‘A gift to the house:’ Oak Bay family united with history, original window of historic home

From left to right: Bronwyn Taylor, Claire Miller and Joe Leroy hold an old picture of Taylor’s mother outside the house Miller and Leroy now call home. Taylor hopes more historic properties will be protected in Oak Bay. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Bronwyn Taylor stands inside the home her grandparents built in 1919, holding a picture of her mother playing outside it as child. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Joe Leroy and Bronwyn Taylor hold the original stained glass window that was removed when the house was expanded. The homeowners plan to reinstall it this summer. (Courtesy of Joe Leroy)
An image of Oak Bay Heritage Commission chair Bronwyn Taylor’s mother outside the home at 1736 St. Ann Street. (Submitted)
An Oak Bay woman came to see her grandparent’s home at 1736 St. Ann Street in 2017. She reunited the current owners with an original window that had been removed when the house was expanded. (Submitted)
The house at 1736 St. Ann Street in Oak Bay. (Submitted)

An old house is full of stories, but most homeowners never learn the history of their home, let alone meet descendants of its first occupants.

But one Oak Bay family was delighted to meet the grandchild of their home’s builders when she knocked on their front door in 2017.

Bronwyn Taylor is prominent in Oak Bay’s heritage community, volunteering with the Oak Bay Archives, acting as vice president of the Oak Bay Heritage Foundation and chairing the Oak Bay Heritage Commission.

Her grandparents, Stewart and Edith Smith, built a home at 1736 St. Ann Street in 1919, and almost 100 years later she returned, hoping to recreate an old family picture of herself and her sister taken on the front steps.

The photo was for an Oak Bay Archives community project called Then and Now, which juxtaposed 2017 snapshots with historic photos from around Oak Bay.

RELATED: Prominent Oak Bay volunteer revists her past for Then and Now

Taylor got the photo, but she also built new relationships with the current homeowners.

The occupants of her grandparents’ home – Joe LeRoy, Claire Miller and their three children – were happy to learn about the house’s history and even happier when Taylor said she still had an original stained glass window that had been removed when the house was expanded.

The new family had moved into the St. Ann Street property in 2010 and had found a black and white photo of the outside of the house that showed where the window had been.

A little girl could be seen in the foreground of the photo.

“That little girl’s daughter knocked on the door,” said Miller. “It was perfect because it gave us the history of the house that we didn’t have.”

RELATED: Resident explores heritage designation to halt art placement in Oak Bay

The family had decided to take the asbestos shingles off the home, and once they met Taylor, they also decided to put the original window back in.

“When Bronwyn knocked on our door she said, ‘oh, I’ve got that window,’” recalled Miller. “She’s giving it to us but of course, she’s really giving it to the house. Philosophically I don’t think we ever own the house, we just borrow it.”

“So it’s a gift to the house on its birthday.”

Taylor was nostalgic in the old home, remembering the coal-delivery man walking up the front steps and her grandmother playfully chasing her and her sister around the kitchen, which felt ‘much bigger at the time.’

“Many of the [past owners’]… memories growing up are tied to this home,” said Miller, adding that her family is only the fourth to live in it, despite it being a century old.

RELATED: Snap your image of Oak Bay

“When you look back at a house that you’ve lived in, you should be able to open the door anytime and walk back into your life,” she said.

Taylor said it was wonderful to be able to revisit her childhood memories in the home and while she isn’t against development, said she hopes to see more historic conservation in the area.

“I really don’t like a lot of what’s happening to the municipality by way of very modern development that’s changing the character of Oak Bay,” she said. “I know when the Heritage Commission did its heritage plan, maintaining streetscapes and neighbourhoods…were the highest priority for people who responded.”

“Unfortunately with some of the tear downs and re-development that isn’t really happening.”

The family plans to re-install the original window this summer.


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