“Once again the question of the city’s right to give any person or organization permission to erect pavilions or structures in Beacon Hill Park, as in the case of the bowling and cricket clubs, has cropped up,” the Colonist reported. (Colonist, June 7, 1910, p. 3)
The controversy began in October, 1908, when City Council decided to grant the Beacon Hill Lawn Bowling Association a section of the Park “about the size of three ordinary town lots,” according to opponent Dr. J. S. Helmcken. After a flurry of protest lasting through 1909, Council managed an interlude of silence on the topic by referring the matter to the Parks Committee.
H. Dallas Helmcken, Secretary of the Pioneers’ Society, reopened the debate in 1910. His letter to City Council pointed out that five months had passed since a new Council was elected and though he had sent two previous letters concerning “letting portions of the public park to sporting aggregations, no reply had been forthcoming.” Mr. H. D. Helmcken said this lack of action indicated Council “had not the slightest idea of paying the least attention to the request of the society, which has been treated with distinct lack of respect.”
Mayor Morley replied that he recently obtained another legal opinion about the Bowling Green Club. City Solicitor W. J. Taylor agreed that the city could not legally give any exclusive right or privilege in the public park. The solicitor suggested the problem could be resolved by securing an agreement in writing from clubs in the Park that their property could be removed by the City at any time and that they understood they had no special right, power or privilege in the public Park. (Colonist, June 7, 1910, p. 3)
In July, 1910, this agreement--called a “deed”--was prepared by the City to be signed by directors of the Beacon Hill Park Bowling Green Club. In an August letter to the Times, Dr. J. S. Helmcken called the agreement “a subtle and cunning attempt to evade the law” and “a poisonous snake.” Helmcken said the deed “retains the club in a position of supremacy” in the public Park and warned that other associations would demand similar privileges. He reminded readers that the legal opinion of W. J. Taylor, the city’s barrister, was that the occupation of a portion of the park by a private club was, “unlawful and contrary to the intent and meaning of the deed of trust.” Helmcken advocated the City take over and operate the lawn bowling area, thus restoring it to the public. The Club could use the area just as any other citizens in Victoria, but the City would retain control. Helmcken's letter expressed the firm conclusion that “[The club’s] dominion over a portion of the park must cease, and the same may be said of others who unlawfully occupy other portions of the people’s property. Let there be no more ‘permissions,’ ‘privileges,’ ‘private understandings,’ etc. (Times, August 25, 1910, p. 13)
Attempts to regulate automobile speeds in the Park
The Parks Committee decision to limit the speed of automobiles on all Beacon Hill Park roads--with the exception of Dallas Road--to six miles an hour was declared impossible by drivers. Alderman Raymond, the owner of an automobile, said he experimented with how slowly his machine would run and claimed it would not “turn over” at less than a speed of slightly over seven miles an hour. The Colonist reported: Other drivers also made tests with their machines and ranged from eight to twelve miles an hour as the very lowest rate at which the engines would work. Such being the case it is likely that unless the committee raises the limit many machines must stay outside the prescribed limits. (Colonist, June 7, 1910, p. 7)
New dressing rooms constructed
City Council requested the City Engineer prepare an estimate of the costs involved in “needed Park improvements,” including the “public dressing rooms and lavatories to be erected on the western slope of Beacon Hill,” the Colonist reported in June. As a result, plans were scaled down at the next Council meeting:
"The new refreshment booth, dressing rooms, etc. which the city proposed erecting in Beacon Hill Park at an estimated cost of $2,500 will be considerably curtailed. Only the dressing rooms will be proceeded with and these will be located on the western slope of the hill convenient to the athletic grounds. The refreshment booth and caretaker’s quarters, which it is felt should be located somewhere in the vicinity of the lakes, will not be gone on with until next year." (Colonist, June 16, 1910, p. 6)
In July, the Times reported a “pavilion” being constructed in the Park:
"A force of carpenters is now engaged in erecting the pavilion at Beacon Hill Park, opposite Corrig College, for the convenience of those who engage in athletic sports at the hill. A large quantity of tile drain pipes are being used to give connection with the nearest sewer. The booth will prove a great convenience. "(Times, July 27, 1910, p. 2)
[The Annual Report stated a new building was “fitted up for dressing rooms and lavatories.”]
Other 1910 Park news
At an April meeting of the Streets, Bridges and Sewers Committee, Alderman Humber charged that black soil was being taken from Beacon Hill Park by city workers and used for boulevards and the people were being charged for the soil. He said Park soil was already owned by the public so no charge should be assessed for it. (Colonist, April 9, 1910, p. 7)
The double row of Arbutus trees along the north entry road into the Park at Quadra and Southgate [now known as Arbutus Way] were planted during the Purdy years, according to C. C. Pemberton. These impressive trees would now be about ninety years old. (Pemberton, Chartres Cecil. Add. Mss. 522, Vol. 1, BCA) [The Arbutus trees might have been among the “288 trees and shrubs” planted in Beacon Hill Park, according to the 1910 Annual Report.]
“Indian Relic at Beacon Hill at Last Receives Attention,” was the Times headline for a story about an old totem pole in the Park. There is no clue about the origin of the pole:
"... After lying prostrate on the ground where it was...dumped many years ago, the old weather-beaten totem pole has been raised at the corner of the driveway at Beacon Hill Park next to the Chinese bell. The pole...will be painted in the colors used by the aborigines when it was first carved." (Times, Dec. 2, 1910, p.5)
[The 1910 Annual Report stated: “A totem pole was erected on a concrete base.”]
In 1910, one acre was added to the nursery, the nursery area was fenced and 3,500 feet of drain tile was laid.
“288 trees and shrubs” were planted in Beacon Hill Park and “borders were made and planted with 2,000 hardy perennials.”
A new building was “fitted up for dressing rooms and lavatories.”
