Ben Fast

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Letter Writing Week and Postcrossing Meet Up at the Royal BC Museum

What’s the best thing you’ve ever received through the mail?  A birthday card?  A postcard from a friend on vacation?  A Christmas present?  A love letter?  Phone bill?

Ok, so phone bills and flyers aren’t likely your favourite things about the postal system, but when something sent with love from across the globe or around the corner arrives in our mailbox we are filled with a great sense of joy and excitement!

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An old postcard from…Germany? Can anyone read this?

In today’s digital age, we’ve turned to instant communication for every type of message.  Our quick hellos, heartfelt apologies, and even our tentative notes of affection have become cold, impersonal clicks and swipes, sent off without a second thought and denigrated to the same level as that phone bill payment, food pic or work email.  And worst of all, we’ve relegated hand-written communication to the realm of “snail mail.”  We’re at risk of losing handwriting skills and long-form letter writing all together!

Letter Writing Week

But never fear!  The Royal BC Museum is hosting a special Letter Writing Week from January 2-9, 2016 to encourage visitors to re-engage with the art of letter writing by sitting down and spending time composing a hand written letter.  Between 11am-2pm, venture up to the 3rd floor and find the letter writing station to join in.  Oh, and did I mention that the museum is open by donation that week as part of their Community Days?!

“The act of sitting down to write by hand is quite different from using a computer or smartphone. We want visitors to re-engage with this simpler activity, to promote literacy, communication and community.”

The Royal BC Museum is providing all the supplies you will need, including paper, pens, envelopes, dictionaries, tablets to look up addresses, and even postage!  You can bring your own materials if you want, the museum will send any letters or postcards written at the station (no late Christmas packages though!).

Send us your mail

Want to take part but can’t make it down to the museum in January?  Then send a letter or postcard to the museum and we’ll put it on display at the station!  Please don’t send anything after January 1 as it will arrive too late.  You can send mail to:

The Learning Department

c/o Royal BC Museum

675 Belleville St.

Victoria, BC

V8W 9W2


You can send anything you like (so long as it is appropriate for children to read).  What did you get for Christmas?  What are your New Years resolutions?  What’s the weather like outside?

Postcrossing Meet Up:

Are you a Postcrosser?  Do you want to be?  Postcrossers are members of the Postcrossing Project, an online community devoted to sending real postcards through the mail.  If you sign up, you can send (real) postcards to random people all around the world and then have other random people send you postcards back!  It’s like a pen pal network, except with different people each time.

Postcrossers host occasional meet ups where members get together and all sign postcards being sent out.  If you’re a member or are interested in learning more, stop by the Letter Writing Week station on Saturday, January 9 between 11-2 and we’ll have our very own Postcrossing Museum Meet Up!  I’m running the station that day, and I’ll bring some of my collection of postcards from around the world to show visitors as well as let people sign some cards to be sent out.

One of the coolest Postcrossing cards I’ve ever received: a scratch-to-play Minesweeper card sent to me by a stranger in Sweden! You can see where some of the top layer got scraped away during the journey.

BC Archives

The Royal BC Museum is also home to the BC Archives where many letters, diaries and notes from BC’s past are kept for future generations.  While you’re visiting the Letter Writing Week station, keep your eyes open for archival letters in the exhibits or on display.  Notice how handwriting has changed, how letters were composed, how people said hello.


We hope to see you down at the museum this January for Letter Writing Week!  You never know, maybe the letter you write will find its way into an archive someday!

Putting the ‘Adventure’ in Adventure Tourism

You know those great ideas you have when you go travelling, those ones that will broaden your horizons and make you appreciate the experience of being there, wherever it is you are?  I had one of those in Rossland, BC.

It nearly killed me.

The Rossland Art Gallery, with a great mural on the side, stands prominently over Columbia Ave, the town's main street.

The Rossland Art Gallery, with a great mural on the side, stands prominently over Columbia Ave, the town’s main street.

