Memories of Christmas past

Prominent Oak Bay citizens reflect back on holidays gone by

Christmas memories from Oak Bay memories.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen

The sense of smell plays a huge role in the warm memories of Christmases past for Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.

“As a child one of the things I remember is the wonderful traditional Danish Christmas Eve that my family enjoyed. We would get  dressed up … it was just such an important gathering,” he said. “My fondest memory is the smell and the joy and the tradition of it. You knew to expect it every year. It was so wonderful, it was a time before cellphones and cable so we could just focus on the four of us in the family.”

Dinner was special food served only at that time year, pork with crackling, red cabbage and “wonderful” glazed potatoes.

“It’s the aroma of Christmas, all intermingled with the smell of a fresh tree. It was a time when my brother and I and mom and dad would sit down to a quiet family dinner and give thanks for our wonderful bounties.”

That tree featured real candles, though they weren’t lit

“It was a Danish tradition to light them, but living in apartments in those days, we thought best not to.”

Nowadays Jensen blends Danish and Canadian traditions, celebrating a quiet Christmas Eve with a gift or two followed by the early morning rise to more presents the next day.

 

Oak Bay’s own Hockey Sweater Story

Similar to the youngster in The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen didn’t sport the traditional Canadiens garb of other kids in his Montreal neighbourhood. The difference is, he was pretty happy about it.

“We’d only been a few years in Canada, I would have been about eight or nine and I had really taken to hockey. In those days in Montreal you played outdoors.

“We were on the rink pretty well every day. Our lives took place in three areas: school, home and on the outdoor hockey rink.

“All the kids had Montreal Canadiens outfits. I happened to become a follower of the New York Rangers. I just thought they were wonderful. One year I got all of the outfit for New York Rangers – socks, pants, right down to the toque. I loved going to the rink in that outfit. It certainly drew attention to me when I was out playing hockey.”

“When I read that book to my children it brought back many memories, but very different. In my case … I was attracted to the New York Rangers for some unexplainable reason… maybe it was because they had a goalkeeper named Gump [Worsley].”

 

Oak Bay Fire Capt. Rob Kivell

Crafting Christmas during down time at the fire hall is an ongoing tradition, at least in Oak Bay.

Oak Bay Fire Capt. Rob Kivell harkens back to about 15 years ago when he was unexpectedly called in to work overtime on Christmas Eve.

“I remember when my girls were very young they were very excited about getting an air hockey game,” Kivell recalls.

The girls expected a fully assembled air hockey table to appear Christmas morning, and the game plan was to assemble it the night before.

“I got called in to work overtime so I couldn’t work on it. So I actually brought it to work and the guys helped me in their spare time.

“The guys all ended up chipping in and we got it built really quickly. I was able to get it home in the morning before they got up and it all worked out fine,” he says, adding with a laugh, “No one cried. I didn’t have to put it together while they were there.”

It’s not unusual for a shift to pull together for their teammates, working as Santa’s helpers.

“We’ve done that often as a team so Christmas morning isn’t ruined,” Kivell says. “Sometimes you have to work Christmas Eve or Christmas Day so you’re just always trying to stay ahead of the game.”

 

 

Oak Bay Police Chief Andy Brinton

One of Oak Bay Police Chief Andy Brinton’s fondest Christmas memories was when he first started out in policing and came west to British Columbia.

“I was young and in my first posting of Gibsons Landing. Being the junior man, it was understood I would be working Christmas Day and the married officers would have the day to be with their families. It was a bit surreal, that first Christmas away from home in the Maritimes. I remember making the rounds to all the other officers’ homes and being invited to be part of their family traditions, watching their kids opening gifts, and taking part in probably five Christmas dinners that day. Not bad for a single guy cooking for himself for the first time.

“This tradition continued for the next few years I was stationed there, with members of the community opening their homes to me too. So what stands out from those days? Being welcomed into the close-knit policing family and the small-town hospitality of that little community. Not a lot unlike Oak Bay.”

 

Oak Bay High principal Dave Thomson

My mom passed away recently just as the Christmas season was gaining momentum. Sadness and recollection brought a memory flooding back as I celebrate her life.

It was December of 1965. My father, a man who always sought change and a bit of adventure, had decided that our family should relocate from Ontario to B.C.

The plan: Travel by road across Canada, in the dead of winter. All we needed was a 1947 International three-ton truck to carry our belongings. Like a pioneer family a century before, we just traded horses for horsepower.

My brother and I … and our family dog rode in a cozy little compartment that my dad had constructed right behind the cab. We were equipped with a catalytic heater and a Radio Shack intercom to stay in touch with Mom, Dad and my little sister up front.

Our adventure started on Dec. 21 and after two nights in out-of-the-way northern Ontario towns like White River and Wawa, we reached Winnipeg. Mom insisted on a travel break for Christmas. It was 30 below and snowing lightly, but our motel was warm, clean and welcoming. The pioneers never had that.

One might think this was a less than enjoyable Christmas for three children, but nothing could be further from the truth. Mom, like she always did, made Christmas special. Little gifts tucked away, a book and a Christmas dinner unlike any other made it all work.

As the oldest, my siblings made me responsible for our end of the bargain. Squirrelled away in the inside pocket of my winter coat was a copper bracelet for Mom and a tie pin for Dad, dutifully wrapped a week earlier by a wonderful lady from Woolworth’s. My brother, sister and I were thrilled to surprise them with our gifts.

We still had a week of travel ahead before arriving in Victoria on New Year’s Eve, but Christmas 1965 was a memory I will never lose and always cherish.

Thanks Mom. Rest in peace.