About Victoria

by Yule Heibel on May 18, 2003

In case anyone has noticed, I have two local Victoria bloggers on my links bar at right, Davin and Julie. I don’t know them; I put their links there because, first, they have such great photos on their sites, and second, I wanted to link to some local cyberspace. In that same spirit, I’m really happy to see that my partner in crime from Oak Bay high school days, Betsy Burke, has decided to resume blogging from Florence, Italy.

Blogs, it seems to me, are about these virtual “spaces,” but also very much about actual people moving and meeting in real geography. To the majority of bloggers at Harvard who live in the greater vicinity of the Republic of Cambridge: I know what those real spaces that you occupy smell like, look like, and feel like — in muggy heat waves as well as in cruelly dessicating wind chills. I know how much louder the traffic gets in the warmer months, when heat-prodded drivers bolt and screech, guys roll down the windows and crank up those stupid sub-woofers even more, while suburban matrons keep their a/c on high and their windows firmly shut. I know what it’s like to slog back to Brookline via numerous inexplicable ejections from trains that mysteriously go out of service on the Green Line, or to ride a commuter train to the North Shore, standing up the whole way. I know how long it takes to get from Widener Library to Cardullo’s, and how many gates and intersections at the Yard’s perimeter you need to negotiate to do it, and what a crummy job those snow-cats do in clearing the sidewalks of winter’s ice and snow. In many ways, everything that Wendy or Vernica or Philip (or any of the others I don’t personally know) write evokes a physical memory of this place, even though — and this is the odd bit — they almost never write specifically about place. And while Davin and Julie don’t always include place in their blogs, they do however have so much cool pictorial material — along with their descriptions of a music (sub?)culture — that I felt it made sense to point to them, hoping that others might get a sense of what it’s like in this simultaneously beautiful and odd city.

As William Gibson noted, Victoria is the world capital of Satanism (scroll down a bit). (He also claims that Douglas Coupland, in City of Glass, coined the phrase “tweed curtain” to describe the border between Oak Bay & the rest of the world. Well, I can testify that my friends and I used that phrase back in the first half of the 1970s, and unless Coupland [b. 1961, end of December] has books reaching back to that date, Gibson is dead wrong.) This “global Satanism” business is also silly. Yes, there are many covens in Victoria, but they are simply peripheral to the fact that British Columbians have the highest rate in Canada of non-affiliation to official religion. It’s an alternative kind of place: PETA voted Victoria & Vancouver #2 & #1, respectively, as best places for vegetarians in Canada.

Gibson lives in Vancouver (close enough), and has written slightly snarkily about Victoria — which annoys the heck out of me, because we can’t all afford to live in Kitsilano. In some ways, Victoria is a giant Kitsilano (without the Vancouver clog) that we can at least (still, vaguely) afford. But despite his slights, and in the interest of creating a cyberspacially significant event on my blog, I’ve decided to put William Gibson on my blogs-link bar — besides, I loved Pattern Recognition.

Meanwhile, Vancouver businessmen buy up property to the tune of CDN $7.5m in the Uplands (first planned community in the area in its time, in a section of Oak Bay — behind the Tweed Curtain). And now John Travolta’s agent Fred Westheimer has said no comment to the rumours that Mr. Saturday Night Fever is moving to North Saanich on our peninsula. They have a US$12.5m property for sale.

Victoria: former retirement haven, now a playground for the rich? What do Davin and Julie do here? Check out their sites and the links they have to their friends to find out. They are all looking for work. As was the case in the 70s, there is lots of talent here, much poetry, terrific flair — and not nearly enough opportunity to put it to use. Many of us had to leave, whether we wanted to or not.

Maybe John Travolta or Mr. Anonymous Software Magnate from Vancouver can endow some North American style Money Making Machine agencies to put all that talent to productive use, beyond the tourism industry that Gibson soured on. Maybe we can make our own party, and contribute to decentralization here. Local talent designed the website for the company my husband works for. When their Florida-based ISP went around the corner, a local business seamlessly picked up the slack. It would indeed be great if these were indications that we don’t really need to be mere tourists here.


Goyo May 19, 2003 at 10:31 pm


Gibson is referring to “Michelle Remembers,” a book that was co-written by
Michelle Smith and Dr. Lawrence Pazder, with editorial assistance by
Thomas B. Congdon Jr., paperback published by POCKET BOOKS, a division
of Simon & Schuster, NY, NY, in July 1981.

I happen to be reading the book at the moment, and am about half way through.
I remember having a hardcover copy of the book come through my own second
hand shop in Nootka Square, called Baba Fine Art Books, Victoria, across
from the Beaver Pub, in the basement of the Empress…but I digress.

