February, 2015

  1. Victoria’s Echosec Spills Putin’s Secrets

    February 27, 2015 by Tessa Bousfield

    Victoria tech startup Echosec is getting recognition from some of the world’s top security analysts for spilling Vladmir Putin’s secrets.

    By examining a trail of geo-tagged breadcrumbs left online by one smartphone-loving conscript, the Echosec team collected compelling evidence that Russian troops are in Ukraine, in turn creating a buzz in the blogosphere.

    The team followed a Russian soldier’s posts on social media, learning his date of birth, hometown, and the exact location where he posted from on a variety of social media platforms.

    Echosec, led by Tectoria mapping technology guru Karl Swannie, has created a location-based search tool that allows its users to search physical regions for messages, images, videos and more.

    While Echosec has a powerful app aimed at pros, anyone can use their public app here to examine Tweets, Instagram posts and more from specific geographic locations.

    Echosec’s search tool not only aggregates dozens of social media feeds and their geolocation data, but also quickly and  easily “fences in” the search area.

    The pro version of Echosec’s search engine mines close to 500 data feeds, including social media networks and open data from governments and the private sector.

    If whoever is posting hasn’t locked down their privacy settings – and this could include your own Facebook and Instagram feeds, for example – the geo-tagged data is available for anyone to gather and analyze on the internet.

    Recognition for Echosec

    Echosec’s hard work here in Victoria is gaining global recognition.

    Echosec ‘s success at finding evidence of Russian fighting in Ukraine was recently given a shout-out by influential global security blog Bellingcat.

    Echosec’s analysis is important because there are strong suspicions that Russian troops are being dispatched by Vladmir Putin deep inside Ukrainian borders to tip the scales in that country’s civil war, a violation of international law.

    Not bad for one of the three hundred or so tech companies that are hidden downtown – Echosec, along with a number of other tech companies, is currently located on the second floor of a building Owen Matthews owns at Fort and Vancouver.

    The neighbourhood of Harris Green is become a tech cluster; Matthews also launched a “mini-tech park” nearby in a former bottle depot on Vancouver Street, kittycorner to where Echosec calls home.

    Echosec’s technology: evidence that Russian troops are in Ukraine

    It took the Echosec team just a few hours to demonstrate that Russian soldiers are most likely deployed in Ukraine. The team followed on a Russian soldier on social media, learning his his date of birth, hometown, and the exact location where he posted from on a variety of social media platforms.

    The location of the soldier’s social media activity according to geo-tagging?

    The Donetsk region, well over the border from Russia and the scene of most of the fighting in the civil war.

    How Echosec found evidence of Russians fighting in Ukraine

    Brown Moses, aka “Bellingcat”

    Bellingcat’s shout-out to Victoria-based Echosec is an important bit of recognition from one of the world’s most innovative security analysts.

    Bellingcat (@bellingcat) is the name of the influential “citizen journalism” project started by independent UK security researcher Eliot Higgins.

    Using the pseudonym Brown Moses, Higgins gained global recognition after starting out several years ago spending his day monitoring nearly 500 YouTube channels to get insights about the brutal Syrian civil war.

    Higgins was doing his online monitoring and research at a time when few if any Western media were able to report from inside the Syria. As a result Higgins’ insights often helped influence public opinion and government policy around the world.

    Fast-forward to 2015, and Higgins and his crowdsourced Bellingcat project now regularly scoop major news media.

    The ability to pinpoint the origin of social media posts

    What sets Echosec apart from other search technology is its ability to “geo-fence.” Using Echosec’s technology, users can  draw a virtual line around a building or an area, and to tap into all the publicly available data from that location. That means not only social media feeds but open data that could include everything from live webcam feeds to government information.

    In this case, Echosec tracked the social media activity of one soldier to demonstrate that Russia is indeed deploying its military in Ukraine.

    B-Side Bonus: the Guardian Explains How Bellingcat Analyzes Social Media

    The Guardian newspaper provides a fascinating analysis of how the Bellingcat team compared historical satellite imagery on Google Earth and social media videos to support their theory that a series of key artillery strikes on Ukrainian forces in summer 2014 came from inside Russia.

    In this video below Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins explains how he used open-source information to determine cross-border artillery attacks that appear to be being fired from Russian territory into Ukraine. His team used satellite imagery on Google Earth and crater analysis techniques.

