The Friends of Beacon Hill Park presented a report to the Parks and Recreation Commission on the Southeast Woods in March. The Friends pointed out brush-clearing in 1986 [the Sri Chimnoy jogging trail constructed along Cook Street encroached into the woods] and grass seeding by Parks staff had altered the vegetation. The Friends noted the absence of tree seedlings and the rapid spread of introduced weed species at the expense of native ground cover. They asked permission to begin planting native trees, herbs, ferns and mosses in a trial restoration project. (Times Colonist, March 16, 1990, p. B 15)
Friends representative Anne Fletcher, speaking to the Victoria Star in April, said, “We’re trying to bring the woods back to what it was.” Though Police wanted wider trails to facilitate horse patrols, the Friends did not want trails widened because it would mean clearing native plants. (The Victoria Star, April 25, 1990, p. 3) [The 2004 photo on the left shows one of many pleasant Southeast Woods trails.]
In August, City Council voted to allow the Friends of Beacon Hill Park to reintroduce native plants in the southeast woods. Reporter Carla Wilson wrote, “native tree seedlings, herbs, ferns and mosses” would be planted in a 780 square metre test plot. In the first stage of the two-year restoration project, Girl Guides would weed out introduced plants; most of the planting was to take place in the fall. The project was funded by a grant from the Victoria Natural History Society, expert advice provided by Royal B. C. Museum botanists and Parks Department workers contributed in-service training. (Times Colonist, August 4, 1990, D 1)
A detailed description of the Southwest Woods and the restoration project was printed in the “Newsletter of the North American Plant Society” in 2001. Brenda Costanzo wrote:
The restoration began with the removal of encroaching weedy species in the 800 metre square plot. The Southeast Woods were originally a coniferous canopy of Douglas-fir and grand fir, with smaller numbers of board-leafed maple, red alder and pacific yew. The understory shrubs and the forest floor had been altered by past activities in the area and exotic trees had also been introduced.
In November, 1990, a restoration project in the Southeast Woods began with the planting of Douglas-fir, grand fir, trailing blackberry, swordfern, star flower, tall Oregon grape and dull Oregon grape, lady fern and trillium. These plantings were monitored, plant species listed and location documented, and progress reports sent to the City of Victoria Parks Department... Weeding and planting were carried out by a volunteer committee and by the Ninth Victoria Girl Guides, led by Agnes Lynn... (Brenda Costanzo, “Newsletter of the North American Plant Society,” reprinted in Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, October, 2001)
“Gay-bashing” in the Southeast Woods
Police received three reports of attacks on gay males by youths in the Southeast Woods during the spring of 1990, the Times Colonist reported. Police Cpl. Dave Mann said it was difficult to prosecute attackers because victims were reluctant to testify. “Homosexuals are prey because half the time they don’t want it to be known they are hanging around Cook and Dallas. Some have families and they don’t want that to get out.”
Sgt. Harvey Stevenson said incidents increased as the woods dried up and the weather warmed. He said it was too early to tell if trimming underbrush and installing additional lighting would reduce what he termed “late-night activity” in the woods.
Stevenson agreed with the conclusion of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park that gay men were had been unjustly blamed in 1989 for disturbances and noise in the Southeast Woods. He said those reports were false:
[Homosexuals] were blamed for making a lot of noise...I think that is clearly not them doing that because they are not the kind of people trying to attract attention. So that was probably more kids coming and going to the beach area.” (Times Colonist, April 7, 1990, D 1)
Later that month, Stevenson told the Victoria Star that homosexuals who go to the Park “set themselves up” for gay-hating muggers. “Why anybody would put themselves in a position to be victims in the woods after dark, I don’t know.” He wanted trails in the woods widened for horse patrols. (Victoria Star, April 25, 1990, p. 3)
Following several more incidents of “gay-bashing,” Gordon de Frane, President of the Victoria branch of the Island Gay Society, called for tolerance. De Frane believed many more assaults took place than were reported. “A good portion of people frequenting the park are people who would consider they had a lot to lose” if people knew they were homosexual. The Society recommended gays carry whistles and avoid Beacon Hill Park. (Times Colonist, May 4, 1990, B 1)
Two May 9 letters to the Victoria Star protested use of the words “homos” and “faggotry” by the newspaper the week before. Gretchen Hartley said the “Police Briefs” column wrote about “Homos in the Park...[and] Men suspected of faggotry.” She said that was “hurtful” language stigmatizing a group of people and “unacceptable” in a community newspaper. In a separate letter, G. J. Abbott and friends asked: “Is the Star joining the ranks of the illiterate, inflammatory tabloid scene?” They deplored use of the invented term ‘faggotry’ and asked: What kind of slanted, construed homophobic single-mindedness are you printing?” (Victoria Star, May 9, 1990, p. 5)
(See 1994 for a description of a volunteer patrol organized to help prevent “gay-bashing.”)
The last deer moved
On February 2, 1990, the old buck--one of two coastal blacktail deer in the Park--was euthanized. Rick West, Victoria SPCA inspector, said the buck was 22 or 23 years old and in poor condition. Supervisor Finn Anderson added, “He was blind in one eye and he was stumbling instead of walking properly...”
The Parks Department and the SPCA were looking for a suitable sanctuary for the remaining doe. It was no longer desirable to keep deer in Beacon Hill Park, West said: “Social attitudes change and perhaps the idea of captive wildlife is not acceptable. It’s a responsibility and a worry when you have animals confined--there’s vandalism and stray dogs.” Anderson said, “We wouldn’t just send it out into the wild--it would have to be an approved sanctuary.” With the deer gone, he thought the pen area could become a natural park area or be used for the police horse in summer. (Times Colonist, February 3, 1990, A 8)
Royal Roads Military College offered the doe a home. Having only lived in the Park deer pens, she had no experience foraging for food, but Doug Janz, Environment Ministry regional wildlife biologist, said:
I think it would definitely be a good idea to release her. It’s pretty well protected there and I wouldn’t anticipate any antagonistic behaviour with the other deer. She would probably follow the other deer around and they will know the choice eating spots. (Times Colonist, February 8, 1990, B 1)
In March, the Parks and Recreation Commission accepted the Military College offer and in April, the Park’s last deer was successfully moved. Within eight minutes of being hit by a tranquillizer dart, she lay down and was carried to the SPCA van; once on the grass at Royal Roads, the doe was soon on her feet. (Times Colonist, April 5, 1990, B 9)
Deer had been on display in Beacon Hill Park continuously from 1889 to 1990. The only mammals held captive in the Park after 1990 were displayed seasonally in the privately operated Children’s Petting Farm. (The Friends of Beacon Hill Park call the animal operation a “zoo”--not a “farmyard”--because pot-bellied pigs, emus and other exotic birds and animals are featured.)
Performing pot-bellied pigs at Children’s “Zoo”
Pot-bellied pigs would be performing soon at the Children’s Petting Farm, Manager Dennis Koenders announced in March. He said a pot-bellied pig trainer from California was coming to teach his piglets tricks; there would be two trained pig shows a day to entertain visitors. Three male piglets were named Toot, Scoot and Hoot because they were expected to pull a miniature train.
“They are very intelligent animals,” Keonders explained. They could learn a simple trick in one day, though “the more difficult ones, like pulling a train, take about a week. I think it’s going to be a great attraction.” Five pot-bellied piglets, born to Sasha, were on display when the farmyard opened in March. (Times Colonist, March 18, 1990, A 3)
Betty Gibbens’ response was: “Showbiz tricks are for circuses. Training pot-bellied pigs to pull a miniature train introduces another undesirable park use.” (Times Colonist, April 3, 1990, A 4)
In May, Toot, Scoot and Hoot were performing tricks for spectators but were not pulling the miniature train. Koenders had discovered pigs dislike harnesses and that force did not work in training. “Pigs have to be trained by the reward system and kindness. They have a very good memory. If you are mean to them they don’t forget.” (Times Colonist, May 10, 1990 B 1)
The Parks and Recreation Commission had not been consulted about the performing pigs. Chairman Chris Coleman wondered “whether trained pigs doing tricks constitute part of a petting farm or a circus.” Coleman quickly became pro-pig when he visited the farm. “I had a great time...They were fabulous. I thought it was very similar to going to a farmyard and finding somebody with a dog that did tricks.”
Commission member Linda Hannah, however, said performing pigs are “the thin edge of the wedge. I’m not in favour of seeing the pigs in the Park, particularly as they are being marketed as performing-type animals.” To order to avoid future surprises, Ald. Pieta Van Dyke suggested a sub-committee meet with Koenders before opening day each year to discuss his plans. (Times Colonist, May 10, 1990 B 1) [Pot-bellied pigs, seen in this August, 2004 photo, are still favorites at the farmyard even without circus-type performances.]
Sabre, the popular 32 year old horse at the Children’s Farm, was euthanized in May. He suffered from incurable kidney and liver problems, Dennis Koenders told the newspaper. “He was just a beautiful old horse...[but] we couldn’t let him suffer so he was put to rest.” Koenders wanted to replace Sabre, but Parks Superintendent Don Anderson said the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission should be consulted first. Some members of the Commission said they should have been consulted before Sabre appeared in the farmyard and not all agreed he was small enough to qualify as a “pony.” (Times Colonist, May 23, 1990, B 6)
In July, the newly constructed four-stall barn (see next section) was home for three yearling miniature Sicilian donkeys named Cinderella, Christa and Ladybug. The three gray donkeys, on loan to the petting farm, shared one stall. (Times Colonist, July 7, 1990, D 1)
Police horse barn constructed
Police Inspector Tom Sibbald explained to City Council in March that a stable in Beacon Hill Park for the police horse was essential. When Const. Ruth Lick transported her horse to the Park in a truck and trailer every working day in 1989, she found it took three hours a day and was hard on the horse and equipment. (Times Colonist, March 17, 1990, B 10)
After considering other options for stabling a police horse--building a smaller barn or replacing the barn used by the petting farm--the construction of a large four-stall barn was approved by Council in April. Parks and Recreation Director John Plantinga pushed for the large barn; he expected another police horse would be added to the Beacon Hill Park patrol. The barn would be constructed in tradition style, painted red and include a tack room and an office. The petting farm staff would clean the barn in exchange for using one of the stalls. (Times Colonist, April 11, 1990, B 1)
In a letter to the editor, Betty Gibbens opposed the police barn, which she said was 27 feet by 32 feet. She noted petting farm operator Dennis Koenders wanted to use the barn and extra room; this would provide him with more park space than his agreement permitted.
The public has a right to free access to the whole park. Rather than disfiguring it with another building, alternative solutions for the horse are preferable...By giving up the deer pen, park users would lose needed recreational space. Instead, why not remove the link fence to increase the area for walkers in Beacon Hill Park? (Times Colonist, April 3, 1990, A 4)
A month later, Gibbens, in a letter to Monday Magazine, called the police barn a “house-size extravaganza” for a police horse used only forty days a year. She doubted police horse patrols would be continued after the Commonwealth Games and correctly predicted what would happen to the police horse barn when there were no police horses: “Showbiz pig impresario Dennis Koenders waits in his burgeoning ‘farm’ enterprise nearby--happy to take over. Once built on, much needed park space will be gone forever.” (Monday Magazine, April 26-May 2, 1990, p. 2)
Keith Gibbens was arrested while protesting construction of the barn on April 19; Judge Robert Metzger subsequently banned Gibbens from the Park. He was charged with blocking the path of a backhoe, which delayed the excavation of the barn’s foundation for an hour. Keith Gibbens said the proposed horse barn was a violation of the Park Trust. During his court appearance in September, he said the barn was an unlawful use of the Park and it was not a crime to resist an unlawful arrest. He said he pulled construction stakes out of the ground to prevent the building of the barn, which he called “vandalism” by the City. Gibbens was found guilty of one charge and given a conditional discharge with 12 months probation. Judge Denroche cautioned: “Try not to get into donnybrooks with officials carrying out City Council’s wishes.” (Times Colonist, September 11, 1990, p. A 6)
An unsigned handbill opposing the barn made these points: A bicycle patrol would be a better choice for the Park and the City in the process of organizing bike patrols. The huge $79,000 barn was for one police horse used only 40 days a year. Horses damaged hundred-year-old Garry oaks by biting off bark. The oaks were “special features that needed to be protected, not abused by buildings, horses and other unnatural things. The barn and fence must be removed and the original soil returned.”
The $79,000 barn was officially opened in August. Financial contributions had come from the provincial and federal governments, the City of Victoria, “other agencies” and local businesses. Doing the work were adults with learning disabilities from the Victoria Vocational College. City union workers agreed to the project, provided the workers received union wages. (Times Colonist, August 14, 1990, B 1)
Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw, Emeritus Curator of Botany at the Royal British Columbia Museum, wrote this analysis of the barn under the heading “Removal of Park land from public access for buildings sites”:
The horse barn is a service building, serving the police, not the public directly and should have been built in the Service Compound. The public’s sensitivity on this issue--wanting no more buildings in the Park, was surely known to the authorities at the time the building was put up, but was ignored and protest opposed.
As the population density of the surrounding district increases, we need more park area, not less...Removal of park land for building sites is not a fair treatment of park users and should not be accepted without protest. (Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw, “Beacon Hill Park--Concerns of a User,” October, 1991, p. 1, unpublished)
[In 2004, there is no police horse patrol. As predicted by Betty Gibbens, the barn (see 2004 photo above) was taken over by the petting zoo. The unused horse exercise yard is still fenced, with no public access. Scotch broom is taking over the area.]
Police horse patrol
The summer of 1990, Police Constable Ruth Lick patrolled the Park riding Hawkeye. Hawkeye was stabled in the new barn, where Lick and the Children’s Petting Farm staff shared housekeeping work. Sgt. Harvey Stevenson said Lick was free to roam anywhere in the area. One day, she rode as far as Ross Bay. The horse patrol worked with the new police bicycle patrols to reduce noisy and drunk drivers at Clover Point. (Times Colonist, July 7, 1990, D 1)
Rare plants buried by monument
Forty Japanese Sakura cherry trees were planted along Circle Drive between Dallas Road and the Children’s Farm in April. The trees were a gift to the City by a Japanese school principal. Manager of Park Design and Development Arne McRadu said, “It was an area that was not treed and it now provides this nice avenue of trees along Circle Drive.” (Times Colonist, April 12, 1990, A 14)
To honour the donor, Park staff installed a large boulder and plaque surrounded by a concrete slab on the west side of Circle Drive across from the totem pole. The monument, seen in the photos above, was placed on top of rare native plants.
