Royal Oak Community Gardens

Written by Harold McNeill on November 12th, 2012. Posted in Guest Posts


Community Gardens in Saanich play an important role in helping maintain the rural ambiance of our Municipality. The land is available in Royal Oak along with a group willing to spearhead the initiative.
(The above photo was modified from a copy posted on the Saanich District Web Site)   (Jun 2019, 2810)

June 2019  Read the updates coming from cfair and Saanich.

Article Summary:

The small parcel of land on the east side of the Royal Oak Shopping Centre on West Saanich Road has never been developed beyond the historical building, now called the Fireside Grill, that sits at the north end.

In 1964, John Maltwood gave over the entire property, including a sizeable endowment and valuable art collection, in trust to the University of Victoria. After maintaining the building and art collection into the late 1970s (ten years after the death of John Maltwood) the University began proceedings to divest themselves of house and property.

Photo (September 2012): View of the 2.77-acre parcel looking south from West Saanich Road at the entrance to the Fireside Grill.

After a successful court challenge, the University removed the art collection and sold or gave the remaining property to the Municipality of Saanich. While the details of discussion leading to the transfer is not known, it seems likely the University was anxious to see the property transferred as quickly as possible as they were receiving a great deal of adverse press over their decision to break the Maltwood trust.

After taking possession, Saanich administered the building and property for several years as a lease, with the first lessee opening the popular Chantecler Restaurant. After the Chantecler closed, Saanich sub-divided off a portion of land around the building and through a bid process, sold the building and small parcel of land to the current owners and operators of the Fireside Grill. At some point in time, the entire property was rezoned as C-2 (commercial development).

There is little doubt Saanich realized a sizeable profit on the transaction and at the same was able to retain clear title to the 2.77-acre parcel. The question that remains — what is to become of that 2.77-acre parcel of valuable green space?

Both historically and presently, residents and businesses in the Royal Oak area have expressed a strong preference for keeping the property in the public domain either as green space, parkland, allotment garden or some combination of the three.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional background on the property, of previous attempts to develop a strip mall and of the recent community-based suggestion of turning the property into an allotment garden.  No one in the surrounding residential area or the present business community has either now or in the past, openly expressed interest in seeing the property turned over to commercial development.

As outlined in a recent article in the Globe and Mail, (Link Here) it seems new ideas, particularly green ideas, are often met with opposition, sometimes very stiff opposition. It took thirty to forty years for the Agricultural Land Reserve to become fully embraced within the general community. Within British Columbia, the ALR legislation was far ahead of its time and has set standards for all Canada. Preserving land in urban area’s, particularly land that can be used for agriculture, green space and parks, is no longer seen as the folly of the few, but as an interest of the many.

Facebook Group:

You are invited to join the Friends of the Royal Oak Gardens group (Link Here). Whatever might be the eventual outcome, if your interest is with keeping the property as open space in some form, it is important to either join the Facebook group or otherwise make your preference known through the additional options provided in Section 6 of the post.

You are also encouraged to make your friends aware of this discussion and invite them to join by adding their name to the Facebook site as a suggested member or by communicating their interest to the email noted at the end of the article. Your friend or friends would be free to join the group or not as they might wish.

Contents

1. A Short History: Property development in the Royal Oak area;
2. Broken Trust: The University of Victoria divests itself of the Maltwood property;
3. Ongoing Development: The importance of community involvement;
4. Community Allotment Gardens: Green, and growing in popularity;
5. Community Survey Results;
6. Community Support: Survey Questions

1. A Short History

Having lived in the West Saanich area for forty years and in the Royal Oak for the past twenty, we have much to be thankful for as our community continues to maintain a fine mix of industrial, commercial, residential and agricultural which defines the best of modern-day city living.  The Royal Oak Shopping Centre and surrounding residential area are but one example of that excellent mix.

Thirty years ago the Royal Oak Centre was comprised of a ragtag series of small shops, mixed with a few run-down, vacant buildings. Economic prospects were poor as the new Broadmead Village Shopping Centre, with the popular family-owned Thrifty Foods outlet, was a vibrant development that syphoned away customers and opportunities from Royal Oak. The Royal Oak Shopping Centre was by all counts, a poor second cousin.

Today, that scene has changed and Royal Oak is now by far the most vibrant centre. It boasts not just dozens, but hundreds of shops, commercial outlets (the large majority, owner operated), as well as a fine mix of single and multi-family dwellings all situated within a pedestrian and cycle-friendly area. Re-development of the centre and surrounding area was driven forward with confidence when the family-owned Country Grocer first took over the old, then vacant, Eatons Warehouse. Shortly after, Shopper’s Drug redeveloped the old building Country Grocer had just vacated.

