Unknown Victoria

Victoria: The Unknown City is a guidebook to an eccentric town on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. This is the author's blog. Look here for Victoria lore, updates and additions to the book, and hate mail.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Government Music

One cutback for which we can all be grateful is the disappearance of songs commissioned by Victoria's various levels of government. Several decades ago, the powers that be thought it would be nifty to have promotional tunes extolling the virtues of the Garden City, and the result was some of the drippiest music ever committed to vinyl. Such memorable tunes include the “Victoria” track on Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra’s British Columbia Suite, an album commissioned by B.C. Tourist Board in 1963; “Victoria,” recorded by Ed Lafave and The Friendship Company for B.C.’s centennial in 1958, replete with horn fluorishes that sound like dying elephants; and the perky “Salute to Saanich,” penned by Audrey E. Ross in 1981 for the big municipality’s 75th anniversary.

Without a doubt, however, the sappiest of them all was the strings-heavy “Follow The Birds” by Ken Garland, recorded for the B.C. Ferry Corporation in 1966. (Lyrics: Just follow the birds, to the city of beauty / A ferryboat glides away to an island that’s called paradise. / Where the wind through the oaks / and the cry of the gulls / Sing a song of the sea / Victoria: remember, tenderly.) As fellow local-history sleuth Janis Ringuette reminded me, the message was rather deceptive: birds actually followed the ferries to Victoria, because they fed on the garbage the crews dumped off the stern, a practice that continued until the 1980s.

Here's an audio clip of Garland's tune, sung in all its dubious glory by John Dunbar:

"Follow The Birds" (MP3)

(Thanks to Brian Linds for turning me on to this gem.)

PS After this item appeared in Monday magazine, someone wrote in to mention that Ken Garland later worked as a tour bus driver. On one tour, the writer recalled, Garland "insisted we insert a tape of his 'claim to fame' during an extended segment of the day's intinerary, [and] most of the people aboard the coach loved the tune, making the bus driver/musician beam with pride." She continued: "In later years I mocked the notion of the seagulls following a trail of discarded outfall ferry foam, but when in the throes of sentimentality, who cares? We have a billion dollar tourism industry to protect; perhaps government should reinstate Garland's tender tune."


At 7:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember this song! It seems to me I first heard it performed live at the annual Naden Gun Run, which took place in Beacon Hill Park. Soon afterwards it was in heavy rotation on my mother's favourite radio station, C-Fax. Now I just have to get it out of my mind.

At 10:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a new unused blued steel panel with "Follow the birds to Victoria British Columbia . Cross the International Boundary on the Ferry, No Red tape" A ferry with gulls silkscreened on the steel plate. The were given to Coach line bus drivers to nail up all over the states. When the terminal was torn down on the harbor some ( 9 ea ) were found in a wall.


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