Pinning down history: Oak Bay characters and places spotlighted

New online resource provides a window to Oak Bay’s past

A screenshot from the website shows a 1930s-era photo looking west from King George Terrace.

Imagine being able to travel through time without ever leaving home. That’s the thinking behind a new website which combines a region’s history and geography.

The site,, has piqued the interest of Oak Bay Heritage Commission members.

The site allows users to “pin” historic images to a map, allowing visitors to take a virtual tour of the past of a particular location.

And thanks to the site’s use of Google street view, viewers can take it a step further and look at photos superimposed over a current view of the same location, creating a before-and-after effect.

The Heritage Commission sees the site as an opportunity to share some of Oak Bay’s history with a wider audience.

With this being Heritage Week in B.C., it seemed like the perfect time to get on board, said the commission member spearheading the initiative.

“Part of our mandate is to educate the public and to share our heritage resources and make them more well-known to the general public,” said Ben Clinton-Baker.

“What we’re hoping to do with this is put a positive spin on Oak Bay heritage and the work of the commission in general.”

Using archival photos, Clinton-Baker is creating the municipality’s first virtual tour on the site.

The tour will focus on notable historical figures in the area and incorporates architecture and landscape photographs, as well as portraits, which are pinned to the map at or near where the subjects lived.

People who will be featured on the tour include early landowners John Tod and William Henry McNeill, former B.C. lieutenant governors Edgar Dewdney and Thomas Paterson. It even features the infamous Jimmy Chicken, an aboriginal man who lived on an island many locals still refer to by his name – it’s officially known as Mary Tod Island.

It was important to include a broad range of personalities, Clinton-Baker said.

“Eventually we will have more and more. We’ll build on this theme and have as many as possible, but to start off with, we’re hoping to get good variety.”

There’s also a feature which allows visitors to add information or anecdotes about the people and places highlighted on the tour. Users can create individual accounts on the site and post their own photos outside of the tour, or even create their own tours if they’re so inclined.

Clinton-Baker hopes this initial foray will eventually spawn further tours.

“We could develop a tour of historic homes, for example, where people contribute pictures of their home,” he said. “We might have images of that home or people who lived there, or of the neighbourhood, which could tie into our heritage conservation (efforts).”

Historypin is still working on its  search function — it’s expected to be ready in the next month or so. The best way to take the tour is to visit bay archives (with spaces). There, visitors can see all the photos that have been uploaded for Oak Bay so far, and view the complete tour once it has been posted.

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