Beacon Hill Park History

By Janis Ringuette

Copyright 2004. Limited excerpts are permitted but please credit the author.

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Chapter Nineteen: 2003-2004


Great Blue Heron Colony

The highest number of active nests in the history of the Beacon Hill Park Great Blue Heron colony was recorded in 2003. Nearly three hundred birds crowded into one small area of the Park. The sights, sounds and smells produced by this large Great Blue Heron colony were spectacular.

Heron colonies are usually located in isolated sites far from the noise and activities of humans and their machines. The Park colony nest trees are within easy walking distance of downtown Victoria. They stand a few feet east of Douglas Street, a busy, noisy city thoroughfare.

The large, slow-moving herons can easily be seen without binoculars. During their seven months presence in the Park each year--January through August--visitors can observe a whole range of heron behaviours, including courtship displays, nest building, mating, the feeding of demanding, noisy young birds and the responses to Bald Eagle attacks.

Herons building a nest

In the photo above, two Great Blue Herons construct a nest high in a Douglas fir in Beacon Hill Park. Most twigs are collected one at a time from nearby trees and brought to the sites by males. Females place them in position on the nests. Impossibly long branches are often delivered and countless sticks fall to the ground. The finished nests are loose, messy piles of sticks. (This outstanding photo by Darren Stone was published March 23, 2004 in the Times Colonist and is included with permission.)

In 2003, there were 99 active nests with 75 young birds successfully fledged at the Great Blue Heron Colony at Douglas Street, opposite Avalon. (Great Blue Heron Breeding Colony Database, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management; provided by Ross Vennesland, B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection.) At least 18 heron chicks were killed when they fell to the ground during the season.

Sign - A year in the life of herons

Two explanatory signs were erected near the Heron nest trees the beginning of July, 2003 and remained in place at the end of 2004. One of the signs, titled "A Year in the Life of a Heronry,” is shown here. Short general descriptions of North American Great Blue Heron behaviours each month of the year are illustrated with drawings. The other sign presents specific information about the Beacon Hill Park colony in 2002.

In July, metal tags were nailed on each heron nest tree by Trudy Chatwin, Rare and Endangered Species Biologist, B. C. government, Nanaimo. Each tag was numbered and stamped “Province of British Columbia Great Blue Heron Inventory.” Tags remain on seventeen nest trees, but six numbers in the sequence were already missing a few days after being attached, apparently removed by Park visitors.

Cooper's Hawks

There were two Cooper’s Hawks nests in Beacon Hill Park in 2003. Wildlife biologist Andy Stewart banded four chicks on June 19 at the nest across Circle Drive from the wading pool. Another nest, known to Parks staff but unknown to Stewart, was behind the Service Building. Those chicks went unbanded.

Bald Eagles

The Bald Eagles did not nest in the Park in 2003.

City waffles on charity event advertising banners

In January, the City approved the first permit for park use under new restrictions stipulating there would be no vending, corporate signs or booths allowed in the park. When the 2003 World Partnership Walk, sponsored by the Aga Khan Foundation, received a permit for the late May event, it was without the traditional banners advertising local businesses at the start line. Joe Daly, Park design and development manager, said another start area might be possible outside the park in 2004. Elizabeth Low suggested St. Ann’s as an alternative venue.

However, national sponsors--CTV and the Globe and Mail--were allowed to display corporate banners at the Cameron Bandshell along with a third banner listing other sponsors. The rationale for these exceptions was that sponsorship commitments had been in place for months. (Times Colonist, January 18, 2003, B 1)

An editorial the next day was in favour of advertising at charity events and suggested “park visitors should be able to buy a cool beer on the hilltop, or a glass of wine to enjoy along with a little food.” The writer said the Park “could have a few more modern conveniences without jeopardizing its magnificence.” Quoting a description of the Park in 1893 and comparing it to the Park in 2003, the writer reached this surprising conclusion: “the ducks have become more numerous and a bit ratty.” (Times Colonist, January 19, 2003, D 2)

At the end of February, Mayor Alan Lowe spoke against the recommendations of the Round Table on reducing commercialism in the Park--reached after months of discussion--as well as recommendations of City staff. The new rules had been labouriously hammered out to move toward compliance with the 1998 judicial ruling of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Wilson. Lowe said: “The issue here is how far does the pendulum swing. I am a bit concerned at the direction it is going...I believe it has swung too far.” Lowe was on the side of charity events such as the CIBC Run for the Cure, which wanted to continue advertising: “I believe that a lot of those charity events in the park were good for the whole community. We raise funds for many worthwhile charities.” (Times Colonist, February 28, 2003, C 3)

The Times Colonist 10K Run was scheduled for the Park again with a few changes. Bands and performers would greet runners as they crossed the finish line at the edge of Beacon Hill Park at Niagara. The 1.5 K Lifestyle Markets Kids Fun Run would start in and loop through the Park. (Times Colonist, April 7, 2003, A 2) City Council “restricted” the amount of advertising for the 10K Run. The size of finish line banners was restricted, the number of commercial trucks and food and beverage tents limited. Distribution of handbills was banned and wildflower areas were to be cordoned off. A different location for future runs was being considered. The 2002 10K Run had 7,842 entrants and netted $63,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of B. C. In 2003, there was a “record crowd” and 9,947 participants. (Times Colonist, April 24, 2004, D 1, April 28, 2003, A 2)

A letter from a Saanich resident was published on May 1, calling the Friends of Beacon Hill Park “narrow-minded and selfish” for not wanting advertising in the Park and being concerned about wildflowers. Steve James, a participant in the run, said the Park was a “perfect location” for the 10K Run and the city of Victoria should continue to have it there.

In October, the debate on restricting commercialism at charity events heated up again. Columnist Jack Knox weighed in on October 6, saying the CIBC Run For the Cure had “been chased out of its traditional home in Beacon Hill Park.” 5,600 people took part in the October event in 2003 and $330,000 was raised for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. But those numbers were smaller than in 2002, when 6,300 people participated and $381,000 was raised. Knox thought the change of venue had a negative impact. The start and finish of the run were at Ogden Point, though the run proceeded through the Park. Knox wrote:

"The breast cancer fund-raiser fell victim to the grim-eyed orthodoxy of those who see all forms of commercialism--even the banners of corporate sponsors of a charity event--as a contravention of the 19th century rules governing the park. "(Times Colonist, October 6, 2003, A 1, A 2)

An organizer of the event, Heather Kohler, praised the Ogden Point location: “I love having this much space.”

On October 7, 2003, Channel Six television interviewed former Mayor Bob Cross. Speaking for the Chamber of Commerce, Cross said: “A small number of people are really shutting down the park for events that are in the best interest of the community.” Mayor Lowe, on the same television segment, said: “Sponsorship is not allowed at this point,” but the policy would be reviewed.

Times Colonist 10K Run organizers told City Council that unless sponsors were allowed to display signs and banners in the Park, the event might be canceled. Kathy Baan urged Council to let the run continue for five years. She said in 2003 the 10K Run raised $84,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “The sponsors don’t sell items at the event. They simply show their logos or names.” Council asked staff for advice before making a decision. Donna Atkinson, Victoria’s Manager of Parks, Recreation and Community Development, said other groups had tailored their events to fit the rules or moved elsewhere. Coun. Pam Madoff said the City had spent years developing a policy on use of the Park and the TC Run should be treated no differently than other events. They could find another location.

Coun. Chris Coleman supported continuing the TC Run, saying he was not offended by “sponsor recognition” that was needed to fund the events. “I think this is a signature piece. It generates a great deal of pride in the community.” Coun. Bea Holland agreed, saying “selling beer and hotdogs” in the Park was the kind of commercialism to prevent, not signs.

Betty Gibbens said the TC Run was “replete with commerce...there’s sponsorship signs all over” and it was the duty of Council to preserve the character of the Park. The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce board said the City should allow use of Beacon Hill Park for charity fundraising events like the 10K Run. (Times Colonist, October 10, 2003)

In an article titled “Beacon Hill Park Belongs to All of Us: Preservation vs. Balanced Use,” published in the Business Examiner - Enterprise, Doug Potentier, CEO, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, leveled his guns at “a group of preservationists whose agenda is incompatible with our community’s needs, values or wishes.” He meant those opposed to using the Park for charity fund-raising events which included advertising.

Potentier wrote: “the preservationist’s definition of public use is stark. Protection over everything else...strict preservation is an easy mandate to discharge, requiring only a negative response...” By contrast, the Chamber of Commerce and others had a “balanced” and “reasonable” approach, which he said was much more difficult. (Chamber of Commerce website)

On November 20, City Council decided to allow advertising banners in the Park for the 2004 Times Colonist 10K Run. The number and size of finish banners would be “restricted”: the number of commercial trucks limited to six, food and beverage tents limited to six. The finish was relocated to the edge of the Park on Douglas Street. Council asked staff to suggest alternate sites for 2005. (Times Colonist, November 21, 2003, A 5)

This was again billed as “compromise.” The decision did not comply with B.C. Supreme Court Justice R. D. Wilson’s October 8, 1998 ruling which specifically addressed the issue of advertising signs and banners and concluded that all commercial signs were unacceptable because "sponsors would anticipate profit from their advertising." Wilson upheld Chief Justice Begbie's previous ruling concerning acceptable uses of the Park and quoted a key sentence from Begbie: "All establishments addressing themselves to profit or utility are...excluded by the terms of the trust..." Justice Wilson pointed out the City could move for a termination of the trust if it didn't like the trust restrictions. City Council chose not to do that.

