With some stories in his back pocket, Jonathan Brenneman is ready to take some customers on a pedicab ride. (Courtesy Jonathan Brenneman)

With some stories in his back pocket, Jonathan Brenneman is ready to take some customers on a pedicab ride. (Courtesy Jonathan Brenneman)

Victoria pedicab season: the unexpected stories

From ghosts to Jurassic-era trees, driving a pedicab around Victoria is full of surprises for me and my guests

By Jonathan Brenneman

From the moment the Nevadan couple—carrying a backpack full of unrecognizable recording equipment—hopped aboard my pedicab, I knew I was in for an unusual trip. I’d met them at our booth at Ogden Point just minutes before and while I usually pitch tours to my guests, in this case, they pitched me: could I give them a three-hour tour of potentially haunted Victorian buildings?

Well, yes, of course, I stuttered. Many such buildings figure into my tours, from the restaurant-pub The Bent Mast in James Bay, to Helmcken Alley at Bastion Square downtown, to Craigdarroch Castle in the Rockland neighbourhood. A tailored trip of this sort was by no means out of the ordinary.

What was out of the ordinary was what they wanted to do at these sites, wandering around with their recorders and looking for signs of ghostly shenanigans. As we rolled through town, they told me all about their specialized microphones and cameras designed for ghostly encounters; they told me they’d slept in haunted hotels all over North America and indeed even captured the occasional voice from beyond the grave.

READ MORE: A day in the life of a pedicab driver: storytelling, shifting gears, and lots and lots of sun cream

Sceptical as I was of some of these stories, I felt privileged to be in the position to facilitate an unusual tour like this. Naturally, I also took advantage of the opportunity to get my pedicab checked for supernatural activity… and I’m happy to announce that the investigators didn’t think it was haunted!

I can’t say the same for my brain, however; the stories I’ve learned while on the job definitely haunt my subconscious off-hours.

Case in point: the unique half-cactus, half-Christmas tree Chilean pines that pop up all over Victoria. Whether I’m explaining why they are called “monkey puzzles” or how the fossil record shows they date back to the Jurassic era when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, or the reasons they were considered a status symbol here when Fort Victoria was first settled, these spiky trees are pure storytelling gold. I mention them on nearly every tour. So now, whenever I see one, I feel the urgent impulse to tell whoever is around me all about them, whether or not I am on the job!

Last month, I was in Ireland for my partner’s brother’s wedding when I stumbled upon a Chilean pine in a park. Instantaneously, I transformed from “private Johnny” to “tour guide Johnny” and spent ten excited minutes babbling about Monkey Puzzles like a possessed person to a small crowd of bemused Irish in-laws. Then it was like, oh… uh… Sorry about that. Let’s keep walking?

One thing is for sure, I’ve definitely grown to love my “office”—the whole city of Victoria from the vantage point of my bike seat—colleagues, clients, and of course the work itself. Having previously spent most of my adult life working as a travelling reporter and radio host in Vienna, Austria, I long ago discovered a passion for oral storytelling. Bizarre as it might seem to change careers from working in a live radio studio to pedalling around a city on an electric assist pedicab, the two occupations actually have a lot in common. Namely, making personal connections with guests and sharing our stories—these are the things that have made both jobs worthwhile.

Consistently “recommended on TripAdvisor” since 2015, VPC’s tours are one of the highlights of any tourist trip in Victoria. Learn more and book a tour of your own with one of the operators at victoriapedicabs.com; alternatively, you can book a tour with Johnny specifically at journeybyjohnny.com.

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