Dr. Adolf Ceska, curator of botany at the Royal B. C. Museum, said the installation buried several Nuttall’s Quillwort (Isoetes nuttallii) plants. This very rare native species grew in the small depression that was filled with concrete. The paved area surrounding the rock and plaque also covered native cinquefoil and blueberry plants. Ceska wrote in The Victoria Naturalist:
When I saw the plaque, I thought that it was a tombstone of the Nuttall’s Quillwort which was buried underneath...It is ironic that we have to destroy a locality of native rare plants in order to commemorate a donation of an introduced species.
This example shows how quickly rare plants can be destroyed even in the seemingly protected environment of a park. In Beacon Hill Park, many plants have had to learn to cope with the regular or irregular park management. One small group of Deltoid Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) is occasionally cut before it can flower, and one clump of golden Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) still survives in the middle of a meadow on the eastern slope of the hill. Recently, Dr. Chris Brayshaw rediscovered a population of Prairie Lupine (Lupinus lepidus) along the road south of the top. This plant was first collected on Beacon Hill by J. R. Anderson in 1896 and then several times at irregular intervals, last by T. & S. Armstrong in 1977...
There is a whole array of threats to native flora. Some of these menaces include urbanization, industrialization and competition of introduced species, etc. One of the major causes of the disappearance of plant species is the accidental destruction of a site or a whole locality. The area of disturbance does not have to be too large. Sometimes an area as small as a few square metres or even square feet can host the entire population of a rare plant...
One very important step in the protection of rare plants is to know their exact locations...Developing data bases to register and monitor populations of rare and endangered species, both plants and animals...would help to protect important populations of rare species and reduce cases of accidental destruction of localities such as that of Nuttall’s Quillwort in Beacon Hill Park. (Victoria Naturalist, Vol. 47.2, Sept/Oct, 1990, p. 12)
[in 2004, botanists Dr. Adolf and Oluna Ceska received “a grant of $10,000 to identify and restore native plants that are threatened or extirpated in Beacon Hill Park.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2004, p. 10) It comes far too late to save many native plants. In 1990, Dr. Robert T. Ogilvie recorded rare thirty-three native plant species in the Park. By July 2001, Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw reported nearly half of those species--fourteen--could no longer be found. Park staff under pressure to work quickly, unaware of native plants and their locations, and in a work culture which has not emphasized the value of native plants, continue damaging native plant areas on a daily basis.]
Great Blue Heron colony
Active nests in the Great Blue Heron colony in Beacon Hill Park trees at Douglas Street and Avalon numbered 27 in 1990. No figures were available on nesting success. (Ross Vennesland, Great Blue Heron Breeding Colony Database, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management) [There is no data available on nests in the colony for 1991-1995. See 1996 for more on herons.]
New “Beacon Hill Park Study” released
A twenty-four page report titled “Beacon Hill Park Study” was released in June, 1990. It included the results of six surveys of 1,100 Victorians. Arne McRadu, Victoria’s Manager of Park Design and Development, prepared recommendations and conclusions based on survey feedback. He intended the report to be a first step in developing a park master plan.
One survey focused on the satisfaction levels of visitors. Two-thirds of those questioned were ‘very satisfied’ with the Park as it was; another one third were ‘satisfied’; no one was dissatisfied. The most popular Park features were duck ponds, formal gardens, children’s playground and the natural areas.
Most Park visitors agreed there should be no commercial activity in the Park. The report stated: “The ability to escape the bustle of the city for the tranquillity of a natural sanctuary is much appreciated by many...The protection of native plant species in their natural surroundings is very important.” Arne McRadu concluded the public’s response was: “Keep it safe, clean and natural.”
Surveys indicated almost 40% of Park visitors came from the City of Victoria; 25% were from nearby municipalities. The report stated those results illustrated “the regional scope of the park.”
Despite survey results indicating satisfaction with the Park as it was, the report recommended major changes. A five-year capital construction plan was proposed with a price-tag of $915,000. The report recommended locating four new facilities--a playground, aviary, picnic shelter and washrooms--near the Children’s Petting Zoo. The old “jail-like” aviary was to be demolished and a new aviary build between the main parking lot and the petting zoo, where ample natural sunlight was available. Replacing aging playground equipment was essential and the report recommended it be placed near the zoo to concentrate children’s features in one area. Also recommended was replacing the wading pool with a spray facility. The Checkers Pavilion should be torn down: “This has become little more than a place for teenagers’ parties in the evenings and a shelter for vagrants to spend the night.” The report said the proposal by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park to replace the pavilion with a nature house and interpretive centre should be considered. (Times Colonist, June 19, 1990, B 8)
Jim Hume weighed in on the report in his column “Talk Politics.” He supported the new children’s playground, considered a picnic shelter “essential,” and said more washrooms were overdue. He proposed a much more elaborate aviary improvement. His “Rolls Royce” aviary would include a walk-through free-flight structure with double guard entrances, high mesh nets, footpaths and shrubs. Hume proposed charging admission to pay for the aviary and said anyone against admission fees was “in a Sir James Douglas time warp.” (Times Colonist, June 21, 1990, A 5)
An editorial called “At Beacon Hill, tinker time again,” asked why some people continued to want to change and build things--at a cost of almost a million dollars--instead of appreciating the “largely inert nature of this exquisite public park.” Six surveys had revealed people were happy with the Park as it was and the proper conclusion should be: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The “shabby aviary” should be scrapped and not replaced. If children’s playground equipment needed replacement, that could be done at the same location. (Times Colonist, June 25, 1990, A 4)
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission discussed the report at length. Tom Loring, head of the park sub-committee, thought the main parking lot might be a good site for the new children’s playground and more washrooms. Those in favour of relocating the playground next to the zoo said the two most popular children’s areas in the Park should not be separated by a busy road. Park staff was divided on whether the playground should be moved. Betty Gibbens said there already was a new playground on Cook Street and she opposed another playground built on a natural area. She said, “[This report] is about development and it’s about capital development.” The Commission leaned toward eliminating the aviary entirely. Paul Best said, “The aviary is something I feel we can do without.” City staff said renovation of the Checkers Pavilion would cost about $220,000. Ald Pieta Van Dyke said very few people used the building. She suggested not reviving the tea room proposal again. (Times Colonist, July 13, 1990, B 1) [See 1991 for more discussion of “Beacon Hill Park Study” proposals.]
Opening more Park land to the public suggested
Large sections of Beacon Hill Park--land that rightfully belongs to the public--are needlessly fenced and should be opened to the public, Betty Gibbens told City Council in September. She said the City was using more Park land than necessary for the Children’s Petting Zoo and for the Maintenance Yard. Gibbens wanted the deer pen fence behind the zoo removed. She said the fence shut the public out of one of the last stands of Garry oak and the City’s plan to remove half the fencing was not “good enough.”
Gibbens described the Maintenance Yard as a large building in a “sea of concrete” where equipment and vehicles parked. The Yard was an area of the Park “misused for purposes other than bonafide Park use.” Another such area was the “private clubhouse and bowling greens, expanded in 1986... enclosed behind locked fences, alienating Park land from the public.”
After the meeting, Ald. Geoff Young admitted Gibbens had a point about the deer fence. However, the debate over the deer fence was connected to possible use by police horses. Young said relocation of the Maintenance Yard was not likely but it might be possible to reduce the size of the yard.
It’s true that a lot of room is used up by the greenhouse, for composting and maintenance, but unfortunately, we need it. There’s no place in Fairfield to put it all, and to have equipment come from the city works yard would be enormously expensive. (Times Colonist, September 8, 1990, A 11)
Hundreds of runners trampled rare native plants on and around Beacon Hill during a November province-wide high school cross-country championship running competition. The damage was especially severe because heavy rains soaked the meadows before the races.
“They trampled it like a herd of elephants. We will see in spring how much damage there is,” said Dr. Adolf Ceska, curator of botany at the Royal B. C. Museum. He was particularly concerned about the Golden Indian Paintbrush (see photo). “It’s a parasitic plant and we don’t exactly know the host. If you destroy the host you destroy the plant...The wooly sunflower may be the host, and that is in the same area.” (Times Colonist, November 21, 1990, A 1) [In 2000, Ceska, stated that Golden Paintbrush was known to exist in only nine locations worldwide, and it “disappeared from Beacon Hill Park in about 1993...” (Times Colonist, January 30, 2000, “Islander,” p. 14)]
Among other wildflowers of concern were Prairie Violet, Indian Consumption plant and a rare Lupin. Ceska proposed the Parks Department try to restore the damaged area, or at least “leave it alone and maybe put some barriers up so people don’t use it.”
Ceska noted damage already done to native plants in the spring, when Japanese cherry trees were planted to the east of the Hill and a monument covered rare plants. “I predicted it would destroy the native cinquefoil and there was a blueberry growing in the spot where they paved. The City should be looking at giving the area special protection,” he said.
Ceska said it was ironic that at the same time youths were destroying native plants on the meadows of the Hill, another group of young people were planting native species in the Southeast Woods: “On one hand, a group of people were doing something to help the natural area and not very far away they were doing the opposite.”
Park activist Keith Gibbens worried the runners destroyed plants growing on the grassy hillside between the flagpole and the totem pole that supported Anise Swallowtail butterflies. He said, “It looks as if a herd of hoofed animals has run through it.”
City Parks Superintendent Don Anderson said cross-country meets had been held regularly in the Park for years; another meet was scheduled for the next weekend. Anderson said:
I’m going out with the supervisor to look at it a little bit closer. I appreciate it’s a big wildflower area, but we haven’t really thought about giving it special protection...The Parks Advisory Commission every so often does look into overuse of Beacon Hill Park.
He pointed out the Parks Department had stopped cutting the grass until wildflowers were able to seed and he thought there should be a balance between protecting natural areas and allowing public functions. (Times Colonist, November 21, 1990, A 1)
Kay Lines, a horticulturist, wildflower enthusiast and new Victoria school trustee, said she would ask the Greater Victoria school board to look for alternate sites for school cross-country meets. She suggested the board could issue instructions that student cross-country meets be held on paved rather than grassy areas:
It is mandatory that we don’t have hordes of children going round and round and round in that area, especially on wet days, or, for that matter, at any time. It’s very destructive. I am very familiar with the wild lupins there and [the runners] have gone right through them...the sports people may not have understood what they were doing...I don’t think any intelligent person could deny that we should not destroy endangered species in Victoria.
Anderson said the YM-YWCA organizers of the next cross-country meet scheduled in the Park had been told they must shorten the course to exclude the grassy slope where wildflowers grow or else cancel the event. (Times Colonist, November 23, 1990, B 8)
Wayne Osborne, a runner and a University of Victoria botany student, said the damage to plants was exaggerated. Osborne raced the same park circuit--a figure eight laid out around the summit of the Hill--that was used each year by high schools, universities and adult national running teams. He said criticism was a “narrow approach,” and “It’s not as damaging as people have been led to believe...I don’t think the high school boys would have as much effect as the men.” He said wild plants on Mt. Finlayson were more important than those on Beacon Hill. (Times Colonist, May 24, 1990, B 24)
[In 2004, high school and university cross-country meets continue to be held on Beacon Hill in the fall. Hundreds of runners pound the meadows, often after rains have softened the soil. The above photos were taken October 12, 2002.]
Great Canadian Family Picnic crowd trampled meadows
The first Great Canadian Family Picnic celebration was held on the south meadow of Beacon Hill on Canada Day, July 1, 1991. The Picnic, billed as a “family-focused” event promoting “community and national unity,” attracted between 5,000 and 10,000 people. A section of Dallas Road was closed to vehicles from 1 to 10 p.m. The Great Canadian Family Picnic was “the brainchild of accountant Chris Coleman,” according to the Times Colonist.
Clear skies provided ideal conditions for fireworks set off from Clover Point later that night. “The 17 minute computerized light show culminated in five booming bursts of colour 300 metres high, watched by cheering residents assembled at points through Beacon Hill Park and Fairfield.” (Times Colonist, July 2, 1991, A 1)
The Friends of Beacon Hill Park opposed the location of the giant “Picnic” on sensitive native plant meadows, predicting ecosystems and rare plants would be damaged. Afterward, Helen Oldershaw wrote:
"A stage had been set on top of, and beside patches of blossoming harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria), one of the most exquisite of the meadow flowers. When it was all over, the area looked like the aftermath at a fairground, the grass and the harvest brodiaea trampled flat." (Victoria Naturalist, September-October, Vol. 49.2, 1992, p. 8-9) [Brodiaea is shown in photo on left.]
Botanist Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw explained the value of native flowering plants in Park meadows and why they were worth preserving:
"The Camass and associated native flowers are a special feature of the Pacific Northwest. They furnish us with a colour uniquely Victoria’s. This should be appreciated, and maintained, not destroyed; but in the years I have lived here, I have watched the Camass becoming thinner year after year, and disappearing from some areas under increasing human impact." (Brayshaw, “Beacon Hill Park--Concerns of a User,” October, 1991, p. 2)
Dr. Brayshaw noted Camas was “a visible monitor of the state of the wild flora as a whole.” Photos of flowering species with “similar environmental requirements” mentioned by Dr. Brayshaw shown above are, from left to right, Common Camas, Western Buttercup, Satin Flower and Prairie Violet.
Closing Lookout Road at night
A nightly closure of the road up to the top of Beacon Hill (called Lookout Road or Beacon Hill Loop) was recommended by the City Council Committee of the Whole in order to cut down on night-time parties and on vandalism costing the City thousands of dollars annually. The plan would close the road from dusk to dawn. (Times Colonist, March 30, 1991, B 13)
“Beacon Hill Park Study” proposals discussed
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission voted in September to maintain the Checkers Pavilion and agreed to prohibit sales in the Park. Still under discussion were the changes recommended in the 1990 “Beacon Hill Park Study” for the aviary, the children’s playground and the wading pool.