The book has a lurid painting of a young child transfixed in horror, with
her legs splayed to expose white underwear under her dress, while the Devi,
complete with pointed ears, looks down from above, and leers at the
doll-clutching child encircled by candles…

While I admit that I take a local interest in the book that I might not
otherwise do had I not known that the whole thing was supposed to have
happened here in Victoria, I find it poorly written, and especially
unconvincing when trying to convey the mind of a child, whether posessed of
evil spirits or not…

I do note with interest that the now disgraced Roman Catholic Bishop
Remi de Roo was somehow cajoled into writing a rather ambiguous and
non-committal bit of fluff (one third of a page) for the book:
SEPTEMBER 28, 1977.

As for the idea that Victoria is a centre of Satanism, that may come from this
intriguing caption above a picture of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, and I
quote directly:

Below, Parliament Building. Experts believe that Victoria and Geneva, Switzerland,
are the two official centers of the Church of Satan.

As Carl Jung would insist, this is not an accident: that the use of the Parliament
Buildings would be used to convey the idea that this little provincial capital
is one of the two centres of the so-called Church of Satan, could not possibly be
an accident, but must rather be, at least, a cosmic co-incidence, if not a merlely
serendipitous occurence.

As for the Tweed Curtain reference for Oak Bay, Copeland is of course not
the author of it. Something tells me it may have been Kipling. He actually
stayed at the old Oak Bay Beach Hotel, or something like that…

I’ll get back to you on the Tweed Curtain, as it is essential to have this
understood in Harvard, I think.


Goyo de la Rosa
(alias ‘Gregory Hartnell’)


Yule Heibel May 20, 2003 at 12:54 am

Wow, thanks for the information, Gregory! I knew the “Tweed Curtain” thing had a pretty long lineage, but I’m unfamiliar with the “Michelle Remembers” book. Who the heck are the supposed “experts” who identify Victoria and Geneva as centres of Satanism? What vivid (and unbelievably skewed!) imaginations they must have…. Geneva? I’m a lot more concerned by the predatory sexual sadist in Toronto who is expected to strike again. Now that’s a truly horrific story.

Betsy Burke May 20, 2003 at 5:25 am

Actually, Kipling stayed at the Old English Inn, which I believe was on the site where the Rudyard Kipling apartment building is, across from the Oak Bay Marina. When we moved into that neighbourhood, they were just beginning to tear all those neat old buildings down.


Goyo May 20, 2003 at 3:01 pm


According to Ron Baird’s “The History of Oak Bay,” Kipling didn’t stay at
either the Old English Inn or the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, but rather at the Old
Charming Inn. Here is the reference on page 103:’
“After the Mount Baker had been destroyed by fire, it was replaced in
1905 by the Oak Bay Hotel, later renamed the Old Charming Inn, and one
of its more notable guests — famed British author Rudyard Kipling — was
inspired during his visit to write a poem about a night out in Victoria.
England’s first Nobel Prize winner for literature (1907), Kipling was on
a lecture tour of Canada and, returning to the hotel late in the evening
settled down to recount his adventures in the city.

‘”A gilded mirror and a polished bar, myriads of glasses strewn ajar. A
kind-faced man all dressed in white. That’s my recollection of last

‘”The streets were narrow and far tooo long. Sidewalks slippery,
policemen strong. The slamming door, the seagoing hack. That’s my
recollection of getting back.

‘”A rickety staircase and hard to climb. But I rested often, I’d lots
of time. An awkward keyhole and a misplaced chair, informed my wife
that I was there.”

‘Kipling’s reference to the rickety staircase recalled the fact that the
Old Charming Inn was reputedly built in just 19 days, a tempo which
afforded craftsmen of the time little opportunity to achieve perfection.
‘The last proprietors of the hotel were Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Morrow and, in
1962, it was demolished to make way for one of Oak Bay’s most prestigious
apatrment blocks — named, appropriately enough, the Rudyard Kipling.
‘Kipling who died at 71 in 1936, had likely visited Vcitoria proir to the
First World War.’

So that solves the mystery of whether Kipling was in Oak Bay, I think,
but still leaves us ignorant of the authorship of the Tweed Curtain myth.
The Baird book is admitedly a slight effort, without proper footnotes, or
even an Index, but after skimming it quite thoroughly, I am convinced our
nugget is not there.

I’ll go over to Grafton’s on Oak Bay Avenue, to see if she has anything
more reliable to go on. I think there was something by Michael Gregson a
few years ago. I now suspect that perhaps either James K. Nesbitt, a
local historian who had a column in the Colonist, or Derrick Pethick,
another well-published local historian who was a friend of my father’s,
may be who we are after.
It is certainly not Coupland, that’s for sure…




Yule Heibel May 20, 2003 at 4:51 pm

Can I just add — and then I want to drop this SRA topic — that I googled “Michelle Remembers” after G. gave me the additional info, and I have to say that the whole story strikes me as something to be filed under “shameless commerce” (sort of along Click ‘n Clack, The Tappert Brothers’, satires). It’s quite amazing that the Pazders made so much money off this rickety, stinky story. Less humorous for any rational, thinking person is the fact that they inspired subsequent witch-hunts for instances of supposed child abuse at daycare centres, which ended up scarring real people — alleged “victims” and “perpetrators” forever.

