Starting at the former streetcar terminus on Midland and Ripon Roads, the tour focused on the mansions that were built in the prewar building boom prior to World War I. Only a grassy roundabout remains from the place where the streetcar turned around but the people on the tour were interested to learn that streetcars ran to the Uplands from 1913 until 1947.
In the 1850s, the area was used as the Hudson’s Bay Company Uplands Farm. A consortium of businessmen purchased 465 acres in 1907, wanting to build a unique development. So they hired leading landscape architect John Charles Olmsted to design the neighbourhood. His design took the natural contours of the land in account when laying out the boulevards, creating a “residential park” that harmonized with the natural environment. Utilities were placed underground and street lights were featured on elegant cast iron standards. Olmsted’s uncle and adopted father, Frederick Law Olmsted, had designed Mount Royal Park (1876) in Montreal and Central Park in New York.
Only 12 homes were built in the pre-war phase of the Uplands development. The Royal Victoria Yacht Club was also built in this period. The tour included homes built by Victoria’s leading architects of the times, Francis Mawson Rattenbury and Samuel Maclure. One of the mansions on the tour, located on Rutland Road, exemplified some of the luxurious features of the homes in the Uplands. Nearly 10,000 square feet in size, the house has seven bedrooms and the property includes over 700 feet of shoreline. The house was designed in 1914 by H.S. Griffith for Thomas Wilson Paterson, BC’s Lieutenant-Governor from 1909 to 1914. The view of the waterfront and Mount Baker from this property was so spectacular that it was used on a 1920 brochure promoting the Uplands. At one time, actress Meg Tilly and then husband, John Calley, president of Sony Pictures Entertainment owned the property.
Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen participated in the tour and told the group, “The Uplands are unique in that local government approval for siting and architectural design is required for changes.” Despite the controversies generated by the subdivision, we can celebrate Olmsted’s vision of a park-like setting for a residential neighbourhood and enjoy the trees, the meadows, the wide boulevards and the beautiful homes.
For those interested in learning more about the Uplands, Heritage Oak Bay is presenting a lecture by Dr. Larry McCann at the Windsor Park Pavilion on Wednesday November 21, 2012 at 7 pm.