A history book in the making, Oak Bay Chronicles tells stories of lives lived in a tiny corner of the Pacific Rim.
One thing a chronicle does is to establish chronological order. Oak Bay’s chronicle properly begins before time, with the rocks, on the surface of which the last icesheet — some mere fifteen millennia ago — etched striaitions and furrows, sculpted whalebacks and roches moutonées, and left a huge fan of till on Mount Tolmie’s eastern slope.
The archaeological record begins four millennia before the present, the most visible production being hundreds of rock tumuli (tombs) dating from the second millennium before the present on the eastern slope between Oak and Cadboro bays — a vast burial ground occupying the Garry oak meadows at the heart of The Uplands estates.
The ethnographic record is brief but telling. There were villages in McNeill Bay, Oak Bay and Cadboro Bay and ancient ties to San Juan and Henry islands, now on the American side.
In the era of European exploration, a period formative for the entire region, fur traders started nosing around the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1787, when Captain and Mrs. Barkley rediscovered the entrance of Juan de Fuca Strait, reviving interest in the search for the mythic Northwest Passage, hence the Spanish maps of 1790 and 1791 that name and place Gonzalo (Gonzales) Point, now the 9th tee of the Oak Bay golf links.
The difficulty arriving at a true account of historic events is perfectly illustrated in the stories of Juan de Fuca’s fabled exploration of 1592 and the Barkleys’ not-much-better-documented one of 1787. Captain John Walbran discovered the source of Francis Barkley’s account of her husband’s discovery. After the document went up in smoke, literally, in a house fire in the Cowichan Valley, Walbran admitted there was no way of proving his transcription genuine. Likewise, Michael Lok’s tale of meeting shipman Juan de Fuca (actually a Greek), published in Purchas His Pigrimages (1625), was never corroborated.
These stories are reconstructed from mostly primary sources and, to my belief, for the first time. Literary and other excerpts are mostly reprinted. The stories lead far afield to trace origins and destinies. The reader will find an heroic attack unfolding on a battlefield in Flanders. An extreme adventurer stalking musk oxen in the Barren Land of Northern Canada. Inclusion in this chronicle requires residence, sometime, in Oak Bay. The modernist artist Jack Shadbolt lived in Oak Bay for only a couple of years when little, but it made a lasting impression. In some cases a passing acquaintance will do — see the many tales of shipwreck in nearby waters.
The larger pattern is the community, its families and their houses over time, its neighbourhoods and institutions.
Since I have a taste for perplexity, some stories are included to highlight problems historians face. One of the responsibilities of the historian is to get the stories right. It’s disheartening to note how entrenched some historical errors become — like the myth of the founding party’s sleepover in McNeill Bay.
We live in the present; the past and the future live in us. Here’s to keeping them all straight!