We all know Oak Bay is a wonderful place to live. Here’s what we think the Seven Wonders of Oak Bay are. What do you think? What wonderful area or part of Oak Bay do you think is iconic?
The cenotaph? The Oak Bay Beach Hotel? The Rose Garden? The Yacht Club? Have your say in the comments.
Many a childhood has been spent on the sands of Willows Beach.
The calm waters are home to a whirlwind of activities from picnics and sun-soaked summer parties, to polar bear swims and the Oak Bay Tea Party.
“Everyone who ever goes to the seaside has wonderful memories of sandy beaches, it’s one of the memories you keep forever,” says former Oak Bay mayor Christopher Causton. “Willows is the closet you come to a bucket and spade experience. … It becomes part of the growing up family experience.”
From a “bucket and spade” childhood to paddle boarding, running and dog walking as an adult to volunteering at the Kiwanis-supported Oak Bay Tea Room as a retiree, Willows is a hub, not only during the busy summer months, but all-year round.
“I think it’s an integral part of the community, not just Oak Bay but the city. There are not too many places you can swim and enjoy a picnic,” says Oak Bay Tea Room volunteer Wanda Walker. “My thoughts, as I stand looking out, is that we are the luckiest people in Victoria. We have the nicest view and location in the city.”
Oak Bay Tea Party
One of the most popular dates on the Greater Victoria calendar belongs to the first weekend of June, the home of the Oak Bay Tea Party.
The long-standing annual event marries the traditional amusement rides and midway fare, with the traditions of Oak Bay including the Ladies Nail Driving Contest and the Mayor’s Floating Tea Cup Challenge Race for an experience that is uniquely Oak Bay.
The two-day family-friendly event, jam packed with a wide swath of activities for people of all ages, started in 1956 as an event for the mayor to host local dignitaries to mark and celebrate Oak Bay’s Golden Jubilee, before being transformed by the Oak Bay Board of Trade in 1963 to the bigger more festive event it is today.
It now features a skydiving air show, musical entertainment and bathtub races among many other activities, all kicked off by the Oak Bay High school marching band leading the Tea Party Parade through the streets of Oak Bay for the event (June 7 and 8, 2014).
Did you know: The Tea Party started where Athlone Court now stands, it moved to the grounds of the municipal hall before finding its home at Willows Beach.
Three pieces of furniture are synonymous with Oak Bay, one red chair and two blue chairs.
The stoic, wooden Adirondack chairs perched on the rocky bluffs of Kitty Islet overlook the waters of Enterprise Channel and Trial Island in one of Oak Bay’s most picturesque locales.
“The reason it’s so special is because you can come so close to sailboats, so close to wildlife if you stand at the end of Kitty Islet. It almost feels like you are surrounded by water,” says former Oak Bay mayor Christopher Causton. “It has got a wonderful backdrop of Trial Island and is a natural place anyone can access.”
Adjacent to McNeil Bay, the popular destination serves both as a relaxing spot to watch the sun melt into the horizon and for newlyweds to traverse with snap happy photographers on the big day. The terrain, largely untouched by development remains familiar for visitors like Causton who has gone once a week for almost 28 years.
“This has been like this for hundreds if not thousands of years,” says Causton who lives nearby. “It is as natural as Oak Bay was hundreds and hundreds of years ago.”
Cattle Point is one of few places in the world that’s as beautiful at night, as it is during the day.
Deriving its name in the 1850s when cattle were shipped and dropped off the sides of boats to scamper ashore to graze among the Garry Oak trees, the seaside destination has evolved into one of the finest scenic viewpoints on Vancouver Island.
“Cattle point is one of the legendary landmarks in Oak Bay,” says local historian John Adams. “It’s also one of the beautiful natural shorelines around Victoria where we have access to the water and enjoy a panoramic view of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker and the surrounding islands.”
Used today as a boat launch, picnic spot and local hangout, the waterfront was remarkably once considered an undesirable plot of land because the uneven rocky bluffs made it challenging farm terrain and it was ultimately given to the municipality of Oak Bay in lieu of taxes.
When the sun dips over the horizon of Cattle Point, visitors don’t stop coming, in fact for some, the real beauty begins when the stars come out.
