This is Part Two of a three-part series on the Oak Bay Marina and Turkey Head
Before settlers, the shores along what is now known as Oak Bay bustled with canoes as the Indigenous Lekwungen speaking people of the area sustainably thrived in villages there for thousands of years.
The 1840s establishment of Fort Victoria slowly impacted the area. In 1851, the Hudson Bay Company sold its first section of the Victoria ward to HBC’s John Tod. By the 1890s much of (what would be) Oak Bay was sought after and development was underway.
Two boys stand on the boat launch of Queen’s Park with the Samuel Maclure-designed Oak Bay Boat House in the background (current site of Oak Bay Marina), circa 1950.
It wasn’t until the construction of the Mount Baker Hotel in 1893 that Turkey Head became a regular boat launch.
Guests needed activities and those were golf, sailing, fishing and crabbing. The Baker hotel is said to have built a small boathouse near Turkey Head of which there is little evidence.
Then came the 1902 fire that destroyed the Mount Baker hotel. In 1908, the owners of a new Oak Bay Hotel at Beach Drive and Windsor Drive (later known as the Old Charming Inn) had Sam Maclure design a boathouse on piles that was capable of hosting guests. One report says it was built on the Orchard Avenue side of Turkey Head and moved to the other side, where the marina currently stands, in 1915.
Inside, the boathouse represented a hunting lodge, with rifles hung over a stuffed deer head.
Outside, the waters off Oak Bay were plumb with life and boaters pulled up to the dock with traps full of crabs and baskets full of salmon.
It opened, on May 16 of 1908 with a festive celebration that drew hundreds and featured a motorboat regatta. It was a new phenomenon then and was a major tenant of the boathouse. The race ran from Victoria’s Inner Harbour to Turkey Head. The Daily Colonist write-up on the next day was all-consumed with the phenomenon of the motorboat as it paralleled the motor car though in its 50th anniversary edition on Dec. 13, the Daily Colonist mentioned the Oak Bay Boat Club in its write-up on the two-year-old District of Oak Bay.
“Built with some hesitation as to whether ‘outsiders’ would much patronize its half dozen hiring craft, it proved to be quite in sufficiently supplied to meet the demand that sprang into light at once and there is no doubt that next year will see quite a fleet kept constantly busy in the ways of pleasure.”
At some point fairly early in its existence, the boathouse became district property and was leased by several operators into the late 1950s.
Vic Hurst, as seen in the 1964 Oak Bay Leader, operated the Oak Bay boathouse that predated the marina from 1949 to 1953.
Vic Hurst, a local boatman who immigrated from England, took over the still primitive fishing lodge in 1949 with the air of post-war industry. According to the Oak Bay Leader Hurst brought some improvements to the boathouse and business.
Hurst’s biggest gift is likely an extension of the small breakwater there at the time. The appetite to harbour more boats began to grow.
By the late 1950s Bill Faith, an Irish immigrant, was the boathouse lessee and also had big ideas for a marina.
Making it happen wasn’t easy. Early dissidents opposed how a new building would obscure the view. It took the ambition and talents of Bob Wright to string it all together.
Wright was a larger than life personality who started in the news business in Edmonton before moving to Victoria, enamoured by the Island’s hunting and fishing. He was a passionate fisher and national ad man for F. P. Publishing in the early 1960s when he financially backed the new project with Pacific Piledriving president Tom Blackwood and Faith.
Wright calmed residential concerns about obstructing the view when pressed by the Oak Bay Leader, the community newspaper of note.
“The new building will have no greater height than the present boathouse; and it has been moved as far out on the head as possible,” Wright said. “There will be no obstruction, and, in fact, the view will be much more pleasant than it is now.”
The project was big enough that on April 17, 1962, the District of Oak Bay held a referendum that earned a 92.1 per cent approval by voters, far surpassing the 60 per cent minimum required.
But there was more. The provincial and federal governments also played key roles in agreeing to expand Turkey Head and dredging the marina. Endless truckloads of eight to 10 tonnes of stone came from Ten Mile Point to extend the breakwater 700 feet. The federal government approved the extensive breakwater in 1959 which really opened Wright’s eyes to the possibility of a major marina, said current Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch.
Wright convinced Oak Bay to make it a 30-year lease to amortize the $450,000 expenditure.
“There was controversy, even then,” Murdoch said. “Protesters tried to stop it.”
Murdoch’s grandfather George was the town reeve (mayor) at the time and wrote about the development in his unpublished memoir. After a year of negotiation between Oak Bay council and Wright, George Murdoch thought it would never happen.
“I said I would try to get approval from the government to grant a 30-year lease, so in November I arranged a meeting, jointly, with the Ministers of Lands and Forests, Municipal Affairs, Recreation and Conservation, together with their deputies and the Legislative Counsellor, Ian Horne. The Minister of Municipal Affairs, Black, said ‘That is the simple answer and it will be done.’ Ray Williston, Minister of Lands said he would recommend that a 30-year lease be granted for the foreshore rights, to coincide with the land lease tenure. Thus the way was cleared for the project to go ahead, subject to the consent of the ratepayers.”
The geotechnical integrity and stability of Turkey Head was recently surveyed for those interested in submitting proposals on the future of the site.
With the 1962 construction of Oak Bay’s first and only 10-storey building, the Rudyard Kipling condo at Beach and Windsor, and the subsequent completion of the marina, the traditional Oak Bay landscape was revamped.