A present first delivered by Kris Kringle, Xmas 2020
February 18, 2021
A contribution by Al Lubkowski , sailor, adventurer and retired Town Planner.
I was rudely awakened one night with a clap of thunder
A puffy cloud settled over my bed, illuminating my room with an eerie white glow. A strange chubby faced man in yellow wet skins appeared from behind this cloud accompanied by a tall fellow with a wing shaped apparatus attached to this back- an angel? Neither looked familiar. For a moment I thought this was some elaborate prank. But no, this was for real and I still shiver when I think about it. I cannot forget my conversation with these strangers. With a stentorian voice and shake of his wings for emphasis, this character bellowed:
“Greetings from Above! Allow me to present Mr. Bob Wright, former owner and CEO of the Oak Bay Marine Group. He has come to deliver a message, with permission from the Big Guy in the Sky.”
“Yes Sirs, please have seats!” I stammered, as I led them on tip-toe to my private workshop, so as not to disturb my wife, who amazingly was still asleep in the room next door.
Bob Wright: I was told you would be my emissary on Earth to finish a project on the Oak Bay waterfront that I started many years ago, but did not have time to finish. I was told not to use the words “cubits” – as the word conjures up bad feelings for my boss and is too detailed for the ideas I wish to present to you at this time. He told me that you were the famous Kris Kringle, the guy who thought he was Santa Claus and who worked for Macy’s in New York – juggling kids on his lap. The one that starred in the award winning film, “Miracle on 34th Street”.
Kris Kringle: Yup, that was one of my gigs. So how can I help? But make it brief, because I have lots of work to do today. Some of my helpers are sick and Rudolph who I rely on has a runny nose.
Bob: Doesn’t sound good. Heard about your pandemic, Kris. My sympathies. I suspect our gates will be busy… If you are wondering why I have dropped in at such a crazy time, it’s because I need a personable fellow like you to sell my vision for a marina to the people of Oak Bay! With your hearty laugh and your reputation as a nice guy, I am confident we can work together and maybe even produce the miracles I need. But beware, mine is a long range vision, that may appear too imaginative and bold for those who are uncomfortable with change of any sort.
The Marine Gateway to Victoria and the Islands
Kris: So what’s your vision, and what’s “bold” about it?
Bob: I propose to introduce new attractions and a new layout that would turn the Oak Bay Marina and Turkey Head waters surrounding into a marine attraction even more popular than it used to be, not just for locals and tourists but especially for visiting boaters. My goal is to see Oak Bay recognized as The Marine Gateway to Victoria, the Gulf Islands, and North to Alaska by boaters from all over the Pacific Northwest. But most important, I want it to become a community focal point for Oak Bay, a place where we can meet, play, and associate with pride. And even create local employment and services while doing so!
The competition for the renewal of the 30 year marina lease has closed and a decision will be made soon by the District of Oak Bay as to its future. It will determine not only who the next managers of the Marina will be, but the future use of the Marina and Turkey Head land adjacent. I therefore thought it necessary to get my ideas out to the public and District before any decisions are made which might compromise my concept (or any other) for the best use of this unique section of our waterfront.
Kris: Why did you not message me sooner, Bob?
Bob: I only just found out. I was too busy organizing tournaments up here for all the “high flyers” who were never able to cash in their points for fishing trips on Earth before passing away. And besides, we have limited bandwidth up here – my reason for this trip.
Kris: It’s a tight schedule, Bob, but I will give it a try. But since the District has not asked for a longer term comprehensive plan from anyone, why do you think they will listen to you?
A plan for the next 50 years
Bob: I think they will listen to their hearts and their desire to leave an even better legacy than mine. What they really need is a plan for the next 50 years at least, one which allows for more important and imaginative things to happen for the many more people who will visit and enjoy this oceanfront. This means looking to expand on the waters adjacent, since Turkey Head alone is scarcely big enough to provide for future parking, much less for the bigger vision I have in mind, which includes utilizing the waters adjacent more efficiently and imaginatively, a breakwater included.
