Opinion: Victoria – not so much a slice of England

Opinion: Victoria - not so much a slice of England
Graham Cox

A new store, Limey, has just opened across the street from Capital Iron downtown, and it’s full of English food like Marmite, Hobnobs cookies and Yorkshire Tea, and plenty of English candy, including Cadbury Christmas selections.

They’re still bringing more stuff in and there’s a blackboard where you can write a product you’d like them to bring over. The board is jam-packed with requests. In my case, Schweppes diet bitter lemon, a drink that still evokes happy memories and puckered lips. You can take the boy out of the country, but not the country out of the boy, as they say.

I found it somewhat strange that a store selling exclusively British fare would find a market in Victoria, a city that is becoming more cosmopolitan and less the twee English stereotype with every passing day.

Sure, there’s still tea at The Empress, but Marks & Spencer and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Madame Tussauds — where you could gaze on waxworks of the royal family and replicas of the crown jewels – and countless tea shops (or shoppes, being Olde English) and sweet shops and tartan shops have all but disappeared.

I guess Craigdorrach Castle and Government House suggest a certain Englishness, but I’m not sure that marketing Victoria as a little piece of England is a great idea in these times of anti-colonial sentiment.

Even the names Victoria and British Columbia evoke to some a colonial past. Then again, London was once – under the conquering Romans – called Londinium and nobody’s really changed it much since they left. Maybe one day we’ll evolve into Vic West – the whole city – and the province will become Lalaland. At least we’d know where we are. Kinda.

But that’s a bigger question. And one, more seriously, we may have in the future. But I’m not about to get into that debate quite yet.

For these purposes, the lesser question is British food, which has one of the worst culinary reputations on the planet, and why we still flock to get some.

You can, after all, get a selection of British foodstuffs at Fairway Market – along with Portuguese, Chinese and Dutch fare – and a few items at Thrifty’s. Orr’s the Scottish butchers in Saanichton does a sizeable selection of such British imports as mushy peas, Irn Bru soda, Cornish wafers and Walkers crisps. As well as, naturally, Ayrshire bacon.

Limey’s, on early indication, has identified a market. And not just because we have been for so long a Little English stereotype. The original Limey’s has been operating in Kelowna for many years, which isn’t a hotbed of expatriate Englishness.

So good luck to them. And the Indian and Japanese and Polish and Thai and Chinese and Ukrainian and French food stores in the city. The more – and the more diverse – the merrier.

And when Mr. Kipling’s mince pies and cherry bakewells arrive at Limey later this week, as they tell me, then I’ll be back — in search of a memory.

Ian Haysom is consulting editor with CHEK Media Group

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