[In December, 2004, Victoria Council approved a new route for the April 24, 2005 Times Colonist 10K Run, for the first time complying fully with the 1998 court ruling. An anticipated 10,000 runners would start on Superior Street and run through Beacon Hill Park to Dallas Road. The finish line would be in front of the Empress Hotel, with post-event activities set up at Ship Point. (Times Colonist, December 18, 2004. C 1)]

Fifth annual tribute to Churchill

The fifth annual memorial tribute to Sir Winston Churchill took place Sunday at 2 p.m. in Beacon Hill Park. Columnist Les Leyne invited people to attend the event in Mayors Grove at the Hawthorne planted by Churchill in 1929. (Times Colonist, January 18, 2003, A 12)

Fourth Luminara

Large bird at the Luminara

The fourth Luminara was held in the Park on July 26 with many large lantern installations including a sailing ship, a dragon and the large bird in the photo by N. Ringuette. Thirty musical and theatre groups, stilt-walkers and fire jugglers performed.

One of the most unusual performances was Sven Johannsson’s Discovery Dance, set up on the Cricket Pitch. As shown in the photos below, dancers soared in the air at the ends of boom-like metal poles. Each pole was guided by a person on the ground. The first performance before dark allowed the audience to view the staging in operation; after dark, the dancers, holding lights, seemed to float and fly free in the air.

Acrobats atop long poles       Each acrobat's boom moved by an assistant

Abiding by the non-commercialism restrictions for Beacon Hill Park, banners of corporate sponsors were displayed and lanterns and glow-ropes sold in the staging area at adjacent St. Ann’s Academy grounds.

Started in 2000, Luminara is the gold standard for event organization in the Park. Organizers planned ahead with Park staff to guide people away from natural meadow areas and the heron rookery to asphalt roads, paths and cultivated lawn areas. Cleanup and fire hazard precautions were excellent. (Times Colonist, July 24, 2003, p. D 6)

Snowbirds perform

Over 30,000 spectators turned out to view a Snowbirds air show spectacle on July 30, 2003 over Clover Point. Nine military red and white jets trailed coloured smoke as they twisted through the sky at up to 600 kilometres an hour.

When the same number attended in 2002, there was traffic chaos plus hundreds of cars parking illegally on Beacon Hill Park grass. “We were a little overwhelmed with traffic and gridlock, so this year we’re prepared,” said Bob Cross, President of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce and a member of the organizing committee. Three hours before the show, vehicles were banned from a zone near the Park, bounded by Douglas Street, Memorial Crescent and Fairfield Road. (Times Colonist, June 13, 2003, B 1, July 31, 2003, A 1)

Water spray area proposal

On January 8, 2003, Joe Daly, Manager of Research, Planning and Design for the Parks Department, proposed the City proceed with the “design development for a new water spray facility in Beacon Hill Park...570 square meters in surface area.” By removing the decrepit asphalt play court (284 square meters) north of the site, and the existing Kiwanis wading pool (371 square meters), a net reduction of hard surface could be achieved in principle.

In a split vote on February 6, City Council voted in favour of the new $400,000 water spray facility. It would replace the Kiwanis wading pool but appeared likely to be constructed in the vicinity of the central playground. Spearheading the project was the Parks and Recreation Foundation of Victoria. Foundation spokesman Kelly Mann said the decision showed Council disagreed with “purists who want [the Park] free of any activity.” Council had considered paying half the cost, but decided staff would help with the design and let the Foundation raise money.

Voting against the new spray park was Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, who was concerned about Garry oak trees in the area. Coun. Pam Madoff voted against it because she thought the Park was overused and not the appropriate location for a water facility. Mayor Lowe disagreed: “I don’t believe it is overused. I think the park was bequested to the city so everybody could use it and enjoy it.” (Times Colonist, February 7, 2003, C 1)

The Friends of Beacon Hill were opposed to covering any more park land in concrete. They were “concerned about the loss of picnic area, the resulting damage to the Garry Oak and camas meadow, and the addition of more paved space in a park where green space is increasingly marginalized.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, December, 2002, p. 7) Their general position was that no more natural habitat should be developed and that existing natural habitat must be preserved and enhanced. Therefore, any new development must replace a previous development and use the same area. A smaller water spray facility located at the Kiwanis wading pool location would fulfill this requirement if it replaced the concrete structure with no loss of habitat.

The Foundation claimed to have raised $125,000 for the water spray facility. However, $100,000 of that amount came from a bequest specifying the money was to be spent to improve natural areas in Beacon Hill Park. The Will designated:

50 Shares to the Parks and Recreation Foundation of Victoria to be used for capital improvements to maintain the existing and natural ambiance and wildlife at Beacon Hill Park.” (Last Will and Testament of William Palmer, Court File # 02/0762, Victoria Registry August 30, 2002)

A City publication indicated the money was given for general “improvements”:

The Parks and Recreation Foundation received a bequest in the amount of $100,000 to be used for improvements to Beacon Hill Park. The Foundation has proposed that the funds be directed towards the construction of a new water spray facility. (Beacon Hill Park Annual Report, 2002, p. 14)

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park studied the Will and concluded it was not appropriate to use the money for a water spray facility. In fact, that use would be in opposition to the donor’s intention:

It is very difficult to read the will and then conclude that this citizen would want his bequest to be used for a city-lot sized slab of concrete that will require a chain-link fence and lock. This project could put future bequests in jeopardy. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2003, p. 8)

The Newsletter pointed out the concrete and fence would damage Garry Oaks and meadows. The Friends restated their position that any new development must replace a previous development and not consume any undeveloped Park land. The appropriate place for any new water spray facility was the exact location and footprint of the existing Kiwanis pool.

Columnist Joe Easingwood said those opposing a large new water spray facility must have forgotten “what it was like to be a kid.” He called opposition to the “new and fun” facility “irrational.” Easingwood thought Council paid too much attention to “the bleating of a minority,” a “negative group” with “warped” thinking. He got off the track in the last two-thirds of the column, veering off into the deterioration of community values and codes of conduct (“breaking down in part because of multi-culturalism”) and how society was falling apart. (Times Colonist, March 9, 2003, D 3) [See 2004 for more on the water spray facility.]

Goodacre Lake wildlife

                  Lake Turtles

Red-eared Slider turtles

Red-eared Slider turtles (Trachemyss scripta elegans) are plentiful in the Goodacre Lake water system. These turtles are non-native pet shop turtles placed in the Lake by residents. Usually measuring a few inches in a small home turtle dish, some grow to as much as 12 inches (30 cm.) in the lake.

The turtles spend the winter at the bottom of the lake, reappearing in spring as the temperature rises. In 1998, 2001 and 2002, the first Red-eared Slider turtle was seen enjoying the sun on April 3 or April 4. The spring of 2003 was cooler and the first turtle appeared later, on April 22. In 2004, a warm spring, 20 turtles were visible on April 3 and algae growth in the Lake was already extensive by April 19.

During the summer, large numbers can be counted resting on top of Lake algae. On August 12, 2003, there were 34 at the west edge of the Goodacre Lake by Douglas Street. Standing on the Stone Bridge looking east, turtles are usually visible sunning on the rocks on the west edge of McTavish Island. Lily-pad filled Fountain Lake has a smaller turtle population. The photo above shows a lineup of sunning turtles on the south bank of Fountain Lake.

Turtles disappear under the surface of the water as the temperature cools in the fall. There were 21 turtles still visible on September 24, 2003, but only one hearty turtle remained on November 4 and 5, when a portion of Goodacre Lake had a skim of ice. By November 6, 80% of the Lake surface was covered with thin ice and all turtles were out of sight. Surprisingly, one turtle appeared briefly on the edge of the Lake February 18, 2004.

                  Fish and their predators

Lipomis gibbosus (aka Pumpkin seed)

A small but robust fish commonly known as "Pumpkin seed" (Lipomis gibbosus) flourishes in Goodacre Lake. Though many people incorrectly identify them as Bluegill Sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus), Dr. Gavin Hanke, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Royal B.C. Museum, explained “So far, Bluegills have been found only in one place in B.C., and nowhere near here.”

In Canada, the pumpkinseed is native east of the Red River in Manitoba. It is an introduced species in B.C., often transplanted along with other fish such as smallmouth and largemouth bass. Though populations of a native fish such as stickleback would be preferable for Goodacre Lake and other western lakes, the pumpkinseed is now widespread. According to Hanke, “Pumpkinseeds are common in Thetis Lake and other small lakes on Vancouver Island...all over the lower Fraser system, and in the lower Columbia, lower Kootenay, Kettle, and Okanagan river systems (McPhail and Carveth 1994).”

Goodacre Lake fish are eaten by a wide variety of birds, including gulls, herons, hooded merganzers, kingfishers and cormorants.


Hooded Merganser               Kingfisher

Four to eight Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus), shown above left, remained in Goodacre Lake from October, 2003 through January, 2004, dining on Bluegill Sunfish. In December and January, another fish-eater, the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), spent a few hours fishing before moving on. A Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon), shown above right, visits Goodacre Lake on occasion, never staying long.

