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Residents explore potential for Uplands as national historic site

Uplands resident inspired by book on Olmsted’s Oak Bay development
Larry McCann, author of Imagining Uplands, John Olmsted’s Masterpiece of Residential Design, and David Anderson, peruse a field guide at Andersons Uplands home. Anderson seeks those interested in having his Oak Bay neigbhourhood considered for a national historic site. (Christine van Reeuwyk/Oak Bay News)

Uplands hopes to join the ranks of the likes of the Chinese Cemetery, Craigdarroch and Hatley castles, Emily Carr House and most recently The Union Club.

Resident David Anderson leads the charge in a bid to have the neighbourhood commemorated as a national historic site.

“There are a lot in Victoria,” Anderson said. “It would be fun for Oak Bay to have a few more.”

He was inspired by Larry McCann’s award-winning hardcover book Imagining Uplands, John Olmsted’s Masterpiece of Residential Design, released late last year. Published by Brighton Press and designed by Lara Minja, the book takes readers from the conception to the planning to the creation of the unique residential park.

Winnipeg-based developer William Gardner bought the property from the Hudson’s Bay Company – it was among the some 5,000 acres HBC owned in the region at the time – and engaged Olmsted for his unique vision that blended both the artistic and practical. The two men, while years apart in age, shared a similar vision for the property. When Gardner sold the Uplands site to the Franco-Canadian Corporation in 1911, it was agreed that Olmsted’s design remain intact.

Throughout Imagining Uplands, McCann weaves the personal stories of the people involved in the project with details from the recently incorporated District of Oak Bay, Hudson’s Bay Company, the CPR and others.

Olmsted spent more time on the Uplands design than any other work, “smitten” with the oaks, meadows and ocean, McCann said.

The tale of Uplands, and Olmstead its designer, intrigued Anderson, who has lived there more than three decades.

He started deliving into the notion of Canadian National Historic Sites, which organized according to five broad themes: Peopling the Land, Governing Canada, Developing Economies, Building Social and Community Life, and Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life.

“It meets the criteria and I don’t think there’s much chance of it being turned down if we put in the right application,” Anderson said.

The world famous landscape designer inspired areas such as British Properties in Vancouver and Broadmead in Saanich. When the Lansdowne slope was developed after the Second World War, it was designed to mimic the curving street design of the neighbouring Uplands.

“Uplands influenced all of Oak Bay. I also influenced other areas,” McCann said.

“Peopling the land, the impact of settlement of the land, that’s one of the major themes,” Anderson said.

It’s an area Olmsted excelled in. He crafted the community around nature and building a community with curving roads and “‘designing with the land” was a modern venture at the time, McCann said.

There are a host of neighbourhoods with national historic site status, such as West Mount and Senneville in Montreal. They would like to see the entire Uplands designated including the, including the park, which wasn’t a park in the original design.

Local government of the day decided not to service that southern portion of Uplands, attempting to develop other parts of the community. That held off developers who sold it to the municipality after a referendum. It was a bit of a to-do in the day, McCann said, residents weren’t keen on purchasing parkland. Then there was a desire to make it a developed park more like Windsor. “The park came about through a long battle.”

In short Olmsted excelled in Uplands in “fitting humanity into the natural world,” Anderson said. “It would be a proposal that would require the support of Uplands residents.”

Those interested in pursuing a commemoration for Uplands as a national historic site can call 250-592-5268 or email

“This is a commemorative designation. There will be no effect on governance,” Anderson emphasized. “It would be entirely commemorative, just to recognize the genius of the man who did it.”

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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