Oak Bay community association spurs grassroots initiative to build bridges

by Christine van Reeuwyk - Oak Bay News

Successful early steps bode well for a grassroots initiative to build bridges between communities. The Community Association of Oak Bay aims to raise a First Nations pole once the new Oak Bay High school is complete.

“This is a very exciting project. It really comes from the community,” said Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen. “It’s really a community-led initiative, which makes it even more meaningful. The people in Oak Bay through their community association are expressing a need to make their school inclusive.”

The project started with a couple of simple observations.

“There’s very little public art in Oak Bay,” said COAB member Gail Price-Douglas, a former City of Victoria public art co-ordinator. “There’s very little recognition of First Nations in this community.”

In her former role with Victoria, Price-Douglas worked with master Songhees carver Butch Dick and his son. Association members went out and saw the amazing work Dick and his carvers did on a series of house poles and a heron at the Songhees Wellness Centre. Knowing the protocol required to hire the well-known Coast Salish artist, they held a meeting to bring together leaders of the local First Nations, Greater Victoria School Board and District of Oak Bay.

“It was important that we hold a meeting with the chiefs, leader-to-leader,” Price-Douglas said.

In a nod to tradition, Jensen offered gifts to Esquimalt Chief Andy Thomas, and Dick stood in for Chief Ron Sam of the Songhees Nation.

As a result of that meeting, the association commissioned Dick to design and organize a team of carvers to create a pole.

“There’s a lot of history of First Nations here that’s not really well known,” she said. “The pole will reflect that history.”

The school board is also supportive, already earmarking a green space near Cadboro Bay Road for the pole to stand.

“They’re providing us with the land but we need to raise the funds for it,” Price-Douglas said.

There are tentative plans to have the carving done in the community, though it would require a large covered site.

“The high school kids can learn about First Nation culture, First Nation mythology, First Nation traditions in terms of poles,” Jensen said.

It’s a concept Price-Douglas clings to, noting everyone in the community would benefit.

“We want high school kids, elementary school kids, to learn not only about the craftsmanship, but the traditions,” she said. “We’re calling it a community bridging project to reflect respect, acceptance and connectivity between Coast Salish people and the Oak Bay community.”