Affectionately known as "Caddy" after have been
seen in Cadboro Bay immediately north of
Oak Bay, sightings of large serpentine marine animals
have been reported off the waters of Vancouver Island since the early 1930's. Descriptions of Caddy have been remarkably similar for generations.
By Linda Prochilo
When the British colonists of the Hudson Bay Fur Trading Company established Fort Victoria in 1843, Oak Bay was in their eyes a rugged and wild frontier. They immediately set about "civilizing" their new home by reconstructing the icons of their imperial heritage and introducing their time-honored "genteel" traditions. These cultural flourishes -- Tudor architectural style, rose gardens and afternoon tea -- created from whole cloth the charming ambience that Oak Bay is renowned for today.
While the British heritage of nearby Victoria can been be clearly seen throughout that bustling city, it is more evident still in the stately neighbouring village of Oak Bay.
MORE ENGLISH THAN ENGLAND
Oak Bay is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia just five miles (eight kilometres) east of the capital city of Victoria. With Tudor-style architecture, friendly English pubs, proper tea-rooms and ornate gardens, the tight-knit community of 18,000 lives up to the reputation of being "more English than England."
"While Britain itself has become more like North America with its chain stores and malls, Oak Bay has retained an atmosphere of a village of shopkeepers," says Brian Hobson of the Oak Bay Tourism Commission.
Oak Bay residents proudly pay homage to their English roots, so of course it is not hard to find a good cup of tea served in fine bone china. After strolling around the village, shopping in the many boutiques, visitors seem honor-bound by tradition to take their rest at the Blethering Place Tea-room, famous in these parts for its own homemade strawberry jam.
"Afternoon tea is a Victorian tradition that has been traced to the Duchess of Bedford," says manager Ken Agate. "The Duchess found she could fight off a "sinking feeling" by consuming tea with thin sandwiches and scones."
Although the Duchess took afternoon tea as a panacea for her royal fatigue, the British later made it a cross-class ritual. The tradition remains today. It is taken either as a light meal or as a social event to welcome guests. For almost two hours visitors to the Blethereing Place Tea-room linger over a cozy-cosseted pot of Tetley tea. Accompanying the steeped orange pekoe is the customary selection of petite crustless sandwiches, sausage rolls, raisin scones, Devonshire clotted cream and selected tarts. The crowning touch, of course, is the glory known as English trifle.
ENGLISH ROSE GARDEN
Tea aside, the English are most famous for their country gardens. Oak Bay alone features 39 of these havens. Strolling along Oak Bay Avenue, one comes across Windsor Park and its "Oak Bay Rose Garden". All of England's gardens are celebrated in prose, poetry, and song, but none more so than the rose garden. The rose is known as the "Queen of Flowers" and the concept of a garden devoted entirely to this single flower seems only seems appropriate here in this wonderfully temperate climate.
After a day of strolling, many Oak Bay visitors take accommodations at the Oak Bay Guesthouse. Built in 1912, the Tudor-style mansion offers a blend of Victorian grace and a warm atmosphere that combines old world charm with new world hospitality. Guests sip sherry in the rose coloured guest lounge, in front of the blazing fireplace. They read British magazines, surrounded by pictures of the Royal family. The next morning, well rested, they are up early to enjoy a picture-perfect full course breakfast, including fresh juice and the Guest House's renowned blueberry muffins.
"I think the Oak Bay district is one of the most lovely residential areas I have ever seen, and it is my desire to retain this beauty as far as possible…" Francis Rattenbury wrote around the turn of the 20th Century.
Strolling along Marine Drive, one is moved to nod in full agreement with Mr. Rattenbury, the talented and highly regarded architect who moved to Canada in 1892. His legacy lives on in many of Victoria's architectural gems. These landmarks include the imposing Legislature building, the grand Empress Hotel and the prestigious Glenlyon School.
The latter, at 1701 Beach Drive, was Rattenebury's home. He built it in 1898 and named it "Lechinihl"; it became a boys school in 1929. Oak Bay is also home to other Rattenbury designs, notably the Jones Estate, at 599 Island Road, which is certainly worth a look.
FISH AND CHIPS
It is easy to lose track of time when mesmerized by roses and architectural accents. Pangs of hunger may result. So make your way to Willows Galley, a small fish and chips restaurant with seven seats, originally built in 1920 as a grocery. Catching a strong whiff of the requisite malt vinegar proclaims you have made a good choice. Meander down to Willows Beach, one block away, and nibble on your halibut and chips wrapped, of course, in a newspaper cone.
After your al fresco meal, and working up a renewed appetite with some more strolling, make your way to the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and Marine Resort. Built in 1927, the 50-room Tudor-style hotel exudes a sense of venerable comfort. Throughout the property are many pieces of furniture that will interest any antiques connoisseur. In Oak Bay's storied past, afternoon high tea in the dining room here was a de rigueur social occasion, where one went to enjoy the ritual dishes and to "be seen." The hotel still serves afternoon High Tea in the dining room, but without the social stress; now it is an occasion for relaxation.
The word pub comes from Public House, a neighbourhood establishment for meeting friends and neighbours to enjoy a pint and a bit of a chat. Craving a pint of Guinness, one can enter the Oak Bay Beach Hotel's excellent pub, dubbed "The Snug." It's a throwback to another era. In old English custom the "Snug" at any pub was a room reserved for patrons that for whatever reasons did not wish or could not afford to be seen in a public bar. The local bobby (police officer) on his rounds would nip in for a quiet pint; the vicar for his evening sherry. The ambience at this re-creation is delightful. Regulars even have their own mugs, tucked away behind the bar.
Those bent on a nightcap should saunter down the avenue to the Penny Farthing Pub.
"Like the pubs in England we have an oceanside menu featuring fresh seafood and a variety of lagers, stouts and ales," says owner Matt McNeil. "Our décor is reflective of that old world feeling with our glass handmade in Ireland."
This is a little more up-scale than the Snug Pub, and the variety of foreign import beers is most impressive.
RUGBY AND CRICKET
Stroll by Windsor Park field the next day and you may be just in time to catch a rugby player grounding the ball into his opponent's in-goal.. Residents of Oak Bay share the same passion as their English forebears and counterparts for the hallowed games of rugby and cricket. Both originated in England.
Cricket, fiercely contested now throughout the world, was first played in Canada by British soldiers and was declared the national sport of Canada by John A. McDonald in 1867. If you've ever felt yourself "in a bit of a sticky wicket," you have cricket to thank for the vivid term that makes your difficulties more colourful.
BRIT? MAYBE, BUT MODERN
When people say Oak Bay is more English than England they are referring to a time past; this small town on the edge of a world class city is very much a modern place. But it is still true in a sense. The locals here have found a comfortable balance between their English roots and new world convenience. Quite a feat, really. It seems Oak Bay has retained what England herself seems to have lost.
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