The report suggested locating a new aviary between the main parking lot and the children’s zoo, but Commission member Paul Best was against any aviary: “If it is a place to incarcerate exotic birds, we shouldn’t have it.” He suggested bird watching “rather than caging up the little fellows and putting them on display.” Arne McRadu, Manager of Parks Design and Development, said the old aviary was too small, in the shade and not healthy for the birds. A climate-controlled aviary could cost $100,000.
The report suggested replacing the Kiwanis wading pool with a water spray facility located near the new playground. McRadu said, “Wading pools are really going out like the dinosaurs. Water sits in it. It does not circulate. It is an old, antiquated system.” Water in the pool was periodically replaced, but it had no filtration system. Parks Superintendent Don Anderson said if the pool was used heavily, staff sprinkled in chlorine kept in an old coffee can. Commission member John Adams said the wading pool was popular and should be saved. Betty Gibbens, a Commission member, said dogs go in the wading pool and it was not hygienic.
Gibbens called for more discussion on the children’s playground. Anne Fletcher, member of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park and a Commission member, agreed playground plans had not been fully debated. (Times Colonist, September 12, 1991, p. B 12)
Parks Chairman Ald. Alastair Craighead invited the public to an open house at City Hall in November where displays explaining proposals for changes in Beacon Hill Park would be on view. The public was asked to respond with written comments on forms provided or to attend the discussion session directed by hired facilitators. Staff would summarize comments received from the public for the Parks and Recreation Commission to examine before making recommendations. Ruth Smith, Community Development Coordinator said, “If people like the Park the way it is, then let us know.” (Times Colonist, November 9, 1991, B 17)
The Open House was well attended and more than 100 written submissions were received. Speaking with the media after the public meeting, Jim Jaarsma, Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said two opposing perspectives on the impact of special events emerged during the day. One side focused on damage caused in 1991 to native plants during cross-country meets and the large organized picnic, while others claimed the Park was not permanently affected. Jaarsma said experts were needed to assess the impacts and determine how to minimize detrimental effects on natural areas. (Times Colonist, November 17, 1991, p. A 3)
Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw, Emeritus Curator of Botany at the Royal British Columbia Museum and foremost expert on the flora of Beacon Hill Park, responded immediately. In a short paper written after the Open House, Dr. Brayshaw noted the Great Canadian Picnic brought 20,000 human feet to trample the Park meadow during a vulnerable period on July 1. He explained the cumulative effects over time of the compaction of soil was a major reason Camas and other rare native plants were disappearing:
...much of the damage is not through direct injury to the plants, but is indirect, through effects on the soil. Especially in Winter, compaction of the water-softened soil overlying the Camass bulbs by sustained or repeated trampling interferes with its drainage, aeration and insulating capability.
What we see here is the total effect of the human impact over the years. Each successive event makes its little contribution toward the cumulative total impact. The numbers of people attending events appear to increase year by year; till now it has become visually evident that the limit on the rate with which the Camass community can regenerate and repair the injury has been surpassed by the rate of wear and tear to which it is subjected.
A line has been crossed, at which a limit should have been placed on the number or size of the events to be held on that ground in any year... (T. C. Brayshaw, “A Belated Remark on the Public Meeting on Beacon Hill Park on 16/November,” 1991)
“Take Back the Night” march up Beacon Hill
The annual “Take Back the Night” march took a new route in 1991. For the first time, the march went through Beacon Hill Park and up to the hilltop. Organizer Marianne Alto of the Victoria Status of Women Action Group said:
We want to make a powerful statement by taking back Beacon Hill Park, which has been taken away from us by society’s violence against women. Women do not go into Beacon Hill Park after dark because they do not feel safe. We are going to go in as a group and say it’s safe tonight. (Times Colonist, September 17, 1991, B 1)
Southeast Woods native plant restoration continued
When Girl Guides, ages 9 -12, returned in April, 1991 to check the progress of the previous year’s planting efforts, most species except fir seedlings were thriving. Guide leader Agnes Lynn said the firs were probably trampled during heavy winter snows. The blackberries, however, were “going crazy.” The Guides began pulling out dandelions, ivy, holly seedlings and wall lettuce in June, then planted Oregon grape, blackberries, lady and sword ferns, starflowers, twinflowers, and firs. The twenty-five girls working on guide conservation and ecology badges continued planting even during November rains. (Times Colonist, September 18, 1991, B 1)
Children’s zoo operator proposed upgrade
Petting zoo operator Dennis Koender proposed a $50,000 upgrade for the farmyard. One of the areas needing improvement was the pig barn: “The existing pig barn is in poor repair and not esthetically pleasing.” He wanted to build a new pig barn the same size at the same location, but said the new building would blend in more with the rest of the farmyard. As well, Koenders said the rabbit hutches were a “disgrace. They provide little or no shelter, no access to the public and should be removed.” Koenders wanted a new small animal enclosure for rabbits and birds in a petting area and a new fully enclosed aviary. Koenders anticipated a fourteen week construction period. The improvements would be paid for with a $22,000 bequest, $1,000 from the Cordova Bay Kiwanis Club, about $20,000 from a federal unemployment insurance work program, and another $10,000 from the City. Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission agreed in principle but voted to ask for public input. Ald. Alastair Craighead, Parks Chairman, said the farmyard was appreciated by many and they received few criticisms. (Times Colonist, November 9, 1991, B 17)
In December, Council gave approval for the upgrade plans for the new pig barn, a new enclosure for domestic fowl and new rabbit hutches. The upgrading did not include expansion. (Times Colonist, December 4, 1991, P. B 10)
Botanist advocated exotic pines and elms be removed
In order to preserve the superb views from Beacon Hill, botanist Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw advocated “the elimination of all non-native trees and shrubs that have been planted on Beacon Hill in the past twenty years.”
In an unpublished paper titled “Beacon Hill Park--Concerns of a User,” dated October, 1991, Dr. Brayshaw said the Park Department should correct mistakes of the past by removing hundreds of exotic pines and elms. He wrote that instead of appreciating the natural beauty of Beacon Hill “as a viewpoint and as a natural flower garden,” past actions of the Park Department indicate an active effort to eliminate native plants:
The Department’s policy...appears to be to eliminate the native flora and replace it with an exotic one and to spoil Beacon Hill itself, both as a viewpoint and as a natural flower garden. There appears, too, to be an obsession with the planting up of open space with exotic trees (mostly pines and elms) and herbaceous plants, especially Narcissus (including Daffodils). This policy, combined with the mowing of the wild native flowers before they can ripen and shed their seeds, can only lead to the eventual extinction of the native flora. (Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw, “Beacon Hill Park--Concerns of a User,” October, 1991, p. 2)
Brayshaw asked, “Why do we need a thousand pines?” Pines were an environmental disaster for the Hill and blocked views as well. He explained the drastic consequences for native plants when pines are planted:
As their canopy closes, and their needle litter accumulates and acidifies the soil, the Camass and other native flowers, deprived of the sunlight they require in early Spring, die out beneath them.
Another species planted by the Parks Department--exotic elms--dominated the seaside cliffs and blocked more ocean views. "Tall-growing exotic pines and elms...will not shape themselves to the wind, as do the native oaks, but will grow up to shut out the view." Dr. Brayshaw called exotic elms, which grow in dense thickets of suckers along the cliffs, a “weed infestation problem” and a “time-bomb.”
[They will soon] dominate the seaward slopes between the south end of Douglas Street and Finlayson Point. By that time, they will shut out the view of the sea from the ground behind them. I believe this elm infestation is already out of control. This object lesson is in plain view from Beacon Hill...
Unless the current policy of encroachment on the natural scene is reversed, Beacon Hill is destined to become a gloomy pine and elm plantation. The present extensive view will be lost; and the colourful display of spring flowers that decorates the hill today will be extirpated... (Brayshaw, “Beacon Hill Park--Concerns of a User,” October, 1991, p. 4)
Great Canadian Family Picnic
Several groups and individuals worked to convince City Council to relocate the 1992 Great Canadian Family Picnic, scheduled to take place on Beacon Hill Park meadows for the second year.
Anne Fletcher, representing the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, asked Council to move the Picnic to a park without sensitive native plant areas. The Friends position was that no large scale events should be allowed on “the natural areas of native grassland and meadow flowers along the hill of Beacon Hill Park” because large crowds trampled and compacted the soil and damaged native plants. A. Worthington, representing the James Bay Neighborhood Environment Committee, told City Council: “We do not want our park trampled on and we do not want any commercialism in Beacon Hill Park whatsoever.” Former Alderman Jan Greenwood opposed the picnic, saying: “I think the damage to the park could be and probably will be quite considerable.” Mayor David Turner opposed approving the picnic location on the meadow until the environmental impact was determined. He advocated the Picnic be held on the south side of Dallas Road.
Voting in favour of holding the Picnic on the south slope of Beacon Hill were: Aldermen Alastair Craighead, Helen Hughes, Martin Segger, Alan Lowe, Geoff Young and Bob Cross. Segger said the slope was historically a meeting place for Victorians and that community values rated higher than natural values of the area.
Interviewed after the defeat, Friends leader Helen Oldershaw said native flowers blooming on the slope of the Hill--such as the rare purple and white Brodiaea coronaria--would be trampled before they can seed.
They are really allowing our natural heritage to go down the tube, to go the way of the dodo and the carrier pigeon. These Garry oak meadows are unique in Canada. (Times Colonist, June 13, 1992, D 1)
In his “Report to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission,” January 24, 1993, organizer Chris Coleman proudly noted Picnic attendance had doubled. “Between 10,000 to 15,000" people congregated on Park meadows in 1992.
First Annual Camas Day
The first annual Camas Day was held on Beacon Hill on April 25, 1992, sponsored jointly by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society and the Victoria Natural History Society. Displays describing the natural and cultural history of the Park and its ecosystems were set up near the flagpole and experts conducted walks focusing on native plants, birds and archaeology.
Camas Day was organized to promote understanding of natural features of the park and to educate people about the damage done to native plants when large events were held on Garry oak meadows. The Great Canadian Family Picnic had damaged Park meadows the year before and another Picnic was scheduled to be staged on the south slope of the Hill. Helen Oldershaw, reporting on Camas Day in the Victoria Naturalist, wrote:
About two hundred and fifty people took part in the walks, with over thirty volunteers helping out. They reminded people not to stray off the paths... Most people do not realize that a wildflower meadow...is not the same as a farm pasture and is definitely not a lawn.
Environmentalists no longer naively make the assumption that the plants and animals in a park, particularly in an urban setting, are automatically protected. Poor management practices, arising out of ignorance of, and an insensitivity to, the native flora and fauna, along with increasing pressure to hold large-scale organized activities in natural areas, put them very much at risk. (Victoria Naturalist, September-October, Vol. 49.2, 1992, p. 8-9)
[Camas Day became an annual event, held each spring when wildflowers bloomed on the Hill and adjacent areas. Remarkably, three experts who led walks in 1992 were still participating in 2004, the 13th Annual Camas Day. Dr. Adolf Ceska and Dr. Chris Brayshaw led native plant walks each year while Dr. Grant Keddie described aboriginal sites and history of the area.]
Early grass mowing
Fire Department concerns about the fire hazard posed by dry grass prompted early mowing of grass in the Park. Grass was clipped to a height of 15 to 20 centimetres (six to eight inches). The Parks Department claimed that height would protect blooming and seeding wildflowers. Seven areas were not cut, but crews mowed Beacon Hill and near the totem pole. (Times Colonist, June 26, 1992, A 6)
New children’s playground plans
A $250,000 modern playground was proposed to replace old equipment in Beacon Hill Park. Arne McRadu, Manager of Parks Design and Development, explained a change in the philosophy of playground design involved making the playground “a social place so mothers can congregate and meet while children play.” Four water jets would be activated in warm months. “Sitting walls” and raised lawn and sand areas were planned to be accessible to wheelchairs. Two wooden open-sided structures planned for the east side of the playground had an historical connection, McRadu said: “These were based upon some photographs we found of the old bandstands that were originally in Beacon Hill Park. So we are creating a historical element back into the Park which had been lost.” (Times Colonist, February 15, 1992, C 8)
The City was contributing $150,000 to the playground while the Cosmopolitan Club would attempt raising $100,000. By April, playground plans were scaled down to $140,000 and the playground was expected to be completed by mid-summer. (Times Colonist, April 29, 1992, D 13)
Children’s Petting Farm horse
A registered miniature horse named Shawna and her two-week-old filly arrived at the Children’s Petting Farm. The ten-year-old mare, who stood just 77 centimetres tall, was purchased for $5,000. Private businessman Dennis Koenders, manager of the farm, said he could not afford to buy the filly, and she would be returned after the summer. “The mother is to be rebred, so hopefully we will have another little baby here next year,” Koenders said. (Times Colonist, May 15, 1992, B 1)
Aboriginal defensive site examined
A 1,000 year old aboriginal defensive site on Finlayson Point was examined by Grant Keddie, Royal B. C. Curator of archaeology in October:
We have now located the edge of the embankment of the trench, which was filled in by Europeans in the 1800's. Other parts of the site out on the point are still intact. The site was occupied in patches, with some houses distant from others. Some disease came and all the people were found dead in their homes [within the last 200 years]. It could have been the Spanish smallpox epidemic of 1775, but we don’t know.
Keddie took the opportunity presented by sidewalk repairs on the site to dig and establish the defensive site boundaries. Previous carbon dating had confirmed the site was occupied 1,000 years ago and up until 700 years ago. An unanswered question was whether it was a seasonal encampment or a full-time village. There were shell middens and house remains, as well as post holes for house foundations on Finlayson Point. (Times Colonist, October 2, 1992, B 1)
Long Term Policies adopted
A report titled “Long Term Policies for Beacon Hill Park” was revised and passed by Victoria City Council December 10, 1992. The issues included in this document, which was first presented by the Advisory Parks and Recreation Commission in 1987, had been discussed for five years. The 1992 set of policies, agreed to after so much time and energy, were almost completely ignored afterward. City Councils tackled the identical issues afresh each year without reference to previous findings.
