August 13, 2017

Cornerstone Café in Victoria's Fernwood Neighbourhood

Not so long ago we had reason to visit Victoria and we stayed in a neighbourhood called Fernwood. It's a wonderful part of the city that is outside the normal tourist hustle and bustle.

In advance, Sherry discovered the Cornerstone Café, across from the Belfry Theatre, and we all went one bright, sunny morning.

This is not a regular coffee shop, though one might not know without asking. Sure it's about coffee and reading and socializing... it looks like a coffee shop. It's story is something else.

Cornerstone Café is a social enterprise, which means its profits go to the Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group, a non-profit society committed to creating a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable neighbourhood.

Prior to 2005 the building itself was a neglected eyesore, boarded up and unused. Local activists decided to revitalize the building and the area, and to provide space for a café, artists and locally owned and operated businesses. Within a year the Fernwood NRG had purchased the Cornerstone Building and in another year the heritage building was renovated, including affordable family apartments on the second floor. The renovation addressed environmental sustainability by installing, among other things, a geothermal heat pump and that energy, from the ground below the building, provides 70 percent of the building's heat and hot water.

The Cornerstone Café is working towards creating zero waste in all that it does, and maintains proper recycling and composting. Customers are encouraged to bring their own mugs, or those dining-in are given proper mugs and cutlery.  If someone wants a to-go cup, it will be one that is readily compostable.

Cornerstone Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

And finally: the coffee is pretty good too, though the cappuccino was too milky for our traditional tastes.

This wonderful café is a place where you can relax, meet friends and neighbours, take in music and special events, and discover community.

We should do this kind of thing more often and in more places.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

Butchart Gardens in the springtime

We were in Victoria during the tulip season and while that floral burst is long gone, BT Mendlebaum suggested this post, mainly because she didn't get to join the rest of the gang at Butchart Gardens. 

Technically Butchart Gardens are in Brentwood Bay but over a million visitors each year seem to be able to find the place.

The gardens grew out of a quarry on Tod Inlet where the Butchart family had established a mining operation at the end of the 19th century. The limestone was exhausted in 1909 and the business of the gardens began. Slowly.

To this day, ownership of Butchart Gardens remains with the family. Tulips were the focus during our visit, but the Gardens are a delight anytime of the year.

Photos by Jeem. 
Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

August 10, 2017

Koko Monk Chocolates in Vancouver

If one believes the promotion pieces, Koko Monk could be one of the best chocolate places on the planet. It's an amazing yet small operation with creative and artfully designed chocolate confections and drinks, and the best Turkish coffee in the city.

Koko Monk opened in 2013 and since then has created a tremendous following and some major press.

We've been here a couple of times. It can get crowded and though it's nice enough inside, it can be a problematic finding a seat. That shouldn't deter anyone from visiting.

Koko Monk Chocolates Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Koko Monk uses raw chocolate, which is a whole, organic food with live enzymes. Natural sweeteners are used in all products, rather than the processed sweeteners found in most chocolates.

Share a flight of hot chocolates!

The benefits of raw, dark, organic chocolate are legend, including being a natural anti-depressant with a mood balancing chemical called Anandamine. Apparently it also unclogs arteries, detoxifies, aids in weight loss, increases UV resistance, slows the aging process and enhances your sex drive. BT Mendlebaum was impressed.

Vancouver's best Turkish coffee.

A signature hot chocolate.

Koko Monk has a large assortment of hot chocolates, made to order. Well worth the visit, and while there, talk to the owner Paul Dincer. He's passionate about chocolate and highly entertaining, informative and engaging.

Photos by Jeem. 
Copyright 2017 
by Jim Murray.

August 09, 2017

Vancouver's Pride Parade

The whole gang went. Well almost the whole gang: BT Mendelbaum marched of course. G. G. Blynn wheeled along, and Jim and Jeem went too.

A selfie with Morgan Oger.

The idea was to join our political leader, and the new premier, John Horgan, in the march. And we did, one way or the other.

Getting there was difficult. The West End was crowded with tens of thousands on the sidewalks and in the streets, making it especially difficult for G. G. Blynn to navigate. "Would ya keep up already!" exclaimed BT Mendlebaum, always helpful.

We finally got to our designated group only after Jeem was questioned by police for jumping over a barricade. And then we waited.... and waited. Our "float" was to join the parade at 12:30, and most of us arrived before noon. We waited, or most party members waited, until 1:20 before they actually took a small step.

Our gang, restless and fading in the heat, wandered off, to rejoin fellow New Democrats later, around the corner and down the street.

Jim's union.
What can we say about the parade? "No bagpipes. That's a problem," according to Mendlebaum. "Marching bands and marching soldiers would be nice" suggested Blynn. "It's not that kind of parade," said Jeem, as he looked up to see some people on a roof top. "Now that's where we should be!" and G. G. Blynn wheeled off to find an elevator.

Ever cool and smiling.

Thousands of people marched,  and several hundred thousands more watched, and our new premier received a fantastic response along the entire route.

