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Marilyn McCrimmon

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  1. May 2020 A History of Canada in Ten Maps – Epic Stories of Charting a Mysterious Land. By Adam Shoalts (hardcover, 2017; softcover, 2018) I BOUGHT THIS BOOK AS A GIFT for someone who prefers non-fiction over fiction. The title was uninspiring (to me) but the trusted booksellers at Munro’s Books assured me that the book was a winner. They were not wrong. Each of the book’s 10 chapters tells the story behind one of the 10 maps that are included in the book, beginning with the Skalholt Map made in 1590 by an Icelandic scholar, and ending with John Franklin’s 1828 map of the Arctic wilderness. Shoalts links the maps and stories together, showing their importance to establishing the borders of the country we know as Canada today. Readers will be familiar with some of the explorer/mapmakers, such as Samuel de Champlain, but perhaps less so with others, such as Peter Pond. Like all great non-fiction writers, Adam Shoalts is a superb storyteller. For example, he starts one chapter with 12-year old Pierre-Esprit Radisson out duck hunting in 1652 with two friends. An Iroquois raiding party stalks them and kills the two friends, but decides to take Radisson as a captive. Another chapter begins, “Inside the palisade walls of the little wilderness fortress, a severed head impaled on a pike stood as a grim warning.” As a reader, I am hooked, and I don’t have to be told that it was a harsh and dangerous existence in the 1600s in the country that would become Canada. Shoalts’ credibility for his topic is unquestionable. He is an explorer himself. In fact, he completed a 4000-kilometre solo journey across Canada’s arctic, which you can read about in his book, Alone Against the North. His doctoral research examines the influence indigenous oral traditions had on European explorers in Canada’s subarctic and West Coast, knowledge which informs his writing throughout. It was interesting to learn that French explorers acknowledged the expertise of the local First Nations, who often kept the explorers from starving to death, whereas the British were more inclined to go to war with and exterminate the Indian Nations. This book is meticulously researched with pages of notes at the end. I was astounded at the bravery, as well as the foolhardiness, of these early explorers, and I learned a great deal about Canada’s history. Armchair explorers will be engaged and can enjoy the adventures vicariously. Those adventuresome readers will relate to the challenges of surviving in a wilderness. I plan to read Shoalts’ book, Alone Against the North, very soon. I asked four friends who had also read and loved the book for some comments. Once they got their protests out (“Shit, Mar—I never even did book reports in school except from reading inside the cover!), I received some brilliant and humorous insights from them: “When you read the stories and look at the maps you think ‘how could they keep track of it all?’ I would be lost and eaten by a bear.” “I learned more about early Canadian history by reading this book than I did through all my years in school.” “It is obvious now, but I had never thought of the opening up of Canada being due to guys who didn’t just want to see what was over the next hill, but they wanted to make a map so they and others could go back.” “I did have some familiarity with separate events in the book, picked up from history classes in school and through other books I’ve read over the years. The idea of tying these events together chronologically referencing the most recent maps “of the time” was a brilliant idea, in my opinion. It put a lot in perspective for me. I can well imagine someone looking at those “incomplete” maps and wondering what must lay beyond what was then known. It makes total sense that people would continue to forge ahead to want to fill in the blanks. This will be one of the very few books I will read again someday.” Marilyn McCrimmon is a native Victorian and freelance writer. She has written for Focus since its inception in 1988.
