Farmland to suburb: development of a South Oak Bay neighbourhood

[Adapted from a slide talk at Windsor Park Pavilion, October 17, 2012, hosted by Marion Cumming, Oak Bay Heritage.]

View of Hotel Mount Baker, Oak Bay, BC. Painting by Edward Scrope Shrapnel, ca. 1894. BC Archives PDP04375. Used by kind permission, Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.
View of Hotel Mount Baker, Oak Bay, BC. Painting by Edward Scrope Shrapnel, ca. 1894. BC Archives PDP04375. Used by kind permission, Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.

This view shows Oak Bay and its rocky edges. Beyond Willows Beach is the south shore where the Hotel Mount Baker stood (1892-1902). The painting was made near the beginning of a quarter century of development (1889-1914) that transformed  the area from farmland into a suburb of Victoria.

Looking more closely at the shoreline to the right, west of the Hotel Mount Baker, you can make out a few houses …

shore A0 Shrapnel detail lo

The development of that neighbourhood was a corporate initiative in marketing Oak Bay’s setting and scenery. As to the vaunted character of the area, that was the creation of a few individuals. This in contrast to the piecemeal development of John Tod’s property that began a decade earlier.

The development known as Oak Harbour began with a tram line, a hotel, a sports stadium and a lot of crowd-pleasing events. Subsequent evolution of the neighbourhood — its families, their residences, linkage with neighbours, community, commerce, government — is chronicled elsewhere. This study traces its evolution from the island’s colonial years under the Hudson’s Bay Company. Why did it take forty years for the Company’s development scheme to take root? In a place with every advantage of nature?

1. Evolving land tenure of the southern Oak Bay shore

Oak Harbour was created in 1892 out of the eastern parts of Sections XXIII (23) and LXIX (69), two of the more than a hundred farming properties put up for sale in Victoria District by the Land Office of the Colony of Vancouver Island. The land office had been run by  colonial surveyor Joseph Pemberton. The owner of the two sections in question for more than thirty years was Joseph Pemberton. His Gonzales Farm enclosed a quarter of what became Oak Bay District. Joseph and his son Fred formed a real estate company in the 1880s and started selling blocks of land. Oak Harbour was easily their largest deal. Realtors continued to identify areas by section number; and so will this narrative.

An 1849 Royal Charter established the Colony of Vancouver’s Island and gave the whole works to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

1849 royal grant  Adobe Photoshop PDF  Adobe Photoshop PDF 

In the words of the charter, the royal We doth

give, grant and confirm unto the said governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay, and their Successors, all that the said island called Vancouver’s Island …

There were conditions. The Company had to pay the Crown seven shillings a year.

There was a five-year deadline. The Company had until January 1854 to get a settlement up and running:

if the said Governor and Company shall not, within the term of five years from the date of these Presents, have established upon the said island a settlement of resident colonists … it shall be lawful for Us, our heirs and successors, to revoke the present Grant …

Forts Victoria and Rupert did not qualify as settlements. Neither did the farms operated by the Company nor those run by its wholly-owned subsidiary the Puget Sound Agricultural Company.

The Company advertised land for sale at a pound (£1) an acre. The idea was to create a landed gentry. The settlers were supposed to pay their own passage and that of the families of servants and farm workers they were supposed to bring with them.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Settlers stayed away in droves. They made for the gold fields of California, or to Oregon Territory, where better land could be had for free. Ultimately it was the discovery of coal in Nanaimo Harbour in 1852 that saved the Company’s bacon. That and the Company’s agents’ success recruiting emigrants, especially miners and their families in the old country.

Meanwhile James Douglas, the Company’s officer in charge of the Western Department and after 1851 governor of the island, pressed forward on other initiatives.

Douglas d-03909

The land so freely given away by the Crown in 1849 (on the strength of George Vancouver’s claim of 1792) was deemed to carry the burden of Aboriginal Title enunciated in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. No problem — Douglas had only to buy the land from First Nations. The “treaties” — really  bills of sale — with the Chekonein and Chilcowitch bands, supposed owners of, respectively, the east and south coasts of what is now Oak Bay, were drawn up on April 30, 1850.

