The City Walks Outline – Victoria in the Religious Imagination

You are invited to participate in the third in a series of discussion based walking tours on the Religious Landscape of Victoria.* In partnership with The City Talks, The City Walks seek to promote public dialogue on important urban themes. This month’s topic is “Victoria in the Religious Imagination.” It takes up themes and issues raised by Myer Siemiatycki in his City Talk at the Legacy Gallery on November 21, 2013. For information on where and when to meet for this tour, please see the previous post. This post lists the sites we’ll visit and the questions we’ll discuss at each site. (You can download a printer friendly copy of this outline by clicking this link.)

Here’s a map of the sites we’ll visit:

The overarching question we’ll be thinking about during the tour is:

  • How has the religious landscape of Victoria been reimagined over the past 150 years?

Centennial SquareCentennial Square
“At its best, modernist planning was imbued with a social justice mission, but its faith in the possibilities of a rational ordering of the city and a mechanistic design for living proved ultimately to be not only unsatisfying but also downright destructive… Now we see the work of creating sacred and spiritually enriching spaces as a necessary antidote to the loss of meaning, inspiration and reverential connectedness that is the aftermath of the modern city.”1

  • What religious and/or spiritual elements can you observe in this square? Does modernist design like this speak to your spiritually? Are planners like Sandercock and Sendel too hard on modernism?
  • How does the Square act as a “sacred center” and as a site of festivals? What “natural and social forces” does it contain? Do these forces “diffuse the tension… between the technical and pastoral” and “the urban and the rural”?2
  • How does this place help us understand the role of religion in Victoria and in other cities?

City Hall Spindle WhorlCity Hall Spindle Whorl
“Established in 2008, the Signs of Lekwungen… is an interpretive walkway along the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas that honours the art, history and culture of the Coast Salish people who have resided in the Victoria area for hundreds of years.”3

  • What can you tell about the cultural, spiritual/religious and artistic significance of this art work?
  • What are the implications of placing this art here, and at the other sites shown on the accompanying map? How does it relate to the adjacent architecture of the original City Hall and the modernist design of Centennial Square?

Temple EmanuelTemple Emanuel
“Whether a particular city can be labelled ‘secular’ or ‘postsecular’ as a consequence of the content and tone of its public [heritage] policies is probably less important than how it is experienced by its citizens.”4

  • What story is told by the heritage plaques at this site? What does this story suggest about the strength and longevity of multiculturalism and inter-religious harmony in Victoria?
  • What do you make of the different municipal, federal and Congregation statements of significance?
  • What’s your reaction to this type of heritage information? Are there other ways you would like to see this information framed?
  • How do apps like Edifica enhance your understanding of heritage places like this? Are mobile digital tools useful in getting to know your city?

St. Vincent de Paul Thrift StoreSt. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store
“The neoliberal turn and the stripping down of the welfare state have returned us to a condition where public charity once again is called upon, and charitable welfare has always been a calling of faith-based organizations. So religious institutions play a more public and more visible role in social service delivery.”5

  • What is neoliberalism? Does it generally fit with your values?6
  • Should governments be expected to provide social services like those being provided here? Are there other ways to provide these types of social services, that don’t rely on religious or other charitable organizations?

“The YMCA was arguably the pioneering Christian urban-commercial enterprise, large-scale in its operations, drawing revenue in part from various commercial enterprises, … leveraging on business networks, and applying all this to a Christian mission of evangelism and social work… However… [it] had difficulty reconciling its Christian calling with its social and commercial ones.” Many Ys became more secular over the course of the 20th century.7

  • Should we understand places like the YMCA gym and the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store as religious sites, as commercial sites or as hybrid sites? How should they be managed, zoned and taxed by municipal governments?

St. Andrew's Presbyterian ChurchSt. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church
“[My father] saw that nearly all the people in Victoria were English and smiled at how they tried to be more English than the English themselves, just to prove to themselves and the world how loyal they were being to the Old Land,” claims the semi-autobiographical narrator in Emily Carr’s The Book of Small. “Instead of being English [my parents] had broadened out into being British.”8

  • How does this architecture speak to the claim that Victoria is “more English than the English”?
  • Is it possible to “read” architecture and notice subtle differences that speak to the ethnic origins of this church’s founders? What is “Scottish Baronial” style? Can you think of other local places of worship that use architecture to communicate their use?
  • What defines English, Scottish, British and Canadian ethnicity? How does this relate to how we imagine religion in our city?9

Songhees Point LookoutSonghees Point Lookout
Songhees Point “was known to the Lekwammen as Pallatsis, the place of cradles. Lekwammen parents had brought the cradles their children outgrew here because to do so would offer protection to the children. Young men also came here in preparation for initiation into the winter dance ceremonies… The islands in the harbour and on Laurel Point… were centuries old gravesites.”10

  • What evidence remains in the landscape that there was once a First Nation’s reserve at Songhees Point, and burial sites on the islands and at Laurel Point? How does this information influence your perception of the religious and spiritual history of Victoria?
  • How do you think Victoria would have been different if the reserve and burial sites had remained where they were over the past century?


*These walks are part of a research project investigating the pedagogical utility of discussion based walking tours. Participants will be invited to provide information for this research project, and will have the opportunity to participate in later focus groups. Participation in this research project is voluntary.

1Leonie Sandercock & Maged Senbel, “Spirituality, Urban Life and the Urban Professions,” in Justin Beaumont & Christopher Baker (eds.), Postsecular Cities: Space, Theory and Practice (New York: Continuum, 2011), 88 & 100.

2Ira G. Zepp, Jr., The New Religious Image of Urban America: The Shopping Mall as Ceremonial Center, 2nd Edition (Niwot, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 1997), 12-14.

3City of Victoria, “Signs of Lekwungen [brochure],” 2008.

4Greg Ashworth, “Public Pasts in Plural Societies: Models for Management in the Postsecular City,” in Justin Beaumont & Christopher Baker (eds.), Postsecular Cities: Space, Theory and Practice (New York: Continuum, 2011), 182.

5David Ley, “Preface: Towards the Postsecular City?” in Justin Beaumont & Christopher Baker (eds.), Postsecular Cities: Space, Theory and Practice (New York: Continuum, 2011), xiii.

6David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

7Robbie B.H. Goh, “Market Theory, Market Theology: The Business of the Church in the City,” in Justin Beaumont & Christopher Baker (eds.), Postsecular Cities: Space, Theory and Practice (New York: Continuum, 2011), 56.

8Emily Carr, The Book of Small (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 2004 [1942]), 98.

9 Kate Darian-Smith, Patricia Grimshaw & Stuart MacIntyre (eds), Britishness Abroad: Transnational Movements and Imperial Culture (Melbourne University Press, 2007).

10History of Racialisation Working Group, “The Songhees / Lekwammen,” in “Imperial Paradise”? An Alternative Walking Tour of Victoria, BC (Victoria: University of Victoria, 2000),, accessed November 6, 2013.

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5 Responses to The City Walks Outline – Victoria in the Religious Imagination

  1. Pingback: The City Walks – “Victoria in the Religious Imagination” | Vincent's Victoria

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  3. Pingback: Walking Tour Featured Resource: Historic Places’ Edifica | Vincent's Victoria

  4. Pingback: CSRS 2013 Newsletter: Blame it on Jane, The City Walks & Religion in the City | Vincent's Victoria

  5. Pingback: The City Walks – “Victoria in the Religious Imagination” | Vincent's Victoria

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