Strong language in the 1992 policies advocating protection of the more natural areas of the Park was repeated in other reports but still not acted upon. In 2004, the Heritage Landscape Management Plan quoted these word from the 1992 report: “Natural resources shall be protected...; The percentage of natural woodland and grassland should not be diminished...; thickets of introduced species...[e.g.] broom and blackberries should be removed.” However, broom, blackberries, gorse, ivy and elm continue to spread and Park staff continues damaging meadows on a daily basis.
The vandalism repair cost for Beacon Hill Park in 1992 was $2,533.28. (“Park Divisions Annual Report 1994," Parks Office, 300 Cook St.)
Great Canadian Family Picnic relocated
Chris Coleman, President of the Great Canadian Family Picnic Society, presented plans for the third annual July 1 Canada Day celebration in January. The planned location was once again the south slope of Beacon Hill. Coleman said the Hill was “wide-open space” and the “natural amphitheatre under the Beacon Hill lookout..makes a natural location for events of this type.” In addition to a performance stage, circus tent and booths, the expanded plan included a performance by the Victoria Symphony Society. Coleman said the Symphony “clearly indicated that their involvement is contingent upon the use of the Dallas Road amphitheatre as the natural backdrop to this performance.” (Coleman, “Report to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission,” January 24, 1993)
In a February letter to City Council, The Friends of Beacon Hill Park opposed the meadow location and requested the Great Canadian Family Picnic be moved to a sports field or cultivated area. They explained that large scale events destroy wildflowers and grasses and compact the soil. The south slope of Beacon Hill was not an appropriate venue, the Friends said, because it was “a rare and endangered ecosystem,” one of the few Garry Oak/camas ecosystems left in the region.
Holding large-scale events on these ecosystems allows non-native species to invade disturbed areas, to increase in number, and to become dominant. Every year the crowd attending this event increases. In 1992, the crowd could not be contained within the area specified by the Parks Department, and the entire south side of the hill was used. Fencing individual plants for protection from trampling by a large crowd will not protect the Garry oak/Camas ecosystem. We ask that City Council protect this rare and endangered ecosystem by relocating this large-scale event to another site.” (Letter to City Council, Feb. 25, 1993, Friends of Beacon Hill Park files)
Superintendent of Parks Don Anderson claimed the event could be held without causing irreparable damage. He said sensitive areas would be roped off and a slicer would cut into the ground afterward to help combat soil compaction. The Friends stated that native plants--including Camas--have declined over time due to heavy human use. At issue, they said, was long-term, cumulative negative effects from trampling.
The Friends presented a report written by Dr. Brian Holl, Department of Plant Science at the University of Victoria. Holl wrote that native vegetation was much more susceptible to damage by trampling than cultivated turf and there was no reliable “safe period” for holding a large public events on the Park’s meadows because of variable weather, soil and plant growth. He pointed to the long-term effects:
Short term visual evaluation of the response to wear may not reflect long-term detrimental impacts to the native population. Cumulative impacts are an issue to be considered for such sites.
Council decided in May to move stages, booths and all attractions to the south side of Dallas Road, setting up nothing on the hillside. The Victoria Symphony decided not to participate; organizers expected a crowd of 10,000 instead of 20,000. (Times Colonist, May 13, 1993, D 16)
In an editorial titled “Park’s wild flowers, why take the risk?” the writer pointed out the fundamental issue: “How to resolve conflict between human activity and areas of natural environment? When does public use of a park for recreation and enjoyment become public abuse?” The editorial noted Ald. Martin Segger’s opinion that the Friends had not proved such events damage the park’s native plants but pointed out “there seems to be plenty of room for doubt and uncertainty...” The Parks Department conceded there had never been a detailed inventory of native plants. The writer quoted Dr. Holl’s paper and concluded:
Beacon Hill Park is already a victim of its own popularity, receiving considerable wear and tear even under normal circumstances. It’s surely naive to think that 10,000 people roaming and playing in the park’s most important natural area for nine hours on Canada Day can do so without inflicting more damage. (Times Colonist, May 15, 1993, A 6)
Off-leash dog controversy at Finlayson Point
Dog owners were up in arms when Council passed a new dog leash bylaw affecting the Dallas Road cliff walk below Beacon Hill. After an attack by two pit bulls, Council decided dogs must be on a leash at all times in the City when they are off their owner’s property. The bylaw included the south side of Dallas Road and Clover Point, an area where dogs had been allowed to run free.
S. M. Scott, in a letter to the Times Colonist, said he had been walking his dogs along Dallas Road for 12 years with no problem. He was appalled at “public hysteria over a certain breed of dog” led to the withdrawal of off-leash privileges in the Finlayson Point area. Scott called on all dog owners to write City Council. (Times Colonist, January 27, 1993, A 4)
SPCA Executive Director Lynn West called on Council to reconsider and allow dogs off-leash in the Dallas Road area. “It is important for people in Victoria to have some place to take their animal to provide some exercise and some fun. Even something as simple as chasing a ball, you can’t do that when your dog is on a leash.”
Victoria dog owner Sandra Fleck urged City Council to rescind the leash law. She believed leashes should not be required along the south side of Dallas Road or on the south slope of Beacon Hill. She said, approvingly: “They chase the surf birds down the beach.” David Linhart said “It’s cruel to own a dog and not let it run and exercise. Dogs are meant to run and play.” He thought dogs should be on leashes only in busy areas and if they were aggressive. Not all dog owners agreed. Grant Shepherd thought leashes should be required and it would protect his dogs. “I’ve seen some pretty nasty dog fights down there.”
Ald. Helen Hughes supported the off-leash advocates and recommended a change in the bylaw. (Times Colonist, February 4, 1993, B 1) After a large turnout of dog owners, Council planned to rescind the leash law for the Dallas Road area. (Times Colonist, February 5, 1993, B 1) In March, Council adopted new rules permitting dogs without leashes on the south side of Dallas Road and around Clover Point throughout the year, provided a “competent person” was nearby. (Times Colonist, March 6, 1993, A 3)
The off-leash dog issue heated up again in September when a jogger was injured by a loose dog. A large dog, running hard and looking over his shoulder at two other dogs, blind-sided Peter Davis, a James Bay resident jogging along a Dallas Road path. Davis was knocked to the ground, breaking a wrist, a leg and damaging rib cartilage. “The dog hit me square on the side of my knee. It was like a clean football tackle.” Davis said, if the dog had hit an elderly person or a child, “he would have been toast...The safety of the citizens should take precedence over the right to let your animals run free.” (Times Colonist, September 18, 1993, A 1)
Reporter Judith Lavoie presented the pro-dog side of the issue in an article October 1. Dog owners told her that Dallas Road was the only place dogs were allowed to run free and if joggers were nervous about dogs, they should run elsewhere. SPCA Executive Director Lynn West, whose organization was responsible for enforcing the City’s animal control bylaw, said joggers were getting aggressive and intolerant. “I’m beginning to think the dogs are not the problem. Maybe it would be easier all round if people chose to jog in the areas where dogs aren’t.” (Times Colonist, October 1, 1993, B 1)
Renate Melton was quoted at length in the article, claiming she was verbally intimated by a male jogger who didn’t like her hefty 110 pound dog running free. “He used a lot of swear words...saying my dog should be on a leash.” The jogger indignantly responded in a letter to the editor October 10. Ron Forbes-Roberts presented a different perspective:
The dog charged at me broadside and, in the dark, I did not see it until it was almost against my legs. I tried to go around the animal several times but each time it lunged at me and continued to block my way. I demanded [Melton] restrain her dog. Finally she called the animal but it did not respond and she was forced to grab its collar and pull it away. I told her that if she could not control her dog, it should be leashed.
The answer to this problem is quite simple. If your dog is well-behaved and under your control, by all means let it run free. If your dog is like Melton’s, beyond verbal command and untrained, keep it on a leash while on public land. (Times Colonist, October 10, 1993, A 4)
Peter Davis, the jogger injured by a large dog on September 12, appeared before City Council with a cast from ankle to thigh and hobbling on a cane. He asked Council to stop dogs running at large along the waterfront. Davis said:
The bylaw says the animal has to be under effective control of a competent person. It defies logic that an animal can be under competent control when it is off the leash. The enforcement of this bylaw is non-existent. In the three years I have been here, I don’t recall ever seeing an SPCA officer there. The SPCA is more interested in looking after the animal rights issue than enforcing the bylaw. I believe the parks system should be for people, not for animals. Animals should be kept on a leash. (Times Colonist, October 8, 1993, p. D 14)
A new group called “Women Who Walk With Dogs” was formed in October by Claude Louise Normand because of “aggressive joggers” and potential attackers along Dallas Road. Morning and evening group walks were scheduled. Normand said the walks were a “mini-Take Back the Park march on a daily basis”:
In the past few months many incidents of sex crimes have been reported in that area and the latest hype about dogs endangering joggers has led to some intimidation by male joggers of women accompanied by their dogs... I think we make an impressive crowd which would deter many potential attackers. (Times Colonist, October 17, 1993, A 3)
Council continued to allow off-leash dogs along Dallas Road. As the only off-leash area in the City and one of the few in the region, Finlayson Point became the meeting place for the City's 15,000 dogs and owners plus visiting dogs and owners from nearby muncipalities. Overuse transformed the luxuriant camas meadow of Finlayson Point into dirt, weeds and mud by 1998. (See 1998 for photos)
Mink in the Park
A mink chased two rats down the cliff at Finlayson Point toward the beach on July 18. The mink caught the slower rat, there was a struggle and loud squeals from the rat. Finally, the mink carried and dragged the dead rat up the cliff and disappeared under beach pea plants. (Personal observation)
Bald Eagle nest
Bald Eagles nested in Beacon Hill Park in 1993. One chick was observed out of the nest on July 12. (Personal observation) See 1997 for next eagle nest report.
The vandalism repair cost for Beacon Hill Park in 1993 was $1,018.95. (“Park Divisions Annual Report 1994", Parks Office, 300 Cook St.)
Advertising banners in the Park... yes, no, yes
A request from the cricket club to allow corporate advertising banners in Beacon Hill Park during the “International Six-a-Side Cricket Festival” once again raised the issue of commercialism in the Park.
The City Council’s Committee of the Whole recommended each event sponsor be permitted to put up two banners up to one metre by three metres, to be displayed for the duration of an event. Reporter Carla Wilson noted, “The City is considering this move even though allowing corporate signs conflicts with its 1992 long-term policies for the park.”
Helen Oldershaw, Friends of Beacon Hill Park treasurer, said: “This has always been a concern. We do not think there should be any advertising in the park at all. There are ways to thank sponsors other than putting up signs.” Betty Gibbens stated that corporation advertising would violate the Park Trust and Justice Begbie’s 1884 decision. If the City allowed advertising banners, it should be challenged in court. “If I had the money I would...Beautiful Beacon Hill Park is special. It must be passed to future generations free from commercial exploitation.”
Though he acknowledged banners could detract from the Park’s serenity, Parks Superintendent Don Anderson supported advertising: “Funding from commercial sponsorship would help local organizations plan for and attract more national and international events to the city bringing in additional tourist dollars to the local economy.” (Times Colonist, March 26, 1994, p. B 3)
A Times Colonist editorial opposed allowing advertising:
Advertising in one form or another surrounds us, bombards us, permeates virtually every aspect of our lives...The Friends of Beacon Hill Park are understandably offended by [advertising in the Park] and their outrage should be shared by all residents.
...There’s an important principle involved here--that urban parks are, or should be, special places of beauty, serenity, and refuge from the clamor and stress of everyday life. Commercial signs don’t belong in parks, period...(Times Colonist, March 29, 1994, A 4)
In April, Council voted against allowing advertising banners in Beacon Hill Park. “Let’s keep Beacon Hill Park the way it is,” Ald. Jane Lunt said. Ald. Laura Acton agreed: “Victoria cannot afford to open the door even a little by allowing corporate advertising in the Park.” (Times Colonist, April 16, 1994, B 4)
In May, a letter to the editor from Betty Gibbens alerted the public to yet another Council vote on advertising in the Park. This time, organizers of the Great Canadian Family Picnic (GCFP) wanted Park policy changed to permit sponsor advertising. Gibbens wrote:
GCFP is a show-biz event designed primarily to raise bucks from food concessions, not a genuine picnic. Organizers ought to set up shop elsewhere. The deterioration of lovely Beacon Hill Park is becoming increasingly evident. Grass verges that once were attractive are reduced to gravel, resulting from thousands of vehicles parking on them, effectively destroying and reducing park space. (Times Colonist, May 11, 1994, A 4)
Council gave permission for commercial advertising at both the picnic and the cricket club. Helen Oldershaw summarized the process:
The motion to allow corporate sponsors to display advertising banners at events in the Park was defeated by one vote the first time it was asked for by the Cricket Club. Almost exactly a month later, the Great Canadian Picnic Society requested the same thing and received permission. Shortly after this, the Cricket Club returned to Council with their original proposal, and were granted the go-ahead...How often can we keep going back to Council about the same issue? Isn’t it time City Council adhered to the terms of the original Trust? (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, August, 1994)
Council reconsiders vote to demolish Lookout Shelter
In a five to four decision, Council’s Committee of the Whole voted to tear down the decrepit Lookout Shelter on the top of Beacon Hill. Staff had recently propped up the building, which was in danger of collapse. “It’s dangerous the way it is,” Parks and Recreation Director John Plantinga said. The other alternative considered was spending $50,000 to convert it into a wind shelter, taking out the walls and leaving the struts to support the roof. Ald. Geoff Young voted for the demolition. He said:
The building is a monument to the indecision of councils and the unwillingness of council to make decisions that are unpopular with any group. It would be irresponsible for us to spend $50,000 on this building. It serves no function.
Ald. Alan Lowe agreed: “We shouldn’t be pouring money into a structure which is going to cause us more headaches than it is worth.”