  2. Posted May 8 2020 Photo: Pepper's Food Manager Cory Davits Pepper’s Foods uses concierge shopping and deliveries to keep staff safe. Go to story
  3. PEPPER’S FOOD, a local family-owned business, has been a fixture in Cadboro Bay for 35 years. When General Manager Cory Davits was asked how the virus had affected business, he said, “In every way.” Once COVID-19 restrictions were announced in mid-March, Pepper’s quickly got busier. “People went on a buying spree, and then there were too many people in the store,” Davits says. He started asking the customers to line up outside, allowing only ten customers in the store at a time. Pepper’s has always offered online ordering either for customer pick-up or home delivery. Home delivery increased instantly, to the point that they now have three drivers driving all day to customers’ doors. Pepper’s Food General Manager Cory Davits Financially, Davits says business is similar, like other grocery stores and liquor stores right now, but the way they’re doing business, is dramatically different. For one thing, “We have shortages. First it was toilet paper, then it was pasta and rice, then it was flour. Our suppliers are keeping up, but we are out of these things at the end of the day.” They get resupplied each day. Staff safety and morale are big priorities. When restrictions were first announced, some staff were fearful enough of the virus that they opted to stay home for now. At the same time, the store was very busy, so they were short-handed. “Everyone wants their business to survive. One person gets sick and the whole business shuts down. It was scary,” Davits says. Davits says the community really stepped up. Pepper’s has a large loyal following of customers, and community members offered to work for free to help out. But while he gratefully said yes to the offer of help, he also said, no to the volunteering. “We will pay you.” And he notes that they are all still there. It’s a stressful time for all of the staff, he acknowledges, so Davits has since instituted “hero pay”—giving everybody $2 an hour more to work. The store got so busy that staff morale suffered, and Davits could see that everyone was on edge. About two weeks ago (early April), they made the decision to close the doors to the public, and instead, “We concierge shop the orders for them,” he says. Customers have three choices: “They can email the orders in and we phone them when it’s ready and put it in a cooler in front of the store and they pick it up. They can email the orders in and we have it delivered to them. We ring the doorbell and leave it on the porch. If they just come to the store, we take the list and shop for them.” He saw some differences immediately. “Staff morale is amazing. It is way more comfortable for them.” Safety protocols are in place to keep the staff safe. They work six-feet apart, and Davits says all of them are wearing gloves, which they change frequently, and everyone sanitizes regularly. It was hard to find hand sanitizer until Davits managed to secure a supply from an up-island distillery. They ran out of plastic bags as people can’t bring their own bags anymore. Similarly, masks have been hard to come by. Davits ordered some on March 5, and they arrived seven weeks later. “We will have the staff masked when we reopen.” He also has a group making some bandanas for the staff. He anticipates requiring customers to wear their own masks as well once they reopen the front doors of the store. “Lots of things have changed, some for the better, some for the worse, but we are adapting.” Down the road Davits says, “I think you’ll see businesses with line-ups for some time to come. It’s the only way to keep staff safe. It’s still scary, but we’re getting used to it.” Marilyn McCrimmon is a native Victorian and freelance writer. She has written for Focus since its inception in 1988.
  4. Posted April 27 Photo: Frontrunners co-owner Nick Walker With 80 percent of its staff laid off, Frontrunners Footwear is running fast to keep business healthy in the new normal. Go to story
  5. May 4, 2020 SALON MODELLO on Cadboro Bay Road temporarily closed its doors on March 21. Co-owner/operator Moira Dick described it as, “A complete shutdown. A 100 percent loss of revenue.” She says, “It’s been really sad. I had to lay off all my employees.” Like many small business owners, Dick is grateful for the government CERB program for her employees. “I am eligible too as I’m not getting a wage. That goes into paying the rent of the building.” She noted that for most small businesses, the challenge is how to keep paying the rent on their buildings with no income coming in. Moira Dick Dick and her co-owner plan to look into the government interest-free loan of $40,000 next month, when they become eligible. “Like everybody, we just wait and see. If it goes beyond three months, it’s going to be scary. That’s where the loan comes in. I don’t want to go into debt, but if we have to, we have to.” She has a few ventures to generate some income. “We’ve joined up with Support Local which is selling gift certificates. That’s been helping. So far we’ve sold about $1000 worth of gift certificates.” Besides selling some product, she also sells some hair colour kits, “So we don’t have a lot of fix-up to do when we re-open.” Regular texts keep Dick in touch with her staff. She knows they’re missing doing hair and seeing clients. Dick has also been calling her clients just as she would when reminding them of an appointment. “It’s like a big family and it feels strange not to be talking to them.” Like many in the profession, she has a lot of long-time clients who she is used to seeing regularly. Dick has also been anticipating what it will be like when they get the go-ahead to reopen. “As businesses start back up, our situation is unique. They haven’t addressed what it’s going to look like for us. Will my employees feel safe to return? That’s my worry. You have to be six feet away—that’s a challenge as hair stylists. We can’t maintain six feet.” There are a lot of unknowns. And then there’s the challenge of cutting hair and applying colour to someone wearing a face mask. Dick isn’t sure what that will look like. However, she expects that she and every other salon will be very busy when they do reopen. “There’s going to be a huge demand once government says we can open.” She says, “We are not an essential service,” she says, then adds, “but once we’re open, it’s going to be an essential service.” Some anxious clients have asked her what the stylist association is saying about opening, but she says, “We know as much as anyone else. We listen to Dr Bonnie Henry and we have to listen to what the law says.” Meanwhile, as someone who likes to stay busy, Dick is making the most of the temporary closure. “I have been painting the inside of the salon. We might as well take advantage of the time.” She knows she is not the only one as she can hear renovation work going on upstairs from her salon. And Dick is also enjoying spending time in her garden and going for regular hikes, but she worries about what is to come. “It’s still so up in the air. I am trying to take one day at a time.” Marilyn McCrimmon is a native Victorian and freelance writer. She has written for Focus since its inception in 1988.
