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Kluckner, Michael.

North Vancouver, White-cap Books, c1986. 175pp, cloth, $39.95, ISBN 0-920620-48-5. CIP

Grades 9 and up
Reviewed by Adele Case

Volume 15 Number 2
1987 March

In the introduction to his book, Michael Kluckner says he wanted Victoria: The Way It Was to "recreate the atmosphere" of old Victoria. The city roots spread back to 1842, when the then powerful Hudson Bay Company, fearful of losing a foothold on the Pacific coast if Oregon came under American government, sought a strategic fort further north. Victoria was ideal, as it commanded the eastern approaches to Juan de Fuca Strait. Originally named Camosun (or Camosack), after the bulbs of the camass plant, which were much favoured by the native hunters and gatherers as a food source, Fort Victoria was established by the quasi-feudal James Douglas. After gold fever spread from California to create the rush to the Arctic in the 1850s and 1860s, the city of Victoria was incorporated in 1862.

Always more genteel, more colonial, and more sophisticated than the mainland centres, Victoria prospered through trade with American cities to the south, and with centres in Hawaii and the Orient. Moreover, many civil servants retired in Victoria, building on the existing colonial foundation to ensure the graceful, formal lifestyle to which they had become accustomed in India, Ceylon, or other overseas postings. In the years following World War I, many of the estates on the outskirts of Victoria were whittled into smaller holdings, although the passion for gardening remained. It is strong to this day, and the Butchart Gardens are deservedly famous. World War II saw the downtown section deteriorate into shabby ugliness. Victoria had thrived on movement, and when there was no longer tourist or export traffic to transfuse commerce and funds into the city, it depended for a time upon government and political largesse for its very existence.

The past few decades have been halcyon for Victoria. With tally-ho vehicles, street floral decorations, manicured byways, accessible parks, and distinctive turn-of-the-century architecture, the city fathers have wisely chosen the "Victorian" period as the city's best means to attract visitors.

Although the book is coffee-table size, and its format encourages a leisure-hours reader, the content is anything but frothy. Kluckner divides the city historically, geographically, socially, and politically, setting aside a portion for research on the old fort, the old city, various residential areas, Point Ellice, Esquimalt (the site of a naval base and ship repair facility), and Saanich. Well-written vignettes deal with important or colourful political figures, and with highlights from the lives of more than two dozen families (their fortunes and successes, as well as their black sheep and peccadilloes, make absorbing reading).

A number of maps and drawings will engage the attention of the more serious browser, and the author further sets the scene for the student of history by including a few political cartoons, as well as a sprinkling of advertisements. Nor is that all: black-and-white archival photographs and postcard replicas in colour do much to give authenticity to this book. There is a wealth of detail, too, which has been artfully pruned to tie in with the author's plan for the work.

The publishers chose black as the cover colour; the jacket, however, is a cheerful sky blue and is illustrated with one of Kluckner's watercolours, showing houses in the James Bay section of Victoria in the years before blacktopped streets. Indeed, the over forty watercolour reproductions of Kluckner's historical conception of the early days of the city do much to take the musing reader back to that elegant time when Victoria was a truly Victorian gem of a city. No admirer of this unique West Coast city should miss this book. Recommended.

Adele Case, Britannia S.S., Vancouver, B.C.
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