Holland Point is a 13.80 acre City of Victoria park. Dallas Road is the park’s boundary on the north, Douglas Street on the east. The western boundary is between Lewis and Boyd Streets. All north-south city streets in this area end at Dallas Road. In the photo above of Holland Point Park, the path visible on the bottom left leads from Dallas Road to the cliff. There is no road built into the park and no parking area close to the sea, as is the case on Clover Point.
Compared to heavily used and heavily developed Clover Point, Holland Point is an oasis. The main human activity in this park is walking. Residents and tourists travel by foot on the bluff pathway through Holland Point on their way to Beacon Hill Park going east or to Ogden Point heading west. Some pause to sit on benches facing the ocean.
Others climb down to sit on beach logs or prominent rocks accessible at lower tides. In the photo on the left, people watch sailboats competing in the Swiftsure Yacht Race. (Photos by Norm Ringuette)
Harrison Yacht Pond, south of Dallas Road at Government Street, is the largest constructed feature in the Park. Other installations are minimal: paths, benches, stairways to the beach, one water fountain and five granite monuments. Except for stairways to the beach, the cliffs and shoreline of Holland Point were left undisturbed until 1959, when a controversial “beautification” project radically changed beach and hillside erosion patterns, with ongoing consequences. (See Erosion section below.)
Long before white settlers came to the region, aboriginal people used all three major points along the Dallas Road waterfront--Finlayson, Holland and Clover Points--as defensive sites.
The engraved granite monument shown in the above photos stands near the western boundary of Holland Point Park. The bottom half of the monument states: “Site of an ancient fortified Indian Village. The semi-circular earthwork on the landward side of the village is still visible upon which once stood a wooden stockade.” Grant Keddie, Curator of Archaeology at the Royal B.C. Museum, explained the Holland Point defensive site was “located on the edge of a steep bluff with a semi-circular trench extending in from the sea bluff.” (Grant Keddie, “Native Indian Use of Beacon Hill Park,” RBCM Notes, Note #14/88, ISSN 0838-598x)
James Deans, who Keddie calls “Victoria’s first notable archaeological enthusiast,” first arrived in Victoria in 1857. Deans described villages on both Finlayson and Holland Point: “On Point Finlayson stood a small village protected by a moat and pallisading. Beyond the hill, at the old pest house on Dallas Road, stood another small village protected also by a moat running in a half circle from sea to sea with its pallisading.” The description by Deans was included in a letter to Parks Administrator W. H. Warren from Provincial Archivist Willard E. Ireland in 1952. Willard added: “Until recent years at least this ‘ditching’ could be readily located at the point.” (Ireland, quoting James Deans, “Extract from the Traditional History of Vancouver Island,” January 24, 1952 letter, Parks Dept. files)
Leading an archaeology walk nearby on April 23, 2005, Keddie noted the defensive rampart can still be seen on Holland Point. He reviewed the First Nation’s oral history account of a great illness causing the Holland Point people to flee inland while the Finlayson Point people remained. When the Holland Point people returned, they found the others dead in their homes. This oral history indicates people lived on Holland and Finlayson Points simultaneously. It is possible the story describes the 1782 smallpox epidemic, one of several epidemics which decimated native populations before white settlers arrived. Keddie suggested the burial cairns on Beacon Hill could have been constructed to bury this large group of people.
Keddie stated there was little midden at Holland Point, but he examined deep midden and upper deposits at the Finlayson Point fortification in 1992, concluding that site “was at least intermittently occupied from about 904 A.D. to 1689 A.D.... People lived in a village on Finlayson Point beginning about 800 or 900 years before the founding of Fort Victoria.” (Grant Keddie, “Finlayson Point, Victoria, Heritage Resource Management of Sidewalk Construction, Report to the Archaeology Branch on Permit No. 1992-109,” March 30, 1993)
When Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Factor James Douglas arrived in 1842 to select the location of the new European settlement, about 1600 indigenous people used the area for hunting, fishing and harvesting native plants. No village was located on either Holland Point or Finlayson Point at the time.
Coast Salish ancestors of the Songhees First Nation (Lekwungen) cultivated and maintained shrub-free grasslands in a six square mile area, including Holland Point, and did so for centuries before white contact. To improve the growth of camas bulbs, as well as other native plants, the Lekwammen carried on a type of agriculture. Their staple crop was bulbs of two types of camas: Common camas (Camassia quamash) and Great camas (Camassia leichtlinii). (See Chapter One and Article “Camas Country” for more detail.)
“The original vegetation cover was a mosaic of coastal prairie grassland and moist deciduous groves,” according to botanist Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw. Four natural vegetation types still exist today on Holland Point: a combination of natural grassland, moist deciduous groves on the level uplands, seaward slopes scrub and beach head and spray zone. Native vegetation on Holland Point is more healthy than Clover Point and Finlayson Point. Brayshaw explains why:
The natural grassland and groves at Holland Point are the least degraded...This area is still largely a transit area. Though many people walk through it, it has not become a destination area to anything like the degree that the segments to the eastward have. Much of the responsibility for this condition must rest on the by-law No. 92-189, which prescribes that dogs must be kept on leads, a restriction that does not apply in the other segments. As a consequence, this area still displays a healthy grassland community with something like its original appearance.