[Parenthetical on First Nations local history]

In the definitive essay “The Fort Victoria Treaties” (BC Studies 3:1969, 52), Wilson Duff contended that European assumptions about the exclusive nature of ownership led Douglas into “ethnographic absurdities in the treaties” …

For example, the Chekonein were designated as the owners of Cadboro Bay, and therefore, the Chilcowitch, who used it for the same purposes and to the same degree, could not be considered its owners too. Conversely, since the Chilcowitch were designated as the owners of McNeill Bay, the Chekonein, whose earlier home had likewise been there, could not be recognized as its owners too.

To say nothing of the very different notions of what was being bought and sold.

Or of the companymen’s trickery. Duff’s comment about that requires one to know that Songhees was the Europeans’ name for the local First Nations:

The native people of the Victoria area, who came to be known collectively as the “Songish” or “Songhees,” were never in any political sense a single tribe. They were comprised of a large number of more or less autonomous household groups, whose sprawling plank houses were clustered in a number of winter villages, and who moved regularly from place to place in the course of their annual round of activities. Specific resource areas and house sites were owned and used by specific households; other places within what was regarded by themselves and outsiders as Songhees territory were utilized more or less in common. (Duff op. cit. p. 4)

The Company, it seems, negotiated payment in blankets — like currency to Salish First Nations — then apparently manipulated the value of the goods it actually delivered:

Douglas reported to Barclay that he had paid each of the Songhees men a quantity of goods worth 17/0 (17 shillings), the total for the 122 men being £103/14/ 0. That arithmetic checks. However, the amounts stated in the treaties themselves total £309/10/ 0. The difference, presumably, represents the markup from what Douglas called “department price” to what might be called retail price, a healthy mark-up of about 300 per cent. (Duff op. cit. p. 24; modified.)

That does seem to suggest that the Company stiffed the vendors of two-thirds of the amount due them.

The ethnographic record Duff collected in the 1950s shows just one sign of First Nations use within the bounds of Section XXIII. The area around the Marina, Duff relates (op. cit., 47), was called Spwhung, “flying dust” or Spewhung, “fog” in the Straits Salish language.

The present study includes the water side of Section LXIX (69), immediately north of XXIII. Iechinihl, an old placename not collected by Duff, attached to the area just south of the mouth of Bowker Creek. Francis Rattenbury built his family home there and gave the name to his Beach Drive estate (now the Glenlyon-Norfolk School junior campus). Iechinihl is pronounced ee-uh-chee-nee-th (Canada’s Historic Places website, “Glenlyon Norfolk School“). The Oak Bay Encyclopedia glosses the name:

The name Rattenbury chose for his home — Iechinihl — is unusual in that it doesn’t reference an estate in the Old Country, but rather is a B.C. aboriginal term meaning “a place of good things.” A second interpretation of the term is that speech was delivered to the tribes on that very spot. (Iechinihl is situated near the mouth of Bowker Creek – a place with thousands of years of aboriginal history.)

Off the same shore, Jimmy Chicken (Mary Todd) Island had the old name Kohweechella, “where there are many fish,” and nearby Emily Islet, Skwahanna, for which Duff had no translation.

[End of parenthetical]

The ink was barely dry on those deeds of sale when Douglas began urging Company cronies to buy sections of land against their retirement.

Douglas, tough as nails but a softy when it came to Beauty, was author of the famous phrase, “The place itself appears a perfect ‘Eden.’” His vision of Victoria’s destiny was shaped by aesthetics. He used his powers of persuasion to steer other tough, self-reliant Company men, his friends and associates, to the choicest  sections.

By 1853 the Company’s hard-working Colonial Surveyor Joseph Pemberton had completed a map that showed the progress of land sales in the South Eastern Districts of Vancouver Island:

1855 SE dist whole lo

The system assigned roman numerals to each section as it was purchased.

Douglas took Section I, and it became Fairfield Farm. Section II, the nucleus of Willows Farm, was bought by John Tod. Section III went to Roderick Finlayson, chief factor i/c Fort Victoria — it became the industrial zone back of Rock Bay. Section IV was John Work’s Hillside Farm. Section V was bought by Robert Clouston, an Orkneyman with the company. And so on.

1855 South eastern districts lo

Section XXII (22) was bought by Captain William Henry McNeill.

