Oak Bay would feature well as the province embarks on upgrading its “stop of interest” signage on highways and byways but it’s a “two edged sword,” says the mayor.
“There are so many stops of interest in Oak Bay,” said mayor Nils Jensen. “One of the things we pride ourselves in is being a quiet neighbourhood. How much attention do we want? But we also pride ourselves in our heritage and how important it is to us. Some of these stops of interest would be not only important to inform tourists but to inform some of our own residents on some of theses stops of interest.”
The Stop of Interest signage program was introduced in 1958, to commemorate the Colony of BC’s centenary and recognize significant historical places, people and events. More than 100 signs were erected from the 1950s through the 1990s.
After an inventory and a review of the 139 existing signs, they found 75 per cent require repairs or reinstallation. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure launched a public campaign to garner suggestions for about 75 new signs, sharing local stories that mark a special place in BC’s history.
Once Jensen narrowed to his “top three” they cover most of the community – the welcoming villages of Oak Bay and Estevan; the “spectacular seaside setting” and architectural heritage.
“The one that springs to mind is Canada’s oldest golf course, the Victoria Golf Course which was established in 1893. It’s the second oldest in North America,” Jensen said. “Not only for its heritage, but its incredible setting would be of interest to many people, particularly in winter when visitors might be coming from three or four feet of snow and they can watch the golfers in January.”
The other big name, and landmark, that springs to mind in Oak Bay’s heritage is Francis Rattenbury, who designed many a heritage building in Oak Bay and across greater Victoria including the legislative buildings and the Empress hotel.
“Those are iconic buildings. I don’t think you can get more iconic in Victoria,” Jensen said.
Rattenbury’s personal home, now housing Glenlyon Norfolk School’s junior campus, is among his works in Oak Bay.
“It’s been preserved as a heritage building and it’s used as a school now, but a lot of people here in our own community don’t realize whose home that was and who designed it.”
The 32-hectare Uplands Park also comes to mind, boasting one of the highest concentrations of rare and endangered plants in Canada. The park contains the remnants of a rare ecosystem complex of Garry Oak meadows and woodlands, maritime meadows and vernal pools, which used to cover a much greater area in the region. There are 21 rare and endangered plants in the park – some of which are found in only one or two other locations in Canada – in the open meadows and vernal pools of the park.
“Not only is it important as a natural site, but it’s also important as a First Nations area, where they had settlements and farmed there so to speak collecting camas,” Jensen said. “That’s also an important area, certainly ecological and historically. It also represents one of the first urban preserved wilderness areas on the Island and in British Columbia.”
Coun. Tom Croft, council liaison to Oak Bay Tourism, says a handful of specific items come to mind as well.
For example The Uplands designed by John Olmsted in the early 20th century and developed with large lots and a parklike setting.
The intrigue of how Cattle Point got it’s name inspires the unusual quality of a stop of interest.
Croft’s keen choice, however, for spot of interest for Oak Bay would be the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
“It was established Oct. 27, 1923 and it would be great if we had that (information) somewhere in the waterfront. It could be in Oak Bay or it could be a couple of other places because it goes from 10 Mile Point to McLaughlin Point,” Croft said. “It’s pretty neat. It’s been there a long time and I don’t think it receives the recognition it should.”
The sanctuary is among the settings Oak Bay wildlife advocate Jacques Sirois, who formerly worked for Wildlife Service Canada, has promoted for years. In April he garnered wildlife signage for the waterway. Chair of the Friends of the Victoria Bird Sanctuary, Sirois plans to leverage his new powers as a Fellow of the The Royal Canadian Geographical Society to boost his ongoing bid to promote Oak Bay’s natural history.
Cattle Point earned its name as a drop off point for Uplands Farm. Cattle would essentially be thrown from the boat in the waters and swim to shore.
Suggestions for provincial “Points of Interest” are open now through Jan. 31 then will be reviewed by senior provincial staff. Final selections will be reviewed for cultural and historical accuracy. Visit engage.gov.bc.ca/stopsofinterest/ to submit.