River Otter

Fish are what attract River Otters (Lutra canadensis) to Goodacre Lake once or twice a year; they often remain for several days. On September 21, 2003, the author watched a River Otter eat seven fish in rapid succession. An otter has been recorded in the Lake in the months of October and December as well.

                  Other Lake birds


A number of other bird species seen on Goodacre Lake do not eat fish. Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are year-round residents of Beacon Hill Park. In spring and summer, their preferred and safest nest sites are on Goodacre Lake’s three islands and Fountain Lake’s single island.

American Wigeon

After nesting further north, large numbers of American Wigeons (Anas americana) return to the Park in the Fall. An occasional single Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) can be seen in the flocks. Wigeons remain through the winter, eating grass, then migrate north again in spring. In 2003, an estimated 300 combined Mallards and Wigeons were counted on Goodacre Lake on October 31. Large numbers of Wigeons are also seen near the Circle Drive lakes and the lawns near the Circle Garden.

A range of other birds pause at Goodacre Lake for short periods each year. In fall and spring, migrating Canada Geese (Branta canadensis), shown below on the left, stop in the Park to eat grass but for some reason do not stay year round. Two to six Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), seen below on the right, remain on the Lake for a few months. An occasional Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), Greenwing Teal (Anas crecca) and Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) drop in.

Canada Geese               Scaup


Large Crayfish (species unknown) were recorded in both Goodacre Lake and Fountain Lake in 2003. On October 13, 2003, a gull caught one unwary crayfish at the north edge of Goodacre Lake. On October 14, two large crayfish were observed by the author along the north edge of Fountain Lake near the foot bridge.


A Raccoon (Procyon lotor) was spotted up a tree on Blair Island (one of the two islands next to Douglas Street in Goodacre Lake) by N. Ringuette the morning of January 18, 2004. Crows calling and dive-bombing their enemy is often the signal a raccoon is present. During nesting season, raccoons probably swim to the islands to eat duck eggs but why one would do so in January is unknown.

Goodacre Lake system water quality

Goodacre Lake algae growth

In 2003, many hours of Park staff time were spent in the continuing effort to improve water quality in the Goodacre Lake system. An active sludge and algae eating bacteria called “Waste and Sludge Reducer” from Keeton Industries of Colorado was added. Workers also added a form of calcium and tested both calcium and pH levels of the water regularly. To achieve better water quality, the calcium level needed to increase and the pH level decrease.

A third floating fountain aerator was installed in November near Douglas Street and three air hose lines were laid on the bottom which send up a continuous line of bubbles. All equipment to boost oxygen levels in the water run twenty-four hours a day. East of the Stone Bridge is one floating fountain, three underwater aerators--nicknamed “scuba divers”--and one bubble hose line on the south side of McTavish Island. West of the Stone Bridge are two floating fountains, one underwater aerator and two bubble lines--one on each side of Blair Island. There is a power installation on Blair Island with electrical plug-ins for the aerator motors and a compressor. Another power installation is on McTavish in a large green box, which includes a compressor and electrical plug-ins. In Arbour Lake is a central fountain and three underwater spurts.

There is an underwater eight foot steel wire box on the north side of Goodacre Lake which encloses the pump needed to pump water back up to Fountain Lake. In the Fall, decaying vegetation accumulates on the wire and can plug the mesh completely, cutting off water intake, so it must be cleaned manually. The aluminum boat used for lake maintenance is stored in the Cameron bandshell on a two wheel trailer which can be pulled by hand.

There was no plan in place for improving water quality in the other lake system. The four lakes next to Circle Drive are not connected to the Goodacre system. Those lakes are extremely shallow (mostly 18" deep) with concrete bottoms. The method used to clean them in previous years was to drain the water down the storm sewer and hose off the concrete. This is no longer allowed by new CRD storm drain regulations.

Off-leash dogs an emotional and an environmental issue

In April, Chairwoman Judy Brownoff of the Capital Region District called on municipalities to work together to co-ordinate where dogs could be off-leash. Increasing numbers of uncontrolled dogs were noted in regional parks. An new management plan for three parks included a possible leash requirement. A leash law for Thetis Lake, Francis King and Mill Hill regional parks (together equaling 1,000 hectares of green space) was on the agenda of a public meeting April 2. The possibility of more off-leash areas in parks with fewer pressing environmental issues would be discussed.

One of the reason cited for an increase in CRD dog problems was that municipalities were severely restricting the number of off-leash areas. Brownoff noted the only off-leash area in Victoria was on Dallas Road in front of Beacon Hill Park. “We all tell everyone to go to Dallas Road because dogs can run free there. Wouldn’t it be nice to know of more [off-leash areas] so we could tell [tourists]? (Times Colonist, April 1, 2003, D 1)

According to the City of Victoria website, “All dogs must be on a leash in all City parks with the exception of the park area as defined as South of Dallas Road from Clover Point west to Douglas Street.” The result of having only one off-leash area in the City resulted in extreme overuse of the shore areas of Beacon Hill Park, especially Finlayson Point. City of Victoria staffer Elizabeth Low estimated there were 12,000 to 15,000 dogs in Victoria from just under 40,000 households in 2003. This favorite area of dog owners to meet and run their dogs suffered a complete loss of ground cover. The soil was compacted and pitted with holes and the former luxuriant meadow destroyed. (See photograph of Finlayson Point habitat degradation in year 2000, Chapter 18.) Dog owners said the reason that area was overused was because there were no off-leash alternatives.

Columnist Jody Paterson blasted those wanting dogs on leashes in parks, calling them “a tiny intolerant minority wanting to dictate public policy based on their image of the ideal park--one for the exclusive use of dogless, soft-walking pedestrians proceeding at reverential pace through pristine surroundings.” There was “no real reason for imposing a leash law,” Paterson stated. She was willing to get dog feces on her shoes: “Tidy, perfect parks aren’t everybody’s version of heaven.” (Times Colonist, April 2, 2003, C 1)

More than 400 local dog owners signed an online petition against the CRD leash plans. Citizen Canine’s Colin Carson called Victoria a “dog-unfriendly” city. He said the CRD rules would force even more dog owners to Dallas Road, the only off-leash area. (Times Colonist, April 2, 2003, C 1) The meeting was a hot one. 180 people attended, most against leashing dogs at the three CRD parks. They didn’t accept the arguments that dogs chased wildlife and scared other park users. Dog-lovers said they already had limited space to let their dogs run free. (Times Colonist, April 3, 2003, B 1)

Expanding areas in Victoria parks for off-leash dogs was the topic of a public forum at City Hall September 9. Reporter Ian Dutton described the meeting:

More than two dozen speakers and about 100 people--many wearing stickers adorned with a paw print in support of leash-free areas--crowded into Victoria Council Chambers for a public forum before city staff and elected officials...It was clear the majority on hand advocated increasing off-leash opportunities. (Times Colonist, September 10, 2003, C 1, C 2)

The paw print stickers were handed out by the pro-dog advocacy group Citizens Canine. Several members of the audience felt intimidated by some particularly assertive dog advocates. City officials heard off-leash areas for dogs benefitted the dogs health, their owners health and even that of society. One speaker pointed out off-leash dogs are a threat to frail seniors. A soccer group spokesperson mentioned dogs didn’t mix with playing fields. (Times Colonist, September 10, 2003, C 1)

In December, after more than a year of discussions and staff work, City Council agreed in principle to a controversial plan which would open as many as nine city parks to off-leash dogs. The plan was estimated to cost $135,000, including signage, an information campaign and enforcement of animal control bylaws. Council established a “dogs in parks” committee to oversee the changes. Many issues were yet to be decided. One staff recommendation, to reduce the off-leash hours on Dallas Road at Beacon Hill Park, was opposed by Mayor Alan Lowe: “People have become used to it.” He thought off-leash hours at other parks should be uniform. Coun. Denise Savoie said the recommendations of city staff were “almost Solomon-like”. “I think you’ve done an incredible balancing act.” (Times Colonist, December 14, 2003. C 1) [See 2004 for more on this issue.]

Even if additional off-leash areas eased the pressure on Beacon Hill Park’s foreshore, Finlayson Point is expected to remain a heavily used off-leash area. The only ground cover likely to survive will be tough weeds. Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw is among those who believe something must be done to repair the damage to Finlayson Point. Brayshaw wrote:

We should not confuse the right of use with the right to cause damage. Any measure to restore the grassland there now must involve fencing to keep both people and dogs off the site while it heals...By-law #92-189 [should] be rewritten, or replaced, to extend the area wherein dogs must be kept on their leads eastward to Cook Street; and that the current permission for dogs to run loose remain in force on the area east of Cook Street. (T.C. Brayshaw, “The State of the Wild Plant Communities of Beacon Hill Park,” January 15, 2001, p. 14)

Doggy doo bags

City Council approved a one-year trial allowing advertising in city parks on plastic bags provided to pick up dog feces and on metal bag dispensers. Sponsors Pets West and Eukanuba pet foods will supply the bags, saving the City $11,000 annually. The City stocked 27 dispensers previously. Eight new dispensers will be added. The Committee of the Whole needed to approve the plan because park regulation bylaws prohibited advertising in all city parks. Beacon Hill Park was the sole exception to the advertising on poop bags. (Times Colonist, July 11, 2003, C 1) Dispensers and bags will not carry advertising there because “Beacon Hill Park has a commercial advertising restriction,” said Donna Atkinson, Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Development. (Monday Magazine, July 17-23, 2003)

Drought conditions stress exotic plants

Drought conditions from 2001 to 2003 combined with severe CRD water restrictions stressed many exotic plants and trees in Beacon Hill Park and along City boulevards. In the Park, there was a loss of some non-native trees and plants and more brown lawns.