Betsy Burke May 23, 2003 at 8:35 am

Thanks for enlightenment on Kipling stays. My bad memory edits. I think the Tweed Curtain must have something to do with the fact that the port of Victoria may have rife with brothels and opium dens, and Oak Bay provided the conservative contrast. In a memoir by my great grandmother, she mentions such a thing.

Yule Heibel May 23, 2003 at 2:54 pm

Betsy, what was your great-grandmother’s name, and title of the memoir? Was it published, or something you have in your family privately?
Speaking of fabrics (tweed curtains), Victoria has a company that makes something called Kinotex, a hi-tech fabric manufactured right here, sold extensively to Japan which wants ot use it to make fabric covered bodies for robots that will be programmed to take care of the elderly — sci-fi is alive and well — and to the music industry in L.A., where it will result in a new toy (US$700) that will allow you to plug a pad into a computer and , running your fingers over the pad, make music. Kinotex has fibre optic thingies (I’m so techno-savvy, ha!) built into it. Hence its applications. Right here, in Victoria. Grew out of Canadarm research.

Patrick Blennerhassett July 4, 2005 at 9:01 pm

I am a reporter with the Oak Bay News trying to find out where, why and how and what the “tweed curtain” saying actually means. Can anyone help?

Yule Heibel July 5, 2005 at 3:22 am

Hi Patrick — aside from the comments left by my old Victoria friends, the only other lead I can offer is speculation on my part: it seems to me that “Tweed Curtain” must be a play on “Iron Curtain,” which, if that’s the case, puts the saying into the second half of the 1940s (which contradicts Betsy’s supposition that it has something to do with conservative values against the opium dens of downtown/ Chinatown, stemming from the early 20th century). Recall that it was Winston Churchill who, on March 5, 1946, gave a speech in the US, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, where he coined the famous phrase “iron curtain”:

I have a strong admiration and regard for the valiant Russian people and for my wartime comrade, Marshal Stalin. There is deep sympathy and goodwill in Britain — and I doubt not here also — toward the peoples of all the Russias and a resolve to persevere through many differences and rebuffs in establishing lasting friendships.

It is my duty, however, to place before you certain facts about the present position in Europe.

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.

The safety of the world, ladies and gentlemen, requires a unity in Europe, from which no nation should be permanently outcast. It is from the quarrels of the strong parent races in Europe that the world wars we have witnessed, or which occurred in former times, have sprung.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some wag, in an attempt to tweak what was perceived as the snooty noses of staid mother-country loving citizens in Oak Bay, came up with “tweed curtain” to pun on Churchill. Some say, after all, that Churchill’s speech sorta-kinda signalled the start of the cold war. (Never mind that Churchill was completely right in his assessment…) I.e., in that sense, “tweed curtain” means that the good citizens in Oak Bay are cut off from real life, as the Soviet satellites were cut off from modernity and democracy for a good chunk of the 20th century.

At the same time, there is of course the fact that in the early 70s (and I’m sure before then) one of the best-loved pubs of all of us rowdy outcasts was the infamous Churchill on Government Street (now part of, I believe, the Beresford Arms or something like that: it’s right at Bastion Square). Oh my, the Churchill was grand: all the waiters were characters (many of them Queens), the place was full of drug dealers, bikers, addicts, university professors, artists, bohemians, and the occasional (ahem) underage kid. There was nothing you couldn’t get at the Churchill; the place was a pig-sty but it was alive, too. So, perhaps (and here I’m giving a nod to Copeland, although of course he’s completely wrong in thinking that the phrase “tweed curtain” is in any sense recent enough to stem from him): perhaps it was invented by some half-besotted Churchill-pub goer in the 60s or so, having a good laugh at all the proper folk over in Oak Bay. (Again, playing on the idea that people who are too “proper” are cut off from immediacy and vitality.)

But I really don’t know. I suggest checking with City Archives and asking curators at some of the local museums (don’t ask the librarians, unless you’re certain they really know their stuff: one told my son that there wasn’t any sealing in Victoria, when in fact sealing and whaling were the biggest maritime industries in Victoria in the late 1800s and early 1900s…).

Anonymous October 3, 2005 at 1:34 pm

World Tallest Building

Anonymous November 4, 2005 at 4:44 am

Bathroom Mirror

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