“Part of the park at Dallas Road” was drained.
“A totem pole was erected on a concrete base.”
Superintendent Purdy recommended the “area south of Heywood Avenue, where practically nothing has ever been done” be drained “so improvements can be carried out.” (CRS 16, Report of Superintendent of Parks and Boulevards, AR 1910, p. 284-287)
[At the time, Heywood Avenue included the street now called Academy Close, north of the Park, as well as the street running north and south on the east side of the Park. It is unclear, therefore, which section of the Park he wanted to drain. The Heywood meadow area along the east boundary of the Park is still very wet in winter.]
A wide-ranging commentary on Beacon Hill Park by Charles St. Barbe was published in “The Week” on September 23, 1911. He described the landscapes of “Victoria’s splendid and valuable asset,” suggested a major change for the zoo and discussed fire dangers in the Park.
He extolled the range of views from Beacon Hill, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Race Rocks, Mt. Baker and the City [no tall trees or buildings blocked the view in 1911] as “one of the finest in the world...Such a mingling of marine, urban, mountain and sylvan scenery can scarcely be obtained anywhere else.” He concluded: “This Hill and its grassy slopes are the glory of the place.”
St. Barbe particularly admired the “acres and acres of [Scotch] broom that in spring and early summer are a blaze of gold.” In his opinion, broom was the Park’s “main glory.” [Broom is an invasive foreign species, a noxious weed that crowds out native plants. For the last seventy years, Park staff has battled to reduce broom in the park. See Chapter Ten for an overview of broom in Park history.]
St. Barbe criticized the existing zoo:
"To the north-east of the Hill is a large area still in its wild state surrounded with a high wire fence. Herein are a few deer and rabbits and many pheasants and quail. Here also is one of the very few objectionable features of the park. It consists of a few dens in which are a couple of coyote, a raccoon and one or two other unfortunate arrivals, and two large aviaries, in one of which are some pigeons, guinea and peafowl and hosts of rabbits and guinea pigs and in the other one or two forlorn looking eagles. This menagerie is a disgrace and ought to be either abolished entirely or conducted in properly constructed cages."
His suggested a major change: “A collection of all the animals and birds indigenous to British Columbia would be a noble acquisition and a feature of the greatest interest....and kept up at no great expense...” He stated, “it is no part of the duties of a park superintendent to care for these beasts.” Instead, “it might be well worth the attention of the Provincial Government” [to have] “a collection of living specimens” [instead of] “stuffed specimens”...badly mounted and badly displayed...” St. Barbe thought a collection of native animals would complement a collection of native trees and shrubs planned by Mr. Purdy for “the northeast quarter of the park.”
Finally, the writer commented on fires in the Park:
"[The Park is] constantly menaced and frequently attacked by man’s arch enemy--fire. Without its bush the park would be shorn of its main glory...Nearly every year its grassy sward and groves of golden broom are ravaged and blackened by fire. [In order that] every possible precaution is taken to guard against this enemy...a large area covered with brush not particularly beautiful or interesting...is being cleared of this brush and will be planted down with grass, and in this area will be established the arboretum or collection of native trees to which allusion has been made." (“The Week,” September 23, 1911, Walbran’s Scrapbook, p. 98, BC Archives)
[St. Barbe didn’t realize that fire stimulates broom growth. The real fire problem is that broom, burning at a high temperature, damages Garry oaks.]
“A proposal has been made by a well-known Victoria business concern to erect a restaurant in Beacon Hill Park on a lease of five years,” a Colonist editorial explained in June. The writer reminded City Council that “the Park is held by the Council for public uses as a park and not as a source of revenue” and that a business would establish an awkward precedent:
"If the present applicants are permitted to erect and maintain a restaurant in the park, why should other persons not be permitted to do so. If they alone are to have the privilege then they are asking for a monopoly...the council will be well advised to decline the proposal. "(Colonist, June 17, 1911, p. 4)
This was the first of at least thirteen proposals to build and operate a restaurant or tearoom in Beacon Hill Park. (For a discussion of the proposals, see Appendix B.) Council quickly agreed in 1911 that a private restaurant was illegal according to the Trust, but in 1912 considered a food pavilion run by the city.
Property owners still encroaching on west boundary
Property owners encroachments on the west boundary of Beacon Hill Park were discovered in 1906 by City Engineer Topp. He reported nine property owners had taken from a foot to fourteen feet of Park land. [Douglas Street was not yet constructed.]
In 1911, an accurate survey of the west boundary was carried out by City Engineer Smith. The Colonist reported the results:
"...[private] fences north of Toronto Street encroached upon the park from one to six inches, while between Simcoe and Toronto Streets the fences encroach from ten feet five inches to eighteen feet six inches. Between Dallas Road and Simcoe Street there are no encroachments. If the encroaching owners fail to move back their fences to the proper boundary, action on the part of the city will be taken. "(Colonist, August 5, 1911, p. 7)
The Colonist reported no funds were available to install playground equipment in Beacon Hill Park, even though swings and horizontal bars had been ordered and received. (Colonist, Oct. 12, 1911, 7)
“Gravel pits filled.” [This cryptic comment in the Annual Report probably refers to the northwest corner of the park. There were protests against gravel pits located in both the northwest and southeast corners of the Park in 1869, 1901 and 1902. Another gravel pit was protested in 1913.]
5,000 bedding plants and annuals and 2,000 perennials and rock plants were planted.
A rock garden was started north of Goodacre Lake.
A Rose Garden was begun [location unspecified].
Superintendent Purdy made another request for a greenhouse at the nursery.
To improve drainage in the nursery area, “the 6,000 trees were all taken up, ground ploughed and drained.”
Park staff battled tent caterpillars throughout the city by cutting, burning and spraying.
The bog in the deer pen was filled in.
A “gymnasium” was erected [playground equipment].
A roadway into the Park was made at the corner of Dallas and Cook.
