In The Book of Small, Emily Carr’s orchards and tin-lined apple room signal this fruit’s significance to Victoria’s literary pantry across the centuries. If inspired, you’ll want to pick up some B.C. apples at your local grocery store and try Dede Crane’s Kale Apple Soup featured this week on the Tableaux blog.
When we move from the the 19th century of Emily Carr’s childhood to the 21st century of Sara Cassidy’s Windfall, a noticeable change is that Victoria’s bounty is no longer as valued by the majority of its citizens. In this novel, Richard (the homeless man whose stash of canned food was featured in last week’s sampling) is nearly arrested after gathering windfall— apples that have fallen to the ground and for which homeowners seemingly have no use. Following Richard’s unexpected death in Meegan Park, thirteen-year-old Liza transforms herself into a guerrilla gardener, cultivating school property as a way to assist the community’s less fortunate and to promote local food-sourcing. Rather than relying on commodities transported great distances, this young student works to reclaim Victoria’s long-lost self-sufficiency and takes comfort in the fact that other citizens have initiated urban-farming projects, including the mayor who “recently planted tomatoes and kale at city hall” (71). Here, fiction draws inspiration from reality as in 2009 the city of Victoria created an edible garden outside city hall. Replacing flowers with edible plants, this community gardening project appears to be an annual success in the capital. If you would like to read more about guerrilla gardening, Sara Cassidy’s article “Food Fight!” in Focus: Victoria’s Monthly Magazine of People, Ideas and Culture (May 2010) reports on a group of students whose clever puns (“Lettuce turnip the lawn”) and gardening initiatives on the University of Victoria’s campus communicated a need for social change. Rachel E. Black’s article “Taking Space to Grow Food and Community: Urban Agriculture and Guerrilla Gardening in Vancouver” from CuiZine: The Journal of Canadian Food Studies 4.1 (2013) also offers an insightful glimpse of the evolving story of a Vancouver community garden.
If you’ve ever visited Victoria, you will likely have spotted Murchie’s famous tea room at 1110 Government Street, a place that is typically busy in the mid-afternoon when locals and tourists pause for a “cuppa.” The city’s inaugural Poet Laureate (2006-2008) Carla Funk evokes this scene and its soothing sensations when a woman raises a steaming cup to her lips in “Walking up Government Street.” This ritual beverage facilitates both contemplative pauses and momentary connections between people. In Emily Carr’s chapter “A Cup of Tea” from The Book of Small, the man identified as a “Chinaman” feels awkward sharing the meal after being rescued, but when the Native woman offers him tea, it’s a different story. Despite barriers to communication, tea becomes their common language.
Similarly, in Jack Hodgins’s novel Innocent Cities, tea provides a space for curious forms of social proximity, perhaps even more so than the secretive glass of sherry shared on the verandah, which we sampled last week. Kate and Norah Horncastle never said a word to one another after the funeral of James Horncastle, the man who lived a colourful life and had played the role of husband to both women. But for years after the funeral, every Tuesday afternoon they made their way over to the little café known as the Red Geranium for a leisurely cup of tea:
“Six feet apart, no more, the two women barely nodded to one another, and silently sipped at their tea, and looked out upon the activity of the harbour….For an hour, an hour and a half, the two women sat at their respective tables without speaking…merely attending to their respective teapots…and only occasionally allowing their glances to cross one another’s and for a moment lock, before returning to their private worlds.” (390-391)
Carrie Clover, who owns the Red Geranium, watches the silent ceremony with curiosity, realizing that this ritual was in some way keeping both women alive, sustaining them.
In The Book of Small, Emily Carr recalls that many families in Victoria kept a cow to supply their milk. It was common to see cows grazing along Dallas Road in search of choice grasses. Famous for its ocean views, the Dallas Road of today is busy with traffic, cyclists, joggers, and cruise ship passengers gathering at the nearby terminal.
Most troubling among Carr’s memories, though, is when she recalls her father’s store of imported provisions and an employee pouring out cases of maggot-infested Malaga raisins to a group of Natives who frequent Wharf Street to trade at the various stores (121). The disturbing scene is a significant reminder that memories run deeper than a single individual. Cultural memory has an undeniable force when communities confront historical injustices. In some instances, food becomes a means of communicating past experiences from other points of view.
A case in point is Tomson Highway’s play Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout. Commissioned to commemorate the Laurier Memorial—a document presented by 14 Chiefs of the Thompson River Valley to Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier on his journey west by rail in 1910—Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout may not be set in Victoria, yet the play reminds audiences of people’s lived experiences when directly impacted by government policies and unjust treatment. The fact that Joe Shuswap described the then-Premier of British Columbia as a “statue” suggests that this particular “Kahoona” remains unmoved by the Native peoples’ entreaties for fair negotiations of their land claims and rights. Despite the government’s fixity, Ernestine Shuswap diminishes “Kahoona” authority by joyfully practicing her traditional foodways—popping a saskatoon berry in her mouth and catching a trout.
And finally, who knew we’d find Leonard Cohen in Victoria! Stock up on kosher dills and Montreal bagels, as devoted fans of the singer with the golden voice will be planning their own Cohen-themed dinner menus. In Bill Gaston’s short story “Geriatric Arena Grope” (from Juliet Was a Surprise) the protagonist Vera Barnoff, a Montrealer by birth, faces the uncertainty of serious illness in her retirement years. At dinner, her estranged husband mocks Cohen and his fans, and in response, Vera bars him from attending the concert. With Cohen as her muse, Vera reconnects to a remembered sense of self, finding beauty in all of life’s experiences: “Downtown smelled like downtown, of exhaust and faint piss, like old Montreal, like the haunch of poetry, Victoria did have some charm” (127).
We will say good-bye to Victoria for now, but we welcome your suggestions of additional capital meals from British Columbia. Please post below or tweet us @canlitfare.
We will now move our sampling east of the Rockies with our next stop:
Victoria Sampling Menu
Carr, Emily. The Book of Small. Vancouver, Toronto, Berkeley: Douglas & McIntyre, 2004. Print.
Cassidy, Sara. Windfall. Orca Currents series. Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 2011. Print.
Funk, Carla. “Come Winter.” “Inaugural Poet Laureate: Carla Funk.” City of Victoria, 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.
– – -. “Walking up Government Street.” “Inaugural Poet Laureate: Carla Funk.” City of Victoria, 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.
Gaston, Bill. “Geriatric Arena Grope.” Juliet Was a Surprise: Stories. Toronto: Penguin, 2014. 113-129. Print.
Highway, Tomson. Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout: A “String Quartet” for Four Female Actors. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2005. Print.
Hodgins, Jack. Innocent Cities. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1990. Print.
Written by: Shelley Boyd and Nathalie Cooke