Don Reksten

Oak Bay honours its fathers

Descendants of first municipal clerk join cemetery tour

The role of municipal clerk isn’t exactly a glamorous job, but for the first man to hold the position in Oak Bay, it was an opportunity to leave a legacy that has held strong over the 91 years since his death.

James Sterling Floyd arrived in Victoria from Ireland in 1889 and held a variety of clerical roles in Oak Bay from the time the district incorporated in 1906 – including his claim to fame as the first municipal assessor.

Inside the Oak Bay archives, Don Reksten knows all too well the impact of Floyd’s work. Reksten, a volunteer with the archives, is transcribing every entry in Oak Bay’s first assessment roll – a ledger Floyd prepared by hand in 1907 – long before the days of simply searching through assessments in an online database with the ease of a few quick keystrokes.

“Then he did the same work for other municipalities, because he had become an expert,” said Reksten, who sees no end in sight for completing the tedious task. “He was really driven, hard-working and so busy.”

Reksten, also a volunteer with the Old Cemeteries Society, became an expert in his own right, unravelling Floyd’s story, while he prepared the research for a tour of the grave sites of Floyd and other early municipal leaders laid to rest in Ross Bay Cemetery.

Floyd first worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company before he became a clerk-accountant for E&N Railway (with offices at Broughton and Wharf streets), where he worked until he was officially appointed Oak Bay’s municipal clerk, treasurer, collector and assessor at the first council meeting in 1906. He then set up shop in Bastion Square, in an office that would become a hub of activity, with Floyd also performing assessment duties for Esquimalt and Saanich. In 1913 he resigned from his position to become municipal auditor and two men were hired to take over his previous position.

“He was overworked and weakened,” Reksten said. “Just look at the number of properties he had to enter into the assessment roll – and he did the same kind of work in Esquimalt and Saanich

“He was scrupulous, conscientious and it accelerated his death,” he said.

When Barbara MacFarlane hears the stories of the grandfather she never met, she feels a huge sense of pride and respect.

MacFarlane, the 79-year-old daughter of Floyd’s son Thomas, the self-professed family archivist, has dutifully collected family photos, newspaper clippings and other artifacts either handed down from descendants of Floyd’s four children over her lifetime, or retrieved through the public record.

“I wish they had saved more things,” she said. “In one of the write-ups it tells about his wedding at Christ Church Cathedral, what some of the gifts were. … I would have loved to have been there. I’ll be 80 in a couple of months and it makes me think there was a lot of family history.”

MacFarlane spent much of her youth attending musical events around town with her mother, just as her grandfather – an accomplished vocalist and choirmaster had – and has found herself somewhat nostalgic for the days before her time.

“Don’t we all put our minds to what we think it would have been?” she asked. “I look at the dress code in those days and, wow. … They dressed up for pictures.”

Take a stroll down memory lane with MacFarlane and Reksten on Father’s Day, June 16, when they join Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen on a look back at some of the district’s founding fathers, including Floyd. For the third consecutive Father’s Day, Jensen will lead a walking tour of notable Oak Bay leaders buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, this year with a strong focus on councillors of years past.

“It’s an interesting way for me to pass on the history of Oak Bay and it’s an enjoyable way to learn the history and make people more aware,” Jensen said. “Oak Bay has had some interesting people and this is a way to bring their stories to life.”

To join the city fathers tour, meet at 1:45 p.m. in front of Oregano’s in Fairfield Plaza, 1544 Fairfield Rd. The cost of the tour is $5 for non-members of the Old Cemeteries Society; $2 for members. No reservations are needed and the tour will run regardless of weather.

Sunday cemetery history tours run weekly at 2 p.m. Contact oldcem.bc.ca or 250-598-8870 for details.

-with files from Don Reksten and the Old Cemeteries Society

 

 

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