Kris: Why go “Big” if people in Oak Bay tend to be happy with “small, and little change”?
Bob: Let’s not forget that the Uplands, the world famous “garden suburb” close to our marina, and treasured to this day, was designed by John Charles Olmsted, whose famous father designed New York’s Central Park and a myriad of other parks across America. True to his roots, this futuristic subdivision was “big”, bold and imaginative for the early 1900s – a time when cattle roamed its rolling hills and street cars were the primary mode of transport to downtown. What’s more, this model for the newly growing suburbs of America led to the preservation of our 31 hectare Uplands Park, noted for its oak tree forest, scenic ocean walk and boat launch. Its design, which was revolutionary for its time, still reminds us that a development in tune with nature and grace will provide a lasting legacy for those who live in cities, as well as for those who wish to just launch a boats. I want to continue to make Oak Bay proud with another bold innovative project which will also be a legacy to those who follow.
Kris: I will do my best Bob. I have been known to create miracles in my day, but achieving any plan for Oak Bay, much less a long range plan for the waterfront, is a big challenge, even for me and my elves. Can you give me some details, so I know what I am selling?
Bob: I do not have much time to talk. I have laid it out for you in this gold binder. My writing describes it well enough, but the drawings aren’t much. My angel employees are not the best when it comes to detailed drawings, so I have just sketched out some rough concepts for now. The main points are to introduce new attractions for the Marina that will replace the whale watching show and the seals, which created all the attention when I was in charge, and to tie everything together with a “maritime” design theme.
A Kelp Lagoon and an underwater glass tunnel
I want to give it more of an environmental ocean-friendly focus this time. My main attraction would be a new take on my Undersea Gardens, which I operated in the Inner Harbour for many years. This time it will feature an underwater glass tunnel on the ocean floor below the “Kelp Lagoon” through which people will pass from Turkey Head to enter the rest of my ocean world and maritime exposition proposal. Sharing a fibre optic video link with the Neptune Project to extend our surveillance and knowledge of the sea adds to the possibilities on this man-made island I am proposing. Exciting, eh?
Visitors will be able to see not only fish swimming through the kelp forest, but also our resident seals, river otters, and if I can swing it, families of sea otters as well. But best of all, animals and fish will be free to enter or leave this man-made lagoon whenever they wish. And of course, I’d love an octopus too, if one can be persuaded to take up residence within the rocks where it can hide. Did you know that some of the largest octopus in the world, some exceeding seven metres in diameter, have been found in nearby Saanich Inlet?
Kris: No, that surprises me! But heck you always were full of information and surprises. But what would persuade all these critters to stay in the vicinity of the Lagoon? And wouldn’t such an exhibition not conflict with the fishing pier you always wanted?
Bob: Food would be provided by divers at key underwater locations, enticing the denizens to swim by the viewing public. As for the fishing pier, it no longer suits my fishing dreams. Besides, some of the animals might get hooked or be distracted from visiting the Lagoon if such were built.
Kris: What inspired you to focus on marine viewing and interpretation this time around?
My Friend the Octopus
Bob: I should never have trapped the orcas, and put them in pens. I feel very bad for the deaths, and the harm I caused. Between you and me, this plan is my penance. But would you believe me if I say that my idea for preserving marine wildlife got kick-started while watching “My Friend the Octopus” on Netflix? That was a great movie that had us all enthralled up here. I recommend it to your Earth friends. But have lots of popcorn, drinks, and a hanky on hand.
Kris: I did not know you guys had TV up there, much less watched it. How did you swing it?
Bob: Not only TV but Surround Sound, Kris! Admittedly, we have a pretty good union representing us Upstairs. The only problem is that our reception is not always the best.
Kris: Is the Seaquarium the extent of your maritime theme?