Rossland is a beautiful little mining town turned ski town up in the mountains of south-east BC.  I cannot say enough about the beauty of this town nestled into the side of the Monashee Mountains of the West Kootenay region.  The main street still has your typical picturesque mining town look with classic storefronts giving way to steep roads climbing up to the dense forests above (and below) and the friendly atmosphere where everyone says hi while passing on the broad sidewalks.  It’s the type of town where people still leave their doors unlocked, where people travel through and stop for coffee only to end up staying for 20 years, and where hundreds of Australians come to work for the winter.

It’s also the mountain bike capital of the Canada.

I arrived in Rossland on Monday night after a 7 hour drive from Vancouver.  I’m here for the Heritage BC Conference, a somewhat small and out-of-the-way venue for this provincial meeting, and I came a few days early so I could catch a free ride with some of the staff.  This meant Tuesday was pretty open for me to explore town, and it turns out there isn’t much to do on a Tuesday in Rossland during the shoulder season!  The museum (my usual first stop) was closed, so I decided to hit the trails.

I rented a bike ($45) from Revolution Cycles and was convinced to buy a pair of riding shorts ($58 after a 50% sale discount, but Tyler you were right: it was totally worth it!) and set off up Spokane Street to the start of the trails.

The poetry library found at the bottom of the KC trail.

The poetry library found at the bottom of the KC trail.

Grab a book of poetry for your hike!

Grab a book of poetry for your hike!

I barely made it.  It turns out us coastal folk aren’t great going up hills at altitude (Rossland sits 1023 metres above sea level), especially when we haven’t ridden a bike for a month…or more.  I had to take a break after five blocks seemingly straight up, having already finished half a bottle of Powerade.  I’ve never ridden a bike with rear suspension, so a lot of my energy was being expended bouncing up the hill.  These bikes are best going downhill!

You can see the majority of my route here, from the Kootenay Columbia summit (I went back down the way I came to avoid the advanced section) to the four way intersection, down North Star and Milky Way before heading up Green Door, Roger’s, Cemetery and Happy Valley.  I walked back into town via Park St. (off the map).  This map of the Milky Way Loop via Kootenay Columbia Trails Society.

After a few minutes I got back in the saddle and set off up the Monte Christo road that connects to the trail leading to the summit of the Kootenay Columbia Mountain (1235m).  Halfway up it all went to hell.

I probably shouldn’t have had the amazingly tasty frittata with the chipotle mayo and Sabrosa salsa from the Alpine Grind  nor should I have eaten it so fast, because it didn’t taste quite as tasty coming back up…  This episode was made a bit more embarrassing by the group of young mom’s who came trekking by with babies strapped to their fronts going about as fast as I had just been on my bike.

A little stone labyrinth found on the way to the Kootenay Columbia Mountain summit.

A little stone labyrinth found on the way to the Kootenay Columbia Mountain summit.

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I did make it to the top eventually, stopping for a moment at the hanging poetry installation and the stone labyrinth somebody had carefully laid out on the side of the trail (and someone else had not so carefully changed to make it impossible).  The view was worth the effort, a spectacular panorama of Rossland and the valley on one side and a glimpse down at Trail, dominated by the Teck Cominco lead and zinc smelter, on the other.  I enjoyed a packed lunch at the top and chatted with a hiker who came up and showed me an easy route back down the other side of the mountain.


A panorama view of Rossland (on the right) from the summit of Kootenay Columbia Mountain.


The Teck Cominco smelter in Trail. I’ve been told many people work in Trail but choose to live in Rossland to avoid the fumes from this smelter, but I’ve also seen how much Teck puts back into the community. These are the realities of small industry towns in BC!


A pulled-back view of Trail and the Columbia River.


Made it to the top!

Heading down always feels better.  You go faster, it’s more exciting, and there’s far less peddling to do!  The plan was to do a short version of the Milky Way-Happy Valley route (one of the region’s most popular, a 250m drop over about 2km), supposed to be good for ‘letting it rip’ and some classic cross-country before heading back into the top side of town.  Most importantly, according to the hiker I met at the summit, it was supposed to be easy and not a lot of peddling.

