We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.
In Growing Up Weird: A Memoir of an Oak Bay Childhood, author Liz Maxwell Forbes provides a very personal account of childhood in a British Columbia community in the 1940s and 1950s. Drawing from her early experiences, Forbes describes a family life disrupted by the Second World War, her parents’ divorce, and her struggles to find independence away from the tensions of home and the expectations of society.
Although at times a disturbing and candid reminder of the vulnerability of childhood, Forbes’s account is punctuated with humour and guarded nostalgia. She describes her favourite hideaways among the abandoned outbuildings of Oak Bay’s old estates, places of escape in which to read and dream. She recalls afternoons at the beach exploring McNeill Bay, and summers spent swimming and boating at Deep Cove. She brings to life the neighbourhoods and businesses of Oak Bay, including Carley’s Stables and Willows Beach, Monterey School and Oak Bay High, local churches and the shops along Oak Bay Avenue. There are many wonderful descriptions of local landmarks. The places, however, form a backdrop to a more complex story.
Forbes was born in 1939 at the old St Joseph’s Hospital in Victoria. In October that year her father, a clerk with the BC government, enlisted with the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry and served overseas during the Second World War. The separation was difficult for the family and her parents divorced a few years later. Her mother remarried in 1944, and Forbes’s complicated relationship with her step-father is a central theme of the book. Forbes was raised by her grandparents for a time and moved several times during her childhood to homes throughout Oak Bay. She skillfully captures the conflicts that exist within families. It is not the story of a perfect childhood but an honest and bold telling of her experiences.
Forbes’s narrative contributes to a broader understanding of Oak Bay’s past and provides a valuable insight into the experiences of girls and women, often missing from the historical record. It is an account that might be found within an oral history collection at a local archive, but Forbes has instead delivered it in a clear and readable format.
The book is well illustrated with black and white family photographs. Forbes includes a family tree at the end of the book together with a list of the key people she writes about. The inclusion of a map showing the location of family homes and community features would have been helpful for readers unfamiliar with Oak Bay. The book lacks an index but the chapters follow clear themes and are organized more or less chronologically.
Although set in Oak Bay, the story might take place in any small community in British Columbia in the mid-twentieth century. It is hoped that Forbes’s work will encourage others to come forward with their own memoirs.
Growing Up Weird: A Memoir of an Oak Bay Childhood
Liz Maxwell Forbes
Victoria: Osborne Bay Books, 2017. 293 pp. $22.95 paper.