– Story by Devon MacKenzie Photography by Don Denton
An iconic piece of waterfront real estate, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, has adorned the shoreline since 1927 when it was built by Major William J. Merston on the designs of architect P. Leonard James.
Since then, it burnt down and was promptly re-built (1930) and it was sold in 1944 to Norma Macdonald, an avid antique collector and dealer who outfitted the Victorian hotel with many priceless antiques and renovated one suite of rooms into a small cocktail lounge, the Snug, in 1954.
The next phase of change was initiated when the hotel was purchased by Bruce Walker and Glenn Anderson, two businessmen from Winnipeg in 1972, and then purchased again by Bruce’s son Kevin and his wife Shawna (1995). It was during Kevin and Shawna’s ownership and subsequent re-development of the hotel that Hugh and Janice Finlayson first became interested in owning a piece of Oak Bay history. But it certainly wasn’t their first experience in the hotel.
When Hugh was in his 20s, early in his management career, he was transferred to Victoria.
“After a while I was transferred back to the Vancouver area and decided to return to school. When I would come back to visit friends in Victoria, I would stay at the hotel,” he explains, sitting in the couple’s bright, two-bedroom condo on the fourth floor of the hotel.
“We started to come to the hotel when we first met, and eventually we were married here, in the old hotel,” Janice adds.
The Finlaysons, who split their time between Oak Bay and their home in False Creek, enjoy ownership of one of the 20 strata residences in the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. Like the guests who can book in to any of the hotel’s 100 rooms, the Finlaysons enjoy full use of its amenities, services and nearby community.
“The community is in a historical and picturesque seaside neighbourhood like no other in the province, or country, for that matter. With the shops, restaurants and other services, Oak Bay is an ideal walkable, welcoming place to live,” says Janice.
“The second part of community is the Oak Bay Beach Hotel community,” adds Hugh. “The amenities, including the seaside pools and spa, the fitness centre, the car service and the iconic Snug Pub, as well as the services such as housekeeping and maintenance, make living easy and dependable. You have what you need when you need it.”
However, both Hugh and Janice agree that the most important part of their experience is the staff who work at the hotel.
“Their high standards of customer service, energy and commitment are what complete the overall hotel living experience,” Hugh notes.
The couple, who were both senior human resources executives in their careers, say they are “at a different phase in their lives” now. Among their new pursuits, Hugh is an author and a faculty member at BCIT. They enjoy coming to their residence in Victoria for a change of pace from Vancouver whenever they can.
Because Hugh and Janice were some of the first buyers into the re-development project, they were able to make custom-designed choices in their unit, including a vaulted, exposed western red cedar beam ceiling by Island Precision Architectural Woodwork in the living room.
“I think the ceiling really adds a whole other dimension to the space,” says Janice, noting that the ceiling in the original plans was a standard nine-foot height.
The large, bright living room features floor-to-ceiling windows that pull the colours of the season inside and make the unit seem airy no matter the time of the year.
“We get a four-season feel here because you can see it all: the greenery, the ocean and the sky,” says Janice. “In the summer it’s bright and airy, in the fall we get the amazing colour contrasts from the changing trees, and in the winter we still have light all day and we get to enjoy some beautiful sunsets.”
At 1,180 square feet, the condo is a perfect size for the couple, who use the second bedroom as an office space and guest room.
“We customized that room with built-in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a library ladder. Hugh is an avid reader so we have lots of space for his books,” explains Janice.
Aside from the amazing view of Oak Bay Marina and Willows Beach, the real showstopper in the office is the LGM double-function transforming system by Clei. It’s a multi-functional revolving wall bed. On one side, it features 35 linear feet of shelving and a five-foot-long desk, and a fold-out queen-size bed frame and mattress on the other.
“This was a real find,” Janice says. “We knew we still wanted a functional office space, so we didn’t want a typical wall bed. This was the perfect solution.”
To add their own flair to the modern kitchen, the couple chose custom cabinets and durable Caesarstone countertops (quartz aggregate blended with pigment and polymer resin), and in the living room, they chose a custom concrete surround fireplace by Solus Decor out of Vancouver.
In the dining room, a live-edge maple table by Matthieu Leblanc of Reclaimed Wood Creations Vancouver mimics the colours in the treeline outside the windows, tying it all together.
“We love spending time here. It’s really a place where we can unwind and enjoy the view and everything the hotel has to offer,” says Janice. “I really enjoy the social aspect of living in a hotel. You can be as social as you want or you have all the privacy you want in your own condo. There’s always something going on. We definitely feel at home here.”
For more information on the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, check their website here.