The trails are all well-marked and maintained. It was a pleasure riding them, when not throwing up my breakfast..

The trails are all well-marked and maintained. It was a pleasure riding them, when not throwing up my breakfast..

The way down was lovely, lots of bumps and turns and steep sections that kept me on my toes and made me feel I might be able to actually do mountain biking without throwing up or killing myself in a crash.  The trails I had picked were all intermediate rating (perhaps a bit over-ambitious?) but I didn’t find them too difficult.  I only had to save myself from going over the handlebars twice, and I wasn’t going too fast so I was ok.

You can see the pros do it (just a bit) faster than I did:


I’ll admit, I thought about it…for a second!


A lovely meadow section near the bottom of Milky Way. It really is a beautiful part of the province!

I decided to skip the wooden jumps on Milky Way, but did stop at a little log cabin in the woods and enjoyed a brief pause in a meadow section at the bottom of the trail.  I was feeling so good about going downhill, apparently forgetting what happened on the way uphill, that I decided to push the route one loop larger, going down the second half of Milky Way with the intention of cutting back around the mountain on Green Door (300m up over 3.1km) and Roger’s (50m ups and downs over half a kilometre) before reaching town via Cemetery and the Happy Valley Connector (combined 200m up over 3.3km).

A rather creepy log cabin I found along the route.  The roof has mostly collapsed but the area is scattered with garbage suggesting some homeless people or partiers might have been using it as a base.

A rather creepy log cabin I found along the route. The roof has mostly collapsed but the area is scattered with garbage suggesting some homeless people or partiers might have been using it as a base.

One more good view of Trail and the Columbia Valley from a bench on Roger's trail.  This was the last time I really looked at the scenery with fondness...

One more good view of Trail and the Columbia Valley from a bench on Roger’s trail. This was the last time I really looked at the scenery with fondness…

It was all great before I reached Green Door, which was at least 3kms of steady uphill gravel trail.  I walked most of that.  At the top of that trail I got back on the bike and went up and down Roger’s, catching another good look over Trail before…


There goes my back tire.  I’m about 4kms from the centre of town, my phone’s battery is under 50%, I’ve never changed a bike tire before, and it’s 3pm.  The sun sets at 6pm, but more importantly, my pants, jacket and wallet are back at the bike store, which closes at 5!


You have got to be kidding me…


Getting to work on the tire!


My work station for an hour of my bike ride. Could be worse I guess!

I texted my boss saying I might be late for supper, called the store to get a reminder about the tires (they brief you before you leave, so I wasn’t completely blind), and set about replacing the tube.  It took me about 20 minutes, but the tube was in, the tire was on the rim, and the wheel was back on the bike!

But it wouldn’t pump…

Sitting on the side of a single track trail with dirty hands, two finished bottles of Powerade, unfamiliar shorts, and your mom texting you saying she’s worried about grizzly bears is not the most fun part of adventure tourism, but it’s all in the experience.  I pumped like mad for 20 minutes, getting nowhere.  Time to start walking I guess…

One of the headstones in the Columbia Cemetery, which became a rest place halfway through my hike back to town.

One of the headstones in the Columbia Cemetery, which became a rest place halfway through my hike back to town.

As you can tell by reading this, I did make it back out of the woods.  I pushed the bike over Roger’s, down most of Cemetery (I rode a bit on the flat-ish tire on the dirt, but didn’t want to wear out the rims on the rocks), and up Happy Valley (wow that’s steep!) before pushing it over the hill and into town.  I made it back to the bike shop by 4:30, just in time to grab my pants, borrow the boss’s car, make it back to my billet for a shower, and get back into town before supper!

The Rossland Catholic Church

The Rossland Catholic Church

The Rossland Courthouse.  It is still an active courthouse but is also a National Historic Site of Canada.