Summer droughts are common features of Victoria’s Mediterranean climate; Garry oaks and other native plants are adapted to local climate variations and have survived droughts for centuries. Exotic trees, shrubs and flowers planted by the Park Department are not adapted to summer drought conditions and require constant watering.

Unfortunately, when non-native trees planted in natural areas are irrigated, it can damage native plants. Cornelia Lange, writing in the Friends Newsletter, was concerned about the effect on native species of irrigating the Sakura Cherry trees planted along Circle Drive opposite the totem pole. The Sakura trees were severely stressed by two years of drought.

Park staff tried to soak their root system to help the trees survive. Al Cunningham, a Park Botanist, explained that in past years staff were given trees to plant without directions where to plant them. Therefore, many exotic trees are found in the natural areas that receive no irrigation. Mr. Cunningham proposed to install a drip line irrigation to help these exotic trees, but what affect will it have on the camas meadow? Should the park’s design be dictated by independent actions without a plan? (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, December, 2002, p. 8)

Tinder-dry conditions prompted the Capital Regional District to post “No Smoking” signs in regional parks in August, but there was no smoking ban issued for Beacon Hill Park. Coun. Chris Coleman said smoking was a concern, especially in the south end of Beacon Hill Park. “Fire is scary in any urban really applies to Beacon Hill Park because most of the other parks in the city proper are of a smaller nature and therefore don’t have grasslands or larger tree lands. As far as I know, the fire people haven’t done anything yet about it.” Coleman claimed one of the reasons to drill a well in the Park was “fire suppression.” (Times Colonist, August 22, 2003, p. C 2)

Two wells drilled in the Park

On June 28, drilling began on a water well. The Parks Department hoped to make the Park self-sufficient in water. Water restrictions imposed by the CRD in 2001 was an impetus, as well as avoiding the high cost of buying City water and conserving potable water in the region. The last attempt to find water in the Park was in 1967 when a 70 ft. hole was drilled fifty feet south of Fountain Lake with no success.

Drillwell Enterprises, Ltd. of Duncan drilled next to Chestnut Row (northeast of the putting green). Parks Manager Mike Leskiw said a hydrogeologist estimated 75% chance of finding water that could produce 200,000 litres a day of untreated water. The plan was to use well water to replace evaporated water in the Lakes, irrigate vegetation in the Park and for the City’s hanging baskets. The crew expected to drill as deep as 75 metres. If that well was unsuccessful, they would drill at another site. The cost of drilling--between $20,000 and $30,000--could be recovered through money saved in water bills within three to five years, according to Leskiw. (Times Colonist, July 29, 2003, D 1, D 2)

On the third day, hard strata broke the drill shaft at 385 feet. Drilling equipment was moved to a second site east of Arbutus Way and west of the ball diamond. They drilled an eight inch diameter hole down to 408 feet, then a six inch hole to 550 feet where they hit water on August 5. Mike Leskiw was optimistic a good flow would result. (Times Colonist, August 6, 2003, B 2) The results were less than expected but there were no more newspaper reports.

Pipe and a pump were installed in the well by Wellmaster Pumps and Water Systems, Ltd. on August 20. Water was pumped through a canvas hose into Goodacre Lake for a flow test. This was a low tech effort, timing with a stopwatch how long it took to fill a plastic 50 gallon barrel with a hose, and noting every half hour the water level reading on a tape measure threaded down the well in a plastic pipe. At first, the flow yielded fifty gallons a minute, but after 24 hours, pumping had to be reduced to a sustainable twenty gallons a minute. (Personal observation and worker statements)

Park staff allowed the water level of Goodacre Lake to drop to an extreme low in order to run the flow test to find out the well's output by pumping the water into the lake. (Evaporation in summer requires frequent large additions of fresh water, which are done by turning City water on manually. An automatic system similar to that in toilet tanks, in which water turns on and off with a float, though simple, was not in place.)

Lowen Hydrogeology Consulting recommended on August 26, 2003, that the pump be set at 510 feet below ground. A pumping rate of 1.9 L/x (25 Igpm) was expected. Dennis Lowen said the water was of good quality and potable. One possible plan was to pump water from the well into Goodacre Lake and then draw out of the lake to irrigate the Park, using the lake as a giant holding tank. The amount used for Park irrigation is extremely high volume, however, and could quickly draw down the lake.

Roy Fletcher, in an article in the Friends Newsletter, reported:

The sustained flow rate for the well is estimated to be around 20 gallons/minute, and the water was found to have a very high pH of about 9.5. It also contained moderate to high levels of dissolved calcium carbonate (about 120 mg/mL)... While the flow rate is acceptable and the mineral content is not excessive, this well will present some problems. It is not considered to yield sufficient quantity of water for irrigation; it is considered to yield enough water to replace the water lost to condensation in the Goodacre Lake system during the summertime. However, the dissolved minerals and the high pH will require further remedial work to be done on the pond water to keep it in balance so the algae do not dominate the pond and consume all the oxygen. (“Recent Water Well Drilling in Beacon Hill Park,” Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, November 2003, page 9)

(See 2004 for more on the well.)

Park monuments listed

A list of all City of Victoria Park monuments was completed by City staff in March and a digital photograph of each put on CD, available at the Cook Street Park Office. Thirty-four monuments are listed for Beacon Hill Park (including three Dallas Road monuments which are mixed in with other Dallas Road monuments at Clover Point and Holland Point).

Beacon Hill Park monuments are a motley and uneven collection because a selection policy and process has not been in place. Some monuments, among them the 1900 Robbie Burns monument and a 2002 monument and tree planted near the Band Shell to commemorate the “9-11" tragedy, have nothing whatsoever to do with the Park.

A total of six monuments plus a granite marker in Mayors Grove honour the British Royal Family, yet there is no information about Park ecosystems, trees and native plants and almost no reference to aboriginal use of and impact on the land during more than a thousand of years of occupation. In fact, the only reference to aboriginal people is one sentence on the Finlayson Point monument, which also discusses HBC employee Roderick Finlayson and a gun battery emplacement. [The totem pole is not officially listed as a monument.] There is no interpretative sign describing the aboriginal burial cairns on the south slope of Beacon Hill and no information about Camas meadows and their importance to the Lekwammen as a food source.

[In 2004, the City took a step toward an evaluation process for new monuments proposed for the Park. The 2004 Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan discussed ways to handle Park monuments in the future, stating: “insertion of a new monument within the Park will be considered to be a major intervention” and should follow a process. The report suggested that new monuments and markers be considered only if there is direct relevance to the Park as well as design of high quality. (p. 61)]

The Park's biggest trees

Beacon Hill Park’s biggest trees were highlighted in an article by Agnes Lynn in April. Walking around the Park, she personally measured the circumference of the biggest trees. Outstanding were: a 11' 9" Big-leaf maple near Circle Drive, a 14' 9" Cottonwood near the Cook St. playground, a 14' 6" Garry oak in the northwest corner opposite South Park School and a 13' Garry oak near the central playground. A 15' Douglas Fir stands in the Southeast Woods. The biggest Red Cedar, behind the Bandshell, measures 12'. Also behind the Bandshell is a 6' circumference Western Yew, the only significant Yew in the Park. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, April, 2003)

Concerts and films

A full slate of concerts were scheduled in the summer. The Friday afternoon Senior Concerts were extremely well attended. Saturday afternoons featured Jazz in the Park and the traditional Sunday Concert continued through September. The Park Concert tradition is more than a hundred years old.

The third annual Free-B Film Festival began at Cameron Bandshell August 2. Four hundred people showed up to view the first film, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Other films scheduled were “the deliciously cheesy creature feature 'Godzilla vs. Megalon'" and cult favorite "Reefer Madness." The films ran every Saturday night in August at 9:15 p.m.

After the projector broke down during a screening of "Reefer Madness" in 2002, a rear projection video was planned for 2003, using a ten foot screen. Programmer Donovan Aikman said the Free-B Film Festival was about fun and was produced on a micro-budget consisting of a small grant from the City and donated equipment from Blanshard Studies. Filmgoers bring blankets or sleeping bags and stretch out on the grass, sit on their own chairs or on the Park benches.(Times Colonist, August 7, 2003, p. D 2)

Cross Country Meet

The Greater Victoria cross-country final was held at Beacon Hill October 27, 2003. 750 students from thirty schools in grades 4 to 7 participated. Staging was on the all-weather Douglas Street field, but the runs took place on the meadows of Beacon Hill, as usual. A university cross-country meet used the south slopes of Beacon Hill earlier in October.

