The Oak Bay traffic island where Fort Street, Cadboro Bay and Foul Bay roads meet is normally just a space where pedestrians wait before crossing. However, that space turns into an attention grabber every spring as the green space on the island becomes a canvas for horticulturist Dan Bell’s creativity.
His first display 18 years ago was a sailboat, which he made, moored on a telephone pole with flowers. The next year, the shell of a Volkswagen bug was used and an annual tradition was born.
“After two, three years, it became expected,” said Bell, 59. But he yearned to do something different at the nondescript spot. “Every winter time people asked, ‘What are you planting there next?’ and I’d say, ‘I can’t tell you, it’s a secret.’ But most of the time, I didn’t have a clue.”
Bell cited being a child of the ‘60s and his travels as inspiration for his work. Other popular displays he created include the Cadborosaurus, an ode to the mythical, local sea serpent; a bookworm covered in red flowers, reading a titled classic each week; and, last year, he honoured the Oak Bay Fire Department with a display celebrating its 75th anniversary. That display however, was his last. After 30 years working for the district, he is hanging up his clippers and retiring at the end of March.
Bell was born in Victoria at St. Joseph’s Hospital. He grew up on Gorge Road in an area that was home to a number of sawmills. He spent his teen years living on Wilkinson Road and attended Colquitz Middle and Mount View High schools.
He started his career as a telecommunications technician, installing and servicing radio systems on mountain tops throughout the coast for the forest industry.
After 10 years, he was let go from his position and in 1982, he went looking for a new career.
“If I made the decision to stay in telecommunications, I would have had to relocate to who knows where,” Bell said. “I’m a Victoria boy and it would have been difficult for me to leave Victoria. I was 30 years old and thought I’d try something different.”
He got a part-time job doing maintenance work at the Monterey Centre and while working there, he decided on his next career.
“I saw the parks department and how they operated and I thought, gee, that’s something I would like to do because I’m an outdoors kind of guy,” Bell said. “I then got a horticulture degree from the University of Guelph through correspondence.”
While pursuing his degree, Bell was able to get summer work gardening for the parks department until a permanent position became available.
When Bell retires on March 31, he has a long to do list. He plans to study French and Spanish, spend longer vacations in Mexico, learn a musical instrument, play sports and embark on yet another career.
“I want to write a children’s book or series,” Bell said, adding Dr. Seuss inspires him. “I am a child at heart and I really don’t know if I can do it, but I think I can. I like challenging myself.
“That’s how I created those gardens. It was something I thought I could do.”
Together Bell and his wife have five adult children, one grandchild and another one on the way. While he lives in Saanich, he will still be seen in Oak Bay as he plans to join the Monterey seniors’ centre, where his wife works.
“I’ll miss my coworkers and I’ll really, really miss all the people I have met through the years,” Bell said.
“Years ago when I was having Chinese food, I opened this fortune cookie and it said ‘your creativeness will make you famous’ and in a small way, it did.”