No roots, no fruit

Oak Bay archival exhibit stems from personal research

Ben Clinton-Baker stands in Uplands Park where he discovered the foundation of the original Hudson’s Bay Company building.

Ben Clinton-Baker stands in Uplands Park where he discovered the foundation of the original Hudson’s Bay Company building.

Ben Clinton-Baker is passionate about history. He is currently completing a masters thesis in history at the University of Victoria and in 2002 he travelled to the United Kingdom in search of his own family history, a quest that led him as far back as the 1800s and then beyond to his family’s roots in the Norman settlements of Great Britain.

“I didn’t quite find any royalty in my family tree, but it was close,” says Clinton-Baker with a smile. “I wanted to know where I came from, how my family came to the British colony on Vancouver Island from the UK. It was a search for my own roots.”

Roots are very important to Clinton-Baker, in fact that’s the name of his upcoming exhibit at the Oak Bay Municipal Hall. The ‘Roots’ exhibit is comprised of a series of archival photos, explanatory text panels and representative artifacts of a bygone agricultural period in Oak Bay.

While many of the photos are from the Oak Bay Archives, some have come from private collections. “It’s amazing what people have out there. These records of the past are priceless. … They truly represent our heritage.”

Clinton-Baker has worked tirelessly to help preserve that heritage in other ways as well. He is a member of both the Oak Bay Heritage Commission and the Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation serves to promote the preservation of not just the bricks and mortar of significant heritage buildings but extends its mandate to the cultural and natural heritage of the area as well. It even makes some funding available for a portion of conservation work expenses.

The commission is a body appointed by the municipal council and advises on heritage and archive management issues.

“My interest in Oak Bay’s heritage was really sparked by conversations that I had with my grandfather about what the municipality was like when he was a boy,” says Clinton-Baker. “He was born and raised here and he remembers walking from Cadboro Bay Road to Willows Beach and crossing nothing but open fields of farmland.”

Things have changed since then, but his grandfather’s stories had an impact. “My grandfather inspired me,” says Clinton-Baker. “It’s not that he’s necessarily nostalgic for those times, but he gave me an appreciation of the value of knowing our history. He taught me that heritage is a fundamental pillar of the community – any community for that matter.”

It’s a lesson that Clinton-Baker has taken to heart and one that he is trying to instill in others.  “It’s important that we discover and appreciate the heritage sites that remain,” he says. “Sometimes we can have something right in front of us without having an appreciation of its significance.”

An example of that lack of knowledge can be found in Uplands Park. Clinton-Baker discovered the foundation of the original Hudson’s Bay Company buildings, hidden and overgrown in an area near Dorset Avenue. “People walk within a hundred yards of this site and have no idea of what once stood here,” he says.

“That’s why I put the Roots exhibit together. It’s important that people have that sense of where they came from.”

“Even the plants within Uplands Park have a history,” says Clinton-Baker. “Every year we have the Friends of Uplands Park clearing out invasive plant species that were brought here by European settlers without a thought to how it would impact the natural environment. Now we’re dealing with the actions of those original settlers. … trying to restore and maintain the original, natural beauty of this area. Heritage preservation isn’t just about buildings.”

While the Roots exhibit deals primarily with the European-style agriculture of Oak Bay’s past, Clinton-Baker is also keenly aware of the First Nation populations that inhabited the area prior to European settlement. “The original inhabitants here had cultivated and maintained a shrub free grassland for centuries to enhance the growth of camas, a food crop for them. But the European settlers just considered it to be an ideal place to start their farms. In a way, the camas meadows determined where the settlement would be. Now we have some people who maintain that the original aboriginal occupants of the land had no agriculture. The meadows tell you they’re wrong.”

Clinton-Baker wishes that he had photos of those original meadows, but in the absence of those photos he will be including First Nations agriculture in the oral presentation he is giving at the Windsor Park Pavilion on Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. The speech will augment the Roots exhibit and will provide more detail on the area’s agricultural history.

“In the end, we build our future on the foundation of the past. Without strong roots in the past, we’ll never bear fruit in the future,” says Clinton-Baker.

Further information on Oak Bay’s archives can be found at heritageoakbay.ca.

Just Posted

Saanich Volunteer Services Society volunteers head out to deliver this week’s meals to local seniors. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
VIDEO: Weekly meal deliveries help brighten the day for Saanich seniors

Seniors are delivered nutritional meals by a group of volunteers every Wednesday

O.K. Industries is building a quarry next to Capital Regional District land, as shown in this map from the rezoning applicaiton. (Photo courtesy District of Highlands)
Millstream Quarry wins again in court against Highlands community’s appeal

Judges rule province not obligated to investigate climate change before issuing permit

Kidspace, which took over the YMCA-YWCA childcare centre at Eagle Creek Village, plans to reopen the Y’s fitness centre as the Eagle Creek Athletic Club in September. (Photo courtesy of Kidpsace)
Former Y fitness centre in View Royal aims to reopen in September

Kidspace taking over both the gym and the childcare facility at Eagle Creek Village

Law Enforcement Torch Run in support of Special Olympics B.C. kicks off with a run at Swan Lake on June 6. The virtual fundraiser runs until June 20. (Saanich Police/Twitter)
Torch run seeks to scorch previous fundraiser, targets $75,000 for Special Olympics

Global movement shoots for 40,000 km in honour of the 40th anniversary

Victoria Truth Centre and Long-term Inmates Now in the Community (L.I.N.C.) Society are hoping to replicate in Langford the format used on Emma’s Farm in Mission, pictured here. (Patrick Penner/Black Press Media)
Victoria Truth Centre hopes to grow transformative justice in Langford

Purchase proposal would see offenders, survivors and families work on organic vegetable farm

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
VIDEO: Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation to search residential school site for unmarked graves

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lotto Max jackpot goes unclaimed again

42 of the 64 Maxmillion prizes of $1 million were won, the majority were sold in Ontario

FILE - This July 6, 2017 file photo shows prescription drugs in a glass flask at the state crime lab in Taylorsville, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Contaminants in generic drugs may cause long-term harm to DNA: B.C. researcher

Scientist says findings suggest high volume overseas facilities require strict regulation

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., on April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Labour shortages, closed borders major obstacles to B.C. restaurant, tourism restarts

Industry expert says it won’t start to recover until international travellers can visit

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

Most Read