The open area supports a dense grassland community, now largely dominated by European grasses, mainly Orchard Grass (Dactylis glomerata), Velvet Grass (Holcus lanatus) and Perennial Rye-grass (Lolium perenne). Camas (Camassia quamash and Camassia leichtlinii) are abundant and conspicuous members of a rich insect-pollinated flora...
The principal change that has affected the grassland has been the introduction of the exotic grass species mentioned above. The groves have been partly inter-planted with exotic trees, but native species still dominate. The one Oregon Ash in this area is found in one of these groves.” (Brayshaw, “The State of the Wild Plant Communities of Beacon Hill Park,” January 15, 2001, p. 10, 11)
Brayshaw lists the following plant species which are rare or disappearing in the region but which could still be found on Holland Point in 2001. All of these species were seen on Finlayson Point in the past, but are gone from that area now:
Hooker’s Onion (Allium acuminatum), Harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria, Oregon Ash (Fraxinus latifolia), Greene’s Bog-orchid (Habenaria greenei), Dense-flowered Lupin (Lupinus densiflorus), California Broom-rape (Orobanche californica, Gairdner’s Yampah (Perideridia gairdneri), Coastline Bluegrass (Poa confinis), Purple Sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida), Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana), Hyacinth Brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina), Dwarf Blueberry (Vaccinium caespitosum), Prairie Violet (Viola praemorsa). (Brayshaw, “The State of the Wild Plant Communities of Beacon Hill Park,” January 15, 2001, p. 11)
The Hudson’s Bay Company established six farms to grow and market agricultural products. The map above, provided courtesy of Richard S. Mackie, shows Beckley Farm, the closest HBC farm to the Fort. Beckley Farm included Holland Point and most of the land now known as the James Bay neighbourhood.
When only forty white men lived in the Fort, few acres were ploughed. As the white population grew, more fields used by aboriginal people (Lekwungen) were appropriated for European-style agriculture. Camas and other native plants were replaced with wheat, barley, oats, peas, potatoes and turnips. In 1845, 120 acres were cultivated by the Company near the Fort. In 1846, naturalist Berthold Seeman reported “..About 160 acres are cultivated with oats, wheat, potatoes, turnips, carrots and other vegetables, and every day more land is converted into fields.” (Scholefield, p. 483) By 1855, over 200 acres were cultivated in James Bay and Fairfield. (“The Census of Vancouver Island, 1855,” BCHQ 4, January, 1940, p. 56)
Settlers grazed dairy cattle, meat cattle, sheep, horses and pigs on meadows and grasslands. Numbers of cattle and horses were small in 1843, but increased quickly. Finlayson wrote, “In 1848, the cattle increased so that it became difficult to herd them all.” (Biography, p. 20) Capt. Walter C. Grant wrote in 1851 there were 1,000 cattle and 2,000 sheep in the region. A large number of pigs ranging over prime camas meadows of the Lekwungen, destroying their crop. While the cattle and sheep ate the greenery, preventing the camas from flowering, pigs actually ate the bulbs. (Lutz, “Preparing Eden,” p. 28) In 1855, livestock in the James Bay and Fairfield areas included 26 milk cows, 25 horses and 84 swine. (“The Census of Vancouver Island, 1855,” BCHQ 4, January, 1940, p. 56)
After extensive research, Assistant Provincial Archivist Madge Wolfenden concluded the point was named after George Holland, an undistinguished Hudson’s Bay Company employee. Holland Point was not mentioned on maps or charts before 1848, when Captain Henry Kellett’s chart of Victoria Harbour (#1897) was published. Kellett surveyed the coast in the H.M.S. Herald in 1846. Wolfenden wrote:
A study of Kellett’s charts of Victoria and Esquimalt harbours reveals that a definite plan of naming had been followed, in that the names in and about Victoria distinctly pertain to the Hudson’s Bay Company and that those of Esquimalt derive from Navy personnel. (Madge Wolfenden, “The Naming of Holland Point,” British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Vol. XVIII, Jan.-April, 1954, pp. 118)
George Holland was a seaman on the Beaver’s maiden voyage to the northwest coast in 1833-36. After serving on the Beaver and the Cadboro, he taught school at Fort Vancouver in 1939, was appointed Postmaster at Fort Langley in 1843 and then transferred to Fort Victoria in 1846. He went to London, earned a Master Mariner’s certificate and returned to serve on the Norman Morison under Capt. Wishart. After disagreements with the Captain, Holland quit and nothing further is known about his career. (Wolfenden, pp. 117-121) She found no evidence Holland distinguished himself in any field or any reason his name was selected for the point.
Dr. J. S. Helmcken, who met Holland on the ship Norman Morison, later wrote: “Holland was not much of a sailor or anything else...he and the Captain being so different did not get on well together.” (Helmcken, Reminiscences, Vol II, p. 120)
The Crown gave notice to the Hudson’s Bay Company on January 20, 1858 that its Charter would not be renewed and Britain would take control of the Vancouver Island colony on May 30, 1859. Because of disputes over which lands the HBC could retain, final surrender was delayed eight long years, until April 3, 1867.
In 1863, George E. Nias and Dr. Trimble requested permission to pre-empt Holland Point. They believed the land was not included in the acreage being signed over to the British Government by the Hudson’s Bay Company and was therefore open to pre-emption. To stake their claims on the land, both men constructed buildings. Dr. Trimble’s was reported to be a “small shanty” and he soon gave up any claim.
