I live for summertime on Vancouver Island. There’s a reason approximately four million tourists visit Greater Victoria each year and there are many reasons we stay despite them.
A decade ago I visited the Capital City for the first time. It was July and I was immediately made aware of a wide range of events; the Bastion Square Market, the Ship Point Night Market, Victoria Electronic Music Festival in Centennial Square, the massive Canada Day festivities at the legislative building, and Pride, to name a few.
Sixteen-year-old me was most excited for something called Ska Fest, a five-day event bringing musicians from around the world to stages at numerous venues throughout the downtown core; the Victoria Curling Club, Market Square, a handful of nightclubs, and of course, Ship Point, where hours of free shows would echo across the Inner Harbour and streets of downtown.
I had been visiting a family friend up Island for a month during the summer between my grade 10 and 11 years of highschool and we had driven down to Victoria for the day.
That day in 2009, the 10th anniversary of Victoria’s Ska & (as of 2017) Reggae Festival would change my life.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Slackers were that year’s headliners. I picked up a festival shirt that year, which is the only reason I am able to recollect this information with confidence. I also grabbed a Slackers tee. I have made a tradition of both attending the festival and buying a shirt each year since. Unfortunately, in 2012 I bought a Ska Fest sweater and promptly lost it, perhaps this year, at the 20th anniversary, I’ll replace it.
That year, on the grassy knoll, in between sets, I met two of who would become my first friends on Vancouver Island. I would stay in touch with them throughout the year before moving here permanently the following summer. It was an easy decision to make considering the location, culture, and warmth of the people I had met.
When I returned in July of 2010 I met up with familiar faces from the summer before, made many more new friends, and actually stayed in Victoria for the entire festival. I was hooked and I now support Victoria Ska Society shows throughout the year. These shows always seem to have the best vibes, best dancers, happiest patrons, and a certain smell about them.
For any festival to be in its 20th year is quite impressive and Victoria can boast that it has the longest running ska festival in North America, thanks to organizer, Dane Roberts, who first created the event as part of his degree program at the University of Victoria.
Made up of over 200 hundred volunteers, the Victoria BC Ska Society has created a brilliant, recurring, cultural experience, that is accessible to all, and delights familiar faces and newcomers alike.
Shout out to Ska Fest for playing a pivotal role in bringing me to Vancouver Island and becoming an experience thousands look forward to every summer.
The popular celebration kicks off with a free show at downtown Victoria’s Ship Point on June 19, with concerts and visual art spectacles happening throughout the region until June 23.