Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vacation Highlights: Nanaimo

(see post below this one for more pictures and some videos)

We just got back from one of the best vacations we've ever had: Scenic, relaxing, full of family and friends, with a few surprises along the way. Romero the Rock also had his first (and last) big adventure before rejoining his brother in Minnesota; he enjoyed it, but was pissed that we wouldn't let him stop at any casinos.

We drove through the Rockies and spent our first night tenting at a KOA near Wells Gray Provincial Park, a beautiful area. Since I didn't bring my laptop (figuring the Chinese characters might freak out Customs), I was anxious about keeping in touch with Kevin Annett and the Unitarian Church in Edmonton, because I was trying to arrange for him to speak there in October. Fortunately the KOA had internet access. (The short version of the story: Kevin Annett is a former United Church minister who stumbled upon very disturbing allegations about the residential school near Port Alberni, British Columbia - and many other residential schools - back in the early '90s. He has spent the last 12 years documenting survivors' accounts of forced sterilization and abortions, unexplained deaths, unlawful and involuntary medical experimentation, and a host of other crimes that amount to a genocidal campaign Canada's aboriginal children).

We reached Vancouver sometime in the evening and caught the very last ferry of the night to Nanaimo, where Richard was going to do another radio interview for "Unbought and Unbossed" at CHLY Radio Malaspina (you can listen to that here). We were to stay with the host, his partner, and Richard's buddy Wayne. On the ferry I had my head buried in a book that Richard's sister had loaned to me last year, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. Suddenly Richard said, "Kevin? Mr. Annett?" and I looked up to see him coming up the aisle in his funny hat and long coat. Turns out he works as a counselor on East Hastings in Vancouver and takes the late ferry home to Nanaimo sometimes! This was such a bizarre coincidence that I could only say "Good God," and shake his hand. We chatted for a bit and agreed to meet after the radio show the next night. Far from being a paranoid ball of nerves as I half-expected, Kevin Annett seems a very calm and personable guy - not as into self-promotion and conspiracy theories as the press has been suggesting.

We had a good visit with the host, his girlfriend, and Wayne the next day before the show. Though I'm not a 9/11 Truther, we were all on the same page when it comes to most other topics (the environmental ravages of nuclear power, something fishy about JFK's death, etc.) and happily yakked about everything from UFOs to the nature of time. I knew we'd get along when I noticed that Raymond and Rhona's bookshelves could pass for clones of mine and Richard's, right down to Spongebob Squarepants episodes. Kevin gave us a copy of his self-published book, Hidden from History, and answered a lot of questions. Though I have no way of knowing for certain if all the allegations Kevin addresses in his book and documentary are true (frankly, I hope many of them aren't), and though I'm not on board with all of his recommendations on how to deal with the issue of unacknowledged residential school abuses, I feel strongly that the information he has compiled needs to be addressed legally, socially, and historically before Canada can move forward as a proud nation. If even a third of the reported crimes were committed, we're dealing with something on the scale of apartheid in South Africa.

Anyway, Richard and I spent a few hours roaming the Nanaimo docks, watching the birds play in the low-tide muck and trying to identify the various ocean crawlies that attach themselves to the pilings. It was shame Richard's niece, Meghan, wasn't there, since she was due to receive her B.A. degree in oceanography from the University of Victoria that weekend. Victoria was our next stop, in fact; Richard's whole family would be there to watch Meghan graduate.

While I was in the restroom, Richard started an epic conspiracy-themed conversation with a fellow named Phil from Protection Island. I admit it was fascinating. Phil believes that the U.S. has taken control of Canada not militarily or through its culture, but via medical and legal exams that every Canadian doctor and lawyer must take to become licensed here. The U.S., he said, uses the results of these exams to help them cherry-pick those professionals who will be most in line with U.S. policy. This isn't the case any more, but Phil insists these exams were used for decades to install anti-family judges and lawyers who would sow chaos in the courts, splitting up families and making everyone dependent on the legal system. That way the U.S. could sneak in legislation that loots Canada's resources, puts us under U.S. corporate control, and bascially transforms us covertly into the 51st state. Phil had a dozen of these byzantine theories, all of them exhaustively detailed but somewhat skewed. Is this common in Nanaimo? I mean, between Raymond's radio show, the gangstalking victims, and Phil, I'm really wondering if Nanaimo is the Canadian Mecca for paranoids...

Even so, Nanaimo seems more my speed than Victoria. It's much smaller, quieter, and less touristy, but you still get to enjoy the exotic flowers and the ocean views. Downtown is trendy and neat and as a pin, with lots of bookstores and a very bizarre surveillance-gadget store called Spy vs. Spy. They carry birdhouse-cameras, binoculars, listening devices, and lots of books on how to make homemade silencers for various guns. I heard a dog snuffling behind me as I was peering at the merchandise, and turned around expecting to see a Rottweiller or a Doberman - instead it was a miniature poodle in a tiny blue sweater.


tshsmom said...

THAT'S what the pink blob on the gray thing was; a starfish on a piling! It's much easier to see here than on your camera screen...I also can't remember if I was wearing my glasses right then. ;)

SME said...

If it's any consolation, we didn't even know what some of that stuff was. ;D

Wandering Coyote said...

I spent A LOT of time in Nanaimo as the Wasband is from there. At first, I hated it because it's a chaotically organized city - due to the mines. But it grew on me. There are quite a few wingnuts there, but I could at one time in the past see myself living there. It's got a slower pace and a small-town feel. But the traffic patterns are terrible and the strip malls are ridiculous. There are some nice parks and nice beaches there.

SME said...

Wingnuts indeed. The coast in general seems paranoid, but It's like the Austin, Texas of Canada. Not that I totally mind - I still found our stay enjoyable.