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Broad Street Blues: Hidden Messages in the Landscape

The iconic Broad Street of Victoria, British Columbia is home to a number of eclectic designs and art pieces. Running between Victoria’s City Hall south to the Bay Centre, a discerning pedestrian can wander in awe over the strange designs laid in the streets, tile mosaics, artistic drainage covers and the Lekwungen Monument at the corner of Pandora and Broad.

But few have realized there is something else on Broad Street. Something hinting at the darker past of downtown Victoria.

The plaque of the Lekwungen Monument itself bears the words: There are messages in the landscape here. Many assume it to mean the many messages left by the Songhees First Nations, and while that is true. It’s possible that phrase may be hinting at something that lays beneath the surface.

Walking south along Broad Street, one might notice plaques laid in the sidewalk bearing the names of the streets. Twenty-four of them in total mark the intersections of Pandora, Johnson, Yates and View Streets where they connect with Broad. Most are content to walk on or past them.

But the truth is that there are hidden messages in the landscape, in the form of Morse code.

Each plaque has a number of notches carved into it, and each one offers chilling messages such as: Future Tomb, Silence Clowns, Bones Below and Pure Lust. In what to many seems darkly nonsensical, the hidden messages stoke the flames of morbid curiosity among those astute enough to pick up on it.

So what does it say? Deciphering the messages reveals a poem with deep and dark overtones:

Oust a moment of undressing.
Repavings. Shhh…
It’s not coming of age,
This is pure lust by an old wall
soil catches grasses
too young to imagine sun pass into night
What is the future to you?
An opera
Bones below.
Trembling at a festival in your honour.
Fiddle Player bemused to silence Clowns.
Streetside ghosts,
Your pain.

It’s called Broad Street Blues, and it was written by Victoria taxi driver and author Michael Kenyon for the city. Initially, the poem was supposed to be printed as a mural on Broad Street as part of the revitalization project, but a negative public reaction to the poem itself scrubbed that idea.

Fortunately, the poem was not as stricken as many had assumed, as it’s been immortalized in a streetside cipher, ready to be discovered anew by every inquiring eye that walks the length of Broad Street.

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