Pamela Madoff was in favour of saving the building. She said the shrubs planted around the building were a mistake and blocked the view. “Of course no one uses it. They can’t see the views.” David McLean thought it should be kept as a shelter. “We are making a mistake by taking it out of there before we get a chance for it to be used.” (Times Colonist, June 12, 1994, D 13)
By October, Council backed off from the June decision and once again, the old Checkers Pavilion/Lookout Shelter was to be saved. Council sent the issue back to the Parks Advisory Commission to examine options and Council approved $7,500 to carry out remedial work on the building. Councilman David McLean said he “begged and whined” to persuade other Council members to reverse the demolition. “I’d like to save the roof line...It’s part of our community look. Right now the building just needs to be stabilized.”
Chris Coleman, co-chairman of the Parks Advisory Commission, said plans were to have an open house at the pavilion in January and discuss its future. He thought the building could be used as part of an interpretative program. (Times Colonist, October 27, 1994, p. C 7)
Friends of Beacon Hill Park reported successes
Helen Oldershaw, Director of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, reported two successes in the August Newsletter:
Due to pressure from our group, the Great Canadian Picnic, held annually on July 1, has retreated from the South Meadow of Beacon Hill. After many meetings with the Parks Department and Council, Anne Fletcher and myself, with clout from lawyers Tim Leadem and Marlene Tyshnski (Westcoast Environmental Fund), either convinced them that it was their legal duty to protect the park, or were enough of a nuisance, to be successful in our efforts.
Two years of later mowing has probably caused the reappearance of the native Rein-Orchid (Platanthera unalascensis). One was recorded in 1990 and then disappeared. A good number have reappeared this year. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, September, 1994)
Horseshoe Bay rock berm disaster
The City of Victoria dumped tonnes of rocks and boulders on the unique little bay below Beacon Hill and west of Finlayson Point, obliterating one of the few sandy beaches in the region. (See 2004 photo above.)
Irate residents knew it was a big mistake and alerted federal Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans officials. Susan Scott, who had been swimming in the cove for fourteen years, said residents warned City Hall:
It’s destroyed the tide pools completely. It was a lovely sandy beach, pretty well the only one we had. It was my favorite beach, much used and much loved by the public. Now, nobody visits. It’s just totally deserted.
The City was responsible for the beach above the high-water mark, but tidal areas below that mark were the responsibility of the provincial Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks and the federal Fisheries. When federal biologists determined the berm extended below the high-water mark, they ordered work stopped. "Federal biologists determined the berm threatens the area’s fragile marine ecosystem--and the federal department of fisheries and oceans has issued a stop-work order,” the Vancouver Sun reported. City work crews were required to remove all rock dumped below the high-water mark. Rock on the beach above that line remained.
The rock berm was part of a $175,000 project which was supposed to halt cliff erosion. City Engineer Clive Timms said rock fills were effective because they acted like submerged offshore reefs, breaking up large waves so the waves don’t undermine the cliffs. Tills said voters approved the project two years before. The Shoreline Conservation Group said the referendum wording was vague and did not specify the work involved. (Vancouver Sun, August 2, 1994)
Friends of Beacon Hill Park Director Helen Oldershaw attended an information meeting on the berm, at which three proposals were offered: complete the berm as designed, return the beach to its former condition or scale back the design to minimum protection. Oldershaw concluded:
There had not been sufficient study done on the rate of erosion to warrant the action taken. Consideration seemed only for the walkers above the beach, none for the people who love the beach as a natural environment for a multitude of essential creatures who make up the native ecosystems of the area. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, September, 1994)
As later reports showed, City engineers were mistaken in believing wave action caused the cliff erosion and that the problem could be solved by dumping boulders on the beach. In an article titled “Sea Shore Erosion,” Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw explained erosion occurred because of excessive ground water in the cliffs above, a very different problem requiring a different solution:
The sea was thought to be responsible for the slope erosion. However, an artificial berm built on the beach in Horseshoe Bay, while protecting the base of the slope from wave impact, did not stop the erosion of the slopes above.
That erosion stemmed mainly from a ponding of run-off water from Beacon Hill in a depression behind Finlayson Point, whence the water found its way to the shore via the clay subsoil, which became saturated and semi-fluid; hence the instability and slumping of the seaward slopes. The recent extension of the storm drain system through the upland area behind these seaward slopes has led to a drying out and stiffening of the subsoil as its main source of water has been channeled away; as to stabilization of the slopes, where slumping has ceased, the once-bared slopes have become revegetated. (Brayshaw, “Sea Shore Erosion,”Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, August 2000, p. 4-5)
In 2001, in a report commissioned by the City, AXYS Environmental Consulting agreed with Brayshaw’s assessment:
Bluff recession was attributed primarily to mass movement slope transport processes (e.g. shallow slides, mudflows and gully processes)--all of which are associated with increased groundwater levels. Marine erosion processes were considered a much less important contributor to slope erosion... (“State of the Environment,” Beacon Hill Park Management Plan Phase 1, July 2001)
The entire operation was an unnecessary disaster focusing on the wrong problem. In 2004, the sandy beach is covered by the rock berm; walking is difficult on such large rocks so most people avoid the beach.
The Queen unveiled plaque
In August, Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Commonwealth Games at the University of Victoria in view of more than 34,000 spectators and an estimated 300 million television watchers around the world. Several days later, the Queen visited Beacon Hill Park, riding in the same red-leather seat 1952 Chrysler convertible used 43 years before when she visited Calgary. She viewed the bronze bust mounted at the southeast corner of Queen’s Lake at Circle Drive and Bridge Way--shined up for the occasion--and unveiled a new plaque. Then it was on to lunch at the Empress Hotel. (Times Colonist, August 19, 1994, A 1 & B 1)
Plant Mapping project
In 1994, the Friends of Beacon Hill Park and the Parks Department embarked on a joint project to map native plants in the Park. Accurate information was needed in order to draw up a management plan including mowing times, broom pulling work and protection for important areas. Helen Oldershaw and Chris Brayshaw led the inventory and mapping of native plants assisted by eleven adults and ten Girl Guides under the direction of Agnes Lynn. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, October, 1995) [Comprehensive lists of Park plants created by Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw are included in the State of the Environment booklet, July 2001. Mapping was completed in 2004 by Adolf and Olana Ceska.]
Volunteer patrol to deter “gay-bashing”
A volunteer group of five or six unarmed people planned to patrol Beacon Hill Park’s “dark areas in the evenings,” Councillor Helen Hughes told the Times Colonist. Hughes said the patrol was to deter “gay-bashing.” Hughes said muggings and beatings were common but victims were reluctant to report assaults to police. She saw nothing wrong with a private patrol: “It’s something that groups are going to have to think about because the police cannot be everywhere.”
Coun. David McLean did not agree: “I have a real problem with vigilantes and I think that should be a responsibility of our police and Neighbourhood Watch, which is the eyes and ears of police.” Hughes and her unnamed gay informant were in favour of additional lighting in the Park, but McLean said that would be expensive and raised the question of whether the City wanted the Park illuminated.
Police Sgt. Bob MacDonald was not aware of any recent reports of “gay bashing.” He questioned how the volunteer group could patrol an area in which people go to seek privacy. “It sounds like trouble to me.” MacDonald told reporter Carla Wilson the area near the Park’s tall totem pole was advertised in international gay magazines as a place to meet. (Times Colonist, November 18, 1994, A 1)
In December, Jeff Petit told the newspaper he helped organize the Victoria Community Foot Patrol after he was attacked by a group of teens: “They were kicking me and saying ‘Faggot’!” Petit said attackers were usually male teenagers or men in their early 20's who drove cars to the Park. He said most nights, a small group walked the Park wearing flourescent yellow arm bands, carrying flashlights and whistles. Sometimes as many as 16 volunteers were on patrol. If any volunteers witnessed an attack, they would try to “step in and try to end it really quickly.” It was important that people in the Park “will know that someone will hear them.” He reported no trouble during recent patrols.
Posters distributed around Victoria described the Foot Patrol as “a group of concerned citizens who simply walk the park after dark. We are not seeking confrontation, only deterrence through a safe presence.” Petit said that police drive through the Park but do not go into the more secluded areas. He would like to see police bike patrols added. “We are not trying to be police officers. We are just trying to lend a helping hand to the community.” (Times Colonist, December 6, 1994, B 1)
The vandalism repair cost for Beacon Hill Park in 1994 was $3,302.13. (“Park Divisions Annual Report 1994", Parks Office, 300 Cook St.)
Shoreline drainage project
In 1995, drain pipes were placed in trenches dug between Dallas Road and the cliff edge, east and west of Horseshoe Bay. According to a Times Colonist report, the trench was planned to be a metre deep except in the copse south of the totem pole. At that location, workers would go down more than three metres to get the right gradient for drainage. A six metre wide right of way would be cut through the trees and brush in the southeast corner of Beacon Hill Park.
Joe Daly, manager of park design and development, explained a $28,000 planting scheme using a variety of native shrubs would reinforce the sloping cliffs. He said invasive introduced species would be replaced by native species, removing gorse and broom where possible. A thousand plants each of native Nootka rose and snowberry would be planted as well as some red currant, ocean spray, mock orange, Saskatoon berry and Garry oak, according to Daly. He said the staircase down the middle of the cliff to Horseshoe Bay would be removed and the area planted. New stairs were to be built for public access to the beach. All work was to be completed in October. (Times Colonist, April 20, 1995, B 3)
Don’t feed ducks
Park Manager Yvan Caron announced he wanted to discourage ducks from living in Beacon Hill Park. In his opinion, ducks had given up migrating in order to live the easy life in the Park eating bread. He said resident ducks plus high numbers of migrating ducks spending the winter turned Goodacre Lake into a “mud bowl” and polluted it with feces. He claimed numbers of ducks increased every year. Caron said ducks got used to scary effigies and loud booms wouldn’t be acceptable in the City, so in order to get ducks to leave, he wanted to discourage people from feeding them.
Caron emphasized how unhealthy bread and popcorn was for ducks: “When you are feeding them bread, you are not doing them a favour really. That’s not part of the ducks diets. As a result, they become bloated and overweight and lethargic.” (Times Colonist, June 6, 1995, A 6)
A staff report suggested Council pass a bylaw banning the feeding of wildlife. Council chose instead to erect signs asking the public not to feed ducks. Reporter Carla Wilson wrote:
Feeding ducks in Beacon Hill Park is as much a local tradition as tea at the Empress. All ages, from toddlers to seniors, enjoy throwing bread and crusts to the always eager ducks. Any human--bearing bread or not--soon attracts an optimistic duck hoping for a handout. (Times Colonist, June 23, 1995, B1)
"Please do not feed wildlife" signs (see 2004 photo on the right) were erected next to duck feeding platforms constructed in 1984 to facilitate and encourage duck feeding. The signs were completely ignored in 1995 and continue to be ignored in 2004.
Lookout Shelter proposal
The Lookout Shelter (Checkers Pavilion) was partially boarded up in June, 1995 for safety reasons. The Sterling Men’s Community group offered to construct a new pavilion on the existing foundation that would meet municipal building code standards. They proposed a one-day construction event on September 16 similar to a traditional barn-raising. The completed structure would be celebrated with a dance that night. “We have a group of men here who are committed and have tons of energy, “ Rick Arbour said.
The $35,000 replica would be constructed at no cost to the City. Sterling Members would raise the money and provide materials and manpower. The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission unanimously endorsed the proposal. Coun. David McLean predicted City Council would approve it. (Times Colonist, June 16, 1995, B 4)
Anne Fletcher, speaking for the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, said the idea wasn’t practical because of continuing vandalism. A simple open shelter was all that was needed or practical. “You can’t simply just rebuild the building, you have to think of a use.” Any use that would require infrastructure such as washrooms would harm the environment. If a replica of the Checkers Pavilion were to be built, it should be built elsewhere, she said. (Times Colonist, June 17, 1995, p. B 8)
The Friends gave a presentation to City Council’s Committee of the Whole on June 22. Helen Oldershaw later summarized their three concerns:
1. Vandalism; 2. [the need for] “an Environmental Review Process to assess the potential damage to the Garry oak ecosystem of Beacon Hill during the construction phase, and later on if services such as Hydro are installed; and 3. No clear statement about the proposed use of the building and how much impact that will have on the environment. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, October 1995, p. 2)
By October, Oldershaw noted, “The project has come to a standstill.”
The Times Colonist reported Council sent the Sterling proposal to the James Bay and Fairfield Community Associations for consideration. The article proposed a new Lookout have a roof, a floor but no walls. The newspaper hoped the long debate could be settled with that compromise. “It’s hoped concerns about vandalism would be addressed by only having supports for the roof instead of an enclosed building. Non-native plants surrounding the building would be cut back too.” The article noted concerns from unions about volunteers putting up the building when city employees were laid off. (Times Colonist, October 21, 1995, B 6)
In November, two letters focused on a new Council decision. Betty Gibbens said Council had approved building a “gazebo” on Beacon Hill:
It would be a steel, windowless structure open at all sides to wind and rain, with a hard-top base considerably wider than the existing Lookout’s footprint...[It would be] better to demolish the Lookout and return the space to natural grass and trees. Close the road to vehicles. (Times Colonist, November 1, 1995, A 4)
Anne Fletcher, writing for the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, emphasized the importance of preserving the Garry oak ecosystem around the Lookout Shelter, which she said was the duty of the City according to the terms of the Park Trust. She called for an environmental review to be conducted, an essential step in preserving the rare ecosystem. The negligence in not including an environmental assessment in the process was “intolerable.” (Times Colonist, November 1, 1995, A 4)
Algae bloom in Goodacre Lake
An “unprecedented algae bloom” in Goodacre Lake produced a “gummy, green layer of surface goo” by August, according to the Times Colonist. Park workers were skimming algae out of the lake by hand. Park Supervisor Finn Anderson said the algae outbreak was larger than any he had seen in the Park before:
It’s the sort of problem that could become expensive, so we’re going to get some people from Environment Canada to look into it deeper for us. We’re concerned about it, but the turtles seem to like to sit on top of it and sun themselves.
Anderson thought hot weather and humidity were to blame. He said water circulation was not a factor because of the flow from Fountain Lake. He thought the depth of the water ranged from half a metre to five metres deep. (Times Colonist, August 19, 1995, p. B 1)
[Poor water quality continues in 2004 and overwhelming algae blooms occur every year. A variety of factors contribute to the problem. The only fresh water entering the system replaces evaporated water; water circulation is poor and does not include the entire system; the lake becomes shallower every year as sediment--which has not been dredged out for at least forty-four years--continues to build; water temperature increases as a result of decreasing depth, promoting algae growth. See 2002, 2003, 2004.]