Playground wood chips snafu

Beacon Hill Park’s two playgrounds were closed after a Park worker discovered “nails, bolt heads and metal scraps” in new wood chips delivered September 9 and 10. After 168 pieces of metal were detected in one 2.2 square metre patch on September 12, “Danger Do Not Enter” yellow tapes were stretched around the play areas. The wood chips were suppled to PlayTech Distributors, Inc. of Richmond by Vancouver company Cloverdale Fuel, who claimed they use raw, untreated wood ends straight from the sawmill. It is loaded into a wood crusher with a metal detector at the top so any metal debris is rejected immediately. Gord Smith, Superintendent of Park Operations, said he has reason to be “skeptical” of that claim. Merv Walker, PlayTech representative was “horrified.” His company won a contract with the City to replace the sand surfaces in Beacon Hill Park playgrounds with chips. (Times Colonist, September 17, 2003, A 1, A 2)

The Beacon Hill Park discovery alerted other parks and schools in the area who use the same supplier to check sixty-one playgrounds for metal. Almost all were contaminated and twenty-eight school playgrounds remained closed for more than a month. Crews began removing 300 cubic metres of wood chip groundcover from two Beacon Hill Park playgrounds at a cost of $20,000. The rusted shards are brown and nearly impossible to see. Groundcover is about 30 centimetres deep. (Times Colonist, September 23, 2003, D 1, D 2)

Some parents opposed the replacement of sand with wood chips all along and feared the wood chips were a health hazard even without metal shards. Their concerns prompted a halt to installing new wood chips pending tests for toxic chemicals. Parents feared the chips included chemicals from treated lumber, including CCA, copper and chromium. Some parents and children enjoy sand as a play material and say the chips are “no fun.” Of Victoria’s 25 playgrounds, four have wood chips. The Victoria School District has 66 play areas at 38 schools, most with wood chips. About 55 of those playgrounds were closed. The Beacon Hill Park playgrounds remained closed. (Times Colonist, September 24, 2003, C 1, C 2)

After investigation, the Greater Victoria School District announced more than half of its playgrounds were contaminated with metal. Staff used rented metal detectors to locate nails and shards in 40 playgrounds, while 30 were clean. Revised numbers reported were a total of 70 playgrounds. A powerful magnet would be run over one of the contaminated playgrounds to see if it could lift metal pieces out of the chips. If the magnet didn’t work, the chips would have to be removed and replaced, a longer and more expensive process. Beacon Hill Park’s playground also had plastic pieces. Magnets would not remove those and staff preferred new material. (Times Colonist, September 27, 2003, p. B 1)

PlayTech replaced the wood chips on the two Park playgrounds and the City hired Levelton Engineering to test the newest loads of chips for toxins such as preservatives and paint. Beacon Hill Park staff were horrified to discover the new replacement load of wood chips delivered to playgrounds was again contaminated with metal. As a result, the City decided to switch suppliers and to return sand to the Cook Street playground. The central playground at Arbutus Way would get a new load of wood chips from a different supplier. The Mark Suttle Agency, a Burnaby company, had the new contract with the City to supply wood chips to area playgrounds. Robby Gill, of Cloverdale Fuel, the company supplying metal with their wood chips, still maintained his wood came straight from the sawmill. His company suspended all playground deliveries. The Beacon Hill Park playgrounds were closed for four weeks. (Times Colonist, October 7, 2003, D 1, D 2)

Permanent damage to Heywood Meadow by wood chip truck

During the crisis over contaminated wood chips, permanent damage was done to the Heywood Meadow when the huge truck bringing replacement chips was allowed to drive a long distance across the meadow. The truck bumped up the curb near the south side of the playing field on Heywood Avenue, drove up the hill and past the Sport Hut to the central playground, a very long distance.

Truck meadow damage  Damage still visible

The photo on the left, taken by N. Ringuette on November 19, 2003, documents the damage a month after the heavy truck intrusion compacted the meadow. Park staff said the damage would “repair itself.” The photo on the right, taken on April 28, 2004, shows the same area the following spring. Camas and other wildflowers did not grow in the truck tracks.

Park staff indicated allowing the truck to cross the meadow was an isolated case because of time pressure concerning wood chip replacement in playgrounds. That it was not an isolated or unusual case, was proven just days later when severe truck damage was done to another natural area of the Park. [See below]

Gravel truck damages Northwest Ridge

On October 17, 2003, a gravel truck drove from Arbutus Way across the meadow and up to the Northwest Ridge trail to dump gravel. Heavy rain had deluged the area for the previous two days, softening the soil. The photo below on the left was taken a month later on November 19 by N. Ringuette. Water was flowing down deep furrows left by the heavy vehicle.

NW Ridge truck damage  NW Ridge permanent damage

Park staff told the Friends of Beacon Hill Park that the damage would “repair itself.” The photo on the right, taken seven months later on May 1, 2004 by N. Ringuette, shows the damage did not self-repair. Rainwater flowed down the foot-deep ruts all winter, increasing the original damage.

Driving on fragile meadows at any time defies good sense, but it is especially reprehensible after torrential rains. Clearly, a policy to prevent damage to natural areas by staff and contractors operating in the Park is needed and a higher priority placed on accomplishing that. The Friends Newsletter suggested:

If it were absolutely necessary to use a dump truck, as opposed to the more ecologically-sound wheelbarrow and shovel method, then an alternate route would have been a wise choice. The truck could have driven from Bridge Way up and over an area of cultivated grass to the path at the top of ‘The Ridge.’ Cultivated turf is composed of a very tight mass of rhizome which is much denser than native turf, and is thus able to support a much heavier load. It is also much easier to repair than is a Garry oak meadow. Restoration of a natural area is expensive, difficult and often impossible to achieve. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2004, p. 9)

Heritage Landscape Management Plan

The City of Victoria awarded a contract to complete a “Heritage Landscape Management Plan for Beacon Hill Park” to the firm of Commonwealth Historic Resource Management Limited. The purpose of the study was “to assess the significance of and develop a long-term strategy for the management of the heritage landscape of the Park,” according to a letter written by Joseph Daly, Manager, Park Design and Development on August 22, 2003.

Guidelines for the project, titled, “An Inventory of Heritage Elements and Assessment of the Heritage Significance of Beacon Hill Park,” directed the consultants to “assess and evaluate the heritage significance of [ten] specific components of Beacon Hill Park.”

Eight of the ten “components” listed, however, were features in the developed area of the Park: Blair Plan, Carriage ways and walks, Checkers Pavilion and other structures, Fountains, Lakes, Ornamental Gardens, Stone Bridge and Zoological exhibits. Only two of the ten “components” on the list were not part of the “Victorian public garden” category: Archeological Features and Commemorative Monuments. This skewed the focus from the start.

A significant omission in the “components” list was the most historic cultural landscape of all, the “Oak-Camas Parklands.” The consultants had been handed a list of features considered high priority by staff. The list over-valued and over-emphasized developments of the white culture and under-valued and under-emphasized natural landscape features and landscape features influenced by more than 1,000 years of aboriginal culture’s use of the land. Joe Daly, when confronted, said the list could be “adjusted” later and everything would be included, “not to worry”.

Staff set the priorities and worked closely with the consultants throughout the process. Staff reviewed and revised an early strictly “in-house” draft which was not available to the public. The resulting “draft” and then “final”consultant report, released in 2004, was not, therefore an independent report; the consultants acted as extensions of the staff and reflected the staff priorities and values.

A day-long meeting of the Steering Committee was held November 25 and extended to add the morning of November 26. Members of the public could observe this “working session.” The Committee was to evaluate Park features using an evaluation system provided by the company. The report issued in September, 2004 included a CD titled “Heritage Inventory on the Visual Archiver” which included this database.

On the Committee were two City employees, Joe Daly, Manager Park Design and Development and Steve Barber, Heritage Planner, Planning Division. Also on the committee was Rick Goodacre, Heritage Advisory Committee. Leading the sessions was Hal Kalman, co-owner of the Commonwealth Historic Resource Management Limited. Meg Stanley, historian for the company, accompanied Kalman. The Heritage process listed University of Victoria professor Dr. Nancy Turner as part of the “team,” but she was not present during the all-important evaluation sessions.

The process involved Committee members rating each listed feature in four areas: Design, History, Context and Integrity. Specific definitions listed in a November 17, 2003 six-page paper were used to channel responses into the framework of the database. Hal Kalman entered number ratings for each feature into his computer. Choices were limited to those allowed by the computer database. Several times Committee members wanted to evaluate a feature in a more complex way, but Kalman stated “I can’t change what’s on the computer.” Responses were locked into the rigid, pre-set “proprietary database”. Points could be earned in the “artistic” category only by man-made features. The Stone Bridge earned points for beauty, but a 400 year-old Garry oak did not earn points. [See 2004 for more on the heritage report]

Replacement Garry oaks planted

Downed Garry Oaks  Replacement Garry Oaks near Goodacre Lake
Dead oak left to decay naturally                      Replanted oaks north of Goodacre Lake

In November, twenty small Garry oaks were planted near Douglas Street north of Goodacre Lake and along Bridge Way and two Douglas firs were planted near Douglas Street southeast of the Lake in an ongoing program to replace older trees which die, blow down or must be cut. In the past, exotic trees were often planted so the Park Department deserves credit for choosing native trees. (About 100 oak seedlings were planted at two sites by Southgate Street in 2002.)

