As seen in Tweed: Finding nirvana at Oak Bay’s pocket beaches

Christopher Causton was mayor of Oak Bay for 15 years

As seen in Tweed Magazine

There are beaches to build sandcastles and beaches to skip stones. Sometimes the places you skipped stones as a child are where you return to now, as an adult, for quiet contemplation. Oak Bay is blessed with these little pocket beaches and although too many to identify individually, there are a few within a stone’s throw of the Beach Drive-Transit Road flagpole that are treasures.

Willows and McNeill Bay are our best-known Oak Bay Beaches and are superb for the ‘bucket and spade’ adventure, but it is next to McNeill, at Kitty Islet, that one can experience the true combination of skipping stones and quiet contemplation. For many years the rock has hosted a blue chair, a red chair and a picnic table. The chairs were originally thanks to Chris Hamilton and the original picnic table appeared shortly before a wedding in the neighbourhood. On a day when whales pass through Enterprise Channel off-shore, this is truly as close as you can get to nirvana. Sometimes even this quiet spot gets too busy and then it’s time to head to the beach with the loneliest boathouse in Oak Bay. Tucked in at the end of Radcliffe lane, next to the golf course, looking across at the Olympics, it would be tough to find a lonelier beach that is its equal.

Whilst McNeill Bay is anchored at one end by Kitty Islet, there is, at the other end, a beach I call Sunny Beach, as it is at the end of Sunny Lane. A ‘public beach access’ marker on Beach Drive indicates a pocket beach that has steep steps going down, but is about the closest we get to a quiet cove. When the tide is out you can spend hours examining the fascinating rock formations.

A brisk walk up King George Terrace to the lookout (thanks to Alan Potter and Rotary), and then a downhill stroll through Trafalgar Park, brings you to the beach that has lots of memories for me. Tucked at the bottom of a steep incline, with hand rails that have seen better days, is a beach where skinny-dipping has been known to take place. As everyone knows, the waters around Oak Bay are freezing cold and only the hardiest souls swim. But at this particular beach the water can sometimes be warm although there are strong currents. Someone has very kindly built a small driftwood shelter here which the adventurous can use for changing!

At the other end of Harling Point, at the north end of Marne Street, is another favourite cove. Sitting and looking across at Gonzales Bay, it is easy to imagine what it was like 100 years ago when a tearoom at 1837 Crescent offered all kinds of goodies for beach consumption. For now the noise of construction in the area takes away the tranquility, but soon peace will descend again.

The early stewards of Oak Bay showed wisdom in creating all kinds of public access to the waterfront. Signs were discreetly placed, some of which are missing, and railings, some of which need help, were installed. Travellers who have experienced the frustration of not being able to access beaches know the jewel that is Oak Bay’s unusual and ever-changing public waterfront. This summer, find a quiet spot to contemplate and skip stones. You don’t have to go skinny-dipping.