The Rossland Courthouse. It is still an active courthouse but is also a National Historic Site of Canada.

It turns out the valve on my second tube was too short, so the pump wasn’t able to get any pressure into the tire.  I think it was really because I was provided with a 26″ tube for 27.5″ wheels, but the guys at the shop said that should have worked anyways.  I’m very thankful for their help on the phone and partial refund for my troubles!

My bike-turned-hike in the woods of Rossland sure was an adventure.  While there was a lot going wrong, with pushing myself too hard and the flat tire, I still had fun, saw some great sights, and was glad I gave it a try.    Most important, I made it out safe.  I don’t think I’ll hit an intermediate trail any time soon, and I might be better suited to biking in the Netherlands (i.e. where it’s flat!), but it all adds to the fun of getting to know Rossland.

My post-bike-hike recovery included sampling the local hefeweizen just feet from where it was brewed.  Thanks Rossland Beer Co.!

My post-bike-hike recovery included sampling the local hefeweizen just feet from where it was brewed. Thanks Rossland Beer Co.!

My legs were dead, my head was spinning, and my chest was not happy about hyperventilating for half the day, but it didn’t stop me from catching the great Jeremy Fisher concert at the Flying Steamshovel Pub that night.  Two nice young ladies who work at the Trail hospital befriended me, which meant I had to get up and ‘dance’ for most of the show.  My dancing mainly involved leaning side to side and clapping my hands.  Sorry ladies!

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They even had a guest birthday harmonica solo!



BC Day Instameet: #ExploreVictoria

Yesterday, on the afternoon of a beautiful, sunny, and warm BC Day, I joined my first ever instameet (a meet-up of people who use the social media platform Instagram, in case you don’t already know).  This instameet was organized by Tourism Victoria as part of Destination BC’s province-wide #ExploreBC campaign.

While essentially creating free user-generated content for the local DMO, the event was a fun way to meet some good local photographers and see the inside of social media marketing.  We started in Chinatown and ended with some dinner at the Royal BC Museum’s Food Truck Festival, taking photos and chatting all the way through.  Some who came along were real pros, but other were there just for fun like me, but we all had a great time getting to know each other, talking about the city, and taking photos.

I think I went to the event just for something to do, and because it would be a good blog post idea, but I was hoping to see how people engaged with others on an instameet. I was a bit surprised we hardly ever talked about photography, other than a bit of gear talk about the old cameras, a quick reference to the classic Nikon/Canon debate, and quite a bit more self-promotion. I wonder if an instameet simply for regular users of Instagram (or with specific guidelines about what photos to take like the recent and amazing #emptyBM project) might have had a different result. Instead, our talk at dinner was more about the use of hashtags in getting your images to the top of the search fields. Still, a fun time.

Here are the results of my first ever instameet!

1st stop = refreshment. Ok, now ready to start! #instameet #exploreBC #explorevictoria

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#chinatown #exploreBC #explorevictoria

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Chinatown has some amazing sights and is a common spot for photo walks, but I tried to look for some sights I hadn’t seen before, and play off Instagram’s use of colour.

#explorevictoria #exploreBC

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Didn't expect this high on a wall in Fan Tan Alley! #explorevictoria #exploreBC

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This camera was amazing, and Adrian and his wife were really fun to chat with as we walked around the city. Check out his work!

Nice light coming into #MarketSquare. #explorevictoria #exploreBC #instameet

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One of these things is not like the other. #explorevictoria #exploreBC #WaddingtonAlley

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#WaddingtonAlley #exploreBC #explorevictoria

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Ok #yyj, name this building! #exploreBC #explorevictoria

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(It’s the Youth Empowerment Society, by the way)

Ok @ashleyforsilly try this one! Where in #yyj? #explorevictoria #exploreBC

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(After my friend Ashley guessed the previous one right away I stumped her with this. It’s in Bastion Square!)

