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Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens

By Eve Lazarus

Review By John Adams

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 181 Spring 2014  | p. 133-34

Eve Lazarus is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and self-confessed obsessive blogger about houses and their genealogies. Her passion for history, the arts, old houses, and her community has resulted in three previous books: At Home with History: The Untold Secrets of Vancouver’s Heritage Homes; Frommer’s Vancouver with Kids; and, The Life & Art of Frank Molnar, Jack Hardman and LeRoy Jensen (which she co-authored). She has now extended her scope to include British Columbia’s capital city in Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens, an attractive and lavishly illustrated popular history that is promoted as a “must-read for both history buffs and regular visitors to The Garden City.”

Sensational Victoria is an eclectic compendium of truly captivating stories. While a few are sensational because they are about murders and ghosts, most of them are sensational because they excite our senses of sight and sound and allude to our sense of smell. The work of selected artists, writers, poets, and gardeners comes to life through Lazarus’s carefully written prose, brief quotations, and excellent photographs.

The book is a true potpourri of diverse stories, written mainly in the form of short articles. The ten chapters consist of legendary women, tales of the sea, the red light district, murder, ghost stories, heritage gardens, interesting people the author calls “bright lights,” the group of artists called the Limners, a downtown walking tour, and an Emily Carr walking tour. Though many of the stories are based on published material, such secondary sources have not yet been overly used. Many of the people Lazarus writes about are still alive and she has included extensive information based on her interviews with them. This aspect of the book will appeal to both local historians and community researchers who are looking for new, fresh material.

Carefully chosen photographs illustrate every chapter. Archival images are juxtaposed with good quality ones taken by the author herself. Though colour pictures adorn the cover, all inside photographs are black and white. Since they form an important part of the book, it is gratifying that the images are crisp and large enough to show detail. From a variety of sources, including private collections, few of the archival images used here have appeared in other local histories of Victoria.

There are no specific references or footnotes in the book, but Lazarus does include a useful bibliography. She also has provided a detailed index that, because the chapters are not in any special order and their contents are randomly presented, will be particularly beneficial to readers who want to retrieve information at a later date. This is not a criticism because the way the material is presented is one of the book’s strengths and keeps it lively and interesting.

Sensational Victoria will probably appeal most to people who live in and around the capital city, especially those who follow the arts, or who have moved away and want to find out about some of Victoria’s quirky history or update themselves on recent cultural and social trends. Well researched and well written, it will be a useful source of fact and background about deserving people and themes which, for the most part, are rarely given the limelight.

Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens
By Eve Lazarus 
Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2012. 160 pp. $24.00 paper