23 November 2008

Westwood Park

Today I visited for the first time this trip my favorite Nanaimo park, 20-acre Westwood. Surrounding Westwood Lake, the park lies at the base of 1,023-meter Mount Benson, Nanaimo’s locally iconic backdrop. A beautiful 6-kilometer footpath circles the picturesque lake, making for a wilderness-like feeling inside city limits.

After a walk around the Lake, driving back east toward downtown from the higher ground at Westwood, the view reinforced anew Nanaimo’s incredible setting. The weather, particularly looking east, was crystal clear. The mid-afternoon sun brilliantly illuminated the snowy top halves of the rugged Coastal Mountains on the B.C. mainland while Vancouver Island’s topography shaded the lower parts of the Mountains and the Georgia Strait. Spotlighted by the sun and clearly visible to the southeast was active volcano Mount Baker, a solitary 10,781-foot peak about 100 miles distant in northwest Washington. No photos of this view--a still camera cannot capture scenes like this.

22 November 2008

Birds and Beer

We’re keenly tuned to the cost of living in Nanaimo, particularly given the, we can only hope temporary, vaporization of a chunk of our retirement savings over the past few months. Two items we buy regularly in the States--poultry and beer--are quite a lot more costly in Nanaimo. We normally eat almost no beef, little pork, a lot of chicken and somewhat less turkey. Maybe because Canadians grow a lot of cattle--as we observed firsthand during our drive across The Prairies--beef prices here are comparable or maybe even lower than in Roseville. Pork prices are also low. But chicken and turkey are nearly double the cost in Minnesota. On the other hand, not surprisingly fresh seafood is far more plentiful and affordable on Vancouver Island than in landlocked Minnesota. I won’t eat more beef just because it’s relatively cheap, so our diet is becoming fishier and veggier

The beer situation is genuinely depressing. A 15-pack of the sort of beer I prefer--pedestrian swill, in short--costs about $25 Canadian, or $1.67/bottle (which at today’s exchange rate is US$1.32). A similar product in Roseville costs around US$0.75/bottle. I don’t know for sure, but I think this difference is a result of higher taxation of alcohol in Canada which I think reflects a more serious concern about the negative impacts of excessive alcohol consumption on society and the taxpayer-financed healthcare system. The high retail cost of alcoholic drinks likely explains a proliferation in Nanaimo of retail outlets selling equipment and supplies for home beer and wine making. The cost of booze may also partly explain why marijuana is among British Columbia’s largest industries. Authorities estimate there are 15,000-25,000 private grow operations (often set up in rented single family homes converted by the tenant to indoor cultivation) in the Province, and “B.C. bud” is the Province’s #1 export ranked by dollar value. Some estimate the “pot sector” to account for 5% of British Columbia’s economy. Medical marijuana is legal in Canada, and we’ve seen Vancouverites casually self-medicating on downtown sidewalks.

Foremost on the other side of the ledger is healthcare. For all of 2008, we will spend $8,000-$10,000 for catastrophe-only health insurance and health care. And we’re relatively healthy. Though the Canadian health care/insurance system has shortcomings, the consumer cost difference is stunning. We would pay a premium of CDN$96/month for complete healthcare coverage through B.C.’s Medical Services Plan. A portion of our taxes would also go to pay for healthcare. But, largely by segregating healthcare and capitalism (in my opinion), Canada spends per capita roughly one-half on healthcare compared to the U.S.--and achieves better health outcomes, according to the World Health Organization--so I believe overall we’d come out way ahead under the Canadian system, financially and physically.

16 November 2008

Election Results

No, not that election.

British Columbia held Province-wide municipal elections yesterday.

In Nanaimo, Vancouver Island's second largest city with 80,000 residents, voters overwhelmingly rejected incumbent mayor Gary Korpan despite his 25 years on the city’s council, the last 15 as mayor. Korpan finished third with less than 16 percent of the vote. Mayor-elect John Ruttan (photo) is a long-time Nanaimo businessman. Ruttan proposed the economy as Nanaimo’s “number one issue.” Ruttan’s website says he embraces “the ideals of family values” which for Ruttan, based on his stated platform, evidently includes:

  • fostering the growth of local green initiatives and technology
  • cultivating progressive programs aimed at enhancing overall health and wellness
  • public support of local initiatives that will help stem the tide of poverty and give people who are truly struggling a chance for a better life
  • managing growth sustainably within the city's limits
At a mayoral Q&A forum I attended, Ruttan said he opposed any additional waterfront highrises--a contentious issue in Nanaimo--and would have “no problem” signing a proclamation as part of an annual gay/lesbian pride day. 

Down the road about 100 kilometers, voters in the Province's capital Victoria elected Dean Fortin mayor. In a brief post-victory television interview I saw last evening, when asked about the community’s top issues Fortin said 1) homelessness and 2) global warming. On the latter, Fortin’s website outlines his plan:

  • achieve carbon neutral government operations by 2012
  • measure and report the community's greenhouse gas emissions profile
  • work to create compact, more energy efficient communities
The mayor-elect says he will “strive for ongoing improvement on sustainability issues.” He’s a self-described “avid cyclist” and “a big supporter of getting alternative transportation.” Fortin’s website claims he has “done more than almost anyone in Victoria to help homeless people and deal with the problem of homelessness.” Fortin says his “number one goal is to mobilize the city to address this [affordable housing and homelessness] crisis.”

