Snapshot of early Oak Bay leads off heritage amble

Author and historian speaks Feb. 17 at the Oak Bay branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library

Family tea at Oak Bay Camp in 1905.

Family tea at Oak Bay Camp in 1905.

Rustlers and developers lived and worked in Oak Bay event before it was incorporated.

Peter Grant explores those years, 1867 to 1906 “from the time that the Canadian Confederation was formed to the time that Oak Bay was incorporated” during a talk marking heritage week.

“My focus will be on the establishment of properties following First Nations treaties in 1850, the early settlers and how things stood on July 1, 1867,” said Grant, a historian and former longtime Oak Bay resident.

It’ll settle on early years when there were two families settled in the community, the Tods and the McNeills. There was HBC Uplands Farm and a couple of other landowners who didn’t reside here – Isabella Ross and Joseph Pemberton, Grant said.

“Each of the five properties were developed quite differently, it’s an interesting study in itself which I’ll only be able to allude to,” Grant said. “South Oak Bay is considered a little bit of Old England with a tweed curtain and all that, whereas Willows isn’t the same at all, it’s quite a different type of place. They all have their own character.”

Tod estate first subdivided, then McNeill estate but it wasn’t developed as quickly, while the largest, Uplands Farm, wasn’t developed until after Oak Bay was incorporated, as was the Ross property at Harling Point. “It was sold and it’s not very clear to whom, and subdivided and then nobody bought there until the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association bought for its cemetery.”

Grant will use images to illustrate the evolution of the community, from a snapshot of how things stood in 1867 throughout highlights of the early development of Oak Bay.

“Like the establishment of the exhibition grounds at Willows and the development of what was called Oak Harbour in the vicinity of Oak Bay Marina,” he said.

The first commercial ventures of the Mount Baker and Willows hotels alongside ambitious plans of Oak Bay Land Improvement Company and the Oak Bay tram that drew visitors. Tents along the beach, Oak Bay Camp, served as a summer resort for years at Haynes Point.

“The other big thing I will touch on prior to 1906, because it was so anomalous, is the establishment of the Chinese cemetery at Harling point,” Grant said.

Interspersed among the development tales are the interesting stories of early settlers. For example, William Haynes had his own band and would march at funerals. Then the contrasting tales of how the son of John Tod got off on a charge of rustling sheep from a neighbour’s farm and a McNeill grandson wound up getting two years for rustling cattle.

The author and historian speaks Feb. 17 at 1:30 p.m. at the Oak Bay branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library. Register at or call 250-940-4875 for more information.

Visit to learn more about Grant’s work.