Ah, British Columbia: majestic fjords, mighty snow-capped mountains, an abundance of natural resources, and, in spots, the most temperate climate in the land.
No wonder the B.C. government touts the province as "The Best Place on Earth."
So, when MoneySense magazine ranks 179 Canadian cities on such criteria as climate, employment, and crime rate, you expect B.C. locales to do well.
Sure enough, the three Vs - Victoria, Vancouver and Vernon - form a triumvirate of valhallas. Weather? Fantastic. Prosperity? You betcha. Lifestyle? Can't be beat.
Housing? Paradise comes with a price tag.
The shocking news is found at the bottom of the magazine's rankings. The Worst 10 list includes six places whose postal address ends in BC.
The places of infamy include Terrace (No. 170), Prince Rupert (173), Campbell River (174), Port Alberni (175), Quesnel (176), and Williams Lake (178), whose miseries are outmatched only by those endured by the poor saps who live in Bay Roberts, Nfld.
Now, Williams Lake's difficulties with crime are well-known. These capers are often committed by scofflaws with a flair for drama, though they seem at times to be more concerned with weaponry (bare fists, bear spray, cutlasses) and escape vehicles (bare feet, bicycles, Cutlasses) than with preparations as to ensure not being caught.
Perhaps the government will have to revise its claim with an asterisk: "The Best Place on Earth.*" Followed by small print: "*With the exception of a few hellholes you'll want to avoid."
They're getting used to this ignominy in Port Alberni.
"Moving up on the worst list" reads the headline in the Alberni Valley Times. The city manager is quoted as finding some gold amid the dross, noting the city had risen up the ranks from the survey three years ago in which it appeared dead last.
Here's how Julia Caranci of the same newspaper covered the rankings then: "The good news is Port Alberni is the 123rd best city to live in," she wrote. "The bad news is there were only 123 cities on the list."
One resident is not impressed by the magazine, or its methodology.
"Who the hell do they think they are?" asks Maggie Paquet.
The 64-year-old biologist and writer came to the Vancouver Island city to house-sit for a friend. Eleven years later, she's still there.
"It lives up to its reputation as 'the small city with a big heart,'" she said Tuesday. "It is friendly. It has an incredible number of volunteers in all kinds of organizations."
Born in England, raised in a small town in Michigan, she has lived in some of the world's most desirable cities - London and New York, Vancouver and San Francisco. She wishes Port Alberni had a movie house catering to other than teenaged boys, and she misses museums and the opera, but otherwise enjoys the scenery, a year-round farmer's market, and an abundance of wildlife.
Deer wander through her yard. She has bought a $150 bear-proof garbage can so as not to encourage local bruins to loiter. The nearby Kitsuksis Creek teems with salmon. In the fall, she watches cohos jump.
The other day, she was out for a walk when she came across a meadow carpeted by chocolate lilies (also known as Fritillaria affinis, or the outhouse lily) with scattered trilliums.
To add insult to MoneySense's injury, a local establishment in Port Alberni recently became an object of snickering ridicule in an article posted on the Huffington Post website. The American travel writer Doug Lansky compiled photographs of signs from nine hotels with what he describes as the worst names in the world.
These were, for the most part, puerile puns with an emphasis on bedroom and toilet humour. Among the indelicately named establishments are the Ah Chew Hotel (Singapore), Barf Bed and Breakfast (England), and the Hotel Ufuk (Turkey). Also on the list - the Somass Motel in Port Alberni.
"Just another blogger with nothing better to do," shrugged motel proprietor Paul Friberg.
Mr. Friberg has owned the 14-room Somass (pronounced SO-mass, from an aboriginal word meaning "creek flowing over an embankment") for 15 years. He likes Port Alberni just fine, though he wishes he lived closer to the golf courses around Parksville.
The top Canadian city in which to live? Ottawa-Gatineau, according to the magazine. One of the world's coldest capitals - out-shivered only by the chilly likes of Mongolia's Ulan Bator - seems an unlikely Eden.
Which would you prefer: Ice skating on a frozen canal, or umbrella jockeying on the Stanley Park seawall? Senators, or Canucks? Rough Riders, or Lions. (Sorry, I forgot. No more Rough Riders.) Poutine, or sushi? (OK, we'll call that one a draw.)
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