Hedy Fry, a federal Liberal Party MP, was less well received though highly flamboyant. As usual.

Hedy Fry, MP.

G. G. Blynn never did find an elevator to a rooftop. BT Mendlebaum, our favourite lawyer (disbarred), handed out business cards. While taking photos Jeem backed harmlessly into a cyclist. That didn't go well, and there was more explaining to do with a nice constable from the VPD. Mendlebaum decided to represent her client and we all ended the day down at the station. For about four hours. "It's like going to Emergency," said Blynn.

And almost hidden, and certainly nearly forgotten, the homeless were present too. A reminder of the kind of the world class city we've become.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

June 17, 2017

Battle of Ballantyne Pier ~ the pitch at In Tune 2017

On this day, one day short of the anniversary of the Battle of Ballantyne Pier, Sherry MacDonald and Earle Peach pitched their new musical at In Tune 2017, a showcase of new Canadian musical theatre, and its a presentation of Touchstone Theatre in Vancouver.

Sherry MacDonald, Earle Peach,
Kevin Armstrong & Jeff Hoffman. Waiting.

First of fourteen presenters, Sherry and Earle presented the opening number in their musical: The Battle of Ballantyne Pier. Called Life on the Hook, it's a loud and raucous number that celebrates men on the docks, in the middle of the 1930s: lifting, hauling, pulling, and all for scandalous pay and terrible working conditions.

Sherry introduces the musical's opening number

In 1935 the men on the docks had been striking for several weeks. They were being replaced by scabs, and on June 18, two thousand members and supporters of the fledgling union peacefully marched down Hastings. They were met by mounted police, teargas, batons and live ammunition. While The Battle of Ballantyne Pier, the musical, is not a historical piece, the events of this day in Vancouver's history provide the context for a powerfully dramatic story.

Earle Peach, Jeff Hoffman & Peter Boychuk

Performing with Sherry and Earle were Kevin Armstrong, Jeff Hoffman and Peter Boychuk. Sherry is writing book and lyrics for the musical, Earle is the composer. Local 500 of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada, the ILWU,  have expressed interest and support for the project.


Composer, Earle Peach

Sherry MacDonald is a writer and playwright, most recently having her work, The Seduction Theory, produced at FemFest in Winnipeg. Earle Peach is an activist, composer, musical director, and leads the musical group: Illiteratty.

Earle Peach & Jeff Hoffman

Photos by Jeem.
Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

June 11, 2017

The balloon incident ~ April 15

It was the annual Vaisakhi parade in Vancouver. About 250,000 people attend every year. During an election year, this event is a grand opportunity to meet people, introduce yourself and your candidate, and possibly discuss issues of the day. Or so it seemed to me. Boy, was I surprised.

We showed up early in the morning to set up. Signs, banners, leaflets, and of course: the bright orange helium balloons for which my party is famous. Since Jeem was very early indeed, he got to put up his candidate's signs in the most prominent places.

It turned out we were too busy to talk with anyone. It was a non-stop balloon-making hullabaloo. Instead of engaging with voters, we had an assembly line trying to keep up with the frenzied demand for balloons, from thousands of people

And, how many volunteers does it take to blow up one balloon? I've often wondered about that question, and now I know.

Madeline Lalonde
 Candidate for Vancouver-Quilchena

We went through two tanks of helium and hundreds and hundreds of balloons. Several thousand in fact.

The candidates who showed up, including the leader, were enlisted to make, and hand out, balloons.

Kelly Green
Candidate for Richmond-Steveston

Long after our candidates departed Jeem was pulled aside by some official event organisers who reminded him (he appearing to be the official representative for the BC NDP at this point) that we had been told a number of times over several years that balloons were not to be used at the Vaisakhi parade in Vancouver. "We want to be environmentally responsible, and helium and plastic balloons are not being responsible," they said with slightly raised voices. "Oh, I didn't know," was Jeem's reply, and that didn't go over too well. So...

"I think the Liberals are giving out balloons too," Jeem said. "Their tent is over there," as he pointed vaguely, in a westerly direction.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

June 08, 2017

Haultain Fish & Chips in Victoria

Recently we were in Victoria for a brief visit and found a great little diner. You've seen its adverts on the ferry and in the guide books; it seems to be a Victoria institution, and it's certainly a throw-back to a different time.

Haultain Fish & Chips has been in business since 1924, and current owner Mary Schmidt continues a neighbourhood tradition that appeals to locals and tourists alike. When we arrived, a few minutes before it's Sunday lunch-time opening, there were already people waiting.

While there are several things on the menu, it's mainly fish and chips and basically cod or halibut, with frozen fries. The fish is mostly okay, though ours, on this day,  was a wee bit over-cooked.

Haultain Fish & Chips Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nothing fancy here. Simple surroundings and simple food. If you're okay with a strange kind of 1960s vibe, and a greasy spoon sort of atmosphere, this could be your kind of place.

Well worth a visit. Once.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.