Twelve acres facing Heywood Avenue were cleared, ploughed and partly drained.[This appears to be same acreage on the east side of the Park mentioned in the 1910 Annual Report. The following year, the twelve acres were graded, sown with grass and trees planted.] (CRS 16, AR 1911, p. 316-321)
City operated food pavilion proposed
The Parks Committee presented new plans for City parks at a Council meeting April 19. One proposal was to establish a food pavilion in Beacon Hill Park, run by the City, so families could buy “food and materials for teas” in the park. The Times wrote:
“Under direct civic auspices a man paid by and answerable to the council will dispense refreshments...The grant under which the city possesses the park prevents this franchise being leased, but the city solicitor advises that there is nothing to prevent the city giving this service to its citizens...” (Times, April 20, 1912, p. 11)
[There is no evidence this pavilion was established. The Trust prohibits all commercial activity, whether or not it is run by the City. Nevertheless, in 1943, Council approved a mobile canteen in the Park run by the Red Cross, to sell "soft drinks and light meals to servicemen." (Times, June 15, 1943, p. 7) This canteen was still in operation in 1946.]
Summer band concerts scheduled
The Park Committee plans included arranging with the thirty-instrument Fifth Regiment Band to provide 28 concerts to be shared among three parks: Beacon Hill, the North Ward Park and the Gorge. Twelve concerts would be given by the Boy Scouts as well. Seventy-five new seats would be provided. (Times, April 20, 1912, p. 11)
Cleaning the lakes
“The Park Superintendent has men engaged at present...cleaning out the ponds in Beacon Hill Park and removing the grass and weeds that have accumulated on the bottom.” (Colonist, August 10, 1912, p.7)
Improving the Douglas Street approach to the Park
In September, the Times reported improvements for pedestrians and motorists heading to Beacon Hill Park. New sidewalks would be constructed and improvements made to the street from downtown to the Park entrance:
"After months of delay and three attempts of City Engineer Rust to get through the improvement of the approach to Beacon Hill Park from Belleville Street by way of Douglas Street, the streets committee of the city council yesterday decided to allow sidewalks to be laid on Douglas from Belleville to Superior and to complete grading of the street, where already some rock has been removed.
"The street will remain 66 feet wide, the 100-foot widening proposal having been abandoned on account of the continued and persistent opposition of the property owners interested. Already $2,000 have been spent on improvement, and the city engineer had contended that action along these lines should be taken on account of the importance of this approach to the park." (Times, September 14, 1912, p. 15)
A Seismological Observatory proposed in the Park
Representatives of the “meteorological department” met with Mayor Beckwith to ask the City for a one acre site in Beacon Hill Park to construct a “seismological observatory.” The Dominion government granted $10,000 toward the project. The Times pointed out an observatory would be an attraction for visitors and residents and “It is, of course, a frequent practice to have an observatory in public parks, as at Geneva and Toronto...” (Times, October 9, 1912)
The meteorological department wanted to build the observatory in the northwest corner of the Park opposite South Park School and Toronto Street. Department spokesman F. Napier Denison said: “...the northern end of the park is the best in the city for the purpose.” Because of the delicate instruments involved, “It must be an isolated place and free from the disturbances of traffic.” The facility would be important in regulating accurate chronometers necessary for ships. (Times, Oct. 30, 1912)
City Solicitor Robertson presented his opinion to City Council:
"The trust under which the city holds Beacon Hill Park will prevent the council from granting a lease of a portion of the area...for the purpose of an observatory... The only way to meet the difficulty would be for the city to apply for a special act to legalize the lease of the land for this express purpose." (Times, Oct. 30, 1912)
Alderman Cuthbert pointed out the Park was transferred to the City with restrictions in the 1882 Trust so that the City would “not be pestered with applications for concessions thereon” and normally he objected to using the Park for anything other than public purposes, but he had no objections to an observatory in the Park. Mayor Beckwith said he would see if there were enough government support for a private act transferring the property to the Dominion government on lease. (Times, Oct. 30, 1912)
The Colonist article reviewed the restrictions of The Trust of 1882 under which the City could not convey the land for such purposes and agreed the solution was to secure “a special act from the provincial legislature authorizing a lease of the land for this expressed purpose.” (Colonist, Oct. 30, 1912)
[The Trust has been the key to stopping many developments in the Park. For a compilation of development proposals averted through Park history, see Appendix B.]
The first Park greenhouse was added to the nursery area and 6500 plants were sent out to all Parks in the City from the greenhouse.
The twelve acres in the northeast facing Heywood Avenue which had been cleared, ploughed and partly drained in 1911 were graded and sown with grass and trees planted in 1912.
Rock taken from the Heywood area was used for a rockery.
“Two new public conveniences [were] erected” and a “new tool shed” constructed. (CRS 16, AR 1912, p. 101-103)
Gravel pit in the southeast corner
A letter to the Colonist in February protested the excavation of a gravel pit in the southeast corner of Beacon Hill Park. Though previous gravel pits had been filled in, according to the 1911 Annual Report, another was in operation. Arthur Lineham explained he had already met with the Mayor, several alderman and the City Engineer to protest the gravel pit. He said “residents on the east side of the park” were also opposed to pit and that Mr. C. R. Serjeantson had received a letter from the City Engineer stating the pit would continue despite complaints and that it could be filled in later. Lineham called on the Colonist to “add your protest,” saying:
"Sir: I think a public protest should be entered against the present action of the Parks Board and city engineer in turning the southeast corner of Beacon Hill Park into a gravel pit. For several weeks park employees have been excavating gravel at this point and placing same on the park roads. The idea is evidently to economize by not purchasing gravel from an outside source, and no account is being taken of the fact that the appearance of the park is being ruined and that it will cost more to put it back to its original condition than it would to purchase gravel elsewhere.