Maintenance Yard removal discussed
Coun. Geoff Young told City Council that the Beacon Hill Park Maintenance Yard should be reduced not increased. He said the land was too precious to use for parks agricultural operations. They should be located outside of Victoria in a rural environment. He said just because the Maintenance Yard had been there a long time was not a good enough reason to continue. “As a Fairfield resident, I would put a very high value on having a true park in Beacon Hill Park rather than this agricultural operation.”
Betty Gibbens, long an advocate of removing the Maintenance Yard, clapped and called “At last!”
The Maintenance Yard included an assortment of buildings, some in poor repair. Coun. David McLean said, “It has grown and taken over more land.” Council supported a $26,000 study to examine redeveloping the site. (Times Colonist, November 7, 1995, C 8) [The “Long Term Policies for Beacon Hill Park,” passed by City Council in 1992, stated: “In the long term, maintenance facilities located in the Park should be limited to those required to service the needs of Beacon Hill Park only...(17.2) In the long term, if another location can be found for the Parks Department Maintenance Yard (outside of the Park), it would be desirable and appropriate to convert the existing infrastructure to community-oriented recreational uses.” (17.3)]
Allotment Gardens proposed
A Fairfield group expressed interest in establishing allotment gardens in Beacon Hill Park. The Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society opposed this on two grounds:
1. The Park is not a local community park - it was given to the City of Victoria by the Provincial Government in 1882 under terms of a special trust. 2. Parts of the Park keep being apportioned out to special interest groups, making the area for the general public to ‘get away from it all’ smaller and smaller. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter,” October 1995, p. 3-4)
After an exchange of letters and discussions with the Friends, the Fairfield group advocating allotment gardens in the Park agreed to drop the proposal. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, Spring 1997)
Restrictions on dogs in parks
“Best Paw Forward Dog Training” requested the use of a Victoria park for dog obedience classes. The Parks Advisory Committee recommended to City Council that classes be allowed in Topaz Park and along Dallas Road between Clover Point and Cook Street.
Parks staff opposed the plan. Parks Director John Plantinga told Council “We think it will cause a problem on Dallas Road between people who are already walking dogs and people training dogs.”
City Council decided commercial dog trainers should not teach classes in Victoria parks. Coun. Bob Friedland said: “Parks are for the people of Victoria and the people who are going to run commercial ventures need to acquire private land to do that.” (Times Colonist, May 5, 1995, B 3)
In November, SPCA Director Lynn West spoke out against a growing list of restrictions on dogs in Greater Victoria. Oak Bay Council had voted to exclude dogs from four parks; Saanich prohibited dogs from beaches in summer; the Capital Regional District required dogs to stay on trails and not to disturb animal or plant life by running into the woods. As other municipalities reduced off-leash dogs areas, the pressure on the Dallas Road walkway and Finlayson Point continued to increase.
“In Victoria, dogs legally can run freely in only one place, the grassy stretch along Dallas Road,” reporter Richard Watts wrote.
West complained municipal restrictions might force dogs out of the urban environment:
Some of the simple pleasures in life are disappearing...There is something nice about coming home and the dog is all happy to see you. ..These kinds of considerations have to come into play when politicians make decisions about dogs.
Oak Bay Coun. Peter Bunn said cities would be better places without dogs: “I don’t think dogs have a place in an urban environment.” Bunn thought the waterfront walk along Dallas Road was spoiled by dogs running loose, too many owners didn’t obey leash laws and dogs “pooped all over the place.” (Times Colonist, November 29, 1995, B 2)
Digital Park map
A 1995 City of Victoria Engineering and Planning digital map titled “Beacon Hill Park Surplus” stated the total area of Beacon Hill Park was “74.117 Hectares, 183.147 Acres.” The 1995 map overlaid the original 1859 coastal land contour map which showed a nonexistent bay extending north into Beacon Hill. The corrected 1995 contour line shows Finlayson Point, which was entirely missing from the 1859 map, extending south into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This survey correction added 29.393 acres to the south shore.
The 1995 digital map’s acreage total of 183.147 acres for Beacon Hill Park includes the section of Dallas Road within the Park plus four additional boundary roads--Douglas Street, Heywood Avenue, Park Boulevard and Southgate Street--built on Park land and still officially part of the Park.
Drainage project criticized
A letter to the Times Colonist warned “a massive drainage excavation project...490 metres long” would be excavated in the spring from Douglas Street to the tallest totem. Running parallel to Dallas Road, the one metre wide and four metre deep trench would cost $300,000 and take three months. Susan Scott explained the purpose was to halt the subsidence of the Dallas Road cliffs by diverting groundwater. She stated the Shoreline Advisory Committee recommended the plan be modified. Scott wrote:
This project is surely another in a series of hare-brained and expensive engineering disasters in our city. The first was the unnecessary and destructive stone berm at Horseshoe Bay...” (Times Colonist, January 21, 1996, F 5)
Children’s Petting Farm short of money
Donations at the "Beacon Hill Children’s Farm" dipped to $5,000 below normal while costs for grain ($400 a month) and other expenses climbed by the end of June, the Times Colonist reported. Linda Koenders, identified as the “Zoo Manager,” warned she might have to give away animals and raise the suggested donation fee.
“Our costs have increased and grain has gone up. We used to pay $2.50 a bale for hay--now it’s $5 and is likely going up to $6 soon," Koenders said. Poor weather had reduced visitors and staff--three full-time employees and thirty volunteers--discussed closing the farmyard. “I’m concerned about the future, about making it through this winter. We’re losing ground, but we still want to keep on doing this,” Koenders said. She told reporter Sandra McCulloch the farm depends entirely on donations to survive. (Times Colonist, June 26, 1996, B 1)
“Zoo lovers” responded with money donations. Buckerfield’s offered to donate half the petting farm’s grain if Koender purchased the remainder from the store. Pendray Farms offered to sell them 200 bales of hay for $3 each, down from the usual $5. Koenders said a farmer donated 20 hay bales. According to the newspaper, the City of Victoria provided hydro and security systems. The zoo paid food, salaries, veterinarian bills and maintenance from donations. (Times Colonist, July 2, 1996, B 4)
Algae fix for Goodacre Lake
City Council approved $30,000 for a machine to pump air into the water of Goodacre Lake in the hopes additional oxygen would discourage algae growth and allow natural bacteria to break down the sludge on the bottom. The Times Colonist wrote:
The lake is clay-bottomed and spring-fed...but it lacks a proper drainage mechanism and a method of removing the sludge. In the past, the problem has returned within days after the lake was partially drained and the sludge raked out. (Times Colonist, July 21, 1996, B 2)
Though newspaper reports consistently claimed the lake was “spring-fed,” no spring or river or creek--no fresh water--flows into the Lake naturally. It is an artificial, stagnant, shallowing lake. In 2002-2004, more aerators were added and active bacteria added. The algae bloom from May through July, 2004 was again spectacular.
Checkers Pavilion: to save or not to save?
David Breckon, in an article titled “The pavilion on the Hill: A 60-year-old trust betrayed,” criticized City Council for rejecting the 1995 offer of the Sterling men’s group to rebuild the Lookout Shelter. Breckon noted the 60th anniversary of the Checkers Pavilion had passed unnoticed. “Its disrepair is nothing less than a slap in the face.” (Times Colonist, July 26, 1996, A 5)
A letter written by Anne Fletcher, representing the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, said Breckon omitted an important consideration in promoting the rebuilding of the pavilion:
It is located within one of the rare Garry oak ecosystems in the park that we are working to restore. The building is not being used and must be demolished...As a compromise, we have recommended to City Council that it relocate the pavilion nearer to the park’s maintenance yard, where services such as lighting and sewer hookups exist. We would then use the building as an interpretative centre. We have also recommended an interpretative trail up the southeast ridge and low podium-style interpretative displays for the top of the Hill. (Times Colonist, August 9, 1996, A 4)
Gordon Friesen suggested two alternate ways to view the Lookout Shelter based on past history:
The colonists elected to disregard the Hill’s sanctity [by destroying 23 aboriginal burial cairns] and proceeded to punch a road through, lay asphalt and concrete, erect an imperial-sized flag spur and put up a building...One could view the building as Victoria’s mausoleum to a defunct empire, squandered common wealth and broken vision. Or one could view it as a sort of cosmic interpretative centre, graffiti providing the text. (Times Colonist, August 13, 1996, A 4)
The next week, the Times Colonist printed a sketch proposal for an interpretative centre building in Beacon Hill Park by Friesen, a professional graphic illustrator. He supported the Friends of Beacon Hill Park recommendation that a centre be located in the Park but not on Beacon Hill. (Times Colonist, August 18, 1996, C 5)
Betty Gibbens opposed both the interpretative centre and podium-style displays on top of the Hill suggested by the Friends:
People go to Beacon Hill Park for recreation and enjoyment, not education...The Lookout should be demolished but replaced with grass. Constructing another building invites vandalism, repeating history; too many fences and structures are there already...Signs, educational displays and buildings do nothing for esthetics; they change the nature of the park...The best place to appreciate the nature of Beacon Hill Park is in the open air outside, not confined within a building. (Times Colonist, August 18, 1996, C 5)
Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw recommended the Pavilion be removed along with the “surrounding Mugo pine thicket.” If any shelter were to replace it, Brayshaw recommended one “in the style of the shelter on Finlayson Point.” He described that kind of shelter as “sturdy, simple, and reasonably vandal-proof.” A new shelter on the top of Beacon Hill should provide “seats facing all ways and partly shielded from wind by the projecting corners.” He included a sketch of the suggested shelter. (T.C. Brayshaw, “The State of the Wild Plant Communities of Beacon Hill Park,” January 15, 2001, p. 9-10)
Interpretative Centre donation
An anonymous donor gave $200,000 to the City of Victoria to help pay for an interpretive centre in the Park. On August 20, the Times Colonist reported that Acting Mayor David McLean received a cheque from “a generous Victoria resident...a retired man who wished to remain anonymous.” McLean said the gentleman loved the City and the Park. The proposed interpretative centre would “provide information on flora and fauna and possibly some details on early settlement,” the newspaper wrote. A number of locations in Beacon Hill Park were possible, among them the sites of the Sport Hut, the Checker’s House and the central washroom. “It could be up to a year or so before we have detailed plans and location finalized,” McLean stated. (Times Colonist, August 20, 1996)
The donor remained anonymous for only one day. The bequest was originally in George Stone’s will, but tax benefits for charitable donations encouraged him to contribute sooner. Stone had lived in Victoria ten years and walked through the Park each day. He said he would like the interpretative centre to include meeting space because none was available in the Park. (Times Colonist, August 21, 1996)
[Mr. Stone donated an additional $200,000 in 2002, also earmarked for an interpretive center/pavilion in the park.]
Great Blue Heron colony
For the first time since 1990, limited data was available on nests in the Great Blue Heron colony in Park trees at Douglas Street and Avalon. In 1996, active heron nests numbered only 12. Three nests were listed as successful, but no number was available on the number of chicks fledged. (Ross Vennesland, Great Blue Heron Breeding Colony Database, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management)
A semi-tame heron known as “Henry” became a year-round resident of Goodacre Lake sometime before 1996. In 2004, Rhiannon Hamdi, an avid heron observer, stated Henry was “somewhere between 10 - 14 years old.” (City of Victoria website) Apparently, Henry fell from one of the nests in the colony before he was full grown. Usually chicks are dead on impact; those who do survive the fall will starve because heron parents do not feed chicks out of the nest. In Henry’s case, nearby apartment dwellers fed him fish and continue to do so. Henry rushes to meet those who regularly feed him.
Heron chicks falling from their nests is a common occurrence. Park gardener Margaret Marsden reported collecting 30 dead chicks from under heron nest trees in 2002, when there were 90 active nests. Up to five eggs may hatch in a nest, producing more chicks than parents are able to feed; chicks must aggressively compete to reach the returning parents in nests that become increasingly crowded as the chicks grow large. Many lose their balance or are knocked off their perches. It is likely high winds contribute to the number of falls as well.
Because female and male adult herons look alike, it is not certain “Henry” is male. It is certain, however, “he” is the most photographed heron in Victoria. Henry’s usual location is at the north edge of Goodacre Lake near a bench a few feet east of Douglas Street (see photo). Visitors may sit on the green bench and approach within a few feet.
Checkers Pavilion in limbo
A Times Colonist review of over-all City plans and proposals summarized the status of the Checkers Pavilion in February: “Endless meetings have been held at City Hall in a futile attempt to figure out what to do with the run-down landmark structure. The latest effort hit another roadblock...” A staff recommendation to form a committee to discuss options was put on hold while the City revamped committees. “Meanwhile, the old pavilion has been painted green and boarded up to discourage vandals and the transients who were sleeping in it.” (Times Colonist, February 16, 1997, A 3)
Great Blue Heron colony
Active nests in the Great Blue Heron colony at Douglas Street and Avalon numbered 10 in 1997 and only 2 chicks fledged. (Ross Vennesland, Great Blue Heron Breeding Colony Database, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management)
Bald Eagle nests
Victoria birder Roy Prior reported a pair of Bald Eagles reared one chick in the tall cottonwood tree nest in Beacon Hill Park in 1997. The nest tree is a few feet east of Douglas Street, north of the wading pool and west of Fountain Lake.
The same pair had nested in the Park for many years; unfortunately, nest records are not available. It is common for Eagles to have more than one nest in their territory; in Beacon Hill Park there are two large Eagle nests. From 1997 through 2000, the Eagles used the Douglas Street cottonwood tree nest, rearing one chick in 1997 and one in 1998. Two young birds fledged in both 1999 and 2000. The Eagles did not use either nest in 2001. In 2002, they successfully reared two young in the huge nest located in a tall fir near the old aviary south of the Stone Bridge. That nest provided excellent viewing for Park visitors from the northeast side of Goodacre Lake by the green pipe railing. (See 2002 for more on Eagles.)
