Arson leaves a hole in family’s routine

Memorial bench torched at Oak Bay Marina

The bench in memory of Michael Battle at Oak Bay Marina after it was vandalized Feb. 22.

An empty slab sits where the well-used bench in memory of Captain Mike once sat.

It drew people, much like the man himself did, says the late Oak Bay Marine Group captain’s mother Stella Battle.

Michael Battle was 28 when he died in a motorcycle accident April 16, 2000. He was the popular captain of the Discovery Princess that hasn’t sailed with Oak Bay Marine Group since his death. “The boat went when he did,” said Stella.

Captain Mike’s ashes were scattered in the sea between Discovery and Chatham islands, it’s where his soul has ties even without the tangible bench.

“I’m going to continue going. It’s talking to Michael. That’s where I feel Michael is,” she said. “The bench is for other people.”

The memorial was discovered charred and blackened the morning of Feb. 22.

“They did a good job of destroying it,” Martin said. “We got wonderful response from the firemen who were looking through the rubble.”

By the time it was noticed the fire was well out – but suspicious – warranting a look from the Oak Bay fire and police departments who have no suspects.

“This incendiary fire is disturbing in nature and could possibly be an escalation of recent fire activity in the south Oak Bay area,” said Capt. Rob Kivell with Oak Bay Fire Department.

Police and fire officials at that time were concerned over “experimental” fires, clustered in early December in the Monterey middle school area.

The senselessness of the act is something Stella can’t comprehend. She even tried to write the vandalism off as an accident that got out of control.

“It’s just so hard to understand,” said Stella. “I’m still on my way over there every morning to clean it, and it’s not there.”

Oak Bay staff removed the bench and ordered a new one, expected to arrive in four or five weeks – in time, Martin hopes, for the 15th anniversary of his son’s death.

All in, parks staff will spend about six hours on the new bench with a $1,340 price tag, said Chris Hyde-Lay, manager of parks services for Oak Bay. They hope to refurbish the plaque, saving the $200 cost of a new one.

This bench was not just for the family, but for the people who walk by, as Michael loved talking with people, his parents explained. They have hundreds of emails and letters from total strangers who found this particular bench to be very inspiring to them for one reason or another.

“I have been going to the marina daily for 15 years now, to make sure the bench is clean for people to sit and chat.  During my visits I have met several who want me to know how important this bench is to them,” Stella said.  “The bench is for other people.”

There were times they’d sit in the car and wait, as someone chatted away, or thought away, or simply patted the Captain Mike bench. After his birthday Jan. 31 or Valentine’s it wasn’t unusual to find extra flowers or teddy bears, reflecting how their son lived his life.

“He never had an enemy,” Martin said.

“He was a people person,” Stella added.

Learn more about the man behind the bench at michaelbattle.ca.

Oak Bay fire and police departments ask anyone who has witnessed suspicious fire activity to report it.

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