Section XXIII (23), the principal area considered in this study, was immediately north of XXII. Its 270 acres took in a band of land between the future Oak Bay Avenue on the north and the future McNeill Avenue on the south, between the future municipal boundary on the west and the ocean on the east.

It was bought by George Blenkinsop, Capt. McNeill’s son-in-law. Here he is with his daughter Mary Dennie:

Blenk = Helen port

Mary will figure in the saga of legal wrangling over Capt. McNeill’s estate (to be recounted in the McNeill family chronicle).

And here is George’s wife Helen, Capt. McNeill’s eldest child:

McNeill HelenFirst photo: BC Archives Call no. G-05201, Catalogue no. HP002370; photographer and date undetermined. ¶ Second photo: Call no. F-06356, Catalogue no. HP002376; photographer G. R. Fardon, date unknown. ¶ Both photos reproduced courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation. ¶ The first photo is captioned “Mr. and Mrs. George Blenkinsop” on BC Archives’ Visual Records website; I’m grateful to Sylvia Van Kirk for correcting the record.

Blenkinsop and McNeill were together at Stikine and Fort Rupert in the 1840s and in 1850. Blenkinsop, a chief trader with the HBC from 1855, moved from Fort Rupert to Fort Colvile, in American territory, in 1856.

By May 24, 1858, Blenkinsop was no longer owner of Section XXIII. The reason is not clear. He may have defaulted on payment for the Oak Bay land. The family seems to have been very mobile. Eventually they took up farming on Section LI (51), near what is now Blenkinsop Lake in Saanich.

On May 24, 1858, Joseph Pemberton bought sections XXIII (23), XLVII (47), LXIX (69) and LXXIII (73), adding 653 acres, all in present day Oak Bay, to his purchases of sections LXVIII (68) and LXXIV (74) in 1856 and ’57.

1858 map Pemb sects in red

With 1,182 acres, Pemberton was one of the biggest landowners in the colony.

Pemberton Joe lo

Why buy so much land all at once? Because the Fraser River Gold Rush was in full swing. James Douglas wrote a letter to the colonial secretary on May 8 announcing the arrival of the SS Commodore from San Francisco on April 25th with 450 passengers, “the chief part of whom are gold miners” bound for the Fraser Canyon.

gold rush Douglas letter 1 lo  gold rush Douglas letter 2 lo

Here is a depiction of a boat arriving at Fort Victoria during the rush:

Waud View of Victoria“View of Victoria, Vancouver’s Island, British America,” engraving by [Al]F[red] Waud, in Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, January 1, 1859, p. 12. Author’s collection.

The letter continues:

The merchants and other business classes of Victoria are rejoicing in the advent of so large a body of people in the Colony … Victoria could … become a Depôt and centre of trade for the gold district, and the natural consequence would be an immediate increase in the wealth and population of the Colony.

Douglas, by now governor of both British Columbia and Vancouver Island, but no longer working for the Company, helped increase traffic by proclaiming that all miners had to come to Fort Victoria to obtain licenses.

An independent observer in the colony in 1858, Commander R. C. Mayne, R.N., F.R.G.S., wrote in 1862 that

The value of land was raised immensely … All the available Government lands had been snapped up by far-seeing speculators … Lots in Victoria and Esquimalt, that a few months ago had gone begging at their upset price of 1l. [1 pound] an acre, sold now for 100l. an acre, and soon for more.

Maybe town lots sold for £100 an acre. Out in the sticks, no sales at all — there was no transportation infrastructure away from the Cadboro Bay Road.

2. The liquidation of Gonzales Farm

Joseph Pemberton raised prize cattle and other livestock on 1,182-acre Gonzales Farm for 30 years, following the motto, “Trespassers Prosecuted. Stray Dogs Shot.”

Gonzales Farm

A  delusion widespread at the time held that the transcontinental railway would terminate at Esquimalt Harbour, and then Victoria would surely become a major sea port, and all one had to do was sit back and wait for residential land prices to shoot up.

CPR train arrives lo

The first cross-country train arrived at tidewater in Port Moody, on the mainland shore, on July 4, 1886. The famous picture above was taken by longtime Oak Bay resident Thomas Sinclair Gore.

The writing was on the wall for Victoria’s aspiration to be a great city.

In 1887 Joseph Pemberton formed a real estate company with his son Frederick and set out to liquidate Gonzales Farm.

