Skip to content

Oak Bay homes celebrated for restoration work

7 residences highlighted in Oak Bay Heritage Foundation’s annual awards
The Colpman House. (Bruce Cameron)

By Sean McIntyre

Photos by Bruce Cameron

Elegant streetscapes, a bucolic setting and a wealth of excellent architecture are among the reasons Robert Taylor and his partner Janet Morningstar settled in Oak Bay more than a decade ago. As a lover of history and urban design, Robert was elected president of the Oak Bay Heritage Foundation (OBHF), which supports the recognition and preservation of many heritage-valued homes.

“Much of the ambiance of the streetscapes is created by the quality architecture,” Robert says. “It used to be a common practice for architects to design the house and garden as a whole, and ensure the house fits the setting; the house would naturally nestle in the garden, with the garden creating differing views of the house. Too often, we see a character home and garden demolished, to be replaced by an unsympathetic house, standing on a bare patch of grass, and the streetscape and ambiance are damaged.”

As it grew during the early 20th century, Oak Bay proved an attractive destination for highly qualified architects, who built a legacy of marvellous architectural designs. Regardless of style, be it Arts and Crafts, Tudor Revival, Edwardian Baroque or Cotswold, Robert adds, the most impressive homes all have a single element in common: great windows.

“Perhaps the most important element of a heritage house, or any house, is the fenestration,” he says. “My favourite quote is from the 1850s by Anthony Trollope: ‘No sort of window is capable of imparting so much happiness to mankind, nothing can equal the mullioned windows of the Tudor architects.’”

Having served as OBHF president until 2022, Robert now sits as a director, a position in which he is actively involved in preserving Oak Bay’s unique ambiance. This includes assisting in the OBHF’s annual selection of nominees for the Hallmark Heritage Society’s Award of Merit, a regional honour given to individuals, groups, governments or other agencies for outstanding exterior and/or interior restoration of residential, commercial or institutional buildings; landscape and garden restoration/reservation; sensitive infill inherited settings; or other innovative programs, according to the program’s website.

“The majority of Oak Bay award recipients have restored homes that may have been in danger of demolition, hence [they have saved] not only the homes, but also the integrity of the streetscape,” Robert says. “After going through the stress of renovations, the award recognizes they were right in their decision.”

The following is a selection from Oak Bay’s seven 2023 Award of Merit recipients. A complete list can be obtained at

The Colpman House. (Bruce Cameron)

The Colpman House

This home’s distinctively flared gambrel-style roof has been a St. David Street landmark since it was built in 1913. More than a century later, the Colpman House still inspires, thanks to a complete home restoration that honoured the property’s original appearance and character.

Originally built for William and Edith Colpman, the home was constructed in the Dutch Colonial Revival style amid a major Oak Bay land boom. Its proximity to Oak Bay Avenue and easy access to a streetcar line made the neighbourhood an ideal location in the up-and-coming Oak Bay suburb.

The Colpman House was converted into a duplex during a housing shortage in 1940, and a third suite was later built in the attic. Preserving the home’s multi-unit status was central in the property’s recent renovation.

“By creating three legal suites, the owner has assisted with much needed local rental accommodation, and having [the house designated] has enhanced the streetscape and given the house protection for the future,” reads part of the OBHF’s nomination submission for the home.

READ MORE: Plan to rotate Oak Bay heritage home, create 4 lots with 4 homes hits snag

The Wellsley Gwinn House. (Bruce Cameron)

The Wellsley Gwinn House

Many of the signature features that define heritage homes are the result of age-old skills and experienced tradespeople who built the homes so long ago. Fast-forward a century and it becomes hard to find builders versed in the techniques of old, so it helps when a homeowner can step up and contribute some DIY ability in the process of returning a classic Oak Bay bungalow to its former glory.

The Wellsley Gwinn House—a California Craftsman bungalow built by Wellsley Gwinn, a prominent businessman and developer in Seattle—was “in original but very poor condition and required considerable repair and restoration,” reads part of the property’s description from the OBHF. “The owner completely rebuilt and renovated the bungalow over a number of years, preserving the original appearance and character. The owner handmade many of the original features which were beyond repair; for example, the wooden roof gutters.”

This remarkable restoration saw the homeowner dismantle many unfortunate add-ons and embellishments. These were replaced with handcrafted elements often made from salvaged materials to ensure the newer additions, such as the deck, kitchen floors and windows, were in keeping with the home’s age and style.

Kirkland. (Bruce Cameron)

Kirkland—The Pattinson Hayton House

Built for civil engineer Pattinson Hayton in 1911, the Kirkland home typifies the style of property favoured by an emerging professional class populating Oak Bay around and immediately after the First World War. This grand home features a separate rear entrance and living quarters for a cook, and a partially recessed balcony above a pair of cantilevered bay windows at the front of the home offers an ideal vantage point to view cricket matches across the street at Windsor Park.

Central to its nomination for an Award of Merit was the owners’ diligent attention to detail and years of challenging work to complete an accurate refurbishment and restoration inside and out.

“Kirkland’s high roofline, symmetrical front facade, and situation on a corner lot make it a prominent heritage landmark,” according to the OBHF.

Kirkland makes a significant contribution to the ambience of the Windsor Park neighbourhood and is an important component of the Windsor Park heritage cluster.

Patio Court, a group of five rare “storybook cottages” in Oak Bay. (Bruce Cameron)

Patio Court

This cluster of five “storybook cottages” set on a landscaped cul-de-sac represents a distinctively creative period in Oak Bay’s architectural heritage. Nearly 100 years after their initial construction, a new owner’s acquisition of the properties in 2015 led to wide-scale renovations and much-needed upgrades to the colourful homes.

The storybook style is technically called Provincial Revivalism and more commonly called Fairy Tale or Hansel and Gretel. While there is no specific definition of what makes a house storybook style, the main factor may be a sense of playfulness and whimsy. The style took a foothold in California during the 1920s and 1930s. This style is relatively rare, having faded by the Great Depression, according to the OBHF.

“As economics dictated that houses of the time were generally modest, they often assumed a storybook cottage appearance that provided a romantic ideal of traditional domesticity,” reads the OBHF nomination proposal. “Patio Court’s houses display such style characteristics as lancet windows, half-timbering, and pepper-pot turrets.”

The Patio Court development is important for its architectural style and rarity, being one of only two examples of the storybook style in Oak Bay.

The Dr. Johns Residence. (Bruce Cameron)

The Dr. Johns Residence

Touted by the OBHF as one of the most elegant and beautiful Art Moderne houses in British Columbia, this 1940s-era property was originally built for Dr. J. H. Johns, who is said to have been inspired by the German artistic movement called Bauhaus while on a trip to London in the ‘30s.

The property’s complete renovation restores elements altered in previous changes and adds to the home’s Art Moderne character while retaining most of the original floor plan.

“The stucco exterior—an essential element of the Art Moderne style—needed to be replaced, preserving the original streamlined design and original white colour. The back of the house has been fitted with larger floor-to-ceiling windows to enhance the ocean view,” according to the OBHF. “The renovations have enhanced the heritage character and effectively preserved the landmark heritage house for future generations.

The project earned several Construction Achievements and Renovations of Excellence (CARE) Awards from the Victoria Residential Builders Association, including Best Residential Renovation or Restoration >$800,000, Best Bathroom <160 sq. ft., and Best Media Room.