Oak Bay lost a village icon with the death of Jim Kirk on Saturday, Sept. 6.
“We feel so lost,” said Penny Farthing Pub owner Matt MacNeil, echoing the sentiment of Kirk’s many friends.
Born in New Westminster, Kirk moved to Victoria in 1989 when he purchased four buildings on Oak Bay Avenue where he continued to live until his death at age 75.
“Jim was many things to many people but to our family, he was a warm, kind and generous friend who made a difference to our lives,” said Oak Bay councillor Cairine Green. “He was a man of many talents – an artist, a musician, a bonsai gardener, a gourmet cook, a sculptor, a musician and former music teacher and an astute businessman.”
Kirk owned the building that houses the Penny Farthing Pub and other shops on Oak Bay Avenue. It was above the pub and Vis a Vis where he created a beautiful penthouse suite and gardens that were an oasis from the busy avenue below.
“Jim was also a benefactor to his community, supporting a number of initiatives, projects and individuals in his 25 years of living in Oak Bay,” said Green. “Jim was truly a Renaissance man and when you met him, you never quite forgot him. He was delightfully flamboyant, opinionated and remarkably intelligent. You knew when he was nearby by his booming voice and contagious laugh. He will be sorely missed.”
Former Oak Bay Mayor Christopher Causton said Kirk was, “a very special individual who played a key role in Oak Bay without many people knowing.”
“It’s such sad news,” said Mayor Nils Jensen. “He was a valued member of our community. He was an eclectic, interesting man full of stories and willing to share his views on life. I always enjoyed speaking with him.”
Jensen said the renovation of the Penny Farthing and buildings surrounding it are an integral part of the character of Oak Bay.
“One legacy Jim left is the beautiful streetscape in the renovation of the block he owns. It’s an iconic part of our avenue and that’s all thanks to Jim and his vision and his work with Matt MacNeil.”
“I was one of the few who knows how generous he was to the community and his friends over the years,” said MacNeil. “I met Jim in 1998, 1999 when I first approached him to see if he was interested in having his property redeveloped.”
MacNeil, his wife Wendy, and Kirk became good friends over the years.
“He became a close friend and he was an outstanding landlord. … He liked his buildings pristine. They look brand new. He took pride in ownership and he had community pride, which showed in the way he took care of things.”
MacNeil described Kirk as a kind and generous man to both those who knew him well and people he just met. “We watched it for many years,” MacNeil said. “He had eight or nine friends through the years who he helped go to university or college or to trade school. He helped change their lives – paid for all of them to go to school.
“He had time for everybody. … He was a wonderful listener. He was interested in you and anything you were interested in.”
As a former music theory professor at the University of British Columbia, Kirk was a proponent of both education and the arts.
“Art was a huge part of his life,” said MacNeil. “He painted and welded, sculpted metal – he was a tremendous gardener. He specialized in bonsai, he spent hours in his garden … it was stunning.”
Kirk also had a great ear for music and enjoyed a variety of genres. “He had great taste. He enjoyed all the arts, he was a big supporter of theatre. He was a regular at the Belfry,” said MacNeil.
“Above all for me …” MacNeil said, his voice breaking. “We laughed. … We laughed so long and so hard sometimes, we cried. That’s how I’ll remember him.”