Voters in the Province’s largest city (and center of Canada's third largest metro area), Vancouver, just 50 kilometers east of Nanaimo on the B.C. mainland across the Georgia Strait, elected Gregor Robertson mayor. Robertson ran as part of a slate of candidates collectively named Vision Vancouver, with a platform in these four categories:

  • homelessness and affordable housing
  • building strong, safe, inclusive communities
  • the environment and sustainability
  • creative capital and a thriving economy

Platform details include: a goal of ending street homelessness by 2015; creating a trial summer program of car-free Sundays on selected streets; starting a $100,000 Green Neighborhood Grants Fund to “support individuals and small groups that start local initiatives to fight climate change;” make cycling and walking “a priority;” allocate space for community gardens; and implement a rentable bike program with hubs across the city.

10 November 2008


We've been here long enough to understand why a wintertime sunny day is cause for celebration. Spent the day wandering around downtown and the compact harbour it embraces.


I'm jumping in trying to connect with people and possible employers - heck, since we've come all the way here, we might as well see if it's where we want to end up or not. Last week I met two interesting guys at a company called Concerto Marketing (www.concertomarketing.com). These two head up the marketing research dept. for this company and have a very interesting consumer behavior theory - too complex to get into here. I'd love to work with people like this, although they don't need any help now (no surprise, given the economy). 

On U.S. election night, Kurt was out watching the local mayoral candidates so I watched the TV -- and cheered -- alone. This proved too frustrating for me, extrovert that I am, so I called the one American couple in Nanaimo whose phone number I have. I'd never met these people yet, within a minute of talking, they invited me over to celebrate the Obama victory. I went and they were delightful!

Speaking of Americans in Nanaimo, there is a couple from Minnesota who moved here recently and I learned of them from a guy I chatted with on the ferry to Vancouver. Small world! I've already spoken with the woman and she seems like a kindred spirit - we'll meet soon.

This weekend some (Canadian) friends we met on a previous trip here came over with two bottles of Canadian (home-made) wine and a list of their favorite restaurants and pubs. What a nice way to welcome us to Nanaimo! We had a great time talking through the list and learning that Nanaimo has more good restaurants than we would have guessed. These folks are real foodies so we were lucky to get their perspective.

Yesterday we took a long walk from the condo along the Millstone River (photos) and through Bowen Park (just west of us) with several waterfalls along the way and then back home via the Harbourfront walkway.

View Larger Map

Although it was cloudy, the temperature was pleasant (about 52 degrees). I’m continually amazed at the natural beauty in this part of the world - and wonder why it took us so long to find this place!

02 November 2008

Settled In

Last Thursday (Oct 30) about 2:30 we first buzzed the Gentrys--John and Maureen--the owners of the condo where we’re staying for the winter. They’d offered to put us up for the night before they departed for their Mexican winter. Was a great opportunity for us not only to get to know them but also to quiz them about the area. Maureen has spent much of her life in Nanaimo and John worked for 46 years in the forestry/milling industry all over Vancouver Island. They’re fun-loving, outgoing, friendly, and welcoming, and gave us an excellent rundown and rating of the local pubs and other services. We dropped off the Gentrys at the ferry to the mainland Friday morning and excitedly began settling in to our temporary home. 

The condo is fantastic: The big living room windows look toward the mainland, east-northeast. The tree-covered Provincial park Newcastle Island is maybe 300 yards distant, separated from us by Newcastle Channel (where an Orca whale cavorted not long ago--we read about it at the time in the online version of the local newspaper). To the south we see smaller and sparsely populated Protection Island and larger Gabriola Island. The tiny seaplanes that taxi travelers to Vancouver and elsewhere descend over Newcastle Channel and land in Nanaimo Harbour. The top photo is our building. Our unit is on the 2nd floor, visible just above the hedge, between the Seaview entrance sign and the blue & white road sign.

Early yesterday morning, while Laurie slept in for a while and after enjoying a beautiful sunrise over the mainland, I took an early morning walk downtown along what’s called the seawall. The seawall walkway (photos 2 and 3) runs from downtown north along Nanaimo Harbour, through another waterside park (called Maffeo Sutton Park--seen in second photo with fall colors), and then alongside Newcastle Channel to Departure Bay a total distance of perhaps 2-3 miles. So the walkway passes only about 150 yards from our building. This is a major amenity for us. The second photo looks southward toward the park--this morning we saw a sea lion hunting about 30 yards from shore in the bay in the foreground--and downtown residential buildings beyond. The third photo shows the view northward from roughly the same spot. That’s Newcastle Island on the right with the tall trees. The sailboats are ‘parked’ at the Nanaimo Yacht Club, which is across the street from our building. I made it downtown in about fifteen minutes--visited the bank, drug store, and picked up some groceries--and walked back along the waterfront toting my purchases. As virtually everything we need is available downtown, we’ll be able to walk, mostly, to get stuff and enjoy the waterfront and stunning scenery at the same time. It all seems rather incredible to me, I just shake my head in near disbelief.

So right now we’re both in a rather ecstatic mode, which of course will fade over time. Learning into what mode our mood and outlook fades is part of the reason we’re here.