PHOTOS: A look at troop training in Oak Bay during the First World War

A photo by Frank Burrell shows military training exercises with horses at Willows Camp during the First World War. (Oak Bay Archives PHOT: 2005-020-001)A photo by Frank Burrell shows military training exercises with horses at Willows Camp during the First World War. (Oak Bay Archives PHOT: 2005-020-001)
World War I troops marching from Willows Camp in the Willows Fairgrounds along Willows Road, now Eastdowne, toward Cadboro Bay Road ca 1915. Note the Willows Grocery, which is still at the corner of Dalhousie and Eastdowne in 1915. Original print held at Esquimalt Archives, image No. 014.01.02. (Oak Bay Archives PHOT: 2012-001-057)World War I troops marching from Willows Camp in the Willows Fairgrounds along Willows Road, now Eastdowne, toward Cadboro Bay Road ca 1915. Note the Willows Grocery, which is still at the corner of Dalhousie and Eastdowne in 1915. Original print held at Esquimalt Archives, image No. 014.01.02. (Oak Bay Archives PHOT: 2012-001-057)
50th Gordon Highlanders Parade at Willows Camp. (Oak Bay Archives PHOT:2015-000-013)50th Gordon Highlanders Parade at Willows Camp. (Oak Bay Archives PHOT:2015-000-013)
First World War officers at Willows Camp. The camp was the Canadian Expeditionary Forces west coast training centre for troops prior to being sent to the European front. The Western Scots and the 50th Gordon Highlanders regiment trained under General Arthur Currie at this site. Frank Burrill photo (Oak Bay Archives PHOT: 2010-010-183)First World War officers at Willows Camp. The camp was the Canadian Expeditionary Forces west coast training centre for troops prior to being sent to the European front. The Western Scots and the 50th Gordon Highlanders regiment trained under General Arthur Currie at this site. Frank Burrill photo (Oak Bay Archives PHOT: 2010-010-183)
A postcard shows Willows Camp as a training camp for troops prior to being sent to Europe during the First World War. (Oak Bay Archives 2005-020-001)A postcard shows Willows Camp as a training camp for troops prior to being sent to Europe during the First World War. (Oak Bay Archives 2005-020-001)
Map of the Willows Fairgrounds/Exhibition Grounds and surrounding area circa 1908. (Oak Bay Archives, PHOT:1994-001-074)Map of the Willows Fairgrounds/Exhibition Grounds and surrounding area circa 1908. (Oak Bay Archives, PHOT:1994-001-074)

While the First World War originated in Europe, it had significant impact on Oak Bay as thousands of troops moved in for training.

Willows Camp filled the fairgrounds near what is now Carnarvon Park and neighbourhood, also called the Lansdowne slope.

There are 115 mentions of Willows Camp in an archive of community newspapers at the time, noted Anna Sander, archivist for Oak Bay. That includes mentions as far north as Prince Rupert, indicating Island and coastal British Columbia troops likely trained at the Oak Bay camp.

READ ALSO: Wartime diary of early Greater Victoria resident depicts life during First World War

The war started in July 1914, by that September a note appears in the council minutes seeking to create a shooting range at Willows Fairgrounds, Sander said.

The collected council notes are readily available because an Oak Bay Archives volunteer compiled a wartime index of meeting minutes. It documents official interactions between Willows Camp administrators and municipal council of the day. The bulk of the interactions boil down to complaints, in particular, garbage removal and sewers.

The Oak Bay Archives is currently closed to volunteers, researchers and visitors in person, but open for enquiries by email, mail and phone. Visit connect.oakbay.ca/archives for more information.

c.vanreeuwyk@blackpress.ca


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