joint parks department here, a joint library there — is a safer bet.

Esqumalt condos

New apartments, Carlisle Avenue, Esquimalt

Esquimalt is one of the odd-shaped municipal bits that makes up Greater Victoria. Its Pacific shoreline is home to a naval base that employs 6,000 people. Otherwise, the city has waterfront parks, a modest urban village and an on-street bike lane connecting to the offices and retail stores in Victoria’s downtown. Continue reading

Does British Columbia need elected school boards?

Hastings School, Penticton and Franklin streets

Hastings School, Vancouver

Last year, property owners in British Columbia paid close to $1.9 billion to support  elementary and secondary schools through property taxes. It works out to thousands of dollars per homeowner over time, but if you’re childless like me, you may never have asked where the money goes. I ignore the school board ballot at local election time because I don’t know the people or the issues.

In December 2015, the Government of Quebec introduced legislation to eliminate elections for local school trustees. Only five per cent of the electorate filled in their school board ballots in the most recent election. The government plans to operate the school system through local administrators, with input from voluntary local advisory committees made up of parents, school employees and community members, up to a maximum of 16 people per committee. Over time, it will look for ways to share services across school districts. Continue reading

Oak Bay: behind the tweed curtain

House 2

The District of Oak Bay, population 18,000, is the third most heavily taxed municipality in British Columbia, of 161 listed in provincial tax tables. Property taxes on a representative house are 29 per cent higher than in the City of Victoria next door, and close to 90 per cent higher than the B.C. average.

The numbers suggest an affluent population prepared to pay for services such as an  independent police force — as in the highest taxed local jurisdiction in B.C., the District of West Vancouver. Continue reading