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Explore: Women have a nose for whisky, well-travelled murals and much more

If there are still people who would raise an eyebrow at the sight of a woman enjoying a wee dram of whisky neat, you won’t find them at the Victoria Whisky Festival, which celebrates its ninth anniversary this weekend.
Clare Martin, left, and Veronika Irvine check out some of the whiskies available at the Victoria Whisky Festival at the Hotel Grand Pacific.

If there are still people who would raise an eyebrow at the sight of a woman enjoying a wee dram of whisky neat, you won’t find them at the Victoria Whisky Festival, which celebrates its ninth anniversary this weekend.

Women now make up almost 45 per cent of the members of local whisky clubs, a fact not lost on festival organizers as they add Women, Whisky and Chocolate to the list of programs at the almost-sold-out festival, which features three days of tastings and workshops on everything to do with whisky.

“Women have enjoyed whisky for ages, but men tended to talk about it more,” said Clare Martin, president of the Victoria Single Malt Club. “But it should come as no surprise because women have stronger olfactory senses, giving them a fine appreciation of the complexities of fine whisky.”

She said that while female members can range from 20 to 70 years old, the young aren’t proportionally represented because of two variables: Single malts are more expensive than other drinks, and people’s palates are refined over time, meaning younger drinkers tend to prefer sweeter options, such as cocktails.

Vernonika Irvine has been enjoying the taste of whisky for more than 20 years, after being introduced to the amber nectar by her father-in-law.

“The Women, Whisky and Chocolate program is a celebration of sorts,” she said. “It tells people that drinking whisky is no longer the dusty image of men enjoying a drink in some smoky backroom. It’s not just a small core of women, either. I know quite a few belonging to various clubs.”

The local event is ranked as one of the top whisky festivals in the world, attracting distillers, whisky experts and connoisseurs to Victoria. Attendees can sample more than 1,000 varieties of whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, India, the U.S., England, Taiwan, Australia, Japan and Canada.

Admission ranges from $29.50 for individual classes to $163 for the VIP consumer tasting. Programs start at 7 p.m. today and run until 7 p.m. Sunday at the Hotel Grand Pacific. For more information, go to


Well-travelled murals make stop in Victoria

Everyone is invited to Christ Church Cathedral for the first exhibition in North America of 11 textile murals comprising the Hands Around the World project.

The five-metre by two-metre handmade murals are the culmination of 12 years of work by the Creative Peace Mural Society, a non-profit, non-denominational organization that promotes international understanding.

The murals, which are on loan from their respective communities around the world, represent local culture, history and geography. They come from Switzerland, Uruguay, Ukraine, New Zealand, Uganda, Japan, China, Northern Ireland (2) and Canada (2), including one representing the Coast Salish First Nation.

The local murals were created by schoolchildren from School District 61 as part of a millennium project. The murals have been displayed at various events, most recently at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The local opening features performances by Choir 61, Pearson United World College students and the Christ Church Cathedral Children’s Choir.

Admission is free. The gala event is 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday. The collection will be on display daily, except during church services, until Feb. 16 at Christ Church Cathedral, 930 Burdett Ave.

For more information, go to


Take a walk in winter

Ready for a winter nature outing? CRD Parks has two programs this weekend.

• Owl Prowl: Join CRD Parks guest naturalist David Allinson as he takes participants into the dark woods to look for and call owls. Admission is $7 plus GST and is suitable for those 12 and older. Registration by Friday is required and space is limited. The walk is from 7 to 9 p.m., Saturday. Call 250-478-3344.

• Winter Wondertime: Parents are invited to bring their children to discover what animals are up to in a winter forest. A parks naturalist will show people where to look for raccoons’ winter food, find a good spot for hibernation and play animal games. This guided walk program is free and is suitable for all ages. It runs 1 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday. No registration required. Meet at the kiosk in the parking lot off Atkins Avenue. Both programs take place at Mill Hill Regional Park in Langford. Arrive at least 10 minutes before the program starts and leave pets at home.

For more information, go to


Annual conference aims to inspire

Hear inspirational and thought-provoking speakers, including Phyllis Tickle, Bob MacDonald, Rabbi Harry Brechner and Michael Dowd, at Epiphany Explorations, an annual conference held by First Metropolitan United Church, today until Monday.

The conference, which been held in Victoria since 2003, is a nationally known event, attracting more than 350 participants from across Canada.

A post-conference workshop, Church Craft: What the Church can Learn from Beer, is about the phenomenon of beer drinkers shifting from mass-produced brews to beer crafted for their specific tastes — and what implications this has for churches.

Lunch is available Friday and Saturday.

Individual sessions are $30; full conference, $305. Main sessions start at 2:15 today and run until 9 p.m. Sunday. The post-conference workshop, $75, runs Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the church, 932 Balmoral Rd. People unable to attend in person can follow the conference online for $125. Registrants can join and access the various sessions until April 30. For more information, go to or call


Blend your pleasures at WinterBites

Lovers of music and winter sports will see their two passions combine at the inaugural Vancouver Island WinterBites Festival, a

16-day multi-venue music and winter sports festival that runs today until the end of the month at various venues in the Comox Valley.

Attendees can enjoy skiing and golfing by day and attend a concert at night. Performers include iconic B.C. rock band Chilliwack, which plays tonight, and fiddler Ashley MacIsaac next Saturday.

Mount Washington is a partner with the festival, offering 50 per cent off lift passes for people staying on the mountain.

Tickets for the concerts range from $25 to $40. The first show, featuring Chilliwack, is at 9 tonight at the Filberg Centre in Courtenay.

The festival concludes at 9 p.m. on Jan. 31 with a performance by Cousin Harly at the Best Western Plus at the Westerly Hotel and Convention Centre, Courtenay.

For a full list of the activities, musicians and accommodation, go to, call 1-855-400-2882 or visit the Vancouver Island Visitor Centre, 101-3607 Small Rd., Cumberland. 250-388-5189.


Loads of programs at Greater Victoria Public Library

The Greater Victoria Public Library is more than just books — its branches host interesting, free programs every week.
• Chess at the Library: Play chess against a human opponent weekly: 1 to 3 p.m. Mondays at the Esquimalt branch; 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays at the Central branch throughout January. Chess sets are available at the information desk. No registration required.
• Belfry at the Library: Home is a Beautiful Word — People can delve into the themes and peek behind the scenes of this play, with conversation with actor Kayvon Kelly and a professional from the mental health community.
Registration required. The program runs 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. Friday at the Central branch.
For more information, or to register for all programs, go to or call any branch of the library for more information.