According to eyewitness D. W. Higgins, who began working for the British Colonist in 1860 and later served in the Legislative Assembly nine years: “Nias built quite a substantial cottage and a cow-shed and stable, fenced in the land to which he laid claim and went there to reside with his family.” (D. W. Higgins, Passing of a Race, “The Pesthouse Mystery,” Toronto: William Briggs, 1905, pp. 34-48) Nias had been editor of the Victoria Gazette from April to September, 1860.
Nias did not gain title to the property, but the family lived in the house at least seven years. When Nias moved to Melbourne, Australia in 1871, Higgins reported: “...In 1871, the [Nias] buildings were vacant, the doors swung wildly on their hinges, and the wind rioted through the broken windows...the strip [of land] began to be regarded as a sort of No Man’s Land,” (p. 35) The last reference to Nias in Victoria newspapers concerned a 32 page pamphlet he wrote in Melbourne, titled “Protection U.S. Free Trade.” (British Colonist, September 21, 1871, p. 3) The nearby beach was known as “Nias Beach” until the early 1900's. (C. H. French notes, Parks Dept. Files) The deserted Nias cottage was used for a short time as a quarantine “pest-house” for smallpox patients arriving in Victoria from San Francisco. (See next section)
In June, 1872, the steamship Prince Alfred arrived in Victoria from San Francisco. Captain H. G. Williams anchored outside the harbour and came ashore to report a possible smallpox case. Dr. Matthews confirmed a young girl had the disease. Passengers were kept on board and the ship ordered into quarantine. (British Colonist, June 14, 1872) [Smallpox was a continuing danger and ship passengers were routinely inspected and held in quarantine. Smallpox epidemics had devastated native populations in 1782 and 1836 before Fort Victoria was established. After white settlement, smallpox hit Victoria in 1853 and again in 1862-63.]
Unhappy passengers groaned and hissed when the Health Officer appeared onboard the ship the next day and pelted him with potatoes as he disembarked. The sick child and her parents were taken to “the house formerly occupied by Mrs. Nias on Beckley Farm, which is now government property.” A yellow flag was hoisted over the house. (British Colonist, June 15, 1872)
The remainder of the Prince Alfred’s 25 passengers were landed at Macauley Point to be kept in quarantine while the ship was fumigated. Special constables were assigned to guard the ship and the pesthouse and ropes were placed around the quarantine area. City officials worked hard to provide tents, bedding, and a cook house. From the city, lights of the camp in the evening “presented a romantic scene after dark,” according to the newspaper. Passengers saw it otherwise. (British Colonist, June 16, 1872, p. 3)
On June 23, the five year old girl died. Bertha E. Whitney was buried on Holland Point “in the grove between the Pest-House and the sea.” By that time, at least four other sick passengers and crew from three ships had been placed in the old Nias house on Holland Point. (British Colonist, June 25, 1872, p. 3) One of the patients wandered off when the guard was asleep and appeared in Mrs. Medana’s garden before being quickly escorted back to the pest-house. It is unclear if there was more than one death at the pesthouse.
The Nias farm was in the news again when a man’s body was found lying on the floor of the deserted stable February 17, 1873. “P. Locker” was shot in the head, presumably a suicide. Higgins reported two aboriginal men found the body, exchanged their clothes for his better ones and took the pistol.
More than seventy years later, Archivist Madge Wolfenden attempted to discover exactly where the Nias house had stood on Holland Point. Cecil French responded to her inquiry: “Many of the old-timers are familiar with the fact that such a place existed, but they do not recall exactly where it was situated.” However, French did locate Frank Partridge, who said he was a member of the local Fire Brigade when they were called to a fire at the Nias house in 1874 or 1875. Partidge claimed the building was set on fire by two local men who thought it was a menace to health. (Letter to Wolfenden from French, November 15, 1945, Park Dept. Files)
Over time, the location of the girl’s grave was lost. Answering an inquiry from Parks Administrator W. H. Warren, Provincial Archivist Willard E. Ireland wrote in 1952: “Many old time residents in the city recall the picket-fence that used to surround this grave off Dallas Road...One grave at least was located in this region, as a result of the smallpox scare that broke out after the arrival of the steamer Prince Alfred in June, 1872.” (Ireland letter to Warren, January 24, 1952, Parks Dept. Files)
Warren wrote in his 1954 Annual Report that during “brush clearance” on Holland Point, “the graves of smallpox victims who died in the 1870's” were located. (CRS 108, 12 F 5, file 4, “Report of the Park Administrator, 1954)
A granite marker was erected near Holland Point restroom. It states:
"In memory of Bertha E. Whitney, age 5 years, passenger on the steamship Prince Alfred inbound from San Francisco who died of small pox June 23, 1872. Other unknown victims were also buried here. The pesthouse stood nearby on Dallas Road."
In 1878, two four-tonne guns capable of shooting 29 kilogram (64 lb.) shells up to five kilometres were mounted on the small point a few metres west of the south end of Douglas Street. The gun emplacement was named Victoria Point Battery.
The guns were similar to two placed at Finlayson Point the same year. The four coastal guns were installed in response to a perceived threat of war with Russia, which didn’t materialize. All four guns were removed in 1892. (“Guns of Empire,” Maritime Museum exhibit; Ronald Lovatt, Shoot, Shoot, Shoot: A History of the Victoria-Esquimalt Coast Artillery Defences, 1878-1956) A granite monument was erected in 1958 near the east boundary of Holland Point Park. It reads:
Victoria Point Battery. Two 64 pounder guns were placed here in 1878 for protection against an expected Russian invasion. Manned at first by volunteers from the Victoria Battery of Garrison Artillery.
