Oak Bay Backstreet Happiness – Sooke News Mirror
– Words by Susan Lundy Photographs by Don Denton
When former Oak Bay Mayor Christopher Causton started walking to work at City Hall in the mid-1990s, he decided to take the road less travelled. Now, three decades later, Chris is certain to have walked nearly all of the municipality’s dozens of lanes, paths and walkways.
In 2006, when a group of Oak Bay walkers asked Chris to organize a laneway tour, he happily agreed, creating a route that began at the Oak Bay Recreation Center. Expecting a group of around 25 people, he was amazed to see over 200 people lined up for the tour. Nor did he foresee it becoming a regular event held every June for the next few years, even after retiring as mayor in 2011.
So on a sunny Monday in late February, the kind of day where it feels like spring can sprout anytime, I set off with Chris, my husband Bruce, our dog Zorro and Tweed photographer Don Denton, to find out what it’s all about.
“The lanes of South Oak Bay date back 100 years,” notes Chris as we walk from our meeting spot at the Monterey Recreation Center. “They have a lot of character and, like fine wine, have had more time to develop and age than those in central Oak Bay, which date back, in general, to post-World War II development.”
There are very few classic alleyways in North Oak Bay, he adds, and they are mostly cut-away type paths or pedestrian connections.
“I’ve always been curious,” says Chris, and indeed it becomes clear as we stroll slowly through the quiet lanes of Oak Bay: it’s that curious eye that takes what seems mundane, gives it a kaleidoscope twist and produces a view that says, “Oh, that’s interesting!
In our first driveway, we look through a fence at the back of a house where an old-looking stone building is partially hidden by foliage. Turns out this was once the creamery where Oak Bay’s first milk was produced.
“Everyone makes the front part of their house attractive,” Chris points out. “But looking at the back of the houses shows their true character. There are things here that you would never see otherwise.
Unlike roads, there are no standards for lanes. Some are paved, some gravel, and unexpectedly at least two are grass. Some are wide enough to accommodate a large truck; some are narrow, some are just trails. Juxtapositions abound: there’s an aging Toyota Corolla parked next to a gleaming Porsche; new garages adjoin old or converted garages.
There is a hidden swimming pool, a chicken coop, a wall of solar panels, wooden panels, aluminum siding and a wooden drain pipe attached to wooden soffits and gutters. In an alley, we walk on one of the only speed bumps in Oak Bay. Sometimes it’s like stepping into a bygone era, where tiny garages once big enough to house vehicles are now relegated to garden sheds with big, shiny SUVs parked nearby.
As we look at a driveway garage, pointing out a few birdhouses attached to its front side, the landlady, digging in the garden, looks up and tells us that this particular structure is called The Toy House.
“A playhouse for the grandchildren?” I wonder.
Not enough. Chris knows the owners (by the way, he knows just about everyone we meet on this tour), so we’re offered to take a look at the toys inside: the rustle up the garage door reveals two shiny classic cars.
At another point in the tour, we cross a lane intersection where houses representing four different periods in history – and spanning at least the last century – live as neighbors. From here we slip down an almost hidden path and pass a courtyard where the late poet Robin Skelton apparently held seances.
(This brings to mind my own recollection of Skelton, who was one of my creative writing teachers at UVic. For his classes, he would only read his own poetry and assign two essays per term. According to department tradition of creative writing, Skelton graded the essays by weight. I can’t confirm this, but I was a prolific word producer and received excellent marks.)
The few times during our hike that we emerge from the matrix of alleys and walk down a street, the difference is stark: the width of the street, the polished courtyards, and the unremarkable concrete sidewalks suddenly make me long for the privacy and intrigue of back alley roads. .
How, I ask myself at the end of our journey, could this adventure not evoke the poet Robert Frost? Because that day we took the “less traveled” road – and that made all the difference.
oak bay trip