    (Video opens in a new window)

    brown moses

  2. Victoria Soda Works: the Local Pop We Should all be Making a Fizz About

    February 20, 2015 by Tessa Bousfield

    Story contributed by Tessa Bousfield

    soda works


    Chris and Laura Verhoeven were walking down a street in Victoria one summer day when Chris got thirsty for an ice cold soda and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a local soda? We have local beer, local spirits, local cheese, why not soda?”

    When life was simpler and not dominated by large multi-national companies, there were all sorts of local bottlers that dotted the landscape. The style of 1950s and 60s soda pops just tasted better; the quality was recognized in every single bottle. So, that idea sat with Chris until Victoria Soda Works was born.



    Victoria Soda Works makes hand crafted, small batch soda pop in 16 tasty flavours. To name a few there’s Classic Orange, Black Cherry, BlueBridge Raspberry, Radio Cola, Round House Root Beer, Morley’s Bitter Lemon and Pinky Grapefruit. You won’t find High Fructose Syrup in these reusable glass bottles, but only real cane sugar and beet sugar that is grown and refined in Tabor, Alberta.

    If you don’t have a sweet tooth, they also have a secondary brand called Mile Zero Seltzers. Mile Zero Seltzers have zero sugar, zero calories and zero artificial sweeteners in them. The Black Berry, Cucumber and Tangerine flavors are a light, refreshing thirst quencher or a fantastic mix for a great cocktail.

    The careful crafting and creative flavors are not the only ingredients that make this local line of sodas unique. Every bottle of soda they sell has a deposit associated with it. The bottles are brought back to their shop in Esquimalt and put through a special washer that sanitizes each bottle before they reuse it. This is repeated again and again.


    Victoria Soda Works has been forming for the past four years and they’ve had the privilege of being invited to local events to promote their brands directly to the community. They set up at a funky Tiki Hut at Capital Iron’s Celebrity Slider Cook Off, a fundraiser for the Mustard Seed Food Bank last May, and served up eight flavours to choose from with each donation. They had a ring toss game set up at the UrbaCity Challenge last summer, as well as selling their sodas at the Sidney Market, the James Bay Market, and the Bastion Square market.

    taste the rainbow

    If you have a party, wedding or corporate event, you can order batches of the delectable soda pops with custom, private labels, flavours and colours to match your theme. Chris and Laura feel this component is going to really pick up and it was proven successful at the Times Colonist’s Capital Magazine launch party last year.


    During the early stages of Victoria Soda Works, they heard that VIATeC was hosting a Victoria Angel investment presentation, and they ended up securing a 5-minute preview pitch. “It was a wonderful learning experience about not only how to talk to potential investors and provide them the information they need, but also about our own company,” commented Chris. “It forced us to answer tough questions, drill down to exactly what we were doing, and how we were going to make money doing it.  Because at the end of the day, you can be the most passionate person in the world for what you do, but if you can’t make any money doing it, then you may want to rethink your plan.”

    variety 6 pack at hudson-crop-u5148


    Victoria Soda Works can soon be found at Chorizo & Co. in downtown Victoria and a selection of their flavours are currently available at Shirley Delicious Cafe, just past Sooke. This summer they will be at the Sidney Market every Thursday evening, and many local events and festivals. To bridge the gap between now and full retail availability,  a 6 pack home/office delivery program has been set up. You choose from the available flavours, and they deliver right to your door.


  3. The B-Side: the Hidden History of Victoria’s Waterfront

    February 13, 2015 by Tessa Bousfield

    Nowadays, Victoria’s waterfront is a picturesque place to go site-seeing or attend festivals in the summertime.

    In the past, however, much of the shoreline including the Inner Harbour was the working heart of the city, and a major place to meet or embark on voyages.

    First Nations people have lived and gathered in Victoria for thousands of years.

    In fact, the shoreline where the Coast Guard station is currently located between Fisherman’s Wharf and Ogden Point was once a major gathering point for people from all over the Northwest Coast and Puget Sound.

    Visitors would paddle oceangoing canoes to Victoria to trade, and they would set up temporary camp on the beach across from Songhees during their visit.


    Image source: qmackie.com, vihistory

    Victoria: a few firsts on the West Coast

    The Victoria region has always been a  transportation and communications hub.

    In 1861 Victoria became the first Canadian community on the West Coast to get a telegraph connection.