W. H. Warren recorded in his Annual Report for 1958: “Waterfront: Victoria Point: Field boulder placed on this point just west of Douglas street on Dallas Road. Not officially recognized, but was the site of one of two batteries established to fend off an expected Russian invasion 80 years ago.” (CRS 108, 12 F 5, file 4, “Report of the Park Administrator, 1958)
Holland Point was transferred from the Crown to the City of Victoria on February 21, 1882 at the same time Beacon Hill Park was transferred to the City. Beacon Hill Park, identified as Section 87, was coloured red on the map used in the transfer as were Lots 31, 32 and 33 along the waterfront south of Dallas Road. Lots 32 and 33 formed Holland Point.
The Holland Point land is labeled “Reserve XXXII” and “Reserve XXXIII” on BC Archives map CM B1528 1-2 and was referred to as “Section thirty-two” and “Section thirty-three,” formerly of Beckley Farm. The dividing line between the two sections was a line extending south from the end of Government Street. [Lot 31, labeled “Reserve XXXI”, shown on the same BCA map, included land from Oswego St. west to Ogden Point, then north to where the small boat launch is now located. “Reserve XXX” began at the west end of Simcoe St. and included Shoal Point.]
Twenty-four years later, a Victoria Daily Times article questioned whether the City had clear title to the land south of Dallas Road. The 1906 article was headlined “Cloud on Beacon Hill Park Title,” with the sub-head “Crown Grant Does Not Include Esplanade.” The article pointed out Sections 87, 32 and 33 were all coloured red on the map used in the land transfer and apparently were intended to be included, but the written description of the 1882 transfer mentions only Section 87 (Beacon Hill Park). The newspaper pointed out that usually written descriptions trump maps. (Victoria Daily Times, Nov. 2, 1906, p. 2)
A member of the former Provincial Government who was involved in the 1882 transfer said the omission of the other sections in the verbal description was an oversight. The foreshore was intended to be included and the situation would easily be rectified. (Times, Nov. 6, 1906, p. 2)
For fifty years, from 1908 to 1958, the City of Victoria towed garbage out to sea on scows and dumped it into the Strait of Juan de Fuca a short distance south of Holland Point. Most garbage did not sink and prevailing winds were from the south. Piles of garbage washed up on Holland Point beaches and other beaches in the area. (See Clover Point History for more details.)
During World War II, the Department of National Defence leased the water frontage of Holland Point between South Turner and Lewis Streets from the City of Victoria. After the war, the land was returned to the City.
A letter from W. H. Warren, Parks Superintendent, dated January 17, 1941, to F. L. Shaw, City solicitor, asked that Shaw incorporate five points in the lease agreement. Warren specified:
1. The walk along the shore line and steps to the beach to be reconditioned upon termination of the lease.
2. Earthworks to be leveled and grassed.
3. Buildings and roads to be removed on request of the City Council.
4. Fences to be removed.
5. The whole area to be returned to the City in a condition approaching, as near as possible, that in which it was found.
Warren also specified: “If a road is to be constructed to the waterfront, a cement crossing must be made across the boulevard to the satisfaction of the Engineer’s Department.” Warren then added: “The City Parks Department request the use of any surplus black soil removed in any excavation.” (Letter in Parks Department files)
Searchlights were installed and at least eleven buildings were erected by the military. On a map titled “Coast Defenses 1939-1956, two searchlights are listed at Holland Point. (R. Lovatt, Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, p. 98)
After the war, the Parks Department arranged to purchase and relocate some of the “Army huts” erected on Holland Point. The acquisition of the surplus army huts for use in Beacon Hill Park was first suggested on October 12, 1945. Parks Committee minutes noted interest in “any buildings at Clover and Holland Points recently vacated by the Army which might be suitable for recreational purposes.” On November 21, after an examination of the buildings, Chairman McTavish listed five structures he thought the Park could use... “including four [buildings] on Holland Point: Sargeant headquarters #2, Barrack Room #3, Bathhouse #5 and Tool shed #11.” McTavish said the City would pay for these buildings and move them. The discussion on purchasing and moving army huts continued through 1946 and into 1947.
The Daily Colonist reported in February, 1946: “The City Council was advised by War Assets Corporation that the huts had been declared surplus.” Alderman McTavish, Parks Committee Chairman, recommended “purchase of several army hutments at Holland Point. One hut may be placed between two football fields in Beacon Hill Park, opposite Beacon Hill School.” (Daily Colonist, February 21, 1946, p. 1)
The huts were recorded in Park Committee Minutes as “recently purchased” on May 29, 1946. (CRS 106, 12 F 3, File 7) By September, 1946, two Holland Point buildings were ready to move into the Park. (Victoria Daily Times, September 14, 1946, p. 8) In October, the Park Committee decided “That the building formerly used as officers quarters at Holland Point be moved to Beacon Hill Park to be used as a home for the caretaker of the Animals and Birds, the site to be selected by the Park Committee.” On January 17, 1947, a site was chosen for this building “west of the corner of Park Boulevard and Heywood Ave.” (CRS 106, 12F2) Warren reported that one surplus army building was moved “into the service yard opposite the bear cage to accommodate park employees.” Another building was placed in the Nursery.
