Oak Bay Chronicles

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 the 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!

6 thoughts on “Oak Bay Chronicles”

  1. I volunteer at the RVYC Archives and have seen many photos of the R Vic YC but not the one on your OB Chronicles web page. I am interested in the source – it’s a beautiful image.
    PS Very much enjoyed your lecture last night.

    1. It’s a postcard in my collection, bought from a dealer in Seattle. Would be happy to provide the archive with a copy. It’s interesting to me because it shows the beautiful Garry oak forest before development; also shows the top of the first house on Upper Terrace. I believe the postcard is dated (am in Vancouver just now so can’t check).

      1. Sorry I missed your reply. Thanks for the offer of a copy for the RVYC Archives. If you like, you could send the scan directly to me and I will make sure it gets into the archives with attribution of course.

    2. I have a “Tenth Anniversary Issue” of the Tweed Curtain of Feb 24, 1965 from a garage sale. Would love for it to go to a good home.

  2. Loved this article. J. Herrick McGregor was my husbands grandfather. We also have the book he wrote entitled The Wisdom of Waloopi. Great information.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the epic tale. Would Bruce be able to help me complete the family descendancy? I’m not clear about the four surviving children, their offspring and the whereabouts of other descendants.

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Beyond the Tweed Curtain