Perhaps it was the sight of the heavy excavator perched on the back of a big lumbering truck, slowly moving along our street early this morning, bound for another older smaller Oak Bay character home waiting to be demolished. Or sounds of the excavator crunching, splintering and breaking apart, piece by piece, beautiful old growth lumber and oak hardwood flooring, grabbed and lifted by metal jaws and dumped unceremoniously into the ubiquitous yellow bin.
Or the high-pitched whine of the chain saw, clear-cutting the lot of long established trees and shrubs. Or the anticipation of a small neighbourhood street that will be choked for months by construction traffic, overflow parking and unrelenting noise. Or the reality that we too are vulnerable because we live in a small, older character home, just like the one down the street.
Bought by a developer, the home’s 80-year history, its family stories and its memories were demolished along with the house in under an hour. This has become an all too familiar scene in Oak Bay, another older smaller character home coming down, one that still appeared usable and capable, with a face-lift, of becoming a new home to a new family.
The neighbourhood not only loses the character home but also loses an environmental microcosm, a small natural habitat where pollinators, birds and other small animals made their homes; where mature trees and shrubs provided a level of carbon sinking that contributed to local air quality; and, where gardens softened the hard scape and formed a patchwork quilt that coloured the street scape.
Admittedly, not all of these homes are salvageable, nevertheless, they form an integral part of our community’s fabric of neighbourhoods that continue to attract residents of all ages to Oak Bay. Once considered more affordable and accessible, with “good bones,” these homes reflect an era when less was more, when small was big and when dreams were modest.
While change is fundamental to healthy community development, it should also be guided by careful planning and environmental oversight. Why not have planning tools that more effectively integrate the past with the future? Why not review and revise our demolition bylaw? Why not adopt a demolition waste management program that requires recycling and reuse of deconstructed materials? Why not provide incentives for homeowners, to choose renovation over demolition? Why not do all of this in a timely fashion, given that time is clearly not on the side of Oak Bay’s smaller, older character homes?