"This portion of the park has always been more or less neglected...but the timber at this corner is as fine as any in the park...To enable gravel to be removed...the city employees have commenced cutting down trees, and already several large trees are threatened with destruction through the undermining of their roots by the opening of the pit.
"It is quite certain that this park was not donated to the citizens of Victoria to be turned into a gravel pit, and it seems an extraordinary thing to me that business men like the city councillors and the city engineer should allow one single load of material to be taken therefrom. "(Colonist, Feb. 8, 1913, p.19)
The protests seem to have been effective. The Times reported a month later: “The bear pits and gravel pit are to be filled in...” (Times, March 11, 1913, p. 15)
Controversial proposal to rent chairs
In February, the City Solicitor presented Council with a written opinion that it would be legal under the Trust for an individual or group giving a performance in the Park to rent chairs and take up a collection. It would be illegal, however, for the City to grant a permit “for the erection of a platform” to anyone else or to exclude any member of the public “from having access and opportunity of listening to the open air concert.” (Colonist, February 25, 1913, p. 19)
Since 1888, summer concerts had been arranged and paid for by the City for the benefit of the public. Seats were available to all at no charge. This new legal opinion cleared the way for commercial concerts in the Park and an application to present one was soon received.
Discussion on the topic continued at the City Council meeting on March 10. The Parks Committee opposed giving permission to entertainment applications except for the usual Fifth Regiment Band concerts funded by the City, but several aldermen were for any “innocent entertainment.” Mayor Morley thought City revenues should pay for concerts. No decision was made on the matter. (Times, March 11, 1913, p. 15)
On March 12, 1913, a Colonist editorial objected to granting the application made to City Council by a group wanting to produce a series of concerts in the park at which chairs would be rented to the public. The editorial was adamant: “We don’t think this ought to be permitted.” Praising Dr. J. S. Helmcken’s “persistent fight” to “prevent any infringement upon the rights of the public,” the newspaper agreed renting seats was such a case, saying: " The Colonist has always supported those who held that the terms of the trust should not be ignored, and hence has opposed anything in the nature of a special privilege being accorded to any person or persons in the use of that pleasure ground." (Colonist, March 12, 1913, p.4)
Despite the city solicitor’s advice to the City that chair rental did not violate the trust, the Colonist said it “would be a distinct employment of a public trust for a private advantage and could not be justified.” The newspaper advocated the City pay for the concerts and the seating: “Let us have music in the parks and plenty of it...But let the public pay for the music.” If more seating is required, the City should provide it. “We hope the City Council will adopt as its maxim: ‘The Parks for the Public.’” (Colonist, March 12, 1913, p. 4)
Provincial Archivist Willard E. Ireland put the rental chairs controversy in perspective in 1942. He reviewed the Agricultural Association exhibition building issue in 1882, the 1908-1909 Bowling Green objections and the 1913 proposal to rent chairs in the park for concerts and concluded: “In each case the objection raised was on the grounds that the City lacked ‘the power to appropriate any particular part of the Park premises to the use of any particular persons or class of persons to the exclusion of others of the public.’” (Memorandum re: Title to Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, B.C., May 8, 1942, p. 9, BCA, GV66 B35 I)
Chair rental had been rejected once before in Beacon Hill Park. In 1899, a company proposed erecting a grandstand and collecting 25 cents “from those who desire a good place from which to view the fireworks.” (Colonist, May 17, 1899, p. 5) [See Chapter 7 for more details.] Renting chairs in parks, an accepted practice in Europe, was resisted elsewhere in North America, too. New York City residents opposed an effort to rent chairs for a nickel in their parks in 1901. 20,000 people held a rally in New York’s Central Park to celebrate the cancellation of a chair rental agreement. (Rosenzweig, Roy and Blackmar, Elizabeth. The Park and the People--A History of Central Park, p. 382)
A Times article reported improvements authorized for Park roads. The road work specified was “regravelling,” not major “resurfacing,” which the newspaper pointed out is “a more ambitious matter”:
"The sum of $2,000 is to be set aside to gravel the park roads around Beacon Hill Park. The chief of police is to be asked to carry out the provisions of the by-law preventing heavy teaming on the park roads, which have suffered in consequence.” (Times, March 11, 1913, p. 15)
An editorial in the Colonist lamented the condition of Dallas Road between Douglas and Cook Streets. It called for immediate action by City Council on “one of the most frequented and prettiest drives within the city...The surface is all cut up, strewn with loose stones, while patches of the roadway are broken by deep ruts of a dangerous character.” The newspaper pointed out in tourist season there are “continuous streams of motor cars and horse-drawn vehicles” on Dallas Road. (Colonist, March 14, 1913, p. 4)
Rapturous description of broom
A Colonist editorial titled “An Hour on Beacon Hill” contains what must be the most rapturous description of broom in Park history:
"At my feet and all around is a riotous golden glow, a shower of reflected sunshine. A few handfuls of seed brought from proud Britain many years ago by a returning Victorian and scattered broadcast over the hills and valleys of this delightful city, have flourished amazingly. Beacon Hill Park...is crowned with a glorious crown of deliciously delicate yellow broom. In Britain, where I was born, the broom is bonny, and many times have I gone into quiet raptures of joy over its blaze of golden yellow. But, ‘The Broom on Beacon Hill.” Ah!...It is exuberant in its wealth of blossom. It is rampant in its glow of color. It is sensuous in its floods of delicious perfume. It is glorious in its steady unglimmering glare of unbroken gold...Millions of perfect florets cover branch and stem with scales and flakes of richest, purest yellow. Linnaeus, most famous of naturalists, on seeing for the first time a field of British gorse ablow, fell on his knees and thanked God for the sight. Could he have lived to see it, the “Broom on Beacon Hill” would, without a doubt, have called forth an equal expression of emotion from the heart of this greatest of all naturalists." [And so on.] (Colonist, June 22, 1913, p. 11)
Boy Scout Camp
170 Boy Scouts camped in Beacon Hill Park in August, learning first aid, signaling and wireless telegraph. The fire chief gave permission to place their camp cooking stoves close to the headquarters tent. (Times, August 7, 1913, p. 16)
Swans rearing four cygnets
The Times described a Park lake being cleared and provided information on resident swans:
Park employees at Beacon Hill Park are engaged in clearing the west lake of weeds which the swans are unable to keep down. While the greater part of the lakes are cleared of this growth by the presence of these graceful birds they have not been able this season to keep the weeds in this part of the ornamental waters in check and already a large quantity has been collected from the lake. The department has been successful in rearing two pairs of cygnets this year, all of which appear to be healthy. There is always considerable demand for swans for ornamental waters owing to the difficulty of rearing the young and several applications have at various times been made to the Victoria city authorities for birds to supply other parks.” (Times, Aug. 22, 1913, p. 20)
Swans by the Stone Bridge (BCA A-08814)
“Considerable land” was cleared and drained.
