Travel Story 

British Columbia's crown jewel

Savouring the British flavour in Oak Bay  

When the British colonists of the Hudson Bay Fur Trading Company established Fort Victoria in 1843, Oak Bay was in their eyes a rugged and wild frontier. They immediately set about "civilizing" their new home by reconstructing the icons of their imperial heritage and introducing their time-honoured "genteel" traditions. These cultural flourishes – Tudor architectural style, rose gardens and afternoon tea – created from whole cloth the charming ambience that Oak Bay is renowned for today.

While the British heritage of nearby Victoria can be clearly seen throughout that bustling city, it is more evident still in the stately neighbouring village of Oak Bay.

Oak Bay is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, just 8 kilometres east of the capital city of Victoria. With Tudor-style architecture, friendly English pubs, proper tea-rooms and ornate gardens, the tight-knit community of 18,000 lives up to the reputation of being "more English than England."

"While Britain itself has become more like North America with its chain stores and malls, Oak Bay has retained an atmosphere of a village of shopkeepers," says Brian Hobson of the Oak Bay Tourism Commission.

Oak Bay residents proudly pay homage to their English roots, so of course it is not hard to find a good cup of tea served in fine bone china. After strolling around the village, shopping in the many boutiques, visitors seem honour-bound by tradition to take their rest at the Blethering Place Tea-room, famous in these parts for its own homemade strawberry jam.

"Afternoon tea is a Victorian tradition that has been traced to the Duchess of Bedford," says manager Ken Agate. "The Duchess found she could fight off a "sinking feeling" by consuming tea with thin sandwiches and scones."

Although the Duchess took afternoon tea as a panacea for her royal fatigue, the British later made it a cross-class ritual. The tradition remains today. It is taken either as a light meal or as a social event to welcome guests. For almost two hours visitors to the Blethereing Place Tea-room linger over a cozy-cosseted pot of Tetley tea. Accompanying the steeped orange pekoe is the customary selection of petite crustless sandwiches, sausage rolls, raisin scones, Devonshire clotted cream and selected tarts. The crowning touch, of course, is the glory known as English trifle.

Tea aside, the English are most famous for their country gardens. Oak Bay alone features 39 of these havens. Strolling along Oak Bay Avenue, one comes across Windsor Park and its Oak Bay Rose Garden. All of England's gardens are celebrated in prose, poetry, and song, but none more so than the rose garden. The rose is known as the "Queen of Flowers" and the concept of a garden devoted entirely to this single flower seems only seems appropriate here in this wonderfully temperate climate.

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