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After a busy summer in overheated cities, I’m grateful for the more gentle pace of smaller places, like Victoria, Canada.

Historic Empress Hotel dominates Victoria waterfront, yet mosaic orca sculpture gets lot of attention too. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

I’m grateful for the Canadian Customs staff who meet American arrivals at a small office, just off the ferry docks.  When are customs officials in any country that friendly? And where do you find a customs office anywhere with the doors and windows wide open? There’s a Michael Moore metaphor here for the sweet Canadian-ness of it all.

Honestly, when do strangers wave and yell boisterous welcomes to all disembarking passengers?  It makes you feel like a rock star, leaving that gleaming, white boat, only to find happy faces on shore, giddy to see all the arrivals.

OK, it might have been the returning teen girls’ soccer team that would explain all that shrieking, but Canadians actually shook my hand and welcomed me and all the other strangers in line.

That leaves a strong impression.

It might be the Mediterranean climate year-round or being surrounded by water or the fact that this has to be one of the most flower-filled places I’ve stayed, but Victoria is a special place with very special people.

Horse-drawn carriages are almost as common as bicycles at Victoria’s waterfront. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

Perhaps it’s all that history (Queen Victoria’s statue stands on the front lawn of the Legislative Buildings, facing the waterfront). Perhaps it’s the quaint, horse-drawn carriages, high tea at the 1908 Empress Hotel, or all the “royal” souvenirs (my favorite — a Queen Elizabeth doll, solar-powered so her hand never stops waving), but the city does have a distinct Old World flavor that gets squeezed out of larger cities.

The city is changing and growing, as all important places do (Victoria is the capital of British Columbia), yet its charm remains.

I’ve traveled to Victoria several times in the past year, and every time, I’ve been grateful for the warm welcome, for the kindness of strangers who had no obligation to help me, and for the laidback approach of Victorians.

Sidewalk sign, Victoria. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

How could anyone not walk in gratitude — especially on a sunny, summer afternoon — not far from the harborfront, when you see this message? It’s carved into the steps of Full Circle Studio Arts, below their “peace in the world” sign. That’s Victoria. That’s Canada.

I’m grateful for First Nations artists, who work at the waterfront almost every day of the year, and share their work with passersby, whether they’re shopping or not.  I’m grateful to Adrian Xavier Sampare of the Gitxsan, an artist, musician, and Victoria art teacher, who gave permission to show this print.

It’s a most fitting symbol for Victoria’s kinder, gentler pace.

Print by Gitxsan artist Adrian Xavier Sampare.