Three acres on the “park front and the old gravel pits” were “ready to plant with trees and shrubs.”
A retaining wall was built on Dallas Road. (CRS 16, Report of Superintendent of Parks and Boulevards, AR 1913, p. 66-68)
In February, a letter to the Times signed “Recreation” advocated five improvements in the Park before summer:
1. Clear “the large area on the west side of Beacon Hill now overgrown by broom bushes.” If the broom was cleared immediately and grass seed sown, by the May 24th holiday the area could serve again as a “natural grandstand for the large crowd that gathers there.”
2. Clear broom from the northeast side of the Hill to make more room for those who gather there to watch fireworks.
3. Place “strongly made and well anchored” seats along the top of the Dallas Road cliffs between Douglas and Cook Streets.
4. Finish the roadway “from the top of Beacon Hill running easterly” which “was started more than twenty years ago and never completed.”
5. Reduce “the surface water that flows over the much-traveled footpaths along the cliffs” with gravel and ditch tiles.
The Editor of the Times commented on the broom clearing suggestions: “Our correspondent surely cannot be serious. The broom is the most attractive feature of the Park.” (Times, February 25, 1914, p. 11)
Campaign against private clubs in the Park continues
In 1914, Dr. J. S. Helmcken got help from his sister-in-law, Mrs. Dennis Harris, a daughter of Sir James Douglas, in his fight against the presence of a private lawn bowling club in Beacon Hill Park. Mrs. Harris said the women’s council had written City Council asking the club be prohibited from operating the bowling greens in the Park, but was told by Mayor Stewart and city officials that it was not fair to disturb the club.
She pointed out “Mayor Stewart was a member of the club and was partially responsible for getting the deal through council when he was an alderman.” Mrs. Harris said:
"The bowling club is an incorporated body composed of a number of wealthy men, any one of whom could have afforded enough money to buy a plot of similar size, as the tennis club and other clubs have done. But no, they go to the city and ask for a piece of public property, and they have been using it for four years without paying a cent of rent...
"I shall have to do something myself to preserve the gift which my late father was instrumental in making the people of this city and I shall ask the government to compel the city to keep its trust.
"According to the deed by which the crown land was diverted to park purposes, the city is merely groundskeeper, and as the late Chief Justice Begbie decided, must keep the property absolutely clear of buildings except such buildings as a public gymnasium or other public recreation building...
"What I should like to see is that the city take over the green and the clubhouse, and the ground-keeper prepare a schedule of hours letting the Victoria Lawn Bowling club and such other clubs as desire to play there use the grounds for definite periods of say an hour or two hours. All persons bowling there are entitled to keep their bowls in the clubhouse or the clubhouse has no right to be there. "(Times, April 28, 1914, p. 9)
Dr. Helmcken and Mrs. Harris planned to appeal to the provincial government to force the City to remove the private lawn bowling club from Beacon Hill Park.
Businessmen blame Park nursery for lost business
Victoria nurserymen and florists complained at a City Council meeting in October about a loss of business due to actions of the city’s nursery at Beacon Hill Park. The nursery recently gave 2,100 trees to citizens to reduce an oversupply of stock. The Times reported, “It was claimed that the gift of trees would disorganize the nurseryman’s trade of supplying growing trees for two years to come.” The nurseryman also claimed it was more economical for the City to purchase trees from their businesses than to grow their own. Mr. Manton, one of the nurserymen, said he was angry when he learned the trees given away were worth about $1,200. Mr. Manton thought that was enough cause to remove Alderman Dilworth, Chairman of the Parks Committee, from City Council.
Ald. Dilworth replied that the nurserymen were wrong and the nursery saved the city money. Alderman Todd explained that the trees had been prepared for the boulevards but stock increased too quickly. (Times, Oct. 27, 1914, p. 12)
Later Superintendents look back at 1914
According to Parks Administrator C. J. Bate, Superintendent Purdy and the City of Victoria decided by 1914 not to implement the rest of the 1889 John Blair design plan. In a November, 1976, speech, Bate said the city intended to continue implementing the Blair Plan as money became available until 1914. [In 1904 and 1907, records show the Blair Plan was still being consulted.]
Bate said, “I suspect City Council realized the cost aspects [of the Blair Plan] at the beginning of the 20th Century and by 1914 were no longer prepared to follow the plan.” In Bate’s opinion, the Blair plan “had too many roads, no active space areas, and a built-in expensive maintenance requirement.” (“Renovation and New Development at Beacon Hill Park,” November 23, 1976, Park Office File: 1701)
Recalling his youth in Victoria, Park Administrator Herb Warren said: "I recall as a boy attending South Park School in 1914-15 and seeing the swans nest in the broom covering the hill north of Goodacre Lake." (“Notes from W. H. Warren,” written after 1982, Park Office.)
