Category: personal reflection

If Vancouver is so liveable, why do snowbirds fly away?


West Vancouver - Eagle Harbour Beach
A beach in West Vancouver

Once again Vancouver has been rated as the most liveable city in the world by the Economist. This is the fifth straight year that Vancouver has come out top.


According to the Economist “Cities that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density. This often fosters a broad range of recreational availability without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure. Seven of the top ten scoring cities are in Australia and Canada, where population densities of 2.88 and 3.40 people per sq km respectively compare with a global (land) average of 45.65 and a US average of 32”.

So Vancouver’s relative low population density is a factor. As a former resident of London, England, I sometimes wonder where all the people have gone. The city is busy, and over the years we’ve lived here I have begun to complain about crowds and congestion, but it is nothing like any major European city.

I wonder if the snowbird is part of the reason for the lack of people? A snowbird is someone who travels to warmer climes in the winter months in search of warmth and sun. I’d say from a poll of friends here that Hawaii, Mexico, California, Arizona and Nevada are the most popular destinations.

We are still happy enough to stay in Vancouver through the winter. The weather is pretty mild compared to most of Canada. This year it has been milder than most of Europe too. We do get rain, which usually means snow on the local mountains. And in between the snow there’s sunshine. Sometimes, like this week, it has been very bright.

Victoria and Vancouver Island are also places that snowbirds from the Prairies choose as their wintering grounds. Many retirees will come for 2 or 3 months to miss the harshness of those Prairie winters. If you come from here, your choice of warmer destinations may well be Hawaii and the like – it’s all relative.

Where’s my cheese?


Canadian cheese is not only cheddar

When we lived in the UK and cruised the cheese counter, we often chose Canadian cheddar. It’s a good choice if you like a sharp, strong tasting cheddar. And it was fairly reasonably priced too.

Roll on a few years and several thousand miles and here we are in British Columbia wondering where did all that great cheese go to? The choice in most supermarkets is pretty woeful. Large bricks of orange cheese with no flavour are the norm.

There are artisanal cheeses, produced by small dairy farmers, and many of them are quite good. I like the ones produced by the Little Qualicum Cheeseworks on Vancouver Island. Their brie is very acceptable. And I do like to support the local farmers, so something from Parksville is ticking the local box too.

Quebec has a great reputation as a producer of cheeses. You will not be surprised to find their cheeses share a certain French flavour – with enough variety of texture, colour and smell to satisfy most tastes.

My preference is for stronger tasting hard cheeses, like the mature Canadian cheddars I was used to buying in Tesco. There are some available here but, unless my memory is at fault, few have the oomph of those ones I used to buy.

Oddly enough, to  my mind at least, Costco has proved to be one of the better sources of cheeses. There usually have the Balderson aged cheddar, which is pretty good. They also carry a wide range of other cheeses, suitable for stocking the cheese platter for your next dinner party.

When you are looking for something more interesting in the fromage department, then avoid the supermarket chiller cabinets because they tend to be full of the bricks of orange and yellow shrink-wrapped taste-free cheeses. Instead, set your cart off in the direction of the deli section. Most supermarkets keep their more interesting cheeses in amongst the sliced meats and ready made salads. Wholefoods also carry a good range of cheeses and one of my favourite cheddars (from Neals Yard in London).

Sigh. Well you can’t have it all, right?


Look out – the year of the rabbit is here!


The year of the rabbit

Gung Hay Fat Choy

Happy Chinese New Year. This  year it is the the turn of the humble rabbit to take over from the tiger. I am not an expert on Chinese horoscopes or the symbols, but rabbits are definitely the better choice for a pet!

Apparently this year it is a metal rabbit. Probably just as well if the rabbit, like the one in the picture, is a resident of the campus at UVic (the University of Victoria). Anyone whose been there will tell you that there are a lot of rabbits there. In fact if you want to embarrass your teenager when visting the campus, there is no better way than to run after the rabbits and try to make friends with them. Even taking photos is pretty uncool. Just ignore them and you’ll blend in with the students who treat them as an unseen part of their environment.

Sadly, to my view, the authorities (“The Man”?) want to rid the campus of the rabbits. This must be some kind of un-Canadian fit. How politically incorrect surely?

Apparently there were 1500 rabbits on the campus. That is a lot of rabbits. Or was. Now there are only about 50. And no, they were not sent to the great rabbit hutch in the sky (that would be un-Canadian). They were relocated, many emigrating to Colorado and Texas.

The bad news is that the remaining bunnies, despite it being their year, have to be gone by the end of February. Otherwise they will be off to that hutch in the sky.

I doubt it will come to that as Canada is pretty keen on preserving wildlife. Anyone visting UVic can, at the risk of being uncool, try catching one – perhaps saving its life will save you from being uncool?

New Year on the trail

West Vancouver yacht club and Thunderbird marina
Yachts seen from the seaview trail in West Vancouver

On New Year’s day, 2011, we went for a walk along the seaview trail in West Vancouver. It was a cold but sunny day and we met a lot of people out enjoying this beautiful day. I thought that it was an interesting snapshot of life here in Vancouver.

We were with our dog Jasper and not surprisingly a lot of other people had their dogs too. Most were larger breeds, like Labradors and Alsatians, but there were also smaller dogs. Some of these were the fashionable cross-breeds, like cockapoos. Mercifully few were dressed up, though we did see one in her coat and hat.

Walkers were of all ages. Families with young children, some trying out their new bikes, passing older walkers and of course the occasional runners. We were mostly rugged up in warm coats, gloves and hats, but there were those who felt that shorts, big boots and a fleece were sufficient protection against the cold (it was just below zero). Several people were carrying their coffee cups of course. As normal, everyone says hello or hi, and today there were happy new year’s to be said too.

Being a local trail, you can expect to meet friends and neighbours. This day was no exception, and we paused on our walk to chat with several people. Even if it was only to check on their dog’s health!

On the way back, we passed a man sawing up his Christmas tree ready for collection! He didn’t seem to be a grinch, as he said hello quite cheerfully, and wished us happy new year. We wish you all a happy new year too!

Holiday parking is here


Parallel parking is a lost art
Parallel parking is a lost art

Canada still loves the car. And there’s a lot of real estate given over to the car. We have parking lots and parkades and the street too. Most of the time there is no problem finding a parking spot. Actually this was something that took us a while to get used to, as we’d come from west London where parking is at a premium.


One of my weekend duties was driving the kids to their activities. Dropping the girls off at Miss Sarah’s ballet school was the worse. It was one on one of those narrow suburban roads, with cars parked on both sides. I would circle and circle looking for a spot that I could get into. Then I’d demonstrate my skills in parallel parking.

Here in Vancouver, most of the time, you can find a parking space very near where you’re going. Until we got used to this we’d “premature park” – scooting into a spot blocks away from our destination. Then, after walking those blocks, we’d find several available spots right outside.

Canadians, by contrast, seem to expect to find the perfect parking spot right where they want it. Their level of expectation is so high that when they see someone about to leave “their” spot, they will stop and wait. The traffic behind watches their flashing turn signal and patiently waits. Often it can be a long wait if there’s any attempt at parallel parking involved as this is not a skill much in evidence in Vancouver.

The holiday season brings this tendency to ludicrous levels. For example in the Costco parking lot, I saw someone in an SUV waiting with the flashers going while another shopper was unloading their groaning shopping cart into their car. It must have been a long wait. It was probably worth it as it was a premium spot, close to the store’s entrance.

I guess it is a good thing that drivers are so patient. In England, waiting for a parking spot like that would have had other drivers honking their horns at the very least.

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