    The telegraph connected Olympia Washington with Victoria via Telegraph Cove near Cadboro Bay.

    Another first: gaslight was first introduced to British Columbia and Victoria in 1862, just twenty years after James Douglas surveyed the area for Fort Victoria. The coal that fueled the gas lights came from nearby mines of Nanaimo and Cumberland.

    Seattle wouldn’t have its first gas lights until 1873. Vancouver would have to wait until 1886.

    Victoria: first stop on the way to the gold fields

    In the 1800’s, Victoria was a city of firsts mostly because we were the most accessible transport hub on the West Coast for much of that century. People stopped here on their way to the gold fields.

    The continent-spanning Canadian Pacific Railway would not be extended to Gastown and False Creek until 1887, so for much of the century Victoria was the first and best deepwater port after San Francisco.

    Victoria – a leader in innovative transportation

    By 1900 Victoria was part of what was once the largest streetcar and interurban rail system in the world.

    The Victoria rail network was operated by BC Electric (the same entity that established gas lights in Victoria) also operated an integrated rail and ferry service that helped link Victoria with the mainland.

    The tram, rail, and ferry links all worked together to connect Victoria and Sidney with New Westminster, Port Moody and, later, Vancouver.

    An efficient and extensive interurban light rail system

    On the Island, in an era before automobiles, electric tram lines provide quick and convenient connections between downtown Victoria and all of Greater Victoria.

    Interurban Road itself is named after the old tram line that ran up Burnside to Interurban, and then up the west side of the Saanich Peninsula to Deep Cove.

    The Victoria & Sidney Railway ran up what is now Lochside Trail. The flat rail bed makes it an excellent cycle path.

    While buses and cars meant an end to light rail in Victoria, the excellent museum on Beacon Avenue in Sidney has some great exhibits of the old commuter rail system.

    The first double-decker buses in North America

    Victoria, being ground zero for the advanced technologies of the time including rail and gas light, still manages to be innovative when it comes to transportation.

    In 2000 Victoria became the first city in North America to use double decker buses in regular public transit service as well as the first city to use hybrid double-decker buses.


    Greater Victoria’s Waterfront: the working heart of our community

    Besides serving for nearly a century as a major steamship terminal connecting Victoria with the West Coast and Asia, Victoria’s waterfront employed thousands of people at factories, canneries and shipyards.


    Esquimalt Graving Dock, first built in 1876, is now the largest solid-bottom commercial drydock on the West Coast of North and South America.

    The large graving dock was built in Esquimalt in part to provide Victoria with an economic engine after the CPR terminus in Gastown shifted steamship traffic to Vancouver.

    Victoria embraced shipbuilding in a big way.

    Victoria’s rich history of shipbuilding

    Victoria’s shipbuilding industry began in 1859 at at the foot of Dallas Road and became an economic juggernaut by World War I.

    Five 2,500 ton, and twenty larger 3,000 ton wooden steamers were built for wartime use, with an additional six large, five-masted auxiliary lumber schooners, being constructed, to maintain B.C. forestry industry shipping throughout the Pacific.

    Point Hope Shipyard, the first shipyard in British Columbia, had already been established near Ogden Point in 1873.

    Victoria: building and repairing ship during two world wars

    During the First World War another yard, Yarrow, based in Esquimalt, repaired and refitted many vessels for the Royal Navy, employing up to 800 men.

    During the Second World War the company produced Flower-class corvettes, frigates, landing ships, and transport ferries for the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy, as well as freighters.

    Other work included arming civilian ships and refitting at least one as a troop carrier.

    At its peak, 3,500 men and women worked for Yarrow building ships in Victoria.

    Another shipbuilder, Albion Iron Works at Point Ellice, turned out boilers, engines, and pipes for early steamers. The hulls were made of wood on slips in the yard. Later the yard turned out ships, like the sternwheeler SS Mount Royal.

    Albion merged with Victoria Machinery Depot (VMD) in 1888, and the area that is now Dockside Green played a key role in both world wars building and repairing ships.

    SEDCO 135-F: cool name, even cooler project

    VMD built several BC Ferries vessels and In 1965-1967 also made the oil drilling platform SEDCO 135-F.

    At the time of its construction SEDCO 135-F was the largest semi-submersible platform in the world and the first oil platform built in BC.