Pemberton & Son ad

Here’s how South Oak Bay looked on the eve of its transformation:

1888 Lang's map

This map was made in 1888 by Lieutenant J. I. Lang of the Royal Engineers. It shows contour lines, property lines and roads — in places it’s difficult to know which is what — also types of vegetation or ground cover.

You can see Foul Bay Road running south from Cadboro Bay Road, then meandering to Fairfield Road.

The beginnings of Oak Bay Avenue, extending east from the Cadboro Bay Road to Foul Bay Road, are evident at top left.

Some private roads were marked with dotted lines …

1888 Lang's map detail

There’s a rough road east off Foul Bay Road — south of Oak Bay Avenue, around what is now Granite or Brighton — ending at the water about where the foot of Windsor Road is; another such goes southeast to the bottomland around the head of Windsor Road.

That’s  consistent with cattle ranching and the only sign of human use I see in that whole area.

From news accounts it’s evident Oak Bay Avenue was graded and gravelled in stages. In October 1889 It had not reached Richmond Road:

… the cheapest land in the opinion of many was that sold on Oak Bay avenue, consequent no doubt on the uncertainty of the action of the directors of the Electric Tramway company, they being divided as to the road going as far as the Richmond road, and a meeting of the shareholders of the company being called for the 18th to determine this point.

“Real Estate Sale,” Colonist, Oct 16, 1889, p. 4

Five months later it had been surveyed but not graded:

The property is especially desirable for residential purposes, and the early grading of Oak Bay Avenue, a wide and straight thoroughfare, will bring it within easy distance of the Street Cars and of the centre of the city.

Colonist, March 23, 1890, p. 4

Ads like this, meanwhile, appeared in the Colonist:

1889 real estate sale loColonist, December 18, 1889, p. 2

An auction … 58 subdivisions of Section 69 … part of Section 74 … Section 23 … Section 68 …

All part of the Pemberton estate …

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Here’s T. N. Hibben’s city map of 1890:

1890 Victoria OB streets lo

The part that shows the subdivisions of sections 23, 68, 69, and 74:

1890 map detail lo

The poet streets, Byron, Milton and Chaucer, are already named. Mitchell Street is named. The predecessor of Hampshire Road, called Junction Road, is shown linking Oak Bay Avenue with Cadboro Bay Road, near the Willows Hotel.

This map may have been based more on plans than on realities on the ground: it shows Oak Bay Avenue already extended to the water. By early the following year it reached at least to Junction Road.

1891 02 03 14 ac OBAColonist, February 3, 1891, p. 5

The fourteen acres pertains to the square immediately east of that corner on the 1890 map; $900 an acre — there’s a tidy profit.

This bit of news presaged the construction of (I believe) the first house in this vicinity, the Phillipps-Wolleys‘.

Murdoch’s 1968 History of the Municipality of Oak Bay (link downloads pdf) dated the following constructions in the area:

  • 1888 J. S. Floyd, 1494 Mount Baker Ave.
  • 1889 William Noble, 1400 Monterey Ave.
  • 1889 Haynes, 1512 Mt. Baker Ave.
  • 1889 Herbert Francis Hewett, 1580 Mt. Baker Ave. (Eastholme)
  • 1890 Oak Bay Ball Park (Windsor Park)
  • 1890 Clayton Cottage on Haynes Pt.
  • 1890 Calhoun, 2131 Oak Bay Ave.
  • 1890 Sam McClure (sic), 1480 Mt. Baker Ave.
  • 1890 Gavin, 2080 Oak Bay Ave.

George Murdoch, an Oak Bay councillor 1946-58 and reeve 59-63, wrote history that is long on council business but short on early sources. He prefaces the chronological inventory summarized above with this:

From 1887 to 1906, building development in the area was slow. The following is given here to illustrate how slowly development actually progressed. From such records of the time still on file in the Municipal Hall we discover the dates and the names of the original owners. It is most unfortunate that the surname is only recorded, no initials or Christian names being used at that time. From other municipal data I have found a few of these first names, which are included.

The writer offered no actual sources;  one has to go elsewhere to check the facts. A search of land titles is unfortunately beyond the scope of this study.

With available sources, no information comes to light that corroborates any of Murdoch’s dates.