Chemical use reduction

City Council adopted an eight-page policy aimed at eliminating non-essential use of pesticides and giving preference to non-pesticide alternatives. It does allow the use of 27 chemicals, however. Michelle Gorman, Integrated Pest Management Coordinator, said the city sprays sparingly. It has reduced chemical use 97% since 1992.

Coun. Denise Savoie worried pesticides and weedkillers could still be applied on park playing fields used by children. Parks Manager Mike Leskiw claimed that was necessary because “If you hit a large area of clover it becomes greasy and you can quickly break your ankle. There is a threshold where we become liable.” Vancouver has banned chemicals in its parks and playing fields, according to Savoie.

Victoria uses biological controls: 140,000 ladybugs were released in the spring to attack aphids. It also hand-prunes tent caterpillars’ nests. (Times Colonist, November 28, 2003)

Beacon Hill Butterfly Sanctuary proposed

In a November, 2003 article titled, “Butterflies at Risk and Beacon Hill Park,” biologist James Miskelly stated it was common in the 19th century to see millions of butterflies forming brilliantly coloured clouds in the Park. In 1884, George Taylor reported an “extreme abundance of butterflies as one of the most noticeable features of the landscape.” An even more detailed account was provided in 1894 by W. H. Danby. Miskelly wrote:

After collecting butterflies in the Victoria area for two years, he listed all species he had encountered, how common they were and where he collected them. This list includes some of our most endangered butterflies, such as the Island Large Marble, Island Blue, Taylor’s Checkerspot, Zerene Fritillary, Ringlet and Propertius Duskywing.

Those butterflies have disappeared because their habitat has disappeared. Miskelly advocated habitat restoration, “not only for the sake of reintroducing the butterflies themselves, but also for many other species of animals and plants, for the park and for ourselves.”

Painted Lady Butterfly Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

The Painted Lady, shown on the left, was once extremely abundant; it is no longer found in Beacon Hill Park. The Western Tiger Swallowtail on the right was plentiful in the Park before. One or two might be glimpsed in the Park today.

Miskelly explained that each butterfly species has its own requirements and not all butterflies can be reintroduced. Many are “quite specific to moist meadows” and it is probable not enough moist meadow remains at the foot of Beacon Hill to support them. Some species have great potential, however. “All require habitat restoration and management.” Some species requirements are quite simple to accommodate, such as the Propertius Duskywing need for leaf litter to be left in place through the winter.

Miskelly stated the high maintenance formal gardens in the Park were “installed at the expense of the equally aesthetic native meadows...Why do the planners insist on forsaking and abusing Victoria’s natural heritage? The natural vegetation of this area is as beautiful as any other.” He advocated replacing the exotic species in formal gardens “with the native species that have a right to be there, and...get rid of all those irrelevant exotic trees that are whimsically planted with no thought to either nature or aesthetics.”

Miskelly envisioned a Park dedicated to native ecosystems. More than a human and recreational park, it could become the “Beacon Hill Wildflower Center” or the “Beacon Hill Butterfly Sanctuary.” (Newsletter of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society, November, 2003, p. 1-2)

Fences, gays and neighbours

In December, 2003, a new chain-link fence was erected by the Parks Department at the southeast corner of Beacon Hill Park. The black barrier was placed west of the chip trail against the vegetation. It extends from near the corner of Dallas Road several hundred feet north along Cook Street to the maintenance buildings entrance.

Roy Fletcher, treasurer of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, said the fence was erected to cut off access to gay men who walk through the brush from Cook Street. His organization was opposed to blocking public access. “We think the fence is useless.”

Cook Street resident Wayne Hollohan said “This fence is something I’ve been after for seven years...I believe that explicit sexual activities...are not to take place in a public park.”

Mike Leskiw, Parks Manager, said the fence was built for two reasons:

Because of illegal dumping of garden refuse and people cutting through the park and damaging the native plant inventory...It’s really a nice little forest through there...I know it may be an inconvenience, but it would be a shame to lose the forest there and just have a stand of dead trees.

Cornelia Lange, of the Fairfield Community Association, supported the fence, saying it had nothing to do with the gay use controversy. She said the fenced section is an important nesting area and too many people were using the area and damaging vegetation.

Fletcher remained adamant that the fence was built because of neighborhood pressure to discourage gay meetings in the woods. When the parking north of Lovers Lane was taken out, gays parked along Cook Street and cut through the southeast woods instead. The furor over gay use of the area dates back to 1989 when neighbours wanted the corner woods cleared. (Monday Magazine, Dec. 11-17, 2003, p. 5)

No ice skating allowed on Goodacre Lake

Ducks on ice

In November, 2003, there was a week of thin ice on Goodacre Lake. In the last fifteen years, only Mallards and gulls have stood on Park ice. February, 1989 was the last time low temperatures and no snow combined to create good ice. The winter of 1996 was the only recent year with adequate low temperatures; heavy snow prevented skating.

If freezing temperatures continue long enough for ice to become very thick, would ice skating be allowed on Goodacre Lake? Mike Leskiw, Manager, Parks Division, Parks, Recreation & Community Development City of Victoria responded: “I have checked with staff and we don't allow skating on the lake. As soon as ice forms we install the signs prohibiting skating. As we all know, ice on a lake can be very unsafe.” (November 16, 2004 email)

Present Park policy is not to remove Keep Off signs from the ice no matter how thick it becomes. Skaters can, of course, go on the Lake when Park staff are not around to chase them off.


Great Blue Heron Colony

Herons at the meeting tree

Great Blue Herons arrived in Beacon Hill Park in January and early February to begin the search for mates. The photo on the left, taken by N. Ringuette in February, 2004, shows herons grouped in one of two favorite “meeting” trees located on Goodacre Lake a few feet north of the nest trees.

Rhiannon Hamdi, an avid local heron watcher, reported the first returning heron on January 28, 2004. Twelve Great Blue Herons were visible on and near the nesting colony by February 2, 2004.

Herons mating

In 2004, ninety-six mated pairs constructed apartment-style nests in more than seventeen shared trees near the Douglas Street crosswalk at Avalon Way. Most of the trees used were Douglas firs. New nests were constructed or refurbished as close to the treetops as possible; nest heights varied from about 45 to 70 feet. Patient observers can often see Herons mate on the nests they have constructed, as in the photo on the right.

The action, noise and pungent smell in the colony increased tremendously during the long period when parents fed their demanding, growing young. For sixty days, parents flew day and night in all directions from the Park colony to ocean shores including the Esquimalt Lagoon, Oak Bay, Dallas Road and the Inner Harbour.

Juvenile herons moving precariously

A young heron exercised its wings before daring its first short flight in this June, 2004 photo taken by Brian Hepburn. Young birds are called “fledglings” for the first few weeks after they leave their nests and “juveniles” the rest of their first year. Though the same size as adults, fledglings can be distinguished by their awkward behaviour and remnants of down protruding from slate-gray crowns. Gray-headed juveniles are missing the adult’s black and white crowns and adult’s long body plumes. During June, July and early August, fledglings and juveniles can be seen flapping awkwardly around the Park, landing on low trees and odd locations such as the baseball diamond. Rhiannon Hamdi reported the first flight of a fledgling was on June 3.

Though Eagles did not nest in the Park in 2004, they regularly hunted at the Heron colony. Biologist Brionny Penn said: “Eagles used to rely on fish, but fish stocks have been declining. Now the Eagles regard the Heron colony as a lunch counter.” (James Bay Beacon, March, 2004, p. 7)

Eagle attacks on Heron nests were on the increase in most areas of southwestern British Columbia. Rob Butler, a scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, said “Ten years ago, finding an Eagle in a Heron colony was rare...In a way, it is a good news story. Eagles are bouncing back...They’ve got to eat too.” The total Great Blue Heron population in B. C. is estimated to be 4,000 to 5,000 birds, with about half in southwestern B.C.

To maintain the current Heron population, Butler said a heron pair would need to raise an average of 1.5 young. On Vancouver Island, the average is less than that, about 1 young per nest. Eagle predation is part of the reason. The Georgia Strait Alliance states that fewer than 20% of young herons survive their first year. (Times Colonist, March 23, 2004, B 1, B 3)

City staff blocked off the parking area under the Beacon Hill Park Heron colony trees with yellow barriers during the nesting season, from February to August. Some sounds, such as the slamming of a car door, frighten Herons, explained Michelle Gorman, Integrated Pest Management Coordinator for the City of Victoria. For that reason, Park workers avoid using chain saws and other loud machines in the colony area during those months.

In March, City Council agreed to help fund a webcam focused on one heron nest for viewing on the internet. It would be a “non-invasive” way to view the birds. Mike Leskiw noted they were high above ground level and hard to see. The video camera was mounted on the 12th floor balcony of a Douglas Street apartment high-rise. Unfortunately, the quality of the images were poor. The City also maintained webpages with excellent Heron information and photographs.

Coun. Pamela Madoff suggested naming the Great Blue Heron the official bird of the City. “The Heron could be synonymous with Victoria,” she said. Coun. Chris Coleman said he would take the proposal to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. Mayor Alan Lowe was supportive: “It’s something quite unique to the area, having wildlife close to the hustle and bustle of downtown.” Heron photographer and enthusiast Rhiannon Hamdi suggested Victoria could organize a Heron festival, similar to the Brant Festival in Parksville.