    Image courtesy Times Colonist

    The legacy of Victoria’s innovative, industrial past

    The coal gas for the lights came from a large gas and electric works on the east shore of Rock Bay, just north of what is now Victoria’s old town.

    A powerhouse at the end of Store Street, where Island Asphalt is now located, also provide electricity for Victoria’s innovative network tram lines that stretched all over Greater Victoria.

    The process of creating coal gas left long-lasting effects on the environment.

    The Rock Bay site was used for a coal gasification plant from 1862 to 1952 by Victoria Gas and B.C. Electric, which eventually became B.C. Hydro. In 1883, the City of Victoria received approval to use the head of the bay as a dump site. A tannery and sawmills were also located around the bay, a 2004 government document states. Infilling, several metres deep, contributed to the contamination as well.

    Cleanup of the site has cost $100 million so far and is almost complete, reuniting Victoria with valuable waterfront land along Rock Bay.

    The transformation of Rock Bay will mark the continuing evolution of Victoria waterfront to a knowledge economy.

  4. February is Black History Month in Victoria

    February 6, 2015 by Tessa Bousfield

    Although it’s not something we as a community often reflect on, black pioneers played an important role in Victoria’s history.

    In fact, black pioneers played a significant role in the history of Canada. To mark these important contributions, February is designated Black History Month across Canada.

    Victoria has a number of events to commemorate black settlers to our region.

    But first, a little backstory:

    In the 1800’s over 30,000 Black slaves escaped to free States in the U.S. and to Canada, traveling through “the Underground Railroad.”

    Some of these folks ended up in Victoria in the 1850’s, which at the time was booming as a stopping-off point to the Fraser River Gold Rush.

    In fact, Vancouver Island and later British Columbia’s first governor, Sir James Douglas, “The Father of British Columbia” had black heritage – his mother was a Creole from Guyana.

    By 1858 Governor Douglas had invited 10 black police officers from Jamaica to form Victoria’s first constabulary. Unfortunately, racist attitudes were prevalent in the colony at the time, and the unit was forced to disband.

    That same year Douglas invited nearly 800 free Blacks to come to Victoria from San Francisco, where they had been enduring oppressive conditions.

    Encouraging settlement on Vancouver Island was a critical goal for Douglas – the gold fields up the Fraser River were attracting a lot of Americans, and it was only a matter of time before the United States would decide to annex the land that would become British Columbia. Establishing settlements was a key strategy for holding onto Vancouver Island and the mainland for the British Crown:

    In the crucial early years of British Columbia’s existence as a colony, the Black settlers provided Douglas with a “most orderly and useful and loyal section of the community,” as the widow of polar explorer Sir John Franklin observed when she met some of them in 1861. They were to provide a solid centre of political gravity in the colony, and they helped to define the terms on which it entered Confederation in 1872.

    Once here, the black settlers from San Francisco still endured tremendous discrimination. However, many rose to prominent positions in Victoria society, and the group formed one of the earliest colonial militia units, the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps.

    In 1859, when the volunteer Fire Department was being created in Victoria, several black settlers volunteered to serve but they were rejected by the Europeans organizing the committee.

    The black volunteers remained undaunted and went to Governor Sir James Douglas to offer their services as a volunteer militia unit. In view of a potential war between the United States and Canada over ownership of the San Juan Island, Douglas accepted. This “war” became known as The Pig War when an American settler shot a pig belonging to a British farmer.

    By the Spring of 1860, 40 to 50 Black men were enrolled in the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company. The corps was officially sworn in on July, 1861. The Royal Navy supplied drill sergeants and the volunteers built themselves a drill house on Yates Street which soon became a gathering place and social centre for the Black community.

    Selected Black History Month Events in Victoria

    Saturday,February 7 – Underground Railway

    Ron Nicholson discusses the Underground Railway (Brentwood Bay Community Centre)

    Sunday, February 15 – BC Black History and Heritage Day

    UVic professor John Lutz presents on Grafton Tyler Brown,first professional graphic artist in BC (New Horizons Centre, James Bay)

    Sunday, February 22 – Ross Bay Cemetery Tour

    Many black pioneers are buried in Ross Bay Cemetery in Fairfield

    Monday, February 23 – An Evening of Storytelling, Gospel, Jazz and Blues (Belfry Theatre)

    See spoken word, music and more at the Belfry Theatre in Fernwood.

    For more information about Black History Month events see BC Black History.