A third Holland Point army hut, moved into position near the central playground for use by the public, is still in the same location today. This 20' x 60' structure, called the “Sports Building” or the “Sport Hut,” served for years as a dressing room for winter sports and headquarters for a playground supervisor in summer. The Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan (2004) recommended the Sport Hut be “protected, interpreted and adapted for more active public use” and suggested using it as “an interim interpretative centre.” (p. 65)
By-law 3293 was passed in 1947 designating Holland Point, 13.80 acres, as a public park. The Victoria Daily Times reported:
"The Parks Committee will recommend to the City Council that the waterfront property south of Dallas Road between Douglas Street and the seawall west of Lewis Street be dedicated as a park, to be called Holland Point Park, Ald. D. D. McTavish, Committee Chairman, said..." (Victoria Daily Times, July 24, 1947, p. 22)
In 1949, Dallas Road home owners began a campaign to “beautify” Holland Point. Their main interest was clearing vegetation which blocked their views of the ocean. Unsuccessful at first, the residents persevered, expanding their arguments for clearing to include “unsavory behaviour” in the bushes. By 1954, they had gained general support for replacement of natural vegetation--referred to as a “messy jungle”-- with landscaped features. A series of grants from the provincial government resulted in sweeping changes to natural areas. Vegetation was chopped, Harrison Yacht Pond was constructed and the area around the pond planted in lawn and landscaped. The consequences of a huge “erosion control” project along the beach and cliffs is described in the next section.
The campaign for “beautification” began in 1949 when the town planning commission received a petition from property owners requesting that every other tree between Paddon Avenue and Government Street (the eastern portion of Holland Point) be cut down and underbrush cleared out. They stated the vegetation blocked their views of the Strait. Alderman Duncan McTavish, one of the homeowners, said residents paid for ocean views and had a right to complain. He said the brush was “a cesspool.”
Mr. Kirkpatrick Crockett protested brush should not be removed, because it helped prevent erosion and held the bank. Crockett said the trees were an asset and “belong to the city, and I have as much right to preserve them as the people who live in front of them.”
McTavish predicted: “There’ll have to be a major operation along the waterfront to check erosion. I don’t know what it will cost.” (Daily Colonist, March 26, 1949, p. 3)
A great deal of correspondence about removing brush and trees on the seaward side of Dallas Road was received in 1949 by the Parks Committee. Those in favour of leaving the natural growth won a temporary victory and the trees and brush were not cut. (CRS 106, 12 F 3. F. 5)
Newly installed Mayor Claude Harrison offered a very different proposal for Holland Point Park in January, 1952. He proposed planting the land south of Dallas Road from Douglas Street to Boyd Street entirely with native trees, shrubs and plants, “all plants known and native to Victoria since 1843.” The Victoria Daily Times noted the new Mayor was enthusiastic about “the scientific side.” Harrison wanted to “Gather as much as is known of the edible and non-edible plants, even going into the fungi. It will be a tremendous field of study. Fungi growth is high in penicillin.” Harrison was certain a native plant area would be a tourist attraction: “Let them see the living plants. We could have even the lowly salal and Oregon grape...all plants known and nature to Victoria since 1843.” (Victoria Daily Times, January 24, 1952, p. 11) This grand scheme did not proceed. Harrison’s next plan, building a model boat pond, was completed (see next section).
A $50,000 capital city grant was announced for the “improvement” of the Holland Point waterfront in 1954. The Daily Colonist wrote, “City officials and residents of Dallas Road were jubilant.” Acting Mayor Frank Mulliner said it was “long overdue.” He hoped it would be a first step in a gradual “beautification” of the entire waterfront. Ald. Arthur Dowell, Public Works Committee Chairman was pleased the province would fund the project. Dowell said the Holland Point area could be made into “a beautiful little park.” A. E. Bayliss of 606 Dallas Road said residents were “up in arms” over the “jungle” of growth along the waterfront and wanted it removed. Mrs. B. E. Sterling, 544 Dallas Road, wanted removal of the brush as well to make the area “much nicer.” (Daily Colonist, September 1, 1954)
Four men--Parks Administrator W. H. Warren, city engineer Cyril Johnes, provincial landscape architect R. H. Savery and regional planning director J. H. Doughty-Davis-- were to produce a plan for improving the Dallas Road area from Douglas to Menzies Streets. A landscaped informal garden using native trees and plants was possible, but no commercial enterprise was planned.
Municipal Affairs Minister Wesley Black promised the capital city grant would become an annual appropriation. The idea was to have an over-all beautification plan for Victoria’s entire waterfront and to concentrate on one area each year.