No ice skating allowed
The Parks Committee decided not to allow skating on Goodacre Lake in December. The Committee said the City would be liable for damages in case of an accident, so they directed the ice near the edges of the lake to be broken up to prevent skating.
The Times wrote: “The natural ice was reported to be splendid” elsewhere, with ice skating enjoyed on “Roger’s Pond, Carey Road, the flooded meadows in Garden City, Thetis Lake, Humpback Reservoir and Swan Lake.” (Times, Dec. 21, 1914, p. 5)
1914 was “one of exceptional Financial stringency...Council took immediate steps upon outbreak of war to curtail expenditures by over $300,000.00.”
Parks and boulevards were maintained satisfactorily.
Wooden steps were constructed to the beach off Dallas Avenue.
A “new football ground” [location unspecified] was built.
Rocks were placed around the edges of islands in the lakes. (CRS 16, Report of Superintendent of Parks and Boulevards, AR 1914, p. 58-60)
Between 1915-1920, inmates from the jail on Topaz Avenue (in what is now Topaz Park) worked on roads in Beacon Hill Park, according to a later written statement made by W. H. Warren. (Park Office files, undated)
Ice skating death
A sixteen year old boy drowned in Goodacre Lake in January. Wallace Ward and two friends were ice skating by moonlight in the Park when he fell through the ice. Trying to save Wallace, a second boy fell in, but was pulled out in time. The Times provided background information:
"When the ice formed on the lake in December, the city parks committee made an announcement in the press that no skating would be allowed on the lake, and in spite of criticism from several quarters, the ice along the edges was broken, so that no one could take any chance on the thin ice. Boards warning the public against skating, issued by the city parks committee were posted last month....Just before Christmas, a skating soldier fell in the water, which in places, particularly near the bridge, is ten feet deep. He was almost drowned.” (Times, Jan. 27, 1915, p.5)
An inquest ruled the drowning was an “accidental death” but said “the parks committee should provide more effective means for the protection of life by keeping some life-saving apparatus at the lake.”
Alderman Dilworth, chairman of the Parks Committee, said boys were warned off the lake by park patrols and warning boards were in position. The alderman said no bylaw could be passed prohibiting use of the lake on account of the park being held in trust. No regulation beyond that against general trespass could apply. (Times, Jan. 28, 1915, p.5)
Military dumping of sewage
The military dumping of sewage at Beacon Hill Park, ongoing since 1914, was challenged in court by Dr. Arthur Pallant, owner of the apartment house near the corner of Cook St. and Dallas Rd. The City of Victoria was given until June 11 by the court to arrange sewer connections at the military encampment at the Willows (Willows Fairground between Foul Bay Road and Cadboro Bay Road in what is now Oak Bay). According to a Times report, the court affidavit stated:
"...the nuisance caused at Beacon Hill at the Cook Street end had been very great and that at night when this work was done the odors and the noise were very detrimental to the peace of the residents of the Hampton Court apartment house which faces the sewer trap where the dumping occurs...With the warm weather coming...it is necessary that the practice, which has been in force under constant promise of cessation, since September, 1914, should cease."(Times, June 4, 1915, p.5)
The solicitor said it would cost the City only $750 to make sewer connections at the Willows and avoid the nightly dumping at Beacon Hill Park.
Improving the Park for “mothers and children”
A Colonist editorial reviewed Park improvements suggested in letters to the newspaper. One writer thought drinking water as well as hot water for picnics should be available in Beacon Hill Park. The editorial pointed out the only water available in the Park was at the Burns Memorial and agreed, “The Park Committee might spend a small sum for the provision of hot water for those who require it. This would necessitate the employment of an attendant.”
The letter writer also warned motor cars in the Park were a danger to children. The editorial suggested: “It would be no hardship for the drivers of vehicles to keep to the broad roads, leaving the paths to pedestrians.”
A second letter suggested paths be cut through the dense growth of Scotch broom in the Park. The editorial agreed: “It is possible for a child to get lost who enters on what seems to be a path.” [Rampant broom growth continued unchecked through the 1920's.]
Despite some problems, the paper concluded: “Beacon Hill Park is a veritable little paradise for which every mother and father in Victoria should be devoutly thankful.” (Colonist, May 30, 1917, p. 8)
A Times report in July described the nursery and greenhouse area in Beacon Hill Park. At the “trial ground” [apparently the nursery area] were displays of phlox and sweet peas, while in the greenhouse were begonias, bougainvillea, a few orchids, stag fern and geraniums:
“The trial ground is largely occupied with young trees, for planting out later at the boulevards.” It was noted there are more than sixty miles of boulevards and more than 10,000 trees and shrubs have been planted on them. "(Times, July 31, 1915, p. 7)
Stone Bridge safety questioned
City Council discussed an amendment to the parks by-law to prohibit Tally-Hos and other vehicles from stopping on the Stone Bridge. A regulation restricting the bridge to only one vehicle at a time was also discussed. Alderman Dilworth, Chairman of the Parks Committee, asserted that the Stone Bridge might not be safe for any traffic. This halted the discussion abruptly. Alderman Todd suggested discussing the bridge further after receiving a full safety report from the city engineer. (Colonist, August 3, 1915, p. 6)
Construction of military housing in the Park planned
During World War I, when housing and training facilities for soldiers at Willows camp [in Oak Bay] became overcrowded, a second military camp of equal size was proposed for Beacon Hill Park. A city committee visiting the Park on December 28 decided the best location was near the Rupert Street entrance [now Quadra Street], on the north end of the Park. Sewer and water facilities could be arranged at the site and plenty of room was available for training.
