When the first Icelandic settlers arrived in Victoria, the city already had a substantial history. In Iceland, there was no military. When they came to Victoria, they came to a city that started off as a fort and, as an outpost of the British Empire, was always vulnerable to attack as a result of European conflicts.
Esquimalt Harbour was used by the British Navy in the 1840s. By the 1850s, a fully active naval base had been established. A fort was built at Macaulay Point 1894 to 1897. That Point was armed and rearmed numerous times as more powerful weapons were created to fend off an invasion. While people today often find the idea of an invasion of Vancouver Island amusing, during WWII, a family that had owned the last house I lived in prior to this one, sold it for a pittance and fled inland because they were certain that a Japanese invasion was going to occur at any time. The Japanese army and navy had successfully conquered one area after the other and seemed unstoppable.
Back in the days when there was an Icelandic community on Spring Ridge, the naval base in Victoria was an active, important place and during the years leading up to and during WW1, it became even more important.
Today, the Macaulay Point area incorporates a beach, a greensward, and winding trails that, from time to time, pass the large concrete and stone emplacements built to defend the West Coast. The old bunkers, ammunition houses and a spiderweb of tunnels (one tunnel goes back to 1895 about nine years after those first Icelanders stepped off the local steamer) are fascinating. The view over the Strait of Juan de Fuca is exceptional
However, today I didn’t just go to wander among the historical sites or to take in the thrashing waves but to take in Sculpture Splash.
Along the ocean walk and on the greensward, out on the granite outcrops, over ninety sculptures were on display. They were worth the trip. The show was, like all good art shows, full of surprises. One of the tasks of an artist or writer is to get the viewer to look at something familiar in a new way. These artists certainly did that.
There were, for example, two large heads of crocodiles at the edge of the sand. It would have been easy to miss them but as a spectator said to me as he put his hand on my shoulder, “Isn’t that amazing!” I agreed. It was amazing. Two crocodiles staring up at us out of the sand and water.
There were the Asian stone heads set on a rocky outcrop. Given the importance of the Chinese in the history of Victoria (I believe we have Canada’s oldest Chinatown), I felt it was a nice bow in the direction of our Asian history. Now, I would like to see an expanded art exhibition in or before the Chinese cemetery at Harling Point.
There was a nearly life-size rhino hiding in the tall grass on the edge of a cliff, looking like he was going to rush at the passersby. There were birds on the beach made of the most inventive items, feathers from dinner knives, for example. Salmon created from metal gears. A wooden man on a bench but a man that looked like an android. People were lined up to get their picture taken with him.
There were demonstrations and classes and a steady stream of people with their dogs. Dogs love this area because they can be off leash. There were nearly as many cameras as dogs. I knew how successful the sculptures were from the array of cameras that were out. The sculptures were fascinating, surprising, delightful and part of that was the choice of having the show outdoors at Macaulay Point with the wind blowing, a few flecks of rain to remind us that we were on the West Coast, the waves breaking on the rocks, two eagles floating overhead. All that was needed was for a pod of Orcas to come by to say hello. They are seen fairly regularly in this area.
I had lots of work to do today but I’m glad I took the time to drive to Sculpture Splash. Our stomach needs to be fed but so does our soul and, sometimes, lost in our busy days, we forget about nourishing our soul.