While I have highlighted many of the ‘villages’ around Victoria, I have overlooked the original one, Oak Bay Village. Before people went to Cook Street Village and long before anyone had even thought the words Quadra or North Park Village, there was Oak Bay Village. This other little urban centre was Oak Bay’s answer to downtown Victoria.
Oak Bay Village was a construct of the streetcar that ran along the Oak Bay Avenue and the fact that there was really no commercial area in Oak Bay after it became a separate Municipality in 1906 (Oak Bay was really only created because Victoria didn’t want to extend infrastructure to Oak Bay…). In recent years the definition of what is included in Oak Bay Village has become somewhat blurred by the development that has occurred along the parts of Oak Bay Avenue outside of Oak Bay Village. The specific part of the avenue that is the village stretches from Clive Drive at the western end to almost Yale Street. I know some might argue that it starts at the border between Victoria and Oak Bay on Foul Bay Road but the commercial space and the village feel, are not contiguous from there.
For all Victorians, there has been a strong feeling that Oak Bay and specifically the village was the quintessential part of the British flavour that Victoria for so long used to play up as the essence of the City. If there is a saying that Victoria was “More English than the English” then Oak Bay, behind the so-called Tweed Curtain was ten times that. Even some of the recent additions to the village like the Penny Farthing Pub are done up in faux-Tudor style. I am happy that the city as a whole is finally moving past this tourist theme, though I do wonder if this idea was originally created by the early colonial government trying to overshadow our real prime influence, the United States. Indeed in the early days of Victoria, Americans easily outnumbered all other populations in the city. Perhaps a thought for another post someday.
Anyways, back to Oak Bay Village. One of the best parts of the village in my opinion is that it is a complete commercial district, there is a supermarket, a couple of speciality shops for more specific types of groceries; there are bakeries, a pharmacy, a liquor store, a post office and many more stores selling lots of different items. If you are wanting to get a coffee, something to eat or go out for a pint, there options for all of these and not just one of each. The one thing that is a little bit different than some of the other complete urban nodes that we have like North Park or Quadra Village is that the actual village and surrounding area is fairly low density with most of the streets leading off the avenue being made up of mostly single family housing. Despite that, the village is always bustling. This could be partly the history of this being a transit destination that used to be serviced by streetcar or just that it is one of the most major commercial areas outside of downtown Victoria (not counting the malls of course).
There is another part of Oak Bay Village that is just something that grabs me by the heart and that is all the little hidden places that seem to be everywhere along it. Whether it is Cochrane Commons, the small but beautiful park behind the municipal hall; or the warren of stores in Monterey Mews, this little bit of surprise is exactly what you want in any great urban space. There is also Athlone Court, Theatre Lane and the Monterey Recreation Centre. All these places provide added context and that you have to work to know about them makes it that much better. There are likely many other places that I am not aware of because I haven’t walked along it enough. If there is a magical piece that I should know about, leave a comment at the end.
Here are a few of those hidden places…
As you can likely tell, I really like Oak Bay Village, but it does have two glaring problems that I think should be fixed; the sidewalks are a confusing mish-mash for pedestrians and the actual avenue and car space is simply too large. So looking at the current sidewalks, one of the things that jumps out at you is the inconsistency of them. In some places they are generous in size, in others two people cannot pass each other. There are strange railings and steps where a consistent grade should exist. If you read my post about messy sidewalks, you know I like things to be complicated, but here in places the sidewalk is just a jumbled mess. Also there are beg buttons at all the lights which really show to me that it is the cars that rule the road here.
Part of the reason for the jumble on the sidewalk is because there is another transportation aspect in the village that is broad, clear, and spacious, and that is the avenue itself. While technically, you would call the avenue through the village a two lane road with side parking, you could easily fit a four lane road or more. This seems extremely excessive for both the current traffic volumes you see on the road and for the parking requirements.
I know people get very excited about losing street parking, but Oak Bay actually has perhaps the most off-street parking of any of the urban nodes in the city. Behind the north side of the street there is Theatre Lane which has significant parking. In addition to that, the City Hall has two parking lots and then there is a further large parking lot at the Monterey Public Library and Recreation Centre. I think you could easily eliminate half the parking along the avenue. Also I think there is an opportunity to simply narrow the driving lanes as well as they are currently far too wide. A more narrow driving lane would slow down traffic making it safer for those crossing the street.
The combination of these things would give Oak Bay Village a much more vibrant and actual European feel as there would be room for broader sidewalks and likely a dedicated bike lane as well and there would still be no loss of capacity along the road for cars. I have included a very rough sketch of what the change could look like. If Oak Bay Village wanted to take it the step further they could actually do a treatment to the road surface to further slow the cars down.
I think that with broader sidewalks it would create an even more magical place than is currently there and it would certainly make it more of a draw for visitors from across the region and beyond than already visit.
Let me know what you think below about what Oak Bay Village could do to make it even better and what your favourite parts of the village are as it is today. Also, because I have no idea, if you know what the urban area is called along Oak Bay Avenue on the Victoria side of the border, I would loved to hear it!