Native vegetation was in big trouble. The first step in 1954 was to be removal of the “unsightly brush,” as requested by Dallas Road residents. “No work is contemplated for the steep cliff face, which is now covered with gorse. Officials say the present growth is better left in place to prevent erosion.” (Daily Colonist, September 1, 1954)
A September, 1954 Victoria Daily Times newspaper photo shows the natural cliffs and beach south of Paddon Street slated for “improvement.” The caption stated the area was slated for a $50,000 ‘face-lifting,” an odd word choice to apply to natural landscape. The accompanying article explained the capital city grant money would be spent on “extensive beautification of Holland Point.” The area would be turned “from dense gorse and broom waste to a valuable scenic attraction.” The entire amount was to be spent before winter. (Victoria Daily Times, September 2, 1954)
Warren’s 1954 Annual Report did not detail what work was done. He merely noted “brush clearance” was proceeding at Holland Point and work was being paid for by a “Beautification Grant” from the Province ($50,000). (CRS 108, 12 F 5, file 4, “Report of the Park Administrator, 1954)
In 1955-1956, the Harrison Yacht Pond was constructed at Holland Point and the area landscaped (see detailed section below) using “Beautification” grant funds. Warren noted: “...boulevard trees by the yacht pool were removed.” The tree removals were controversial, with the Local Council of Women and F. B. Pemberton opposed. (W. H. Warren to C. C. Wyatt, October 29, 1962, File: 1701-4, Park Dept. Files, Cook Street attic)
In 1961, property owners near Holland Point continued pressure on City Council to clear trees and brush to enhance their views. They claimed the wooded area was used “for immoral purposes and as a public toilet.” A letter to Parks Administrator W. H. Warren from the Thetis Park Nature Sanctuary Association, dated February 18, 1961, supported Warren’s position that cutting of trees and brush on city property was unwise. The Association pointed out three advantages of “leaving that wooded area intact.” It was a scenic asset, an asset to nature lovers and an asset to bird life because it provided food and protection. The Association agreed with Warren that activities in the woods “were matters for police attention and for public education.” (Park Dept. Files, Cook Street attic)
In a October 29, 1962 report to C. C. Wyatt, Municipal Manager, Warren marshaled evidence and opinion against removing trees on Dallas Road and Holland Point. “This has been a live issue since early in 1949,” he reminded Wyatt. He repeated the opinion of the Victoria Town Planning Commission in 1949 that “...there can be no obligation on the part of the city to create and perpetuate a view at the general expense.” He cited groups opposed to clearing: “In 1960, the Victoria Natural History Society wrote the Mayor and City Council protesting any removal of brush on Holland Point...” In 1961, the Victoria Horticultural Society opposed the removal of wild material on the waterfront, specifically stating nearby property owners must not dictate removal of park trees and shrubs. Warren concluded:
I think the public interest overrides the desires of the residents on Dallas Road. One of the nicest seafront walks is along Holland Point. When one stands south of the bush one can not see much evidence of city life. You are alone with Nature and that is what makes it so pleasant. If this atmosphere were lost, the area would lose its charm; but in addition, it would cost the City a great deal to clear the area and maintain it free from brush afterwards.
Once the brush is removed, it cannot easily be replaced because of the exposure. Any landscape planting or another character would be very slow and costly procedure.
It is recommended that the trees and bush be preserved in their natural state. (W. H. Warren to C. C. Wyatt, October 29, 1962, File: 1701-4, Park Dept. Files, Cook Street attic)
The City Parks Committee backed Warren, in what the Victoria Daily Times said was “a running battle with Ald. J. L. W. McLean. “Ald. McLean repeatedly has called for trimming or removal of the natural obstructions so that the nearby homeowners could see the strait from their living rooms.” (Victoria Daily Times, October 30, 1962, p. 13)
Harrison Yacht Pond was constructed at Holland Point in 1955 and landscaping was completed the next year, according to W. H. Warren’s Annual Report:
"A yacht pool was constructed from the Provincial grant for beautification and the seafront footpath renewed and widened. Completion of landscaping around the pool will be done in 1956." (CRS 108, 12 F 5, file 4, “Report of the Park Administrator, 1955, p. 13)
The granite monument erected at the yacht pond in 1998 included the wrong date (1953). It was corrected by the city in June, 2006. It now reads:
"Harrison Yacht Pond. Dedicated in 1956 by Mayor Claude Harrison for the fun and enjoyment of model boating, Victorians and visitors alike."
Claude Harrison, a former Mayor of Victoria, was instrumental in building the pond which bears his name. It was specifically designed for free-sailing model sailboats. Trees and shrubs had not yet grown south of the pool to block the wind, so the site was appropriate for sailing. Radio controlled power boats are most commonly used there today. The Victoria Model Shipbuilding Society website states pond measurements are 80 meters by 30 meters and that it was dubbed 'Harrison's Folly.'
The pond was used several times for ice skating. There were two days of skating in December, 1956 and three days of skating in early January, 1959, according to Parks Administrator W. H. Warren’s Annual Reports for those years. In 1957, the Victoria Fish and Game Protective Association taught fly casting to youths at the yacht pool each weekend during the summer.
In 2005, members of the Victoria Model Shipbuilding Society and others who do not belong to the club operate powered scale ship models and the occasional sailboat on Sunday mornings, drawing a few spectators. The area around the Pond is landscaped with mowed lawn; benches and a picnic table are nearby as well as a small concrete washroom.
A design flaw in Harrison Yacht Pond created a deathtrap for Mallard ducklings. Once they followed their mothers into the pond, high concrete sides prevented the young ducks from climbing back out. They remained in the water under they die from exhaustion and cold. Warren first noted the problem in 1958 when Park staff tried to herd and relocate the ducklings but failed. In 2001, local birder Roy Prior monitored the fate of 80 ducklings entering the Pond. He reported 100% mortality.
The left photo below, taken on May 15, 2005, shows another group of ducklings doomed to die. Efforts of bystanders to drive them across the pond to a possible escape up a concrete gangplank plank failed. Assuming that Roy Prior's count in 2001 is typical, it is possible as many as 4,000 ducklings have died in Harrison Yacht Pond in the last fifty years. A plank set perpendicular to the side, shown in the centre photo, was in place for years but was useless: ducklings swim hugging the side of the pond and pass underneath.