  6. FRONTRUNNERS FOOTWEAR is a locally owned and operated business co-owned by Nick Walker and Rob Reid. Reid opened the first Frontrunners store in Victoria in 1988; Walker and a partner opened Frontrunners in Langford in 2005; and then seven years ago, Walker became a full co-owner with Reid when all five shops (Frontrunners Victoria, Frontrunners Shelbourne, Frontrunners Langford, and New Balance stores in both Victoria and Nanaimo) were amalgamated into one company. Frontrunners closed their doors to the public mid-March to protect the safety of customers and staff, and pivoted to online only. Business is now “substantially different” from normal, reports Walker. Local customers have a choice of curbside pickup or free delivery six days a week. Frontrunners will ship to their customers up island and on the Gulf Islands. Frontrunners’ co-owner Nick Walker Financially, Walker says, “We are only doing a fraction of our usual business.” After laying off the entire staff, he said, “with the wage subsidy program, we brought back eight full-time staff.” That, unfortunately, still left 80 percent laid off. He added, “Hopefully we can bring back the whole staff when it’s over.” Frontrunners has had to quickly adapt from their preferred “sit and fit” model, to virtual fittings. “Our main focus is our service. We are not just selling a product,” explains Walker. Customers email photos of their feet and of their current shoes in order to show wear patterns. “These are all things we would normally do in the store,” says Nick, but now they assess photos rather than the real thing. Occasionally, they have done fittings through the door. “We want people to get the right product so they can stay active and injury-free.” The 400 participants in Frontrunners’ popular run clinics are currently staying “connected but apart,” thanks to Facebook groups and a new online training model. With more people out running due to the closure of gyms and rec centres, Frontrunners is planning to publish an easy walk/run program to promote injury-free running which they will post on Facebook and Instagram, says Walker. The move from a 9 to 5 store-opening model, to an online shopping open-ended model has brought some unexpected challenges. People who shop online imagine a big company with staff available 24/7, says Walker. But in the case of small businesses that have temporarily moved to this model to survive, “It’s your neighbour down the road answering the phone,” he says. “If someone wants to order something at 10 at night and you don’t respond right away, you’ll lose them.” While he says that he tries to shut his brain off from work when he’s at home, the reality is that, “right now, every sale counts.” Frontrunners is grateful to their customers for their support. “Our current customers are our best advertisers. They spread the word with friends and neighbours and family members,” says Walker. In the long run, how they fare will depend on how long this current state goes on. Walker notes that, “rent still needs to be paid, but we have a good line of credit at the bank.” A talented competitive runner, Walker runs regularly when he is not at work, but it’s taken on a new urgency. “It’s a stress reliever and a form of therapy and meditation. I feel better after a run.” He emphasizes that it’s important to “keep physical health for mental health.” Good advice for all of us navigating these uncertain times. Marilyn McCrimmon is a native Victorian and freelance writer. She has written for Focus since its inception in 1988.
