Old Oak Bay
In my neighborhood, houses float out to sea. They’re jacked up from their foundations, lifted onto trucks, and barged away. Walkers and gawkers line Beach Drive on the big day. They rise with the tide to peer into the shell of a house, to watch Oak Bay’s history sail away.
Oak Bay is an affluent coastal suburb of 18,000 a few minutes from downtown Victoria. The joke goes that Victoria is the land of the ‘nearly wed and the nearly dead,’ and Oak Bay has long been home to the latter group. To wit: The local lifestyle magazine is called ‘Tweed’. Our quaint Tudor-styled buildings, rugby field, cricket pitch and pubs, speak to a love for the mother country that endures...like a pickled egg.
I moved to this staid suburb in my twenties because it was pretty and safe and had sweet English gardens and gnarly oak savannahs and beaches with kelp forests and lonely snow-capped views—all of these wonders bundled into a few balmy kilometers. I couldn’t afford Oak Bay then; I was a single mother with a stroller and a scholarship, so I rented an old Italianate house, heated with wood. I pushed the stroller to Oak Bay’s village rhyming my way past a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker. With a community, I fell in love.
When my house was slated for redevelopment, I rented a tiny cottage. Three years later, that house too was torn down, and I feel this might give me license to moan about gentrification but I can’t really. I own a piece of Oak Bay now and besides, gentrification implies a shifting of class, and the demographics here haven’t much changed. Rather, I have: I’m now forty-three and a bit of a fuddy-duddy. Flatscreens over mantles I can barely handle, and I’ve started growing heirlooms in my yard. At middle age, I’m finally old enough to care about what we have left.
Recently I went door-knocking for a candidate and met an Englishwoman in her eighties who toured me around her rhododendrons; a ninety-year-old man in a mansion who chatted about climate change; and a white-haired woman standing alone in the long arched driveway of a stately home, cursing garden-raiding deer. A elderly man without his teeth greeted me beside the Royal Victoria Golf Club and the ocean beyond, plastic tacked inside the single-paned windows of his million-dollar view.
I wondered: Whither Oak Bay without the old? Our elders, eaves, outlines, streetscapes, and ancient oaks? Will my generation—lovers of gargantuan garages and ‘greatrooms’—be able to afford what old homes we have left? Will they love the wide-shouldered Arts and Crafts homes, the cedar-shingled and shaked?
There’s an old saying that a house doesn’t make a home, but I don’t think so. Say ‘home’. Just try it. It’s an exhalation, isn’t it? A word made entirely of space.
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