Defining a community’s heritage values is no easy feat. After two town hall meetings, focus groups and online surveys, the man behind the consultation process to establish a heritage plan, himself an expert in Oak Bay history, would rather quote an impassioned citizen than infuse the discussion with his own opinion.
“You can stand in a cathedral and you can stand in a warehouse. Both will shelter you, but each will give you a different visceral feeling in your gut,” said Stuart Stark, quoting one outspoken man present at the Dec. 4 heritage plan town hall meeting. “Oak Bay’s special character, he likened more to a cathedral.”
The meeting was led by Stark, of Victoria-based Stuart Stark & Associates and Donald Luxton of Donald Luxton and Associates Inc. from Vancouver, and was the latest event in an ongoing consultation process to identify Oak Bay’s heritage values for incorporation in a new heritage plan. Council approved the request from the heritage commission – an amalgamation of the heritage committee and heritage advisory panel – earlier in the spring. The update of the 10-year-old heritage plan serendipitously coincides with the creation of a new official community plan, in the works for 2013.
Councillors, commission members and the general public gathered at Windsor Park Pavilion to hear the feedback Stark and Luxton have been compiling since the first town hall meeting, held in September. For some, Stark said, it was an opportunity to join the process for the first time and share ideas publicly.
One-third of participants identified natural features, gardens, parks and trees, such as Bowker Creek, Anderson Hill, the native plant garden, Bevan Rose Garden and Uplands Park as significant features. For about two-thirds of participants, established neighbourhoods, streetscapes and heritage buildings topped the list. The war memorial in Uplands Park, the Uplands street lamps, Tod House, and the Oak Bay Theatre sign were recognized, along with the legacy of architect-designed homes by people like Francis Rattenbury and Samuel Maclure and finer aspects, such as a stone dairy on Hampshire Terrace.
“We have very observant residents in Oak Bay,” Stark said. “A close appreciation was identified for smaller details: natural pathways, streets that don’t have curbs, which keeps a rural, undeveloped more natural feeling in the municipality.”
Stark made clear that heritage doesn’t necessarily equate to Oak Bay’s oldest attributes.
“What we’re trying to do is analyze and recognize those special characteristics that preserve the municipality’s overall heritage features that make up the character that brought people here and have kept people as long-time residents,” he said.
Commission member and Oak Bay architect Carl Peterson had concerns that the consultation process could have been dominated by one particular interest group, but that hasn’t been the case thus far, he said. Shaping the plan into concrete recommendations will form the next set of challenges for the commission.
“Sometimes plans can be so esoteric that they’re not either useful or implementable. The process we’re going through in the end will result in a set of guidelines that will be very useful, rolled into the community plan,” Peterson said.
“There seems to be some misunderstanding within the general public on process, what processes are available and how they work relative to heritage. People don’t seem to understand the difference between registered as opposed to designated. We need to do a better job of getting information out.”
A new heritage plan survey, based on the latest responses, is posted on Oak Bay’s website until Dec. 31.
The commission and consultants are asking that even those members of the public who have previously provided input, participate in the survey. The survey can be found at oakbay.ca/municipal-hall, under the committees tab. Following the link to the heritage commission page.
Stark will draft the heritage plan next month and report back to council with the findings in February.