  7. Posted April 21, 2020 Photo: The Yiddish Columbia Orchestra live at Pag's in better times Pagliacci’s Restaurant delivers during COVID 19—owners just want to serve food again and not be in horrible debt. Go to story
  8. Pagliacci’s co-owner Solomon Siegel POPULAR BROAD STREET EATERY Pagliacci’s has none of its usual lineups these days. “There is no table service, the core of our entire business,” states Solomon Siegel, general manager and co-owner of the long-time family-owned restaurant. “We have pivoted to delivery and pick-up only.” Siegel has had to lay off the majority of the staff, keeping only management and a few cooks to facilitate the take-out business. He’s very grateful for the impending government assistance for the laid-off staff. “It made the layoffs more palatable to me. I haven’t abandoned them,” he says. The jobs will be waiting for them when this time is over. Siegel has adjusted the menu, offering only the dishes that transport well, at the same time keeping food waste to a minimum. He’s also offering cocktail kits for sale in the restaurant for customers who want to stock their own home bars Financially, the difference is “night and day,” he says. At the end of February, Siegel was feeling very positive about the projections for the restaurant. “Some new items on the menu were being positively received. We have a good balance between locals and tourists. We were getting ready for when the locals recommend the restaurant to tourists.” And now, “If it wasn’t for the wage subsidy, we’d be operating at a loss.” Siegel lists off the measures he has taken to keep staff and customers safe, measures which are all too familiar these days: “One front-of-house person, who has nothing to do with food prep, and the food prep staff have nothing to do with the public. Increased hand washing, which is always important with food prep, anyhow. I keep the front door open so you [customers and delivery drivers] don’t have to touch anything to enter. Hand sanitizing stations are at the door and at the till. Contactless credit card, and we sanitize the units each time with a food-safe sanitizer. Social distancing.” Pagliacci’s has been a fixture in Victoria for 40 years, and Siegel is keenly aware of their loyal customers. By moving to take-out rather than shutting the doors for the duration, he says, “Regulars are happy that they can get the food they love. It’s a big positive for a lot of people. And for people who aren’t able to cook every night.” With no immediate end of social distancing in sight, Siegel is working on a plan to offer family-style meals for four. He says, “We’re lucky. Our style of food works well for pickup and delivery, we had a delivery system in place already, and we have a loyal guest base who love our food and still want it.” He fears that lots of small restaurants will be forced to close, but Pag’s won’t be one of them. Besides the 75 percent subsidy for employees, Siegel will apply for the business loan being offered by the Federal Government. Then, “if the current volume continues and if we get those programs, we won’t make money, but we won’t go into debt. My goal is to employ some staff, provide food, open again and not be in horrible debt.” Sounds like a realistic plan for these unprecedented times. Marilyn McCrimmon is a native Victorian and freelance writer. She has written for Focus since its inception in 1988.
  9. Posted April 17, 2020 Bean Around the World will survive. Owning their own property definitely helps, as will some government programs. Go to story
  10. Before the pandemic (left) and now MAUREEN GARDIN AND MIKE GARNETT are the owners of the independent coffee shop, Bean Around the World. The popular Fisgard Street café ordinarily opens at seven in the morning and welcomes customers for the next eleven hours. Now, they open for half an hour a week in order to greet a small group of customers who come to pick up whole beans. “In these weird times, it’s such a pleasure to see people,” says Gardin, then adds, “We are almost completely closed. It’s a giant difference.” And of course, it comes nowhere close to meeting the bills. Bean Around the World continues to roast beans once a week for a small group of private customers, because they didn’t want to leave them in the lurch. “We haven’t encouraged more whole bean customers as our space is limited. We don’t have a warehouse to store the green beans,” explains Gardin. Like all popular coffee shops, the main focus of their business is serving good coffee along with soups, sandwiches and baked goods. “We have a great staff, great customers.” But, they had to lay off all of their staff. “It was a tough decision, but it’s what you have to do,” said Gardin. Some of the staff were university students who went home when the university closed, but some of their staff are in their 30s and they are trying to make a go in Victoria. Gardin acknowledges that, “Victoria is a very expensive city to live in and rent.” A couple of the girls miss it and want to volunteer. She and Garnett are pleased that the government has set up a program to help the unexpectedly unemployed, such as their staff. As for the customers, Gardin says, “We have so many loyal regulars. It really feels like a community.” Financially, this month has been a shock. Bills are still rolling in from last month’s expenses, and of course there is very little income. In their 24 years in business in Victoria, the couple have seen many businesses come and go. Gardin wonders how many businesses will not be able to reopen after the pandemic passes, but she is confident their coffee shop will be among those that survive. Bean Around the World is a well-established business. “We own the property—that makes a big difference.” She talked about the mortgage relief that is available, and BC Hydro’s plan to postpone billing. They plan to look into the Federal assistance that will be made available for small businesses. And going forward, “We may open for takeout only, initially. We won’t have 20 staff ready to go.” Meanwhile, she and Garnett miss the interaction with their staff and their customers. Like many small businesses, staff is more like family. “I love my lifestyle,” says Gardin. “We are not intent on empire building. We make enough money to get by.” She describes a typical day for herself. “I get up, go down to the store, have a coffee, drive the staff nuts, kibbutz with the customers, come home—I love it.” She adds, “Hopefully we’ll get back to it sooner rather than later.” Marilyn McCrimmon is a native Victorian and freelance writer. She has written for Focus since its inception in 1988.