Bob: Just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The Maritime History exposition might prove just as popular. I see this as a building that would showcase some of the famous boats and the lives of sailors, such as Captain Voss who sailed around the world, starting from Oak Bay – as you might know. There would also be exhibits featuring other famous sailors who departed bravely from our waters, in search of adventure and ocean records. Sailors like Jean Socrates, the oldest woman to circumnavigate, Bert ter Hart, who recently circumnavigated without any GPS, and the late Glenn Wakefield, who did admirably also. And many others, whose exploits will ensure that we do not forget them.
I am told by my angels that the Maritime Museum, which is in the process of moving to its new spacious high-rise location in Langford, would be happy to share many of its artifacts and exhibits if a suitable home could be found within our project. Just picture it – the loan of the Tillicum, the Nuu Chah Nulth canoe that Captain Voss converted into an ocean touring vessel to explore the world, or John Guzzwell’s 22 foot Treka, one of the smallest boats to circumnavigate! They are priceless examples of what might be displayed!
Or how about a dock dedicated to “classic” or “funky” boats that could be enticed to drop in any time of the year, not just when a marine festival comes to town? SALTS, for example, would be interested in displaying its tall ships, as would others in the business of cadet training, or in just showing off their boats. The longer docks I have proposed would open further opportunities for larger boats as well as tour vessels to visit.
This 49 foot craft is a Nuu Chah Nulth vessel, a replica typical of those used in West Coast waters as freighters by the original inhabitants until the late 1800’s. With little effort and expense such a historic vessel would make a great addition for the First Nations’ display described – and even be used for touring the islands, as was once done with this unique craft by the author. Were such a traditional vessel to be fashioned of more durable materials she could serve as the focus of a nautical playground for children, allowing them to set sails, pretend they are paddling or just have lunch with their parents and dream of escape, as I once did and still do…
The total marine ambience
I would not underestimate the popularity of the proposed Amphitheatre and boardwalk. These together with an eclectic mix of floating shops, display areas and activities would enable people to not only hire a boat or be a passenger but to meet, mingle, eat and be entertained in a unique setting by the sea. Add good architectural design, separation from vehicles, and the opportunity to experience marine life and history to this mix, and visitors will have a day’s outing they will cherish.
Kris: Have you thought about the financial and engineering challenges for what you are proposing – especially for building that breakwater, or the buildings on reclaimed land?
Bob: Yes. I have some good angelic advisors up here. These ideas pose much less of a challenge than they did sixty years ago, when I began construction on the Oak Bay Marina, a project just as ambitious and controversial at the time. The science of wave mitigation, for example, is so much better understood, and better technologies are available now. I have also been reassured that the “island” on which the Seaquarium is proposed could be built on a floating structure similar to the pods proposed for the mooring of boats in the bay. And if we were to build the breakwater from rock this could provide a side benefit – habitat for marine life in the bay.
Takaya, lone wolf of the Discovery Chatham Islands
Kris: I notice that the major viewpoint next to your Sea World is named for Takaya, the lone wolf of the Discovery Chatham Islands.
Bob: Yes indeed. I cried when I heard he was shot. Just like Chief Robert Sam of the Songhees, I would like to think that this wolf and I were kindred spirits. It’s the least I could do to honour him, and he would be tickled that my proposed island is to be named after him.
Kris: What about the Songhees, and their historic connection with these waters? Don’t we owe them one?
Bob: Their involvement and that of the Esquimalt Nation will be essential to the success of our project. That’s why I have set aside a key location next to the Kelp Lagoon to display their history and their culture. Hopefully their majestic ocean-going canoes could be part of this display. It could also be a convenient place from where the Songhees could operate tours to their islands.
But we can’t do these and other ideas our Dream Team has presented if we cannot accommodate future visitors who will be attracted by the new facilities and attractions, especially those who come in boats, and need a place to moor or anchor in Oak Bay, both of which are in short supply.
Anchoring is even less of an option as private mooring buoys and rafts in Oak Bay monopolize these waters. It is a problem which is getting worse, not only here but all over. If we expect to continue to find any room in the few safe havens which exist along our coast, and to continue to enjoy the cruising life, it behooves us to find solutions in our own backyard first, and hope others will do the same. If not, the future of cruising our beautiful West Coast is at stake and we will have to trailer our boats everywhere we wish to go.