  • The residences Murdoch dated 1889 are contradicted by Stark, Oak Bay’s Heritage Buildings (1988), which dates the Noble house to 1896/97 (p. 95), the Haynes house to 1898/99 (28)  and the Hewett house to 1899 (30).
  • Neither Williams’ nor Henderson’s city directories shows Oak Bay Avenue before 1892. No mention is made of Mount Baker Avenue before 1898.
  • None of the people named by Murdoch appear in the 1891 census, polling district no. 10, conducted April 20-May 4.
  • About the Oak Bay Park, the documentary record is ample; more on that to follow.

All evidence points to the Phillipps-Wolleys being the first residents of the area under study.

There was in fact a human presence pre-dating the onset of development in  1891. The Oak Bay Camp was a summer resort organized by the Haynes and Johnston families in tents on the beach in the lee of what is now called Haynes Point, opposite the foot of Oak Bay Avenue. The camp operated 1889-1908. Both families settled in the area in the 1890s.

3. The Oak Bay Improvement Company

The Oak Bay Land and Improvement Company — usually referred to as the Oak Bay Improvement Company — burst upon the almost pristine scene in March 1891 with a plan to spend $300,000:

Adobe Photoshop PDFColonist, March 29, 1891, p. 5

They’re going to develop “that beautiful suburban spot, Oak Bay beach.”

They will put in roads, sidewalks, wharves, “a large and expensive summer hotel, and do all else that is necessary and expedient.”

“Major Dupont of this city” is elected chairman of the board:

1891 04 05 OBIC mtgColonist, April 5, 1891, p. 5

The Victoria firm Crane, McGregor and Boggs are the “general agents” for the company.

1891 04 05 005 loColonist, April 5, 1891, p. 5

The development acquires a name — Oak Harbor.

1891 04 28 Oak Hbr loColonist, April 28, 1891, p. 6

Here’s the sales map:

1891? Oak HarborCourtesy Glenlyon-Norfolk School

In this map we can see the layout of the present neighbourhood emerging from the HBC sections — farmland and forest turning into suburb.

Oak Harbor included the seaside half of Section XXIII (23) to the properties on the west side of Monterey Avenue — traces of that boundary can be seen in the alleyways between Monterey and Hampshire — and between Oak Bay Avenue and what became McNeill Avenue.

Oak Harbor also included the seaside part of Section LXIX (69), including the properties on the east side of what is now York Place, between Oak Bay Avenue and the boundary of Section LXI (61).

Many of the streets are named for saints. Besides sts David, Denis, Louis and Patrick we find:

  • St. George Street (now Monterey Avenue)
  • St. Andrew Street (Oliver Street)
  • St. James Street (Transit Road)
  • St. Henry Street was to run through the middle of what became Windsor Park. Its vestige remains to provide access to the pavilion, but nobody calls it St. Henry St. to my knowledge,

The avenues had familiar names like Brighton, Newport and Margate. Currie Road was called Long Branch Avenue, and Windsor Road was called Saratoga Avenue. These are names of famous resorts — Saratoga Springs, New York and Long Branch, New Jersey.

Long Branch HomerThe Beach at Long Branch, circa 1869. Drawing by Winslow Homer, wood engraving by John Karst. Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum via Wikimedia Commons.

Brighton and Margate are in England.

Here’s Margate in the 1890s:

Margate harbour ca 1897 lo

Newport was the plutocrats’ playground on the Rhode Island shore. This was the Vanderbilts’ summer cottage at Newport:

Newport The Breakers lo

Back in the world of reality in south Oak Bay in 1891 …

shore A1 kidsThe beach on Oak Bay at what is now the foot of Windsor Road, 1891. BC Archives call no. G-02981, catalogue no. HP020623. Photographer Charles Macmunn. “Macmunn No. 392.” Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation. ¶ Today there are sandy spots with interesting growths of rushes against the Beach Drive causeway, but the beach is mostly mud and rock, as in this view. People rarely even walk there; touting it for “bathing” seems like magical thinking. The next beach north, sometimes known as Rattenbury’s Beach, is sandy above the tide and more scenic, so is more visited. Few brave the muddy shallows to swim there. I’ve witnessed a swimming race to Jimmy Chicken Island and back during the Oak Bay Tea Party; for insanely motivated swimmers only.

