Anny Scoones: A literary companion for a nighttime stroll in downtown Victoria

I’m sure we all agree that this Christmas will be different from most, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

My friend Sarah and I are going to fill our Thermoses with eggnog and hot rum, and venture out on a nightly stroll around our neighbourhoods to look at the lights and breathe in the cool, fresh winter air, stopping occasionally in places such as the legislature rose garden, or under the flag at Beacon Hill, or on the bench at Ogden Point (I hope it’s stormy!) to sip our Christmas beverages.

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There’s a method to our madness — we want to take in the history and stories of our downtown that Danda Humphreys tells so well in Government Street, Victoria’s Heritage Mile (Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd., 2012).

There’s no better time to follow several of Danda’s well-researched routes and learn about public art, First Nations culture, 1800s-era businessmen (and their stoic wives) and the relics of a bygone era that remain throughout Victoria, all while ­keeping our distance, of course. Fresh air, leisurely exercise, fascinating stories, a celebration of Christmas cheer — what could be better? And it’s all free.

On your perambulations, you might pass the site of the 1858 Brown Jug Saloon or the B.C. Funeral Furnishing Company, where the handsome and robust cabinet maker Charles Hayward not only turned his skilful hand to caskets, he provided elaborate and ornate funerals with plumed prancing black horses and a parade-like, albeit solemn, event.

The Rogers’ Chocolates family also has a dramatic story involving explosives, furs and diamonds. Danda points out the ­ Jack Harman sculpture in the Royal B.C. Museum courtyard titled Family Group, and the 1858 bronze fire bell purchased from England for $750 and used by our first ­firefighters, the Union Hook and Ladder Company and the Deluge Engine Company Number One (fabulous names for fire halls).

Inspiring exploration of our city on a balmy, festive evening to seek out these little finds seems to me to be a fine purpose of a dear little local book — don’t forget to take your Thermos and maybe I’ll see you behind a rose bush, or perhaps lurking in the shadows under one of our historic “cluster” lanterns, or on a bench in a veil of mist while the sea crashes beyond.

If you’re not in the mood to venture afar and you have a dog, or know of a dog, you may like to make them a special ­Christmas treat. If so, In the Dog Kitchen, Great Snack Recipes For Your Dog by Julie van Rosendaal (TouchWood Editions, 2014) is the book for you.

Warning: disgusting fact ahead — some readers may find this next sentence ­disturbing, perhaps revolting: Our dog Archie loves treats, but truth be known, one of his favourites is horse manure, nice and fresh and warm, chewed down with a nice stinking glutinous piece of horse toenail.

But in the kitchen, you can create all sorts of wonderful dog delectables, which, to tell you the truth, are made from many ingredients that Mum used to use and that I find quite delicious myself, such as bone broth and bacon drippings.

I’d like to try the Sardine Squirrels and the Carrot Pupcakes (but maybe not the Liver Brownies). Archie has many friends who wait every year for these tasty morsels and I’m sure we can roll them out by December for Fig, Hazel, Toad, Cosmo and Lulu, Ruby, Abby, Bobbie and Boots.

Now (and I understand) if you are not in the spirit of cooking for a pooch, or walking through the dark and stormy streets where some questionable events, often morbid or gruesome, have occurred in Victoria’s past, perhaps you would enjoy just sitting warmly and peacefully with a wonderful novel. If so, I recommend the historical fiction Orphans of Empire by Grant Buday (Brindle and Glass, 2020).

It’s extremely well researched and ­contains the most vivid descriptions — the odour of a rat-infested male bunkhouse, to be precise, on the muddy banks in New Westminster, in the rain.

The story begins with a certain Mr. Moody travelling across the Atlantic Ocean from England, to the Pacific Northwest, via Panama, with his young family. This is a book I have become lost in and am taking my time with, as I don’t want to miss a thing.

We can all still have a merry Christmas and holiday season, whatever we choose to do, and with books, these strange and ­austere days will be all the more special.

Anny Scoones is a Victoria author. Her latest book is Island Home (Touchwood Editions, 2019).

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