Park advocate Betty Gibbens was against drawing attention to the Heron Colony in any way: “They should just leave the birds alone.” Erecting Heron information signs drew more people to the nesting area, she said. Hamdi responded that the signs and the video camera educate people about the importance of not disturbing the Herons. Hamdi thought banning parking under the nest trees had resulted in an increase in Herons. (Times Colonist, March 26, 2004, D 1, D 2)

60 young birds successfully fledged from 96 active nests in 2004. (Great Blue Heron Breeding Colony Database, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management; provided by Ross Vennesland, B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection.)

13th Annual Camas Day event

Sunday, May 2 was the 13th annual event known as “Camas Day, A Celebration of the Garry Oak Habitat.” It has been jointly sponsored by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park and the Victoria Natural History Society every spring since 1992. Guided walks are offered, free of charge, on native plants, birds and archaeology.

Garry oak meadows are endangered, according to the Provincial Conservation Data Centre; humans and invasive species impact fragile ecosystems. Helen Oldershaw, President of the Friends, discussed the unique Camas and its association with Garry oaks in the James Bay Beacon:

Camas has a very narrow range, up the East Coast of Vancouver Island to Parksville and down the West Coast of Washington, Oregon and part of California. The Camas, Fawn Lily, Star-flower and Nodding Onion are all typical of a Mediterranean climate. Our dry summers and wet winters encourage the bulb-type plants. Bulbs allow plants to hibernate during the dry season which is due to the Olympic rain shadow.

Camas bulbs were an important food for aboriginal people. Oldershaw said, “Their semi-agricultural practice preserved and enhanced the fields.” (Ann-Lee and Gorden Switzer, James Bay Beacon, May 2004, pp. 1, 18)

Remarkably, three experts who led walks for the first Camas Day in 1992 were still participating in 2004. Dr. Adolf Ceska and Dr. Chris Brayshaw led native plant walks every year while Dr. Grant Keddie described aboriginal sites and history of the area.

Off-leash dogs in parks controversy continues

The January 8 City Council meeting was filled with irate dog owners. Most were wearing dog-paw stickers provided by Citizen Canine, a dog owners advocacy group. Included in staff recommendations to Council was a reduction in hours dogs could run free in the Dallas Road area. Citizen had collected more than 500 names online to oppose the Dallas Road hours restriction. Off-leash dogs had been allowed 24 hours a day and they were opposed to restricting them to the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. This reduction was part of a plan to open up nine more city parks to off-leash dogs.

Wade Keeler, a Fairfield dog owner, told Council that people who don’t like dogs should avoid the Dallas Road area: “just don’t go there.” Roy Fletcher, of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, said all dogs on Dallas Road should be on leashes at all times because “it’s just got out of control.” Fletcher said he had been attacked by dogs three times in Beacon Hill Park, that other people are intimidated by dogs running free and that regulations were not being enforced. He reminded the meeting that the Finlayson Point meadow had been destroyed from overuse. Both dog owners and the City had previously agreed the Beacon Hill Park off-leash area on Finlayson Point was overused.

Donna Atkinson, Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Development, said staff proposals were based on people’s right to walk along Dallas Road paths during some part of the day without confronting dogs running free. “There’s no easy solution to this one.” Mayor Lowe thought it was too late to restrict the area. (Times Colonist, January 8, 2004, B 1, B 2) Cheers erupted when Lowe announced Council would not consider reducing hours for off-leash dogs on the Beacon Hill Park section of the Dallas Road waterfront. Council then voted unanimously to allow off-leash hours at nine city parks.

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe stated she had received many hostile messages before the meeting. Some members of the audience at the Council said they felt intimidated by actions of the dog owners at the meeting. (Times Colonist, January 9, 2004, p. B 1, B 2) Coun. Pam Madoff said, “If you saw the nasty, the vitriolic and the threatening messages we’ve had on this...I’d like to think you’d be surprised by it. (Monday Magazine, January 15-21, 2004, p. 5)

Mayor Lowe told reporter Jeff Bell that Council wouldn’t discuss time restrictions for the popular off-leash area anytime soon. Council removed the topic from the agenda because “it was the right thing to do.” Lowe said he had anticipated Dallas Road was an overly hot topic: “I had said at the beginning, ‘Don’t mess with Dallas Road.’ We have enough on our hands trying to deal with [other off-leash areas] right now.” (Times Colonist, January 10, 2004, F 2)

Referring to off-leash privileges on Dallas Road, an editorial mused, “it was mystifying why anyone would suggest curbing that right.” The aggressive behaviour of some of the dog owners was noted:

Dog advocates could also do their cause good by advising the irresponsible minority among them not to abuse city councillors and officials who are grappling with this thorny question. At Thursday’s meeting, several councillors made it clear they have been on the receiving end of a torrent of abusive email. (Times Colonist, January 10, 2004, A 12)

In June, a Times Colonist photo showed three off-leash dogs running "free of leashes in the mud and water along Dallas Road." (Times Colonist, June 12, p. A 15), The caption omitted a few key details. The location was Finlayson Point where a Camas meadow and grassland flourished for over a thousand years. The area was "mud and water" in 2004 because the City of Victoria allowed such extreme overuse by dogs and their owners that one of the prime scenic beauty spots of Victoria was reduced to dirt, holes and a few tough weeds. (See photos and text in years 2000 and 2003.)

A letter to the newspaper in July suggested the City fence off an area between Dallas Road and the walking path for about two blocks for dogs to run. The area could be covered with wood chips, water and doggie bags provided. Bernie O’Keefe pointed out Seattle has separate areas for dogs and people. (Times Colonist, July 2, 2004, A 13)

Reporter and avid dog owner Russ Francis warned spear grass growing at Finlayson Point could kill dogs. Barbed seed sheaths can burrow into paws and can migrate to dogs’ lungs, he wrote, so owners “risked their dogs’ lives (and expensive vet bills) by exercising on Dallas Road.” He indicated dog owners could make “some heavy legal claims against the city.” (Monday Magazine, July 29-August 4, 2004, p. 5)

In August, Coun. Chris Coleman said the “Dog Committee” had held 13 meetings since March and had done a good job of covering conflicting concerns. Up to twelve new Victoria parks might soon have off-leash hours. Citizen Canine was pleased about that but opposed to a suggested ban on dogs in the “Circle C area of Beacon Hill Park.” (Times Colonist, August 27, 2004, C 1)

In November, a letter to Monday Magazine from Lisa Storback of the Safe Parks Coalition of Victoria, noted people had a right to personal safety in parks. She had gathered facts about off-leash dog incidents over the past four years in CRD parks “in which people were seriously injured.” She stated:

Clearly the combination of uncontrolled dogs and public spaces is problematic. None of the dogs in the reported incidents responded to so-called ‘verbal control’ by their owners, and no amount of remorse by dog owners can prevent the impact these incidents have had on their victims’ lives. We need safe parks and beaches for ourselves and our children--and this includes restrictions on uncontrolled dogs. (Monday Magazine, November 4-10, 2004, p. 3)

Coleman announced off-leash dogs would be allowed in six Victoria parks on a trial basis starting early in 2005. The decision would be finalized December 9. The “Dogs in Parks Committee” recommended new leash-free areas in Topaz, Oswald, Arbutus, Vic West, Banfield and Redfern parks at specific times. A second phase would add five more parks. Coleman claimed one of the reasons for new areas was to reduce overuse of Finlayson Point. (Times Colonist, November 20, 2004, C 1, C 2)

The article stated incorrectly: “the Friends of Beacon Hill Park has called for the animals to be banned completely from the Park.” Roy Fletcher, treasurer of the Friends, stated the Society’s position is: “dogs be permitted in Beacon Hill Park on leash but not off-leash...We have never pointed to an area of the park which should exclude dogs.” (Email, November 20, 2004)

Victoria News pointed out “Plans to create additional off-leash areas are, in part, designed to lessen the impact on the Dallas Road green space.” (Victoria News, November 24, 2004, p. A 5) There is no way the meadow can recover, however, without a major restoration project and fencing off the area to allow it to recover.

In December, City Council decided to proceed with a “no dog” rule in the “Circle C” area of Beacon Hill Park despite what reporter Malcolm Curtis called “abusive e-mails and other feed back from ‘dog liberty’ advocates.” A Times Colonist map identified the "Circle C" as the central part of the Park north of Circle Drive, including all lakes, the playground and the heron colony.

The so-called "no dog" area did not, however, entirely exclude dogs. Surprisingly, the new rules allowed leashed dogs to be walked on all major paved pathways through the very area where dogs were "banned." (Times Colonist, December 17, 2004, B 1)

Doggy Wedding in the Park

Permits are issued by the City each year for wedding ceremonies in Beacon Hill Park. Until 2004, the weddings involved humans. Perhaps the only Doggie Wedding ever held in the Park took place in 2004.

