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Population

17,990

Population density

1,717.7/km2 (4,449/sq mi)

Land area

10.53 km2 (4.07 sq mi)

Territory

Songhees Nation

Main Industries

Tourism, retail, marine

When Madone Pelan tweeted a video of stopping for a deer during her commute home with the caption “this is my new rush hour traffic,” she was flooded with replies. “People were writing things like ‘where are you? Do you live in a Disney movie now?,’ because the view and the deer interaction I posted really was that charming. And that’s why I’m here.”

Madone is the General Manager of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, recognized as the #1 Top Hotel in Canada and #19 Top Hotel in the World by the Condé Nast 2021 Reader’s Choice Awards. Nestled on the water, the hotel reflects both the gentility of the area and its natural beauty. 

The municipality of Oak Bay could well be dubbed the Grand Old Dame of Victoria. Once considered Greater Victoria’s cottage country, it has evolved from its vacation-spot beginnings to encompass a blend of mostly single-family architecturally-acclaimed modern and heritage homes on pretty, tree-lined streets along several miles of coastline.

The affluent, picturesque suburban community is bordered by the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the south, Haro Strait (Salish Sea) to the east, Saanich to the north and north-west, and the City of Victoria to the south-west.

“Oak Bay’s tagline is it’s a wonderful place to live, work and play, and for those of us that are fortunate to do all three it’s hard to beat,” says Madone.

Business Climate

Though the municipality is known for its eclectic neighbourhoods featuring a mix of heritage and modern architecture, those operating businesses say it possesses an entrepreneurial sensibility. “I love that here, we do not have a lot of chain or big box brands, says Oak Bay Beach Hotel’s Madone Pelan. “Our business community is driven by independent operators that are thriving.”

And, adds Martin Cownden, owner of Chef on the Run and President of the Oak Bay Business Improvement Association, Oak Bay residents are proud to shop where they live. “There’s a village-like sense of community and belonging,” he says. It’s friendly, it’s safe and I know all my customers. They want to support local, they love getting to know business owners, and we’ve built a great rapport here.”

The community’s median annual household income is $93,529 and the average age of the people who live there is 54. Most of its residents commute to work in other municipalities.

Living the good life: Oak Bay provides ample arts, lifestyle and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike, with high-end golf courses, a marina and yacht club, an internationally renowned waterfront hotel and several award-winning restaurants.

Quality over quantity: The community’s shopping districts are predominantly dedicated to lifestyle consumers looking for high quality goods.

Education hub: In addition to its two nationally recognized elementary and secondary private schools, Oak Bay is also one of the locations for the community’s largest employer, the University of Victoria.

Community Assets

Arts & fitness focus: Oak Bay is well known for offering a plethora of arts and crafts and wellness programs at its recreational facilities, as well as an ice rink, pools, fitness centres, indoor sports fields, indoor tennis courts, outdoor sports fields and tennis courts, chip trail and a multi-sport recreation park.

There are also two high-end golf courses within its borders. In 2014 Oak Bay launched the program ArtsAlive, in which the community acquires one or more permanent art pieces per year.

Shopping districts: Oak Bay is home to two popular shopping areas: Oak Bay Avenue and Estevan Village/Willows, with some restaurants and shops on the Oak Bay side of the Fort/Foul Bay junction shopping area.

The retail landscape is populated with mostly locally owned stores catering to the discerning shopper, including several art galleries, clothing boutiques, spas and high end dining.

Marine recreation: The municipality is home to the popular and long-standing Oak Bay Marina and Western Canada’s oldest yacht club.

Opportunities

Geoffrey Beattie, owner of Barclay’s Fine Jewellers, notes that the municipality draws shoppers from all over Greater Victoria as well as tourists. “I think the eclectic nature of the village is the draw. It’s got a warm feeling and vibe to it. It’s very relaxed. It’s also important to know,” he adds, “that in addition to a strong retail sector, businesses focused on the service industry do exceptionally well here.”

The community of Oak Bay wants to preserve its heritage and beauty of its neighbourhoods while tackling some of the pressures the municipality has experienced. Its focus, according to its Official Community Plan, is on social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Enhancing its commercial base: Oak Bay encourages new businesses whose offerings will complement their existing retail and service base, specifically high-quality retail and service businesses, like restaurants, clothing, galleries, etc.

The municipality is also looking for additional commercial spaces for high tech and other emerging businesses – many of whom are spun out of the University of Victoria.

Solving the housing crunch: As a predominantly single-family residential community, Oak Bay has, like others, experienced the impact of rising house prices, which make it more challenging for people to live in the area.

The municipality seeks to sustain its architectural, streetscape and garden heritage while embracing new design approaches that support a range of diverse and inclusive housing options. The district estimates that 349 units are needed right now, and that in five years 647 total additional units will be needed based on growth trends.

Doing their part for climate change mitigation: Oak Bay is interested in working with those businesses who seek to mitigate the effects of climate change, including water and energy conservation, reduction of greenhouse gases, and effective management of environmental resources, land and infrastructure.

Protecting the natural landscape: The community wants to preserve those features that make it environmentally and socially healthy and resilient, including its terrestrial and marine ecosystems, foreshore habitats, creeks, and tree canopy.

Improve community and well-being: Oak Bay welcomes businesses whose services encourage an active life for its residents and strengthen community networks and services in recreation, education, and health and well-being. This in addition to enhancing its arts and culture programs.

Transportation:  The town wants to grow a diverse range of transportation options, to enhance safety, mobility, connectivity and access within and beyond its community.

The Right Fit for You?

Oak Bay is a genteel community whose residents take full advantage of its natural beauty, lifestyle opportunities and waterfront amenities. Businesses focused on helping the district preserve its natural ecosystem and architectural heritage while providing diverse and inclusive growth opportunities will easily find their place in what has been dubbed one of the best places to live in B.C.

Interested in learning more? Contact the team at South Island Prosperity Partnership.

History

Oak Bay sits on the ancestral lands of the lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees) ancestors and families. Evidence of their settlements has been found along local shores, including Willows Beach, where the lək̓ʷəŋən seaport of Sitchanalth (said to have been destroyed by the great tsunami of 930 AD) centred around the mouth of the river now known as Bowker Creek.

The first European explorers arrived in the late 1700’s, ultimately establishing Fort Victoria in 1843. At this time the Hudson’s Bay Company had control over most of the land that makes up Oak Bay.  The municipality, initially set up as cottage country for those living in Victoria, was soon developed as a middle-class streetcar suburb, and incorporated in 1906.

It boasts one of the oldest original continuously occupied homes in Western Canada Tod House, built in 1850, which still stands today.

By the close of the land boom period (1906-1913), much of Oak Bay was planned and mapped into lots. The early 1960s saw the last push of substantial development in Oak Bay, with Oak Bay Marina being established and the final residential neighbourhoods built out.