Talk sheds light on early years of Oak Bay

The Village: Heart of Oak Bay, runs Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at Windsor Park Pavilion

Ben Clinton-Baker stands out front of the Bell Block

Ben Clinton-Baker stands out front of the Bell Block

The history of Oak Bay will come to life during a presentation next week at Windsor Park Pavilion.

“It’s the history of The Village. I’ve brought it right up to the present as well,” said Ben Clinton-Baker.

“I’m not so concerned with time periods so much as what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. What is unique about Oak Bay’s village and what’s happened there and how do people relate to the built environment.”

The hour-long presentation, titled The Village: Heart of Oak Bay, runs Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m.

While Victoria grew to become a bustling city during the 1800s, Oak Bay remained farmland, forest and housing estates into the late 19th century.

“There were lots of wealthy summer homes and cottages, especially around the waterfront,” said Clinton-Baker, a third generation Oak Bay resident.

“Then almost exactly 100 years ago when Oak Bay really started to develop in that way – sort of as a residential enclave for well-to-do Victorians, not only summer homes but also permanent residences – the infrastructure started catering to that more and more.”

He said an electric railway ran along The Avenue, with recreational facilities like Windsor Park being developed and hotels sprouting up along the waterfront. The high school and police station were located on The Avenue for a time during the early part of the 20th century.

Clinton-Baker said Oak Bay was soon seen as a resort destination for Victoria, and quickly started attracting new residents from across the country and around the world.

“Then of course the businesses started popping up to cater to all these new residents.”

In putting together the presentation, Clinton-Baker began sifting through the oral histories found in the Oak Bay archives.

“There’s some great interviews with some early residents going right back to some of these early times,” said Clinton-Baker, who has a masters in history from UVic.

“They talk about the Oak Bay Village as we know it now not really coming into existence until the 1940s and 1950s, even though there were buildings like the Bell Block and the Blethering Place building up on Monterey.”

Clinton-Baker has some history of his own with the Bell Block, the site of the old Oak Bay Hardware store where he had one of his first jobs.

He said it is the people that called Oak Bay home that made The Village stand out from other small towns across the country.

“Something that I noticed right from the start was the way that The Village has functioned as a real social hub as well as a place where people come to do business. The more I looked into it the more I realized there was this deeper social element where people would come here for cultural reasons as well, just to catch up with friends and neighbours.”

He points to a confectionary shop on The Avenue run by a gentleman from England who would head to the back parlour to shoot the breeze with those who dropped by.

“He would also entertain some of the local kids and talk about the English Premier League soccer and they would gamble for pennies or candy.”

Clnton-Baker said Ivy’s was previously located on Wilmot Place and was known as the place to go for literature, not just for Oak Bay but for Victoria and the Island at large, with regular readings by well-known B.C. and Canadian writers. He said The Avenue served as a cultural hub, with a tango club operating out of the theatre building for a time.

“It was a place for people to come and enjoy the arts. And I guess with all of our art galleries today that is being continued in some way.”