“Because Vancouver is so boring it’s good for honeymoon .. no temptation for happy couple to leave hotel room”

Oct 10th, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

A Huffington Post Travel Blog article this past Friday – by Mitch Moxley, a “Freelance writer in Beijing” – seems to be stirring a lot of dust in Vancouver.  It’s called “Welcome To Vancouver: ‘No Fun City’.” And it certainly isn’t flattering.

Moxley allows that, physically and geographically, “Vancouver is a beautiful city. Gorgeous.” But, he goes on, “there’s a flip side to Vancouver: It’s boring … The city’s nightlife is so lame … its liquor laws so archaic and arbitrary, its citizenry so cliquey and cold, that Vancouver … has over the years earned the nickname ‘No Fun City’ … (There’s even a documentary called ‘No Fun City’ about Vancouver’s ‘war on fun.’)”

Moxley’s article has apparently proved distressing enough locally to prompt a semi-official response in the Huffington Post, from “Jason Sulyma, Festival Director, Entertainment Director, DJ.” It is boldly entitled “Vancouver: An Imperfect But Perfectly Fun City, A Rebuttal.” A Global BC poll, asking “Is Vancouver a ‘No Fun City’?” has nonetheless found more than 69% of even local respondents answering Yes (as of 12:05 AM ET, Wednesday, October 10, 2012).

Inevitably, news of this Pacific coast bout of anxiety has also reached Canada’s current largest metropolis, on the not quite so beautiful northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. For a suitably restrained and sober version of the local reaction here, see “Social isolation is biggest concern for residents, Vancouver survey finds,” in the Tuesday, October 9, 2012 Toronto Star.

Meanwhile, floating over the rooftops in the Great Lakes moonlight, on diverse social media vibrations, you can hear orderly gales of relieved local laughter. Suddenly there is more joy in heaven that some other “liveable, but …” Canadian city is taking it in the ear for so many sins so often attributed to Toronto itself. And many Toronto voices are whispering to themselves : so how do you like it now by the totem poles in Stanley Park?

What’s more, nowadays Toronto itself, some will also urge, has almost outgrown at least some parts of the bad old Toronto syndrome – what Morley Callaghan was getting at, when he wrote in the late 1940s that: “As a city Toronto had a reticent coldness. In other Ontario towns and in the West they jeered at Toronto. But … many of these places were simply smaller Torontos. The more bitterly they mocked at Toronto the more the more conscious  they seemed to be that the Toronto spirit was a skeleton hidden in their own closets.”

“Unlike the USA, or both Britain and France, Canada remains culturally provincial” …

Most of Vancouver will no doubt find almost all of this anathema. Yet here in Toronto we were told a few decades ago, by a visiting US professor, that Vancouver is the only other city in the world in which an authentic Torontonian can feel at home.

I must confess that, as someone who has lived in Toronto virtually all my life, I have in fact felt surprisingly at home when I have visited Vancouver. (So long as I didn’t actually tell anyone that I was from Toronto, of course.) On the other side of laughter what some Torontonians will still feel about Mitch Moxley’s kind of Vancouver critique is sympathy and the shock of recognition.

The Toronto Star article on “Social isolation is biggest concern for residents, Vancouver survey finds” raises the prospect that things are actually better “in Saskatchewan or in Winnipeg.” But, except insofar as what you are talking about is a mere consequence of the sheer (or mere again) numbers of people who reside in a place, this seems doubtful to me.

The dark side of Morley Callaghans’s “Toronto spirit” is a Canada-wide phenomenon. (With a half-exception, in some respects perhaps, for at least the francophone mainstream of la belle province in Quebec – the one part of Canada that never prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages at any point between the two world wars.)

Something I bumped into again this past weekend, while pondering the recent death of the British historian E.J. Hobsbawm, puts one kind of finger on the depths of the problem, I think. In an essay called “The Old World and the New : 500 Years of Columbus,” first published in July 1992, Hobsbawm wrote that: “Unlike the USA, or both Britain and France, Canada remains culturally provincial, though interesting things and people occasionally emerge from it.”

More than anything else, I think, in Vancouver, in Toronto, and in many other parts of Canada today, it is our continuing residual cultural provincialism that makes us so boring – and so averse to having fun. We have made some progress in joining the real global village since the 1960s. And in Vancouver and Toronto and everywhere else there are some Canadians who do have fun. But they are still, for the most part, on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak, and without strong mainstream voices.

Retiring the British monarchy in Canada would do a lot of good … from coast to coast to coast

There are, no doubt, many different answers to the age-old question in this particular arena – What Is To Be Done?

Mitch Moxley alludes to a few of them: more civilized drinking laws (though let’s also give some credit to such things as “BC municipal leaders want marijuana decriminalized”) ; better venues for better music (while remembering that Fraser Macpherson was a great Vancouver-based jazz saxophone player, and that Darcy James Argue from North Vancouver is the toast of the current experimental big band scene in New York) ; and greater respect and opportunity for the We[s]t coast populist tradition in the official local urban culture.

There is, at the same time, one broad Canada-wide political reform that would help almost all Canadian places – big and small, urban and rural and in-between – shed the continuing residual provincialism that Eric Hobsbawm drew attention to in the 1990s.

To no small extent, it really is this provincialism that makes us so boring. And our continuing provincialism has a lot to do with our continuing bizarre fealty to the British monarchy – as a formal symbolic “head of state” for both our federal and provincial governments.

The monarchy may or may not still make sense in the United Kingdom. (That is for the Brits who aren’t provincial, sort of, to decide.) But in Canada it just serves as a bulwark for the “cliquey and cold” and oh-so-boring local establishments that Mitch Moxley rightly complains about in Vancouver (and that are far too prominent in the rest of the country too).

Politely retiring the monarchy at last would go a long way towards making almost all of Canada a lot more fun, from coast to coast to coast – from the Arctic circle to the Great Lakes waters, and from Bonavista in Newfoundland all the way to the Vancouver Island.

The title above here is based on a posting by “ZoranV” in “Vancouver Forum: Vancouver in December for my honeymoon??.” The actual posting reads : “Because vancouver is so boring, it’s not a bad place for a honeymoon as there will be no temptation for the happy couple to leave the hotel room.” Mr. Berry would like to thank ZoranV.

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