Kris: I gather you have another plan, to help solve this problem?
Bob: Yes. It is my Shared Moorage Concept. I propose that a portion of these waters be set aside for visitor use. This would enable boaters to visit during the summer as well as suiting those requiring longer term mooring during the off-season. In the short term, mooring balls should suffice. As more space is needed, I have developed a more efficient form of anchoring involving floating rafts or “pods”. This would enable 6 boats or more to be moored “Med style” to each anchored pod (Figs 3 & 4). A unique anchoring system developed by SeaFloatech would minimize harm to the ocean floor.
Note also my proposal for providing a dinghy dock for these visitors, and last but not least, a Pump Out and recycling facilities for all boaters. These facilities are long overdue. In any event, there has to be some regulation and a code of conduct to ensure that people anchoring in the bay do not spoil it for others. And the sooner we do this, the better, as every season we have derelicts to contend with, and damage caused both to other boats and to the fragile environment!
Kris: What about those who have moorings in the bay now, and the future of liveaboards?
Bob: It will take time to figure out how best to proceed, how much of the bay might be shared, and how. We cannot ride roughshod over those who have spent money to anchor here, when the rules were never made apparent, and self governing attempts have all failed. A program of acquisition and relocation will need to be worked out sensitively with the mooring community, with coordination by the District.
As for the liveaboards, I feel they should continue to be a part of our marine community. Their presence in strategic areas of the marina and the bay can help with safety and security. With training, some could even be deputized to collect fees, provide information, and be a friendly face and a helping hand to visiting boaters.
Kris: Why has no initiative or plan to develop the potential for the Oak Bay Marina been undertaken earlier?
Bob: You figure. The technology and the legal tools are there, but the imagination and the will for some reason are lacking. I think the Oak Bay Marine Group or whoever takes over would be open to managing this proposed moorage for the short term. But if all goes as I think will be necessary, we might need some kind of harbour authority and coordinating plan prepared for this entire bay.
Gotta go! Boss just paged me. Give my love to my family, and to the good folks of Oak Bay. Never had the chance to properly say goodbye. And tight lines to all!
Kris: When will I see you again?
Bob: Not sure. My Cloud Miles have run out.
In a blinding flash, Bob and his heavenly entourage were gone. And I was left with some ruffled feathers, this golden binder of his, and a big job to do!
Apologies to those that did not receive this last Xmas Eve when it was first presented ! Apparently we were running late that night and this binder was inadvertently left undiscovered in the sled. Sincerely, Kris …
The Dream Team Needs You!
If you want to improve upon our version of a Maritime Heritage destination for Oak Bay and make this dream happen, please contact us. There is no better chance to get involved with the Dream Team than now!
Kris Kringle A.K.A. Al Lubkowski (Coordinator of The Dream Team)
Coordinator of the Dream Team. Please contact me, if you like this vision.
Email: email@example.com Tel (250) 216-2389
Bob Wright established a chain of fishing lodges, resorts and marinas across the West Coast and in far flung places such as the Caribbean. His trapping of Orcas, selling them and putting them on display caused much controversy. At one time his Oak Bay Marine Group was recognized as the largest fishing and marine operation in the World. Bob left $11 million to the Centre for Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, at the University of Victoria when he died in 2013.
Al Lubkowski has worked at many levels of government and in consulting roles across Canada and the Territories, including projects for First nations. Al was the former Townsite Planner for Parks Canada. In recent years he has operated eco-tours with his company Caribbean Expeditions in Belize, C.A. and with Blackfish Wilderness out of Victoria Harbour and Oak Bay. Al is familiar with Bob Wright, having discussed the relocation of his UnderSea Gardens to another site in a similar project he was trying to achieve located adjacent to downtown Victoria (Rock Bay) and involving other partners.