The city building inspector presented Council with a $4,631.60 proposal for a two-story military building divided into three parts. Council thought that did not provide enough accommodation because separate buildings were needed for auxiliary service and for officers’ quarters. A sub-committee was appointed to work with the military on plans and Council hoped $6,500 would be sufficient for the construction. (Times, Dec. 28, 1915, p. 5)
[A large camp was built in 1916, involving over twenty structures. By 1917, when the camp was dismantled, an estimated “400,000 feet of lumber” had been used to construct guard houses, auxiliary structures, company buildings, mess-houses, sleeping quarters, a “great messhouse in 3 tiers,” outbuildings, barracks and platforms. (See 1916 and 1917 for more details.)]
Finances continued to be restricted during the war years, so only general maintenance was done in the Park.
The deer enclosure was enlarged.
By 1915, the Park Superintendent’s responsibilities included Beacon Hill Park, North Park, Gorge Park, Mt. Douglas Park, Stradacona Park, the Nursery, Ross Bay Cemetery, the Old Men’s Home grounds, Isolation Hospital grounds, Pandora Avenue and Playgrounds and Boulevards. (CRS 16, AR 1915, p. 57-58)
Military camp takes over north end of Park
By April 2, there were 400 soldiers housed in a military camp in the Park and the number was expected to double. Some soldiers had been staying at the Prince Rupert Hotel, but were being moved to the Park as buildings were completed.
The Colonist reported: “The barracks being constructed in as picturesque a location as it is possible to find, under the spreading oaks at the entrance to Beacon Hill Park, are being converted into most comfortable quarters.”
Over a hundred of the 143rd Battalion “paraded from the barracks at Beacon Hill to attend a gala performance in their honour at the Pantagea Theatre...cheered by citizens” as they passed through the streets. (Colonist, April 2, 1916, p. 15)
On April 6, the Colonist reported that commanding officer Lt. Col. Bruce Powley expected a complete battalion to be in the barracks in a few weeks. The newspaper described the progress of construction:
"The new quarters at Beacon Hill...are now half completed. Sleeping accommodation has been provided for two companies, the sergeants’ mess is finished, the officers’ and quartermaster’s stores room is erected, and there have been built besides the guard room and frames for marquees, the latter for use at the unit’s hospital." (Colonist, April 6, 1916, p. 4)
Questions soon arose concerning rights of the public to use the park road taken over by the the 143rd Battalion B.C. Bantams. Sentries posted at the road leading into Beacon Hill Park from Heywood Avenue warned pedestrians off the paved road. The Times asked Col. Powley if he considered it a military road and gave the commanding officer’s response: “Col. Powley said the road is considered a military road for use of transport wagons but is not really closed to the public if they insist on using it.” Powley asked the public to cooperate, however, and use the other road as “it will aid in the military work being undertaken at Beacon Hill.” (Times, May 3, 1916, p. 11)
In a letter to the Times, A. T. Frampton described difficulties the military camp caused for people walking in the Park:
"May I ask...why the military authorities in charge of the Bantams in Beacon Hill Park have so arranged their camp as to cause a great deal of unnecessary inconvenience to pedestrians daily crossing the park? I refer to the stopping of the footpaths and short cuts entirely, and the pervading of others by tents and sentries, thus effectively preventing ladies from using them, as...it can hardly be expected that ladies should run the gauntlet of a running fire of comments or of passing through a line of officers’ tents when the occupants are performing their ablutions in the open. Then, again, it is not in the best taste that the guard room should have been placed exactly opposite the houses on Heywood Avenue." (Times, May 10, 1916, p. 10)
Trench warfare and target practice along waterfront
Fifty years later, a handwritten note by Park Administrator W. H. Warren described military target practice and trench warfare practice near the Park:
“During World War I, troops stationed at the ‘Willows” Fairground marched to Clover Point to practice shooting from the ranges to the butts on the point. H.Q. building was located just east of Linden Ave. And the whole area was fenced and topped with barbed wire.” (Park Office files, April 28, 1967)
[Warren doesn’t mention military personnel in Beacon Hill Park using the Clover Point Rifle Range, but they would also have practiced at Clover Point.]
Warren’s note described practice trenches along the Dallas Road waterfront as well:
“Between the ends of Cook and Marlborough St. were a series of trenches to train men in this form of warfare. These were... complete with duckboards... which were not finally filled in until after I started with the city in 1930.”
[The 1931 Annual Report states the trenches were filled in that year.]
Ice skating on Goodacre Lake
The Parks Committee agreed to allow ice skating on Goodacre Lake again. “Prior to the fatal accident last winter, the city parks committee had, for a considerable time, refused to permit skating.” However, after a prolonged cold snap and numerous requests, the chairman, Alderman Dilworth, agreed to allow skating. Skaters were advised “to keep on the part west of the Rialto bridge, and at least several yards from the bridge....If any risk appears, however, the ice will be broken up.” (Times, January 5, 1916, p.14) [The Stone Bridge was also called the Rialto bridge at the time.]
Body found in Park
The badly decomposed body of a woman was found in bushes close to the Stone Bridge by the Park Foreman in August. The woman appeared to have committed suicide by swallowing carbolic acid (three empty bottles were nearby) and had been lying dead for a month in that location. She was identified later by the latch key found near her body as a domestic servant employed by a Vancouver couple until July 30. (Times, August 29 & 30, September 16, 1916, p. 15)
Impressions of 1916 Victoria
Alfred Emberson published his impressions of Victoria in a small 1916 book titled All About Victoria. He wrote: “Indian men and women carrying big bundles in the streets of Victoria, especially at harvest time, and though by no means beautiful, they are sometimes picturesque.”
Emberson overestimated the size of Beacon Hill Park at “300 acres.” Describing the Hill as “a broom-covered knoll,” this admirer of the noxious weed said, “The quantity of broom in this park affords a wealth of golden splendour in the Spring.”
He observed plenty of goldfish in the lake and described “Aviaries and Hutches with owls, golden pheasants, pigeons, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.” He noted “two old cannons” stood between the flagstaff and the Deer Park” near “a large Chinese bell...and a totem pole.” (Emberson, Alfred. All About Victoria. Victoria Printing & Pub. Co., 1916)
[The “two old cannons” are probably the field guns mentioned in the Report of Park Keeper in 1906: “The British officers of the Garrison at Work Point presented to the Park two field guns that are out of use.” In a undated photo at the B.C. Archives, these cannons can be seen positioned by the bell, though the totem pole is not in view.]
Funds continued to be limited because of World War I, so work was restricted to general Park maintenance.
The decrepit fence around Fountain Lake was taken down and replaced with a holly hedge “which is more in keeping with the natural beauty of the park.” (CRS 16, Report of Superintendent of Parks and Boulevards, AR 1916, p. 67-68)
Large Military Camp in the Park Dismantled
In 1916, a large military camp was established in the north end of Beacon Hill Park, at a location described as being “west of Heywood Ave playing field” and “near the Rupert Street entrance” [Rupert is now Quadra Street]. The military camp included at least twenty structures and covered over five acres. [See the Annual Reports for 1918 and 1920 for descriptions of how the five acres were used after the military left.]
Council discussed how to dismantle the large number of buildings and structures “occupied by the 143rd Battalion, C.E.F. and built by the City Council for that purpose.” Buildings in the Park were: guard houses, auxiliary structures, company buildings, mess-houses, sleeping quarters, “the great messhouse in three tiers,” outbuildings, platforms and barracks. One suggestion was to use “some of the larger buildings..for convalescent quarters for ...soldiers” by moving them to Royal Jubilee Hospital grounds. Another idea was to sell smaller buildings to farmers “for stable and barn accommodation.” There was estimated to be “about 400,000 feet of lumber” in the various structures. The City was “interested in having the ground cleared up in time to seed it down for the coming season.” (Times, February 22, 1917, p. 13)
In March, an auction was held at the Park to sell the buildings “specially erected for the B.C. Bantams at a time when the accommodation at the Willows camp was taxed to the utmost.” The Times noted the buildings “are contrary to the conditions of the Trust,” so it was “suitable to sell them.”
When bids received by Council for lumber were unsatisfactory, Council decided "to auction the buildings as they stood, purchasers to be responsible for the structures from the date of the auction. Forty days are to be allowed for the removal of the buildings, but it is doubtful even with that stipulation that the site will be ready for seeding this spring."
“The small buildings, guard houses and auxiliary structures” were sold first, but “bidding showed very little spirit.” There was more interest in “the company buildings, mess-houses, sleeping quarters, etc.” However, “The great messhouse, in three tiers to meet the sloping character of the ground, only realized $56...The auctioneer then moved to the various outbuildings, platforms, etc., the lumber of which was sold for small sums..” (Times, March 19, 1917, p. 16)
On May 22, City Council issued an ultimatum concerning the last military building still standing in the Park. The man who purchased it had not removed it according to the agreed deadline. He was given one week to remove the barracks or the City would confiscate the man’s deposit and resell the building. “All the other buildings were removed... before the stipulated date...The Parks Committee is anxious to get the grounds cleaned up for Spring.” (Colonist, May 22, 1917, p. 6)
No rare animals and birds for Park zoo
A collector of rare animals and birds, Mr. Ellis S. Joseph, arrived by ship in Victoria with a large selection from “the Antipodes” available for purchase. The animal collection was housed at the Outer Wharf while Mr. Joseph visited cities in Washington State to arrange their sale. It was reported that the Bronx Zoo in New York City wired an order.
Tourists and local residents who saw the menagerie were surprised none of the animals was destined for Beacon Hill Park and many thought some should be purchased. The Colonist pointed out:
"...while thousands of dollars have been spent on school books to educate the children of the city in nature studies [and] large sums for advertising Victoria as a tourist resort, nothing much has been done toward inhabiting the parks with interesting birds and animals.
"Vancouver has patronized the collections brought here on various occasions by Mr. Joseph to such an extent that they now have a varied and extensive assortment of beautiful birds and rare animals which has proved an added attraction to the famous Stanley Park." (Colonist, June 13, 1917, p. 13)
A suggestion to label Park trees
Charles St. Barbe, a resident keenly interested in Beacon Hill Park (an article by St. Barbe was quoted earlier in this chapter), wrote a letter to the Colonist suggesting labels be put on “some of the most prominent trees...giving their botanical and common names and indicating the country in which they are native.” He was displeased the Parks Committee had not responded to a letter he wrote them on the topic.
St. Barbe said local children weren’t familiar with the trees of their own country and visitors often asked him the identity of trees. He concluded: “At present the widespread ignorance on the subject even amongst men who might be expected to know something about it is colossal and most lamentable.” (Colonist, September 12, 1917, p. 11)
“Part of park abutting on Douglas Street, near Simcoe Street was filled in, drained, and planted with shrubs.”
“A lot of additional work had to be undertaken owing to the Military Camp being located in the Park.” (CRS 16, Report of Superintendent of Parks and Boulevards, (AR 1917, p. 80-82)
The Annual Report stated that very little money was available for improvements and cited an “ever increasing cost of labour and materials and maintenance” and the “national necessity for rigid economy.”
The portion of the Park “which had been used for military purposes was put in order: one acre to grass, two acres sown with oats, and two acres put into vegetables by returned soldiers.” CRS 16, Report of Superintendent of Parks and Boulevards. (AR 1918, p. 86-87)
Nothing was undertaken “requiring large expenditure” and “only work of utmost necessity was performed.” (CRS 16, Mayor's Report, AR 1919, p. 7-13)
“A new overflow drain was laid from the lakes which put an end to serious complaints owing from their overflow during the wet weather.”
It was noted that during the last four years the development of City Parks had been “considerably restricted.” (CRS 16, Report of Superintendent of Parks and Boulevards, AR 1919, p. 63-64)