Photo (September 2012). West Saanich Road looking north past MacDonalds. Saanich recently completed an amazing new streetscape along the section boarding the Royal Oak Shopping Centre through to the Royal Oak Middle School. (additional photos linked in Section 5)

Needless to say, this revitalization, with the need for new business in order to compete with Broadmead, was not without detractors. Opposition to the proposed MacDonalds outlet was stiff but when that challenge was overcome, dozens of new businesses and residential buildings followed over the past twelve years.

An ongoing concern for area citizens was what would become of the old Royal Oak Inn heritage site and the green space to the south.

2. Broken Trust

The Royal Oak Inn was constructed in 1937 and purchased by the John Maltwood in 1944. The family renamed the building the Thatch and it was turned it into a spacious home within which Katherine Maltwood displayed her large collection of antiques and art. Following her death in 1964, her husband, John, gave over the entire property including a sizeable endowment and the antiques and art to the University of Victoria to be used in perpetuity as a gallery in which to display his wife’s precious collection.

During the late 1970s, ten years after John’s death, the University went to court, successfully broke the trust and moved the entire gallery to the University grounds. Shortly after they sold or gave the property to the Municipality of Saanich. Following years of managing the property, Saanich moved to sub-divide a portion around the house, then, by means of a bid process, sold the house while retaining title to the 2.77-acre parcel to the south. The current owners have turned the newly refurbished building, now named the Fireside Grill, into one of the finer dining locations in Greater Victoria.

Photo (September 2012): Seventy-five years after being built, the former Royal Oak Inn continues to serve as a distinguished landmark in the Royal Oak area thanks to the ongoing efforts of recent owners. Much credit must also be given to the many local business persons whose efforts have helped to transform the Royal Oak area into its present form.

The danger that existed back in the late 1990s, was that both the house and the wedge of property to the south would be turned into a strip mall, something that would greatly detract from the heritage and green space ambience that now distinguishes the property. The community rose against the concept as most felt there was ample room for commercial, business and residential development within existing and vacant properties along the west side of West Saanich Road as well as in areas North and South of the centre. It was a number these issues during that time period that lead to the formation of the Royal Oak Community Association.

3. Ongoing Redevelopment

Once the development proposals on the Maltwood property were finally shelved, thanks to the owner/operators of various Royal Oak businesses with strong support from the community, revitalization of the old Royal Oak Mall has continued at a steady pace over the past twelve years.

Although the centre contains a diverse mix of architectural styles, it has become one of the best family oriented business centres in Greater Victoria and is able to serve the rapidly growing population west of the Pat Bay Highway. Had the property in the vacant wedge on the east side been developed into a strip mall, it seems likely the west side would have suffered a slow economic death as opposed to the vibrant centre it has become today.

Photo (November 2012): It was the foresight shown the family owners of Country Grocer in re-developing the old Eaton’s Warehouse that lead to the revitalization of the entire Royal Oak Shopping Centre.

However, the question still remains: what is to become of the small wedge of property on the east side? There is little doubt residents and businesses of Royal Oak place a high value on maintaining the property as “open space” as that is in keeping with the rural roots of Municipality. By enclosing that small section of West Saanich with more business outlets, would create a strip mall with West Saanich Road down the middle.l That would permanently remove the ambience that has been so carefully preserved over the decades and the ‘breathing space’ that currently exists, would be gone forever.

While much credit must be given to the residents and businesses of Royal Oak for helping to maintain that breathing space, a good share of the credit must be given to successive Mayors, Councils and Municipal Staff, who has steadfastly remained committed to the maintaining of the diverse semi-rural nature of the community.  Most expect that, in the future, agricultural land and green space will always be given high priority in the community planning process. Of course, a concern for Royal Oak residents and businesses alike is that the small wedge of land remains zoned as C2 (business development) a category that places it at risk until it is either re-zoned or is committed to the long term development of green space such as would be provided by a Community Garden, park or some combination thereof.

4. Community Allotment Gardens:

With a large number of multiple family dwellings that have been built in the Royal Oak area over the past decade, a great many families have little opportunity (within walking distance) to gain access small garden plots. It only takes a few minutes of research on the Web to determine that in many cities and towns across Canada, often in areas surrounded by a number of multiple family homes, the development of Community Gardens have been given high priority.

These gardens not only act as a place that brings people together in common purpose, they also provide families with an opportunity to remain connected to the earth in a very real sense, something that is important in the daily life of Saanich residents.

On the Community Gardens Home Page, Saanich has this to say:

Community Gardens can offer residents a place to socialize; a place to get fresh air and exercise; a place to feel accomplishment; and most importantly a place to grow their own food.  

