As any Albertan can tell you, Vancouver Island tilts to the left. Literally.
Take a look at the map. If you think of the Island as a human body, with Victoria at the feet and Cape Scott at the head, our Pacific paradise appears to be losing its balance and falling backward, which Albertans will argue is also true.
You would not know this from the car decals, though. The decals — the little stick-on maps of Vancouver Island proudly displayed on trunks and tailgates — tend to angle any old way. Some point straight up, like an exclamation mark. Others lie flat on their backs, or at least on Tofino, as though taking a nap. Still others lean into the mainland, as though to give it a good scolding.
This makes some people nuts. There’s a whole Twitter account — @NorthisupVI — dedicated to the idea that when you affix your Vancouver Island map decal to the back of your vehicle, it should be at the proper 39 degrees. Over the past month and a half, contributors have posted dozens of photos of decals mounted at angles that would get a cartographer fired. A for patriotism, F for geography.
Me, I’m not so sure about the criticism. I’d argue there’s something appropriate to a decal that is, like Vancouver Islanders themselves, defiantly off-kilter.
I have said this before: If British Columbia marches to the beat of a different drummer, then Vancouver Island dances to a band that no one else can hear at all.
As the last refuge of the disconnected and disaffected, the Island is at the edge of Canada in more ways than one. People don’t wash up here by accident. They come because it is as far from convention, or at least Toronto, as they can get.
Where eastern Canadians are held in place by roots that go back to Samuel de Champlain or the United Empire Loyalists or the Iroquois Confederacy, the Island has historically drawn iconoclasts and contrarians, restless types who came from somewhere else, looking for something else. Think back to the wanderlust of Amor de Cosmos, the 19th -century founder of this newspaper, a man known for A) trying to get B.C. into Confederation, B) trying to pull it out again, C) starting fistfights in the street and D) being so afraid of electricity that he refused to ride streetcars. Elsewhere in Canada, he would have been committed. Here, he was elected premier.
By now, dissent is built into Islanders’ DNA. This is Ground Zero of protest culture, the poor legislature lawn enduring more stomping feet than a Valdy concert as demonstrators thunder about everything from Vietnam, Solidarity and Clayoquot to B.C.’s goat-milking laws (for real) and (ol’ Amor would have loved this one) smart meters.
Which leads to a serious question: how do you identify yourself?
That is, chances are you see yourself as a Canadian first, but what comes second, Vancouver Island or B.C.? Certainly the latter has more decals in these parts (though when you do see a map-of-B.C. sticker, it’s usually pointing in the right direction).
In some ways it’s easier to relate to the rest of the Island than it is to the entire province, a huge expanse four times the area of the United Kingdom. Note that Victoria is 200 kilometres closer to San Francisco than it is to Atlin. No wonder there are distant parts of B.C. that feel more connected to Alberta; they might send a Father’s Day card to John Horgan, but think of Jason Kenney as their real dad.
At the same time, most of B.C. is separated from Alberta by more than mountain ranges. When the Angus Reid Institute conducted a sweeping, four-part look at Western Canadian identity last year, it detected a frostiness between B.C. and the Prairie provinces. In fact, when it comes to values and lifestyle, British Columbians feel they have more in common with Washington state (54 per cent) and California (18 per cent) than with Alberta (15 per cent) or any other province.
Yet when the question is posed as West Against The Rest, our stance changes: the pollsters found one third of British Columbians would vote for a Western Canadian Party, should such a thing exist. A similar number were at least moderately interested in B.C. joining a western separatist movement.
In other words, we’re united by A) a love for Dr. Bonnie Henry, and B) a simmering resentment toward everyone else. We’re Canadians when pitted against Trumpistan, westerners when taking on Ottawa, British Columbians when Alberta threatens to turn off the taps and Islanders when mainlanders laugh at our snow-management skills. Also, those above and below the Malahat think one another to be a tad off-centre, just like their decals.
So, how do you think of yourself?
OK, let’s try a quick, unscientific poll: Do you think of yourself primarily as a Canadian, Western Canadian, British Columbian or Vancouver Islander? Which one comes second?
Send your reply to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Entrants will be eligible for a random draw. As always, the winner gets a jar of my wife’s dill pickles. Second prize is one of my books.
Results will be published before B.C. Day.