The fate of “Fred,” the last Park swan
A plan to send Fred, the Park’s only mute swan, to Vancouver for companionship could not proceed until it was confirmed “Fred” was male. “We think it’s a male because it’s quite aggressive,” Anderson said. However, swans look identical, so “Only a vet could tell and he would have to have it on the table.”
Royal B.C. Museum collections manager of ornithology Michael McNall said female mute swans are as feisty as males, so behaviour is not a reliable guide. McNall also pointed out that swans form lasting attachments, so the Vancouver female swan, who recently lost her mate, might not want to accept Fred as a new mate. “They’re a very aggressive swan. They’re aggressive with each other, too. They’re so territorial they don’t allow any other waterfowl to nest in that area.”
The Park Department had been searching for a mate for five-year-old “Fred” since his parents died two and a half years before. “We’re kind of sorry for him,” Park Supervisor Finn Anderson said. Asst. Superintendent David Aason hoped Fred would mate: “And should there be any offspring, we’re asking to be given two, one male, one female.” (Times Colonist, May 8, 1997, A 3)
In June, Park employee Al Cunningham drove the swan to an animal hospital for examination. He said the swan was visible above the box of the City pickup truck; surprised people laughed at every stop light along the route. The Times Colonist reported the veterinarian who examined “Fred” was “80% sure” the swan was female, not male. Dr. Jay Rolfe said the usual way to determine a bird’s sex was to put pressure around the opening at the base of the tail. “If it’s a male, things pop out,” he said. Nothing popped out of Fred, but Rolfe had never sexed a swan before and couldn’t be certain the test was definitive. “That may take an experience level I don’t have. I do a lot of parrot work,” he said. The proof should come with the result of a sample of Fred’s blood, which was sent to Vancouver for DNA testing. (Times Colonist, June 6, 1997, A 11)
[Veterinarian Dr. Jay Rolfe said he never found out for certain if the swan was male or female. (September, 2004 telephone message) Cunningham--now Assistant Supervisor--confirmed the swan was not taken to Vancouver. “It did not survive the next winter in Goodacre Lake.” (September 7, 2004 email)]
100 year-old chestnut cut down
A 100 year old Beacon Hill Park chestnut tree was cut down by city workers in June. The tree stood near “the duck pond” until it was struck by a van. The tree was deteriorating and probably had only about five years of life left, arborist Len Eckberg said. He estimated the value of the chestnut at about $4,000. Had the tree been in prime condition and in a prime location, its replacement value could have been $135,000.(Times Colonist, June 18, 1997, A 4)
Art in Beacon Hill Park
Concrete pink mattresses and an oversize bare concrete pillar with the sign “Night is for sleeping. Day is for resting” were erected on Park land in 1997. A plaque on the back of the upright mattress stated: “A Work by Leisure Monuments. Mowry Baden and Colin Baden.”
This controversial public art sculpture in front of the Landmark condominium tower at 605 Douglas is on Beacon Hill Park land, as is the adjacent junction of Douglas, Blanshard and Southgate streets. (A rock ridge originally extended through that area but was blasted away.) The present park boundary is north of Southgate Avenue, a street which was built on Park land in 1957. That construction isolated a large section of the Park north of the street. The original Park boundary continued to the Glenshiel.
Victoria art critic Robert Amos, in a 2003 article on sculpture in the City, said the “ironic joke”--beds in front of the hotel--was a good idea, and the sculpture was unbreakable and provided seating but:
"Unfortunately, in reality it’s nasty. The sad bubble-gum colour of the upended mattresses hasn’t improved with age...The large and mysterious signage seems a mocking billboard, a finger in the public’s face, located as it is at the entrance to Beacon Hill Park. The City’s sign by-laws can’t touch it and the Artist’s Intellectual Rights ensure that it will stay that way for ever. Onward with art in the age of committee. "(Times Colonist, July 3, 2003, p. D 9)
Amos commented more positively on another feature of Beacon Hill Park in the same article: “Perhaps the most dynamic abstract sculpture in the city is a ‘found object’--the crumpled keel of a steamship which ran on a rock, displayed as sculpture at the entrance to Beacon Hill Park off Douglas Street.” (Times Colonist, July 3, 2003, p. D 9)
Accidental damage to native plants by Park workers
University of Victoria ethno-botanist Dr. Nancy Turner, in a presentation to the International Society for Conservation Biology conference held in Victoria, focused on difficulties in protecting native plants in public parks.
Though the common expectation and assumption of the public was that parks are areas where vegetation is protected, Turner said accidental damage to native plants and habitats by Park workers--in both urban and rural parks--during normal Park maintenance and development was routine.
Park workers rarely, if ever, have an inventory of native plants and their locations, Turner explained. They often cannot identify native species, do not know which are rare and endangered and have little or no knowledge of the conditions needed for native plants and habitats to flourish. Value is not placed on these features by supervisors or higher officials, so few preservation policies, standards and guidelines are in place for workers to follow. Park staffs rarely communicate with people who study ecology.
Winter months, when a large amount of maintenance work is done, are a particularly hazardous time for native plants, because flowers and green leaves are not visible in the dormant season. “Picnic tables get installed, trails get built, ditches get dug, and plants get destroyed unknowingly.” Turner recalled workers in Manning Park dumping a load of gravel on top of an extremely rare group of tiger lilies in the off season. In Goldstream Park, a project to build spawning channels wiped out “probably the southernmost population of wild ginger on Vancouver Island.” Turner advised parks staff to wait a full growing season and consult botanists before building anything in parks. (Times Colonist, July 6, 1997)
Dr. Turner’s analysis accurately described why damage to native plants occurs routinely in Beacon Hill Park during maintenance work by City workers and private contractors. The problem is especially acute in a heavily used urban park with undeveloped areas.
Friends of Beacon Hill Park native plant projects
Girl Guides and Pathfinders completed the Southeast Woods Restoration project, the Spring, 1997 Friends of Beacon Hiill Park Newsletter reported. An annual work party to maintain the area was needed. The same Newsletter reported Phase One of the ambitious Plant Mapping Project begun by the Friends in 1994 was nearing completion. Phase two would focus on native plant flower counts. Phases 3 and 4 would map and count exotic plants. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, Spring, 1997)
A river otter was eating perch in Goodacre Lake December 24, 25 and 26. (Personal observations) Another observer reported the otter was there the previous week as well.
Meadows destroyed at Finlayson Point
Dog owners flocking to Finlayson Point to run their dogs in the City’s only designated “off leash” area created an environmental wasteland by 1998. For more than a thousand years, the Finlayson Point wildflower meadow looked like the photo on the left. It was still a healthy, verdant meadow when the photo was taken in spring, 1957, by Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw, Emeritus Curator of Botany at the Royal British Columbia Museum.
By 1998, Dr. Brayshaw reported Camas and other wildflowers and grasses on Finlayson Point were completely destroyed, the soil compacted and pitted with holes. The City continues to allow overuse of the area by thousands of dogs and their owners. The photo on the right, taken on May 9, 2004, provides a stark contrast to the meadow. (See 2003 and 2004)
Cooper's Hawk nest produced five young
In April, 1998, a pair of Cooper's Hawks constructed a nest in a large arbutus tree along Arbutus Way at the west edge of Heywood meadow. Hawk researcher Andy Stewart banded five chicks at the nest on June 26. Four males received black bands (numbers S over 4, U over 4, V over 4 and W over 4. The sex of the fifth chick could not be determined so it did not receive a colour band. The mother hawk’s band was Red P over 5.
The father, “Black O over C,” shown here in a photo by Andy Stewart, was banded two years before in Oak Bay. “O over C” returned to the same Beacon Hill nest area the next spring, 1999, and began “a new nest with...probably the same mate as in 1998.” Tragedy struck, however, when he was hit by a car on Southgate Street. His mate “recruited a replacement mate within a matter of days and successfully nested in the Park.” (Stewart, The Victoria Naturalist, 2000, p. 4-5)
The crow-size Cooper’s Hawks eat small birds such as robins, sparrows, finches, starlings, pigeons, and the occasional rat. They have no difficulty finding food in the Victoria area. Two Cooper’s Hawks nests have been recorded in the Park each of the last four years.
(See 2001, 2002 and 2003 for nest reports. See 2004 for nest reports, a description of Stewart’s hawk study, plus photos of banding and a nest rescue.)
Heron nest increase
Active nests in the Great Blue Heron colony in Park trees at Douglas Street and Avalon climbed to 20 in 1998, with 17 chicks fledged. (Ross Vennesland, Great Blue Heron Breeding Colony Database, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management) A heron researcher with a powerful scope observed the colony in April as part of a Simon Fraser University study on heron behaviour, noting heron responses to traffic and other noise.
Bald Eagle nest
Bald Eagles nested in the tall cottonwood near Douglas Street on the western edge of Beacon Hill Park again in 1998. One young bird fledged. (Roy Prior records)
Burns statue stolen
The statue of Scottish poet Robbie Burns was stolen from its seven-foot-high pedestal north of Circle Drive and opposite the main parking lot in Beacon Hill Park on August 13, 1998. The statue, erected in 1900, had been held in place by metal pins and a central post. The St. Andrew’s and Caledonian Society, whose members hold ceremonies at the statue each January as part of Robert Burns Day celebrations, were aghast and offered a reward. Society member Bill Johnston appealed to the thieves to contact him and advise where to pick it up. (Times Colonist, August 14, 1998, A 3)
City Council decided to add $500 to the reward fund for the safe return of the statue. Because the pedestal and the area around it were undamaged, Counselor David McLean was hopeful the statue would be recovered in good condition. The police determined the statue was loosened with a large screwdriver or other tool and removed from its mount by rocking it back and forth. (Times Colonist, August 14, 1998, p. A 3)
Johnston received an anonymous phone call in less than three days. The caller promised to leave the statue in an Oak Bay driveway if the reward would be split between the Cancer Society and Robbie Burns Society. (Times Colonist, Aug. 16, 1998, A 4)
The statue was “refurbished and remounted” by Mortimer’s Monumental Works and rededicated November 29. The ceremony included the Victoria Gaelic Choir and a piper from the Canadian Scottish. (Times Colonist, Nov. 29, 1998, D 1)
Victoria Folk Roots Music Festival proposed
A multi-stage, multi-day, paid entrance music festival to be held in Beacon Hill Park was given preliminary approval by City Council in June. Opposition to this event resulted in a landmark B.C. Supreme Court decision in October, 1998 which detailed appropriate uses of the Park according to the Park Trust.
The date planned for the first annual “Victoria Folk Roots Music Festival” was July 30 through August 1, 1999, the B. C. Day long weekend. That date would place Victoria on the folk festival circuit between existing festivals in Edmonton and Calgary. The event promoters, the non-profit Capital Region Festival Society, expected to invite stars Joan Baez, Ry Cooter, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to perform. Festival plans involved fencing a large area of the Park--including the cricket pitch and the flagpole area--in order to keep out anyone who had not purchased tickets.
Betty Gibbens, speaking as a member of the James Bay Neighbourhood Environment Society, said: “We’re concerned about the impact on the Park. For years there has been access to everyone to all parts of the park at no charge. This would set a bad precedent.”
Coun. Geoff Young opposed Beacon Hill Park as the festival site. He said, it “would be a pretty substantial departure from previous policy for the Park.” Mayor Bob Cross, however, liked the idea: “Beacon Hill is a park for all of Victoria, and this is something that the City should get behind. (Times Colonist, June 13, 1998, A 3)
A letter to the editor from Margaret Sawchuk noted 5,000 people were expected to attend each day. Admission prices were $30 for one day and $75 for the weekend. Even with high ticket prices, corporate sponsors would need to contribute an additional $200,000. Sawchuk said: “The proposed festival is rampant commercialism. While the economic benefit is a big plus for local business, we must decide whether it is worth the price of damage to the park and environs.” (Times Colonist, June 22, 1998, A 9)
Tim Van Alstine, a member of the James Bay Neighbourhood Environment Society, liked the idea of the festival if it were held elsewhere. “The park has many sensitive areas and is one of the last preserves of Garry oak meadow. If the festival was in another location, I’d probably be the first to volunteer.”
Festival producer Jamie Kelley said, “We want to put on 2 ½ days of public bliss.” The main stage would feature seven artists each night with three huge marquee acts. There would also be four workshop stages featuring forty five international and Canadian recording artists. Twelve food concessions and thirty craft kiosks were planned. The festival budget was set at $650,000. (Times Colonist, June 23, 1998, A 4)
A Times Colonist editorial urged City Council to give final approval to the Folk-Root Festival. “We hope they won’t be swayed by some NIMBY’s objections to the use of the Park for such a festival.” The writer brushed aside concerns about commercialism, noise, parking and damage to native plants. (Times Colonist, June 23, 1998, A 14)
City solicitor Jack Basey said the festival was an appropriate use of Beacon Hill Park under the Trust. Many disagreed. Coun. Bob Friedland said a court declaration would settle the question of whether charging admission fees contravened the Trust. City Council voted to request a ruling from the B. C. Supreme Court. (Times Colonist, June 26, 1998, A 3)
In July, City solicitor John Basey told Council a petition to the court was being prepared containing two questions: Could Beacon Hill Park be used for this short-term festival event? and Could the Park be used for other similar festival events held by non-profit societies? Basey hoped for a ruling in August. (Times Colonist, July 10, 1998, A 4)
The Beacon Hill Rescue Coalition was formed in August, 1998 to present arguments against the festival. Leaders of the Coalition were members of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park and the James Bay Neighbourhood Environmental Association. The Coalition position was that the Festival would cause long-term irreparable damage to the Park and that it was against the Trust which required the City to “maintain and preserve” the Park “for the use, recreation and enjoyment of the public.” The Coalition hired legal representatives, raised money and prepared submissions. The Coalition encouraged “more than 50 spoken and written Interventions in the Supreme Court hearing involving specialists...ranging from history to plant biology.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, Spring, 2000)
Columnist and radio personality Joe Easingwood called the Beacon Hill Park Rescue Coalition “mostly over-65" and “fuddy duddies with nothing else to do.” He thought the “spineless” City Council should have voted for the festival without asking the Court. (Times Colonist, September 20, 1998, Islander, p. 13)
In September, B. C. Supreme Court Justice R. D. Wilson heard arguments for and against holding a major paid-entrance folk music festival in Beacon Hill Park. Lawyer Guy McDannold represented the City. Lawyer Richard Margetts, working with the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation, represented the Beacon Hill Park Rescue Coalition. Both lawyers cited Justice Matthew Begbie’s 1884 ruling. One of the key points in Betty Gibbens’ individual submission was that any commercial activity--even by non-profit groups--should not take place in the Park. (Times Colonist, September 22, 1998, C 2)
Justice Wilson’s written decision was to be presented several weeks after the hearing. The Times Colonist summarized what was at stake: “Wilson is being asked to interpret the trust condition that granted the park to the city and whether music festivals fall within the Trust that the park be for ‘the use, recreation and enjoyment of the public.’” (Times Colonist, September 23, 1998, C 7)
B. C. Supreme Court Justice R. D. Wilson’s landmark decision
On October 8, 1998, B. C. Supreme Court Justice R. D. Wilson handed down a landmark decision prohibiting any commercialism, including advertising signs and banners, in Beacon Hill Park. He upheld the Park Trust and affirmed and extended Supreme Court Chief Justice Sir Matthew B. Begbie's decision of 1884. (The complete text of Justice Wilson’s decision is available on the internet. See References.)