We are a seaside town after all… #exploreBC #explorevictoria #fish #salmonfishinginBC

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Almost made it to our last location for the #explorevictoria #exploreBC #instameet

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Thanks Katie and Dorothee from Tourism Victoria for organizing such a fun event and for trying to keep our group together as we made it around Downtown! Remember to all others, you’re always welcome here in Victoria!

I ended the day with my cousin enjoying the Victoria HarbourCats win a great game of baseball. There were even fireworks after!

Check out my Instagram feed to follow along with more exploring around Victoria and wherever else I get to!

Lights and Forts and Interns (oh my!)

Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma. – Wizard of Oz

My new office won’t be quite so dramatic, but at least I’ll get a brain out of it!

Tomorrow, the day after my final day of in-class instruction for my MA, I will begin an internship as the Business Development and Marketing Initiatives Assistant at Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites.  While I still have a thesis and an online course to finish, this is the first time I’m stepping into a job without knowing I’m going back to school after four months.  Oh great Wizard of Oz, what levers will you pull in my life behind your emerald curtain?

The amazing Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site.

To avoid being like the scholars of the Wizard of Oz’s homeland, Royal Roads University (and many others) embrace the model of experiential learning through job placements, co-op terms and internships.  Experiential learning helps those of us who go to university and leave with diplomas to have a brain filled with more than just academic learning.  We leave school with real world experiences to bridge the gap between school and our future careers (also known as real life).

A double exposure of the Fort’s old walls.

I am a big supporter of co-op learning models.  I have already completed three co-op terms as part of my undergraduate degree (History, UVic) where I worked in both France and Canada.  I gained valuable experience working in the history and heritage tourism fields, I travelled the world, I got paid while going to school, and I built up a network of connections that have already proven valuable since my employment ended.  One of the reasons I chose Royal Roads was the opportunity to do yet another co-op, and I look forward to starting tomorrow.

My position with Parks Canada (the national organization that operates the national historic sites) will have a lot of variation including implementing a business plan related to summer programs and promotions, communication with internal and external stakeholders, and possibly creating some new program ideas.  It is a great opportunity for me to try marketing in a well-established and large organization.  There will be many challenges (even just getting there as no buses go by the site) and a steep learning curve over the 13 weeks I’m at the Fort, but I look forward to the challenges and to working with the amazing team there (I’ve heard great things from my friends who have worked there).

Great spot for a wedding!

I’ve already had some great experiences at Fort Rodd Hill including seeing my cousin get married on the rampart this past summer, and one of things I enjoy doing is walking around taking pictures of the old buildings and nature.  Here’s hoping they put my office in the lighthouse!

Can this be my office?




See more of my analogue Fort Rodd Hill photos here.

Note: There are remarkably few relevant quotes from The Wizard of Oz…

CGTW: Anglican Archives

Part of my tasks as researcher with the A City Goes to War project was to visit small local archives to explore their collections.  I was not only looking for information to use in my own parts of the project but also to see what was available for students in the future.  Most of these small archives have no or very limited online presence, many without digital finding aids often, and so it was quite the experience to visit them.

The Archives of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia was one of my first stops.  Located at 900 Vancouver St., in the same block as the magnificent and dominating Christ Church Cathedral, the archives are stored in an old chapel, dimly lit, and open in the mornings only for two days a week.  One of the reasons for the limited hours is that the Diocese has been very busy with the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.

I find that working in these smaller archives brings out the most amazing talents for memory and research among the archivists.  Their collections become their own, they know every nook and cranny, every file hidden in a folder hidden in a box under a table in a cupboard.  Jacquie Nevins, the Diocesan archivist, had books and boxes ready for me right as I got there and continued to supply me with interesting tidbits of information and personal stories as well.  While we had limited time together, she provided me with plenty of worthwhile information that I used in my religion section.

The most useful and interesting findings from my two weeks in the Anglican Archives were articles from the Diocesan Gazette, the monthly newspaper published in Victoria.  The stories of the growing church and its role in the city and the war filled in many gaps in my knowledge and gave such a unique insight into the life of the church 100 years ago.

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