“It’s a beautiful spot no matter what, at any time, but it is really nice for star gazers and amateur astronomers to have a dark spot in an urban setting,” says Royal Victoria Astronomical Society vice president Sherry Buttnor.
Officially designated in 2013 as one of only two Urban Star Parks in Canada, Buttnor says scenery and science meet when darkness hits the skies off Cattle Point.
“It’s hard to put into just a few words, it has been 32 years now and I (still) can’t describe it,” Buttnor continues. “It’s a connection that a lot of us feel to the night sky, it is not just the physical beauty of looking at the galaxy or a planet, it’s the science itself as well.”
Did you know: The Camas blooms covering much of the point and surrounding areas are also a reminder that it was an important area for First Nations. Because the Camas bulbs grow in such profusion there, they were dug up, roasted and used as the primary source of starch throughout the winter months.
Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point
More than a century of history is buried in Canada’s oldest Chinese Cemetery.
100 years after its inception, the natural beauty of the site, chosen for its natural harmony with the elements, still features the original incinerator towers and platforms languishing on the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains along the waterfront of Harling Point.
“I think it’s a mystical, spiritual place,” says Oak Bay archivist Jean Sparks. “The Chinese chose it for its principals in Feng Shui and it exemplifies that it’s a wonderful place to go and contemplate the world’s wonders.”
Founded in 1903, the National Historic Site was purchased by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association as to place to bury their dead when the Chinese portion of Ross Bay Cemetery began to erode and expose graves.
“The preservation of historic connections to Victoria’s early Chinese community is of value to us in the present and for future generations,” says Sparks. “The restoration of the cemetery started in a confrontational manner but grew to be a wonderful example of community involvement and cultural understanding.”
Harling Point also houses Harpooner rock, or Sahsima, to the Lekwungen First Nations, falling on the meeting point of two geological plates, a symbol of more than just the beauty of nature Sparks says.
“I think if you go there during low tide one is grey, the other side is green. It’s just evidence of prehistoric beginnings of the world. It signifies meetings and the joining of cultures in a very symbolic andspiritual way.”
Oak Bay Sign
In a city where history is revered, the Oak Bay sign is iconic.
The architecture and fabric of the Oak Bay community is built in part, on the preservation of history and the sign standing watch above the current Starbucks coffee shop on Oak Bay Avenue stands as one of the best examples.
The grey knight, atop the shield-shaped blue-and-white crest once stood guard over The Oak Bay, a movie theatre built in 1936 that welcomed film lovers to A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring James Cagney and Mickey Rooney for a dime on opening day.
“It was a nice place to go, you would just walk to the theatre you didn’t have to go downtown,” says Oak Bay archivist Jean Sparks, who once frequented The Oak Bay to watch the films that frequented the theatre.
Cowboy movies including The Lone Ranger, sing-a-long cartoons (an early form of childrens’ karaoke) and Yo-Yo contests, drew families and children to the theatre for decades until it closed in 1986.
More than 70 years later, with the sign refurbished but retaining its original colour and design, it stands vigil over the Oak Bay Village overhanging the former theatre, next to office buildings that were once the Goblin Cafe and Oak Bay’s only cabaret, Club Tango.
“The sign is (now) the only memory of the theatre that was,” Sparks continues. “It marks the village, you come in and that is the sign you see.”
The Seals of Oak Bay Marina
Rose and Lucy Finlayson are squealing with laughter.
One of the seals at the Oak Bay Marina uses its flipper to splash them again and they laugh in unison once more. Despite being a little wetter for their efforts, they reach into a bag and reward the seal with herring their parents have just purchased from the shop upstairs.
The seal’s home, the Oak Bay Marina, with its beautiful seaside restaurant, marina and lavish views, stands in place of the old Boathouse, a business that moved to the marina’s current location on Turkey Head in 1914 and stood for almost 60 years.
Despite the many lavish amenities today’s marina offers, they may forever be known as much for the playful seals meandering their docks and entertaining the visitors, as their high-end services – and for many locals and tourists who visit the scenic marina, they wouldn’t have it any other way.