The right hand photo shows a new and successful gangplank system. In spring, 2006, four new 1.2 metre (4 ft.) duckling gangplanks, ingeniously designed by Rob Kelbough, Parks Department Project Manager, were positioned parallel to the pond sides, tops bolted level with the deck, bottoms floating on the water. Though still vulnerable to hungry gulls in the open water, ducklings were able to climb out of the water at last.
In 1961, Parks Committee Chairman Ald. Millard Mooney proposed a pitch and putt golf course at Holland Point. A preliminary report indicated an annual operating cost of $20,000 plus “a staggering $65,000 capital investment,” according to the Victoria Daily Times. Parks Administrator W. H. Warren said the golf installation would destroy a natural area and there would be objections to the required fencing. (Victoria Daily Times, May 30, 1961, p. 24)
For thousands of years before white settlers came to the area, waves pounded the base of the cliffs and rain loosened soil above the beaches. Victoria historian and archivist John Adams gives an aboriginal perspective on coastal erosion:
"The first people who lived next to the Dallas Road cliffs called them ‘Heel-ng-ikun’ (“falling away bank”). Generations of natives had seen how winter’s howling winds drove waves to crash against the Island’s southwest shores and reduced rock to slurry on the beach below the bluffs they called home." (John Adams, Times Colonist, Islander, Dec. 5, 1993, M 6)
In 1995, geologist Chris Yorath, formerly of the Geological Survey of Canada, and Hugh Nasmith, a geotechnical engineer, provided a geological perspective on Dallas Road waterfront erosion in their book The Geology of Southern Vancouver Island, A Field Guide:
The foreshore along Dallas Road... is characterized by steep cliffs facing upon the Strait of Juan de Fuca. While not immediately apparent, the cliffs are receding by as much as twelve centimetres per year, such that, over the past one hundred years, the footpath along the top of the cliffs has been relocated at least three times...
Natural processes associated with ground water, wave action and the nature of the sediments of the cliffs, together with human activity, affect the stability of these bluffs. Ground water seeping from several places at varying rates during the year leads to gullying and small landslides. The action of waves, particularly during winter storms, greatly contributes to erosion and retreat of the bluffs. Westward from Finlayson Point, bedrock helps to retard these effects...The numerous paths crossing the cliff-face concentrate rainwater runoff in channels, leading to accelerated erosion. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, it is estimated that the cliffs have receded by about 10 metres. C. J. Yorath and H. W. Hasmith, The Geology of Southern Vancouver Island, A Field Guide, Orca Book Publishers, Victoria, 1995, p. 85)
Stairways, paths, walls, berms, reefs and breakwaters constructed by the City of Victoria in an effort “to stop” or “reduce” erosion have unintentionally contributed to erosion. Some details from a very long and complex history of erosion and efforts to control it at Holland Point are presented here.
In 1959, the first major construction project intended to slow or halt erosion on Holland Point south of Paddon Street drastically changed the appearance of both the beach and the cliffs. The natural Holland Point beach and cliff as it appeared before construction began is shown in the left photo below, taken in 1954. A stairway was the only constructed feature.(Victoria Daily Times, Sept., 1954)
The photo on the right was taken soon after the 1959 so-called “beach repair” construction was completed. The seawall extended along what is now called Fonyo Beach and a wide asphalt walkway stretched 300 metres from Holland Point to Fonyo Beach at the base of the cliffs. The photo caption stated: “Results of work at Holland Point by Capital Improvement District Commission engineers $20,000 project. Seawall was built to prevent erosion and the new walk to the sea makes it a choice spot for sightseers.” (Daily Colonist, Sept. 24, 1959, p. 8)
The “improvement” and “beach repair” project was a disaster. Before 1959, gravel eroding naturally from the cliffs maintained the level of the beach for thousands of years. The new seawall prevented gravel replenishing the beach and the beach became lower each year. As the beach lost elevation, wave action increased on the walkway, undermining and damaging it.
