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Thousands celebrate big day

Aug 03 2012

Behind city hall in Centennial Square, residents and dignitaries from throughout the region and around the world celebrated Victoria's 150th birthday on Thursday.

The event was designed to embrace the city's past and promote Victoria on the world stage, said Mayor Dean Fortin, who hosted delegates from two of its four sister cities, B.C.'s lieutenant-governor and politicians from neighbouring municipalities.

The square had thousands of visitors taking in the live entertainment and listening to speeches throughout the morning.

Some of those speakers used the celebratory atmosphere to take some friendly jabs at their oldest neighbour.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard was the first to poke fun at Victoria during a special council meeting at city hall.

"No matter where you live in the region, you are indeed invested in the City of Victoria, whether it's physically or emotionally, and you're important to us," he said. "Some of us might have an Uptown, but you'll always be our downtown."

After the ceremonial council meeting, dignitaries were led by bagpipers to the Spirit Stage, where audience members said Lt.-Gov. Steven Point shared some of the most inspirational words of the day.

"I invite you to look forward into the future and ask yourself: What's your story? What did you bring to Victoria? How did you add to the wonderful fabric of this community? Because each one of you has done so," he said.

"We are, after all, more than the buildings that we design. We are a community of people bound together by a common history and a desire in us to do what is right."

Visitors to the square were reminded of Victoria's global reach, particularly by delegations from sister cities Napier, New Zealand, and Morioka, Japan.

Fortin worked hard to get those officials here for the celebration. He wrote to Mayor Barbara Arnott of Napier twice before she agreed to travel the great distance.

"I thought about it long and hard because it was a long way to come, but then he wrote me again and it was very well worded," she said. "I was quite impressed by that and said, how can we not come?"

Delegates from two other sister cities - Suzhou, China, and Khabarovsk, Russia - had planned to come, but could not make it, Fortin said.

Victoria resident Toni Bacon applauded the representatives from the two sister cities who attended.

"I think it's an important connection," she said.

"We're part of the larger global community and we need to acknowledge and stretch out and make connections wherever we can in the world. We don't just live in our own little bubble."

By noon, the official portion of the day had wound down and residents walked the square downing free food and taking in the entertainment.

Some toured the 32-metre clock tower, while others tried on costumes. There were even opportunities to record messages for the Victoria 150 time capsule.

Oscar Corletto was in the crowd on Thursday, recognizing the need to celebrate the milestone birthday.

"One hundred and fifty's huge," he said. "For the West Coast, that's old."

Corletto's friend Diane Nichol agreed, saying, "Canada's so young, this is monumentous."

Fortin boasted about his city's history and its evolution, but gave praise to all the politicians in Greater Victoria, who, he said, contribute to the improvement of the region.

"That's the funny thing, when we mayors get together, we've got to be the most boring people to ever have a party with," he said.

"We sit around and talk about garbage disposal and sewer and how the water pipes are working, but when you do all that right, that's what people care about and that's what we need to keep doing."

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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