  11. Posted April 11, 2020 Photo: Munro's Books' Jessica Walker at work in the store. The economic crisis is affecting almost every Victoria business. At Munro's Books, online sales help, but losses will be significant. Go to story
  12. Munro’s Books has temporarily become an online bookstore. MANAGING PARTNER JESSICA WALKER describes the day she had to phone the part-time employees, as well as some full-time employees, to let them know they were laid off, as one of the worst days of her life. “There is just not enough work for everyone.” Nor revenue. In early March they learned that the cruise ships were cancelled, prompting Walker and the remaining full-time staff to start preparing for a new reality. The store closed to the public on March 15. Jessica Walker “The first week, the numbers were scary, but more and more people are getting comfortable with online buying,” says Walker. Staff got used to their new jobs as the store switched to a warehouse model, taking orders on the phone and on the web, and reduced hours. “It’s not just about getting through the next six weeks,” Walker cautions, “it’s getting through the summer.” With the move online, their social media presence has become more important. Munro’s is active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and the store always had a good website, but it didn’t feature all of their stock. That is changing. “We are putting lists on the website. We’re trying to recreate the store experience,” explains Walker. Besides ever-popular lists of staff picks, they’ve posted a list of titles of the first books in an author’s series, to introduce readers to new authors. Jigsaw puzzles, children’s books, and books on baking, especially books on bread-making, are currently popular as people seek ways to keep themselves and their kids busy at home. Financially, it’s too early to say precisely how badly the store will be affected, but Walker says it is a dramatic change. She acknowledges that Munro’s losses will be “pretty significant,” and going into the summer, the losses will increase. “Five thousand cruise ship passengers a day are not coming this summer.” Anyone who has visited the crowded store in the summertime will know that Munro’s is a favoured destination for Victoria’s cruise ship tourists. Walker reiterates, “It is going to be a long-term significant impact.” Munro’s will apply for Federal Government assistance once applications are available. Asked about expenses beyond staff, including rent, Walker responds: “We’ve certainly been looking at every expense, big and small. We are very fortunate that the Munro family own the building and are willing to work with us to make sure we get through these difficult times. Safety protocols are being maintained within the store, but Walker is keeping an eye on the staff. “It is stressful. The job is more labour intensive. People are learning new jobs.” She laughed when she said some staff are loving being able to play whatever music they want while they work. Munro’s staff is grateful to their customers who have been offering amazing support. “Victoria is such a great book town,” acknowledges Walker. Customers can have books mailed to them or contactless pick-up is available during the store’s open hours. Once you knock on the door and give your name, your order will be placed on a stool outside the door. When asked if she had ever experienced anything like this in her life, Walker says, “No, never. Nothing like this.” Then she compared it to a natural disaster, “a hurricane without the weather—the roof is still on.” A perfect metaphor for these times. Marilyn McCrimmon is a native Victorian and freelance writer. She has written for Focus since its inception in 1988.
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