The 1978 photo on the right shows city engineer John Sansom checking cracks in the walkway on top of the cliffs. Thurber Consultants had warned that erosion of the foot of the slope had created steep cliff faces and that a landslide could be massive. (Victoria Daily Times, November 3, 1978, p. 33 ) In November, 1978, the City Council approved a recommendation by the Parks Department to spend $6,000 to shore up the seaside slope below the Paddon Avenue seawall. Sansom wanted an area above the highwater mark excavated and filled in with rock. (Daily Colonist, November 4, 1978, p. 21)
This May, 1983 photo shows Sansom looking glumly at the eroded seawall damaged by winter storms. Sansom warned City Council that Dallas Road could be lost in “maybe 100 years” if erosion was not stopped. He showed slides of high waves and logs battering the cliffs and warned preserving the cliffs was an on-going project. “There’s no such thing as a permanent seawall.” (Times Colonist, May 6, 1983, p. B 8)
Undeterred by poor results from the 1959 construction, Sansom advocated major rebuilding and shoring from Clover Point to Holland Point in 1983. He estimated work would cost $3 million dollars. (Times Colonist, May 25, 1983, p. B 1)
In 1986, as Sansom continued advocating major “repair” to cliffs from Clover Point to Holland Point, Eileen Learoyd argued the city should have learned that a “wall in the wrong place can actually start erosion” and that any future coastal work must be on a small scale. She reminded residents the composition and height of the Holland Point beach was changed as a result of the 1959 construction project. The bay had been “a unique haven” with a sandy beach enjoyed by sunbathers and barefoot children before 1959. Afterward, it was “artificially barren...monstrous paving cuts the beach in half. Ankle-breaking boulders fill the few yards left on the ocean side of the road.” Instead of a pleasant footpath along the shore, there was a “highway for trucks.” Learoyd said the cliff had been ruthlessly defaced and “a wildly beautiful, natural seacoast” ruined. Native vegetation holding the bank had been bulldozed and machines sent “down the scalped bank to construct an 18-foot-wide concrete and macadam top road along the shore, propped up by huge, jagged rocks.” She said the City of Victoria should not allow the “happy bulldozing brigade” to work again. (Times Colonist, September 11,1986, A 4)
In July, 2002, City Council approved a $227,000 plan to dump barge loads of gravel on the Holland Point beach in an effort to protect the walkway stretching from the point to Fonyo Beach. “We’ve got a depleted beach and a rotten seawall,” city engineer Clive Timms said. (Times Colonist, July 12, 2002, B 1)
JJM Construction was hired to deposit 6,000 tonnes of gravel along the edge of the inter-tidal zone, which the city claimed was mostly devoid of vegetation and animal life. The plan would affect 125 meters of shoreline that was used by herons, ducks and otters. Boulders were planned for that area with the idea it would compensate for lost habitat. Approval was received from federal and provincial authorities. The model for the project was the “successful restoration of the beach at Ross Bay,” though many residents consider the steep gravel Ross Bay beach to be a disaster. Timms said the Holland Point work would require only a tenth of the gravel used in Ross Bay. He expected the project to be complete in September. (Times Colonist, July 18, 2002, A 15)
In August, Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw predicted dumping tons of gravel along the beach from Holland Point east to Fonyo Beach would render 125 square meters of shoreline “sterile for many years to come.” As planned, the city unloaded 6,000 tons of gravel on Fonyo Beach, calling it “beach nourishment.” Dr. Brayshaw had predicted the gravel would migrate west and it did so quickly. “Propelled by heavy surf raised by southeasterly gales, the gravel...reached the rocks of Holland Point” by December 17, 2002. A beach map drawn by Dr. Brayshaw traced the speed of this movement over two months time. The two photos below illustrate the sterile gravel beach predicted by Dr. Brayshaw. (Norm Ringuette photos - June, 2005)
In Dr. Brayshaw's view, it was unwise to have constructed the Holland Point seawall walkway in the first place because “such projects undercut and steepen the slopes, and put structures to seaward of the natural high tide line, exposing them to damage or displacement by wave action.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, August 2002, p. 5) Dr. Brayshaw later concluded that dumping gravel on Fonyo Beach damaged habitat, cost $227,000 and didn’t work. The concrete poured to hold rocks together along the path was quickly broken up by wave action and waves continued to undercut the blacktop path. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2003, p. 2, 3)
A Parks Department plan to replace the asphalt surface of the pathway from Clover Point to Holland Point with crushed basalt met with opposition in 2000. The plan was to double the width of the path from 1.5 metres to 3 metres and install a drainage system, cliff barriers to control erosion and more directional signs. Mayor Lowe said the path needed improvement: “It dips, curves and cracks all over the place. We need to deal with it.” Protesters said the gravel surface would be difficult for wheelchairs, strollers, walkers and electric scooters. Fairfield resident Jack Stibbe presented council with a 117 name petition against the new path. Joe Daly, city parks manager of planning and design, said additional research and public consultation would take place and work was delayed. (Times Colonist, August 25, 2000, A 1)
In February, 2001, the crushed basalt surfacing was going ahead. Staff concluded the material was fine for wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, crutches, baby carriages, strollers and joggers. It would be bad for in-line skaters and skateboards, just the users not allowed on the pathway. The basalt would cost $250,000 and prevent problems with runoff water and drainage. Cost for asphalt was $50,000 more. Basalt was to be applied to a short section of the walkway in spring as a preview test for summer work on the rest of the path. (Times Colonist, February 16, 2001, B 1) After continued negative feedback, City Council decided in March, 2002 to replace the test section of basalt pathway along Dallas Road with asphalt and asphalt the remainder of the pathway. (Times Colonist, March 29, 2002, B 1)
More than two dozen schooners, brigs, ketches, barques and yawls participated in the Victoria Tall Ships Festival June 23 to 26, 2005. The Russian ship Pallada was by far the largest, at 356 feet long and masts 160 feet tall. The 270 foot Mexican ship Cuauhtemoc was also an impressive size. (Times Colonist, "Tall Shipping News," June 21, 2005)
Large crowds lined the Dallas Road waterfront to view the "parade of sail" on the first day. The left photo above shows an unusually crowded Holland Point beach on June 23. Above right is a large crowd watching from the Holland Point bluff. (Photos by N. Ringuette)
Crowds lined the waterfront again for scheduled 7 p.m. mock cannon battles June 24, 25 and 26 between the Lady Washington (used in the film Pirates of the Caribbean) and the Lynx. Due to high winds, the first battle took place far from shore, but Sunday night was calm and the battle was much closer. There were spectacular views of ship maneuvers from Holland Point. To create realistic flashes, bangs and smoke, the ships cannons shoot a mixture of gunpowder and Bisquick wrapped in foil.