Community Gardens are important tools towards success in reducing our carbon footprint by allowing those who choose to live in urban areas the opportunity to spend some time working with nature and by growing the food they reduce their reliance on transported produce.”  (Link Here)

Council Policy developed in 2003 strongly supports the concept and provides the guidelines. For anything to happen at the site this Policy will need to be closely followed.  (Link Here)

5. Survey Results:

Over the past two years, a number of residents have become active in promoting the idea of developing a Community Garden on the wedge of land.  A total of 334 residents and 45 business representatives2, have signed a petition asking the Municipality to give close consideration to the proposal.

On May 30, 2012, the following motion was placed before the membership of the Royal Oak Community Association (ROCA):

Whereas the District of Saanich has made a commitment to stronger local food security, especially including a greater number of allotment gardens, and

Whereas allotment gardens serve not only to provide accessible healthy food but also to build connected resilient communities, and

Whereas the Royal Oak area residents and businesses express interest to consider municipally owned property along West Saanich Road across from the Royal Oak shopping centre as a site for combined naturescape + allotment gardens +_ heritage park.

Therefore, members of the Royal Oak Community Association ask Saanich Mayor and Council to ask Saanich staff to examine the potential Royal Oak site along West Saanich Road and to prepare staff considerations.

The motion was overwhelmingly passed with 17 in favour, 3 opposed and 1 abstention.  As well,  28 members of ROCA who could not attend the meeting on May 30 signed letters (included in Appendix C of a letter to the Municipality) for a total of 45 in favour.

Link to Community Gardens Photographs (Link Here)

Link to Royal Oak Business Community Photographs (Link Here)

Link to Royal Oak Community Gardens Facebook Page (Link Here)

Link to Royal Oak Community Gardens documents (Link Here)

6. Ongoing Community Support

If you think this proposal has merit, your support is needed. Over the past two years a number of individuals in the Royal Oak area, as well as the many that have reviewed the concept, have been working hard by helping to define and move forward with the planning.  While the Mayor, Council and Staff of Saanich are strong supporters of such concepts, it must be made clear the residential and business community is also strongly in favour.  You may help by considering and answering the following questions:

  • Do you think the area between West Saanich and the Pat Bay Highway (south of the Fireside) should be preserved as Green Space?
  • Is a Community Garden in the Royal Oak area a concept you would support?
  • Would you like District of Saanich Mayor, Council and Staff to give to consider the idea?
  • Is there other open space you think would be more suitable for an allotment garden?
  • Would you be interested in gaining access to a garden plot?
  • Would you be interested in assisting with the project?

Your comments may be returned by:

1. By placing comments on Friends of the Royal Oak Community Gardens Facebook Group: (Link Here);
(on that page you may also invite additional friends)

2. By placing your comments in the footer of this Blog Post;

3. By email to Harold McNeill: harold@mcneillifestories.com;

Spreading the word:

Community support is important, so please alert your Facebook friends of this Blog Post and of the new Friends of the Royal Oak Community Gardens Facebook Group. If each person currently in support of the project is able to get five or ten of their Facebook friends to link into Facebook Group, it will not take long to collect another few hundred names.

If anyone wishes to comment on Twitter, please apply the Hash Tag: #royaloakgardens.

Links to both Facebook and Twitter are provided in the footer of this article when opened in the Guest Post area.

Letters and Emails of Support to the Municipality:

1. A letter of support addressed to the Saanich Mayor and Council, 770 Vernon Avenue., Victoria, BC, V8X-2W7.

2. Emails to:

Friends of the Royal Oak Community Gardens Ad Hoc Committee appreciates your support.

Regards,

Harold McNeill

Endorsements:

The following organizations have written a letter to the Mayor of Saanich in which they provide their endorsement of the concept of a Community Garden in Royal Oak:

Saanich Community Church
Royal Oak Lions Club
LifeCycles Project Society
Horticultural Society of the Pacific
Community Social Planning Council

(1) A list of residential and business supporters who have signed a petition directed to the Mayor and Council may be linked at: (Link Here)

Painting of the proposed garden site by Dennis Jaques

Photo (2012): Community Gardens, Ad Hoc Committee members tour the potential garden site.

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Comments (3)

  • December 1, 2012 at 6:34 am |

    i love the juxtaposition of historical context and modern community involvement

  • Carolyn Herbert
    January 21, 2013 at 10:05 pm |

    Thank you for the complete history of this beautiful property. It would be tragic if the historical Maltwood building (Fireside Grill) were to lose its viewscape by commercial development. The open greenspace gives our neighbourhood a real centre, and to provide us with a place to gather, grow food, and share community would be a definite enhancement. I hope the Saanich Official Community Plan will be fulfilled by turning this land over for community allotment gardens and naturescape/heritage park.

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Comments

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold