Beacon Hill Park Watering Can
A “Watering Garden” play area for children in Beacon Hill Park was officially opened July 17, 2007 on a damp, cool day. Six rainy days followed, discouraging use of the new facility, but on July 24 the sun shone and the weather was ideal for children cavorting under cold spray in swim suits. The water play area saw heavy use every sunny day in August; a few stalwart users even showed up on cold cloudy days. (All photos of the “Watering Garden” are by Norm Ringuette)
The centrepiece of the $350,000 installation at Douglas Street and Circle Drive is a 15 foot high silver stainless steel watering can with a working spout and decorative handle. A wide variety of water sprays rain down on surprised onlookers and running children, including mist, a shower-like downpour and large squirts into the air from the top of the structure. According to city worker Pete Baldini, “There is a computer inside the watering can that allows random spray patterns to evolve, which in turn increases the play value of the spray park for the users by keeping them guessing where the next blast of water will come from!”
Children can push four large coloured buttons--blue, green, red and yellow--set into the concrete wall on the north side to start different water sequences. More cautious young children can choose small buttons installed low on the can itself which deliver single low-key streams of water aimed at the pusher.
Decorative copper strips ring the can. They will discolor naturally to green, according to designer Bill Pechet, like the copper roof of the Empress Hotel. He expects colour to drip down on the stainless steel as well, making it appear older. His Vancouver-based company, Pechet and Robb Studio, Ltd., submitted the winning design for the water play area; it also has a design contract with the city for work at Ross Bay Cemetery.
The gently sloping concrete floor surrounding the watering can directs all water into a drain emptying into nearby Fountain Lake. From there, it flows down into Goodacre Lake. In summer, especially on hot days, a great deal of water evaporates from the lake system and must be replaced. The watering can will add needed water at those times. The water is not recycled but it is reused in what Coun. Chris Coleman calls “wise water use/re-use.” A second pipe leads from the watering can to the storm sewer on Douglas Street in case it is needed, but Baldini said all play area water went into the lakes this summer. (There is no stream or spring adding fresh water to the lakes. The water is constantly recirculated: a pump forces water from Goodacre Lake back up through the fountain in Fountain Lake. In winter, rain helps fill the lake. Well water is pumped into Goodacre Lake from an outlet at Arbutus Way, as well.)
Stepping stones made of old concrete create a path to the new play area from Circle Drive. A circle of blue and white tiles containing the letter “K” from the original 1926 Kiwanis wading pool was retained and placed at the drinking fountain along that path. A second set of concrete stepping-stones enter the play area from the north side path near Douglas Street.
A short concrete wall displays a marble plaque honouring the largest donor, Harborside Rotary Club of Victoria. A second adjacent plaque lists Kidsport, Victoria Foundation, Parks and Recreation Foundation and Keg Spirit Foundation. At the bottom, in smaller print, is a list of business donors. A four-stanza poem, written by Carla Funk, the City of Victoria's first Poet Laureate, is also installed on the north side of the play area, part of the “public art” component of the installation.
The only vegetation in the “Watering Garden” is grass and a row of shrubs on the north side of concrete wall and grass. Lawn encircles the facility and is ideal for family blankets; two benches provide additional seating. According to a press report, the water park has a capacity of 50 to 75 children.
A temporary portable toilet was positioned near the watering can north of the Circle Drive hedge. A permanent new toilet building is planned nearby to serve not only the water play area but also the Children’s Farm, players from the nearby Douglas sports field and others attending events on the field. There are three park washrooms readily accessible to the public in 2007. The largest washroom facility is next to the central playground east of the Cameron Bandshell, a second washroom stands by the tennis courts on Cook Street and the third is a very small building located at the corner of Dallas Road and Cook Street. Other washrooms not generally accessible to the public include facilities in the cricket and lawn bowling clubhouses, the maintenance building and the service building.
Every stage of the complicated construction was observed with interest by passers-by and nearby residents. Many city crews and contractors were involved as landscaping, pipe laying, concrete and electrical work proceeded. According to Coun. Chris Coleman, Rob Kelbough deserves recognition for his work in bringing “9 contractors to the table with $31,000 worth of ‘in kind’ support.” Joe Daly, Manager of Research, Planning & Design, was a key manager from start to finish. Crew foreman Pete Baldini worked with the fabricators of the can and oversaw the installation process. All are valued staff of the Parks, Recreation & Community Development Department. Observers looked forward to the Big Day when the giant watering can would arrive.The “Watering Garden” was constructed on the site of the eighty-year old Kiwanis wading pool. When the concrete of the 1926 pool was jack-hammered and hauled away in October, 2006, one piece was carefully saved and inserted into the new installation. The original circle of blue and white tiles with the “K,” installed as part of the new path in June,2007, can be seen in the foreground of the photo on the left. The upright pipe next to the K became the new water fountain.
In February, city workers dug up the path leading from the construction site south to Fountain Lake to lay the drain pipe and construct a six by four foot concrete box underground next to the lake. Davey Tree Care arrived to trim branches on three pines looming over the watering can site on April 30. On May 1, major action began as city workers arrived with a front end loader and roller. Ten workers plus Joe Daly were on site on May 3. The site was prepared and concrete was poured in several stages in May with more concrete delivered on June 1. On June 7, a city crew trimmed even more branches on the tree overhanging the water play area previously trimmed by Davey. Rolls of turf were delivered and rolled onto the prepared topsoil by city workers on June 27 while another crew scraped up old path asphalt along the north side of the water play area and hauled it off for recycling. Gravel was dumped and spread on the path quickly and new asphalt laid down. Another crew installed sprinklers for lawns on June 29 and new topsoil was brought in. More pallets piled with rolls of turf were delivered July 11.
A great deal of work remained to be done when invitations were sent to dignitaries, the media and members of the public on June 29 by Gail Price-Douglas. She invited everyone to the “Official Opening of the Harbourside Rotary Watering Garden” on July 17. Price-Douglas even told the press children might be able to try the water spray out a few days before that date. The pressure was on. Baldini’s scheduled holiday was postponed. There was still no sign of the giant watering can. Delivery had been postponed several times.
At last, the giant watering can was delivered July 11, one week before the official opening. A huge flat-bed truck equipped with a crane transported the can--laid flat and strapped tight--from Abbotsford to the B.C. ferry and then down Douglas Street to Beacon Hill Park. The truck parked on Circle Drive, the can was lifted by crane over the hedge, then pushed and pulled into position by a team from Accent Stainless Steel Manufacturing, can fabricators. The above photos show that process.
The spout and handle were fabricated separately, fitted together in the shop for testing, then taken apart to transport. These two photos show the spout hoisted by crane and then fitted into the can.
The handle is shown being lifted and then reattached on site.
The artistic watering can was a huge challenge for Accent to make, company spokesperson Ken Bryant explained. The complex can had to be modeled first on a computer since the stainless steel pieces were manufactured flat, then bent and welded together. Every part had to fit perfectly. The company usually makes stainless steel tanks and equipment for the dairy industry, brew houses and agricultural customers. Assessments of the completed water play area varied. Coun. Chris Coleman, a long-time supporter of the project, was pleased. He predicted “The Rotary Watering Can will be as well placed in the hearts of Victorians as the Kiwanis Wading Pool was for 75 years previously.” Reporter Russ Francis of Monday Magazine called the giant watering can design tacky and “hideous” in 2006; after completion, he still didn’t like it. It isn’t even the biggest watering can in the world, he wrote, only the third biggest. (Monday Magazine, July 12-18, 2007, p. 9)
In a letter responding to Francis, Michael Barnes praised the can: “...this is a public art project in a public park for the benefit of the city’s children. Thousands of Victoria kids...will enjoy it...and many of those will be under-privileged kids whose parents can’t afford a trip to the lake or even the pool.” (Monday Magazine, July 26-August 1, 2007, p. 4) Another resident, Alan Wilkinson, agreed with Francis, writing, “Alas, the watering can fails as both a public art project and...as something for children to enjoy...Did anyone ask children what they would like to see in a water park? Apparently not.” (Monday Magazine, August 2-8, 2007, p. 4)
The high-tech Watering Can quit working during the long B.C. weekend. Disappointed families at the site called the city Sunday, August 5, asking for the water to be turned on, assuming it was turned off because of a few patches of mud in the nearby grass. A sign was soon posted by the city on the lonely, dry can, shown in the left photo, which stated: “Due to technical malfunction, the Watering Can is not operational.” The sign suggested parents take children to the central playground, where a low-tech water play area was working fine.
The can remained water-less during the sunny Monday holiday and the following cool and cloudy two days. Two city employees with key project responsibilities--Pete Baldini and Joe Day--were on holiday. Staff had not yet been trained to handle glitches in complex can electronics. It seemed possible a technician from Vancouver might have to be dispatched. On Thursday, a city irrigation crew figured out the problem was a simple blown fuse and the can was spouting water again on August 9. The “technical malfunction” prompted this comment by Russ Francis: “Can’t the city do anything right? For $350,000, you’d think they could at least get a watering can to work. But no.” He wondered if some of the sponsors might want their names removed from the plaque and called Victoria taxpayers “proud owners of the world’s largest non-functioning watering can.” His suggested “Jack-hammering the damn thing up and replacing it with Douglas firs.” (Monday Magazine, August 9-15, 2007, p. 5) A letter in response came from C. Thompson. His four year old son and friends “love the stainless steel watering can.” He said Francis should “think of the children” because “there are few explicitly child-friendly places” in the James Bay neighbourhood. (Monday Magazine, August 16-22, 2007, p. 4)
That wasn't the only weekend without water at the new play area. The second outage was three weeks after the first. Saturday, August 25, was rainy and cold with no families interested in water play, but Sunday, August 26, was sunny with many families pushing watering can control buttons in vain. No sign was posted at the site telling residents which number to call to report malfunctions. Calls on Monday morning to the Cook Street Parks Department offices were answered by an automated message system and parents could not be certain the message got through, but the can was back in operation that afternoon. There was no water again at the watering can on the hot, sunny weekend of September 9-10, though the central playground low-tech water play area was operating as usual. On Monday morning, it appeared staff were unaware that the can was not operating.
“Maintenance and repair will be performed in house by our repair & maintenance crew; there will be several staff members trained for this function as soon as we receive the various operational manuals,” Baldini said after the first stoppage. Though an electrical box installed outside the watering can near the hedge is easy to reach, “The computer, clock and timer are enclosed inside the can and are accessed through a maintenance hatch on the top of the watering can.” according to Baldini. Workers will need those manuals, plus a tall ladder.
Possible future problems include deep scratches, theft of the copper strips, skateboarders and climbers on the watering can. The city has viable solutions for the first three problems, should they arise. Scratches on the can shouldn’t be a problem, according to designer Bill Pechet: the stainless steel is thick so even deep scratches can be sandblasted away. Coun. Chris Coleman said copper strips on the can are welded every six inches to foil stealers. A thief working to pry a strip off the watering can would get a very small reward. (High copper prices have resulted in the theft of thousands of dollars of copper wire and other copper materials in the area.) City staff consulted with skateboarders before construction to make sure the new water play area would not be attractive for skateboarding. The City maintains a city skateboard park and in exchange receives input from participants in the sport on how to discourage boarders elsewhere. Climbers could become a headache and an insurance worry if standing on the summit of the watering can catches on as a popular goal. Any strong person could throw a rope over the spout and climb up. Rock climbers won’t need a rope. Hanging on to the copper strips with fingers and toes would be a fine challenge. The can angles out from the base and that overhang could provide an extra attraction to skilled climbers.
In an end-of-the-year edition in the mode of a supermarket tabloid, the Monday Inquirer provided the last word on the watering can in 2007. "Rather than just a bad idea of ridiculous proportions, it turns out the watering can was left behind following a visit by the notorious 50-foot woman," the newspaper reported. A photo showed the giant, Nancy Fowler Archer of Arizona, retrieving her lost watering can from the park. (Monday Magazine, December 27, 2007-January 2, 2008, p. 10)