We learn that the Tramway Company is building a new Oak Bay line, extending the service of trams — tiny streetcars — from the Cadboro Bay Road line at the Oak Bay Junction a mile and a half along Oak Bay Avenue to what is now the corner of Windsor Road and Newport Avenue.

Victoria has the third streetcar system in Canada. It has been operating for a year. Here’s Victoria mayor John Grant climbing aboard on the inaugural run across the James’ Bay Bridge on February 22, 1890:

tramway lo

BC Archives catalog no. HP008746. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum.

It came out later in a letter from Major Dupont to the Colonist (January 3, 1892, p. 3) that the Oak Bay Improvement Company had funded the Tramway extension to the tune of $27,000.

In May we learn that work is well underway on the Oak Bay line, and “Mr. McGregor spends most of his time on the spot superintending” (Colonist, May 12, 1891, p. 5).

The Oak Bay line opened on July 1, 1891, less than three months after the job was opened to tenders.

The Oak Bay tram was popular from the get-go. The next day, more than 1,500 people took the tram to the beach and back. “Calvary, Emmanuel and Victoria West Baptist Sunday schools, with many private parties, spent the day at Oak Bay beach, where the attractions were boating, bathing, baseball and field sports, besides croquet and the other ever-present picnic games.” Among the contests the Colonist (July 3, 1891, p. 2) reported with the names of winners:

  • Ladies’ egg and spoon race (50 yards and return)
  • Boys’ three legged race
  • Girls’ potato race
  • Boys’ sack race
  • Wheelbarrow race
  • Tugs of war — married vs. single ladies; men of Calvary vs. Emmanuel churches

One guesses the picnic ground was the waterside field today known as Queen’s Park.

Here is the tram, a few years later — the tiny little thing on the right, running through what was not yet the Oak Bay Village:

Oak Bay x Monterey tram loOak Bay Archives

The streetcar line served the area for nearly 57 years — including this open-air model that took golfers to the links:

tram open air loBC Archives

(The day I was born, May 15, 1948, was the last day of service for the Oak Bay streetcar.)

For the Oak Bay Improvement Company, the tram probably served its initial function well — to bring potential property buyers out to the site.

As for actual lot sales, a Mr. Barry was reported (Colonist, June 20, 1891) to be building a cottage on Oak Bay.

Soon we learn that “Captain Berry’s house is rapidly approaching completion” and “a strong force of men are at work upon the pavilion” (Colonist, July 17, 1891, p. 5).

The next thing we know, “Under the new management of Mr. J. R. Berrie the pavilion will be run in a strictly firstclass manner. The public are cordially invited” (“No More Dancing at Oak Bay,” Colonist, August 5, 1891, p 1).

We know from reported court proceedings that a James Reuben Berry purchased the pavilion and with a partner named James Hugh Close obtained a liquor license by fraudulent means. The write-up of the case (Colonist, January 3, 1892) identifies three residents all told in the vicinity: Berry, “one Harris” and “Clive Phillips-Woolley.”

I have been unable to locate either Berry’s or Harris’s houses or the said pavilion. It’s possible they were all temporary structures and soon gone.

More about the Oak Bay pavilion liquor license case elsewhere, to come.

More about Major Dupont here.

4. The Mount Baker Hotel


The next order of business was the fancy summer hotel. It took a while longer.


Here’s Major Dupont again. The suggestion is that a separate company was formed to build the hotel.


Back to Oak Bay. Here’s an ad in the Colonist for an auction of land. The rhetoric has excalated.

“The most beautiful suburb … unrivalled in British Columbia” … This property has been acquired at great cost by the Oak Bay Improvement Company who will put a large amount on the market elmost entirely without reserve.”


Soon we get an inkling of the backers of the hotel.

J Turner, W D McGregor, J E Crane, etc

The name J Turner in particular is redolent of wealth and power. I assume it refers to John Herbert Turner.


Here he is. Immigrated from England and arrived in Victoria in 1862. Owner of Turner & Beeton, a major food and drink wholesaler-retailer in Victoria for decades. BC’s finance minister for 12 years, through the whole period of give-aways to railroad companies. Premier from 1895 to 1898.

When he retired from politics he returned to England as Agent General for the province.