Wilson included a detailed description of the scope of the Folk Roots Music Festival. He wrote that an annual long weekend paid-entrance music event was to be held in Beacon Hill Park, staged in a large area in the southeast section of the Park including the cricket field and extending to the children’s zoo. This section of the Park would be fenced using modular six foot lengths augmented by snow fencing. Only ticket holders could enter the fenced area; daily and weekend admissions would be charged.
Five stages with sound equipment were planned, each seating 1,000-2,000 people. The covered Main Stage was to be 40' by 32'. A beer garden, 12 to 15 concessions selling food, crafts and clothing booths, a box office, a general store, and dining areas were included.
Business sponsors of the Music Festival could display large advertising signs, “including four entrance scaffolded banner towers.” Sponsor logos would appear on program books, t-shirts worn by staff, posters, signage on tents, tripods at entrances, and elsewhere. (“Reasons for Judgment of the Honourable Mr. Justice R. D. Wilson,” City of Victoria vs. Capital Region Festival Society and the Attorney General of British Columbia, Supreme Court of British Columbia, October 8, 1998, V )
The Music Festival claimed all commercial aspects of the event--sales of tickets, beer, food and merchandise, plus advertising--were acceptable because the Festival was registered as a “non-profit organization.” Justice Wilson did not agree that "non profit status" meant that profit was not made. He said money would be made and “sponsors would anticipate profit from their advertising.” 
I think Anderson [“Anderson v. Corporation of the City of Victoria”, Chief Justice Begbie’s ruling of 1884] is a complete answer. What the Chief Justice said was ‘All establishments addressing themselves to profit or utility are...excluded by the terms of the trust...’ 
I define the park...as a nature park and ornamental pleasure ground, with playing fields. The enjoyment and recreation contemplated by the trust terms is the enjoyment and recreation of the trust asset in its physical state as a nature park and ornamental pleasure ground, with playing fields. To achieve the trust objects, the trustee is under a duty to maintain and preserve that ‘physical state as such.’ 
The introduction of tents, food kiosks, sound systems...and commercial advertising are not necessary, incidental, or necessarily incidental to that objective. 
There is a companion principle...namely, the ‘consistency’ of a utilization of a property, with the character of the property. The festivals described fail to meet that principle. In my opinion the notion of being ‘held captive...in an enclosed controlled environment’, surrounded by commercial advertising is consistent with an amusement park, or a major league ball park; it is not consistent with a park whose cardinal features include ‘natural shade, grass and spectacular beauty.’ 
To the proponents point that “the event is of short duration” Wilson replied: “ I think the trustee must be ever alert to the perverse propensity, in human affairs, for short term measures...becoming the norm.” 
Dismissing the proponents assertion they “will occupy only a portion of the asset,” Wilson referred to Chief Justice Begbie’s statement in “Anderson v. Corporation of the City of Victoria” that the Trust wording meant “not one inch of the park could be alienated by the trustee.” 
Wilson said if the City doesn’t like the trust restrictions, the City could “move for a termination of the trust.” 
Justice Wilson’s decision was applauded by The Friends of Beacon Hill Park, who said the Park should continue to be an “area of peaceful repose, free from all commercialism or large-scale activity.” (Times Colonist, November 7, 1998, B 3)
A majority of City Council agreed Justice Wilson’s ruling was too “narrow” and voted to appeal. City solicitor Jack Basey began the appeal process in November.
Councillors Pam Madoff, Jane Lunt and Bob Friedland were against the appeal. They called the city’s position “indefensible and disappointing.” Madoff said: “How can we put the public through this again? It’s absolutely horrific. Will they just keep appealing until they get the decision they want?” (Times Colonist, November 7, 1998, B 3) See 1999 for the next episode.
“Wildlife Trees” preserved
In 1999, five “Wildlife Tree” signs were posted on standing dead trees in Beacon Hill Park by Assistant Supervisor Al Cunningham. The distinctive yellow signs featuring a Pileated woodpecker (see photo) are provided free to private and public property owners by the Provincial Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. Their website explains the value to wildlife of dead and decaying trees:
"In British Columbia more than 90 species of wildlife, or approximately 16% of the province’s birds, mammals and amphibians depend on wildlife trees. Old, dead and decaying trees are used by countless species for nesting, food, shelter, denning, roosting and perching."
The first Wildlife Tree sign in Beacon Hill Park was placed on a venerable “bee tree.” (The hole leading to the hive is visible in the photo on the left.) The large Garry oak stump, standing a few feet south of Southgate Street and west of the Heywood sports field, hosted an active bee hive for more than two decades, according to Dr. Michelle Gorman, Insect Pest Management Coordinator, Parks Recreation and Community Development. In 2004, she described the bee tree:
"This tree was a feral honey bee tree for over 20 years before it went the way of the veroa mites a couple of years ago. The veroa mite epidemic wiped out all the bee trees but for one that I knew of in the City within a year." (Email, August 30, 2004)
The bees misfortune presented opportunities for other insects. Gorman described the salvage and recycling operation undertaken after the mite epidemic killed the bees:
"Wasps and hornets came in and out of the old bee hive on raiding runs. First, they came in and took out sick, dead and dying bees; next was bee larvae as well as the honey and some portions of the hive itself." (Email, September 2, 2004)
Action continues in the old Garry oak stump. In the August, 2004 photo below, colourful fungi grow above the Wildlife Sign. The dead tree trunk has countless small round holes made by bark beetles. Gradually, Dr. Gorman explained, more bacteria, lichens, mosses, borer beetles, psocids and carpenter ants will find their way to this decaying tree.
Dead trees provide sites for hole nesters such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees. The photo on the right shows two of the many nest holes in a well-used dead tree standing behind the Children’s Petting Farm. (The waterfall of pitch at the bottom of the nest hole on the right was constructed by nuthatches.) Insects on and in dead and decaying wood provide food for many birds seen in the Park, including warblers, brown creepers, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees.
In a public Park, safety still requires most dead and dying trees be removed. Asst. Supervisor Cunningham stated: “There’s a lot to consider before allowing a dead standing tree to be left in the City. The largest consideration is public safety. We will keep adding trees to this program where it’s safe to do so.” (Email, September 1, 2004)
In the past, dead trees were summarily cut down and removed from the Park. In addition to safety concerns, long-time Park Administrator W. H. Warren thought dead trees were unsightly. Now, in addition to understanding the value of dead and decaying wood to wildlife, some admire the beauty of dead stumps and branches. The collapsed Garry oak lying in a field between the central playground and Heywood Avenue in this 2004 photo has been allowed to remain in a low foot traffic area.
Heron nest increase
Active nests in the Great Blue Heron colony at Douglas Street and Avalon numbered 48 in 1999, the highest since 1989. However, only 10 chicks fledged. (Ross Vennesland, Great Blue Heron Breeding Colony Database, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management)
Bald Eagle nest
Bald Eagles nested in the tall cottonwood next to Douglas Street on the west edge of Beacon Hill Park in 1999. Two young eagles fledged. (Roy Prior records)
Mile Zero development plans
The City of Victoria published a booklet prepared with Cloghesy and Doak Ltd., Landscape Architects, titled “Mile Zero Redevelopment Proposal,” on February 10, 1999. Mile Zero is at the junction Dallas Road and Douglas Street; ambitious plans included realigning Douglas Street and closing the road on the west side of the Mile Zero land triangle to through traffic. Also planned was a sculpture, new walkways, an overlook structure called “The Prow” on the bluff, a “Garry oak environment interpretative site” and bus parking. The City report stated “over 30,000 visitors a year” visited the Mile Zero location:
Since 1958, when the Canadian Automobile Association installed the first Mile 0 monument, it has been the terminus for the Trans Canada Highway...Locally, the Mile Zero site acquired its form from the 1888 [sic] plan for Beacon Hill Park. It remained an obscure parcel defined by the former horse race track until the mid 1950's.” (“Mile Zero Redevelopment Proposal,” Feb. 10, 1999, p. i)
The Victoria News reported on June 2:
The proposal to redesign Mile Zero involves a slice of land the City of Victoria might have to expropriate, an action that would face opposition from the owner of the property in question, at 10 Douglas St.
Joe Daly, City Park Design and Development Manager, said the option being discussed would eliminate the private property blocking sight-lines. Daly said, “It is an incredibly beautiful place. What you’ll see is a larger presence in terms of public art, better facilities for buses, minimal paved spaces and increased greenspace.” (Victoria News, June 2, 1999, p. 4)
Betty Gibbens called the Mile Zero development plan “an attempt to cater to arts and tourism interests and satisfy ongoing requests for markers (advertising sponsors’ names)...all inappropriate for the Park.” She thought the drive behind the plan was the deadline for grant applications for Millennium 2000 projects and the Trans-Canada Trail Foundation desire to have a high profile western terminus. Gibbens said none of that--art, plaques, vehicles and tourism--had anything to do with “appropriate use of Beacon Hill Park.” (Times Colonist, June 27, 1999, Islander, p. 26)
The Friends of Beacon Hill Park opposed covering more park with pavement for tour buses:
We do not want another parking lot in Beacon Hill Park. Our park gets whittled away with every new idea that comes forward. Besides the parking issue, [some] tour buses exceed the weight allowance for Dallas Road and the streets surrounding the park...If more tour buses are allowed with the addition of the Trans Canada Trail to Mile Zero, there will be an added strain on the infrastructure.
The group suggested moving Mile Zero to a more suitable location, such as the Inner Harbour, where a combined Trans Canada Trail and Mile Zero location would tie into the tourism business. (Cornelia Lange, Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, Spring, 2000)
[In 2004, the Mile Zero development plan appears to have been abandoned.]
George Fraser memorial
Mayor Cross unveiled a commemorative stone on September 25 in a ceremony to honour George Fraser, foreman under John Blair in the 1889 park development. A City of Victoria Press Release dated September 20, 1999, announced “The stone will be placed along the edge of Fountain Lake adjacent to a group of rhododendrons that were part of the original planting installed by George Fraser.” The photo shows these impressive rhododendrons 116 years after George Fraser planted them. (N. Ringuette, May, 2005)
Northwest Ridge native plant restoration
“Mountain bikers have been using the rocks in the Northwest Ridge (near the corner of Douglas and Southgate Streets) for their off-road sports facility,” the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter stated in Fall, 1999. The article described tires “gouging into dry vegetation and earth,” as well as earth ramps constructed by bikers.
Unfortunately, the Friends reported, Park staff “over-reacted by dumping large rocks to discourage the bikers, covering one of the best patches of Spring Gold in the Park!” The Friends asked for “No Cycling” signs on the paths. [The signs have never been erected.]
The Friends and Park staff decided to work together to organize a partial restoration project. “Park greenhouse staff have been raising native plants from seed....Camas, Shooting Stars, Chocolate Lilies and Balsam Root.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, Fall, 1999, p. 2)
Otter in Goodacre Lake
A river otter was catching fish in Goodacre Lake on December 22. (Personal Observation)
Council debated appeal of Supreme Court decision
The Beacon Hill Park Rescue Coalition organized an All-Candidates Meeting during the 1999 municipal election campaign to pressure candidates to state their position on the appeal of the 1998 B. C. Supreme Court ruling by Justice Wilson. “Every major candidate in attendance pledged to reverse the previous City Council’s appeal decision if elected,” the Friends Newsletter declared later. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, Spring, 2000)
After the all-candidates meeting on November 2, the Times Colonist reported “a political punch-out among councillors” at City Hall. In a 5 to 3 vote, Council confirmed the City would continue its appeal. “A majority of councillors believe the judge’s decision was unclear,” Cindy Harnett reported. They were worried Wilson’s decision would oust the Children’s Petting Zoo and the Great Canadian Picnic from the Park. Mayor Bob Cross was in favour of the appeal. Five councillors agreed: Chris Coleman, Geoff Young, Bea Holland, Helen Hughes and David McLean. (Times Colonist, November 5, 1999, C 1)
The municipal election resulted in a change in Council and the possibility that the appeal, set for February, could be canceled. A letter from Dick Hainsworth of the Beacon Hill Park Rescue Coalition noted:
The balance of power has now shifted. If the Mayor, three new councillors and two of the re-elected incumbents keep their promises, City Council can immediately rescind its application to the Appeal Court seeking to reverse that well-reasoned 1998 ruling...The appeal is scheduled for February 2000. Let’s wipe out this threat to Beacon Hill Park as council’s first order of business before any more money is wasted on senseless litigation.
In a December 16, 1999 meeting of the Committee of the Whole, newcomer Coun. Denise Savoie won majority support for her motion to withdraw the appeal of Justice Wilson’s 1998 ruling. (Times Colonist, December 17, 1999, C 3) The final vote was to take place in January. With the scheduled appeal date of February 8-9 approaching, heated debate continued. At last, Council voted on January 24 to withdraw the appeal. This vote did not end the controversy. (See Chapter 18)