In January 1902 he gave a speech to the Royal Colonial Institute extolling the many attractions of British Columbia.

In the middle of which we find this:

I wish I could show in the views on the screen to-night not only the scenes but the actual colouring of sky, mountain, plain, forest, river, and lake, as they greeted the Prince and Princess of Wales on their journey through the Province last October, or the views they had from the City of Vancouver of the magnificent harbour and mountains beyond, or the exquisite beauty of that from [118] Mount Baker Hotel, Victoria, at which place the royal party resided for two days; from this position one sees in the distance the Olympian Range rising and rising in pearly grandeur to the culminating peak of Mount Baker, below that the dense forest, then nearer the beautiful bay, glassy in its stillness, dotted with many an island and lazy yachts that look like “painted ships upon a painted ocean.”


And here it is. Completed in May 1893 and an instant magnet for Victoria society.

Here it is from another angle.


I believe — from the visual evidence — that it was located in Block K, oriented northeast


And this is the man who ran the hotel — John Alexander Virtue. A native of Montreal, who came out with his Irish bride Sidney.


Here they are on the 1901 Census, and you can see the personnel

John A Virtue, age 40

his wife Sidney S, age 35

Lizzie Martin, 29, from Scotland, the housekeeper,

Frederick Fuggle, 21, from Ontario, the bartender

Joseph Virtue, 32, from Quebec — presumably John’s brother — clerk

Robert Latta, 15, from Scotland, waiter

Henry Latta, 13, bell-boy

Ah Sing, 20, from China, Cook

And a Chinese gardener was listed on the next page.


Virtue’s genius was to create public events that people flocked to.

He started inviting the 5th Regiment Band to play every weekend in the summer


“Oak Bay was a popular resort yesterday afternoon and evening for lovers of music. On the rocks around Mount Baker Hotel, large numbers lounged and enjoyed the warm sunshine, , soft sea breezes and charming music…”


He brought trick cycle riders … trapeze performers … athletic tournaments


He lured the prime minister of Canada Mr Bowell to the hotel during a tour of the province ..

with a sizeable entourage


Undoubtedly his biggest coup was to get the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to stay for 2 nights during a North American tour.


Here’s a postcard view of the hotel showing the tents of the guard of honour


A clipping explains that “they have to be in a position to turn out the moment his Royal Highness makes his appearance”

The RCMP escort was camped in Oak Bay Park — Windsor Park — with sleeping, cooking and dining tents … as well as Royal Stables with room for 75 horses, 50 for the mounted police and “others for the royal carriage, aides and equerries.”


The strangest thing of all was the decoration of the hotel interior. Everyone brought their valuables to display. …. Paintings by Sophie Pemberton, furniture, a riot of plants and flowers


There you can see Mr Paul Beygran’s portrait of thelate Queen Victoria standing on an easel. He was actually in charge of the decorations.


The party didn’t last long. The hotel burned to the ground one hot September morning in 1902.

From the write-up you get a glimpse of the clientele … an American admiral’s wife and daughter … an Australian family … a minister and his wife … Philadelphians … Hon. Fred Peters —whose family lived not five blocks away, on York Place — and a bit of a tribute to John Virtue’s skill in marketing the hotel.

5. Oak Bay Park

Back to Major Dupont. A man of many parts. Here he is being elected president of the Tramway Company in December 1893.


and a year and a half later he’s got another project going that will bring people to Oak Bay — an 11-acre park and a stadium for 2,000 people.

[PHOTO x 3}

Here it is. Today we call it Windsor Park.

Bikes were a huge fad at the time.

As was lacrosse. Notice the fence on the southeast side of the park.

Here you get a sense of its height.

You had to pay to get in.


Among the attractions, Shakespeare under the stars, complete with the Forest of Arden.


Another amenity that brought traffic to Oak Bay — the golf links established in 1893.

The story goes that a group of enthusiasts went to Joe Pemberton asking to lease the lands near Gonzales Point. And he said “Sure — but not in the summer. That’s when I graze my cows.”

One thought on “Farmland to suburb: development of a South Oak Bay neighbourhood”

  1. John and Joseph Virtue were my grandmothers mothers brothers. My grandmothers family stayed in Montreal and Joseph would send them money to help support them.

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