The wedding of Chihuahuas Jigger and Malika was featured on Life Network's "Weird Weddings" program. Times Colonist reporter Caroline Skelton covered the ceremony for local readers:

The wedding was well attended by several Chihuahuas in pearls and sweaters and thirty other canine guests. Pre-wedding activities included a stag party at Big Bad John's, with a bikini-clad female pug as a stripper, and a trip to the salon for some primping. (Times Colonist, July 5, 2004, D 3, D 4)

Dog owners attending the wedding are unlikely to be storming City Hall demanding more off-leash areas. Miniature dogs wearing sunglasses, tuxedos or dyed pink fur are not encouraged to cavort in the dirt at Finlayson Point.

Winston's tree

The sixth annual “toast to the memory of Sir Winston Churchill on the anniversary...of his death in 1965,” took place on January 25, 2004 next to the hawthorne tree planted in Mayors Grove by Sir Winston in 1929. (Times Colonist, January 25, 2004)

Not large or distinctive but still alive, Churchill’s hawthorn is shown in the October, 2005 photo below. The tree stands near Southgate Street, west of the ball diamond. The plaque at its base states: “The Right Honourable Winston L. S. Churchill planted this tree September 6, 1929.” The 75th anniversary of the tree planting, passed without ceremony on September 6, 2004.

Winston Churchill tree in Mayor's Grove  Plaque describing the Churchill tree ceremony

Small lakes drained

The four small artificial lakes next to Circle Drive were emptied the first week of April. Park staff pumped contaminated water through a hose onto the field known as the “cow pasture” south of the cricket area. The sludge and water spread over the grass and chip trail near the cricket practice cage, leaving a crusty mud layer. The small “lakes”--in reality only shallow concrete pools 18 inches deep, similar to wading pools--were refilled with City water.

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter wrote:

The City is no longer allowed to dump the water into the storm runoff drains so they dump it in the Park. That’s what the mess is near the old Southwest Woods parking lot. The grass hasn’t even been able to grow through the muck. We understand they have plans to drain more next winter. They need to find a better way of dealing with the waste water, perhaps adding it to their compost heap as it is very rich courtesy of all the duck doo-doo. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2004, p. 6)

Arbour Lake was drained the same way a few days later. Arbutus Way was closed temporarily and a hose stretched across the road to the meadow north of the playground. The force of the water being pumped out dug a hole in the meadow at the outlet of the hose. This could have been prevented by laying the end of the hose on a piece of plywood to disperse the force of the water. Afterward, a considerable pile of sediment was left on top of the grass.

Draining and “cleaning” of Park lakes has gone on since 1888 when the first lake--Fountain Lake--was built. Water quality has always been a problem in these artificial lakes.

Goodacre Lake water quality

Despite efforts of Park staff, algae bloomed earlier than ever on Goodacre Lake. An extra-warm spring encouraged both algae and turtles. By April 3, more than twenty turtles floated in the large algae clump near Douglas Street. By the next day, there were thirty turtles in the algae.

Asst. Supervisor Al Cunningham, who had been working to reduce the algae for two years, explained: “The early warmth of spring plus low water levels encouraged the growth. In my 30 years, the lake has never been cleaned and probably well before that. The muck has been building up an overwhelming amount of nutrients.”

A “waste-sludge reducer” and a calcium supplement had been added regularly and extra pumps worked 24 hrs a day to circulate the water. When asked if the Lake could be dredged, Cunningham said: “Earlier in the year we pumped out Queen’s Lake. It took three weeks to do, it was expensive and labour intensive. Goodacre Lake is just too big for that sort of operation.” (James Bay Beacon, July, 2004, p. 19)

There are many reasons for poor water quality. A major reason is that no fresh water flows into the system. The only new water entering Goodacre Lake is either rain or water added to replace what has evaporated. For decades, fresh City water flowed into the system twenty-four hours a day, entering through the fountain at Fountain Lake and draining out the end of Goodacre next to Arbutus Drive. In 1973, to avoid paying for City water, a recirculating system was set up. Since then, a pump has returned the same water to Fountain Lake to flow down again.

Native plant study

In 2004, botanists Dr. Adolf and Luna Ceska received “a grant of $10,000 to identify and restore native plants that are threatened or extirpated in Beacon Hill Park.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2004, p. 10) Their report was to be completed by the end of December.

Rare native plants were disappearing at a fast pace. In 1990, Dr. Robert T. Ogilvie recorded thirty-three native plant species judged to be rare in the Park. By July 2001, Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw reported nearly half of those species--fourteen--could no longer be found in the Park.

Michelle Gorman, IPM Coordinator for the Parks Department, provided more information on the study, titled “Botanical Inventory of Species at Risk,” in the September issue of the Friends Newsletter. Gorman accompanied the Ceskas and Fred Hook on a walk around the Park in June, noting significant plants and discussing maintenance practices to preserve them. “One suggestion was to lengthen the non-mowing schedule for some of the belts of later flowering plants.” [This has been advocated for years by the Friends and Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw.] By September:

[the Ceskas had] “conducted their botanical survey, waypoint-mapped the COSEWIC-listed species and significant plants, identfied non-native intruders and commented on the non-native’s ability to threaten native species, suggested maintenance practices to minimize impact on species at risk and maximize the removal of invasive species.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, September, 2004, p. 8)

New crosswalk light at Southgate

New crosswalk lights and buttons to signal cars to stop were installed on Southgate Street by May 10. People walking through the Northwest Ridge area of Beacon Hill Park and wanting to cross the busy city arterial to reach the St. Ann’s Academy grounds now have this option instead of running for their lives.

Proposed statue of Emily Carr

A fund-raising campaign was launched at City Hall on May 21, 2004 to erect a statue of Emily Carr. Where the statue would be erected had not been decided, but an earlier Times Colonist editorial favoured Beacon Hill Park. (Carr is remembered in the Park by a stone footbridge, located at Douglas and Avalon, donated by her sister, Alice, in 1953.) The newspaper reminded readers Emily played in the Park as a child and painted there as an adult: “She could be happy there, again.” Other statue location options were the Art Gallery of Great Victoria, the Central Library or the Emily Carr House on Government Street. (Times Colonist, September 19, 2003, A 14)

A 38 cm. maquette of Edmonton sculptor Barbara Paterson’s design -was displayed at the Central Library. Emily was presented seated on a rock with sketch-pad in hand, looking at her pet monkey, Woo. An estimated $200,000 would be needed to create a 360 kg. larger-than-life size version. Carr House Curator Jan Ross hoped the full amount would be realized in time for Emily Carr’s 133 birthday on December 13. The Victoria Parks and Recreation Foundation, headed by ex-Coun. David Maclean, created an “Emily Carr Statue Fund” to handle donations. (James Bay Beacon, July, 2004, p. 6)

Fund-raising for the statue began two years earlier on June 24, 2002, when Coun. Pam Madoff accepted the first donation for the statue from G. T. Edwards on the 75th anniversary of Carr’s exhibit in Ottawa in 1927.

Large events in and outside the Park

The Times Colonist 10K Run took place on April 25, using Beacon Hill Park in a “compromise” agreement reached with City Council in November, 2003. Despite the 1998 judicial ruling specifically prohibiting advertising banners, Council agreed to the display of banners plus logos on six commercial trucks, food and beverage tents for each corporate sponsor, set up on the Douglas Street all-weather field. Other event organizers abided by the letter of the law (e.g. Luminara), or moved to a different venue (e.g. Run for the Cure), but the Times Colonist 10K Run was allowed to continue advertising. The “compromise” with Council also included an agreement to limit amplified announcements and to cordon off wildflower areas.

Eyewitnesses reported the last two requirements were ignored. Loudspeakers blared music and announcements at high volume. Wildflower areas were not “cordoned off” as required. Instead, a few signs were stuck in the ground along the east side of the playing field saying “Wildflower area, please step carefully.” Commercial logos of six businesses were on tents, trucks and vans, and large banners displayed. Though all of the signs appeared to comply with the “compromise” agreement, the commercial presence was nevertheless overwhelming.

The run itself wound through the Park but the new finish line was moved to Douglas Street at Niagara. (Douglas Street is built entirely on Beacon Hill Park land from Southgate to Dallas Road, so the race was still technically on Park land anyway.) The “Letter of the Day” featured in the Times Colonist after the race was by Mike Manson who disliked the new finish line location: “Surely had our forefathers ever dreamed that 10,000 people would gather to race their hearts out, they wouldn’t have hesitated to grant approval to have this race in their park.” Manson wanted corporations advertising in the Park, as well. (Times Colonist, April 30, 2004, p. A 13)

The Aga Khan Foundation’s 20th World Partnership Walk was staged at the Cameron Bandshell in Beacon Hill Park on May 30, 2004. As specified by City Council in 2003, local corporate sponsors names were not on display in the Park but international corporate sponsors advertising banners were allowed.

Huge numbers of cars and thousands of people crowded into the southwest area of the Park on Fathers Day, Sunday, June 20. The “annual All-British Car and Motorcycle Picnic” took place south of the cricket field in an grass area labeled “Exhibit Grounds” on a map included in the 2004 Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan. An asphalt parking area would be a more appropriate venue for cars. British cars taking part in the show drove over the grass and chip paths and parked all over the field. Visitors followed this lead and parked their cars on the grass on both sides of Circle Drive.

Fathers Day was a busy day everywhere in the Park as well. Three hours of Celtic music, billed “Ceilidh in the Park,” attracted a huge crowd at the bandshell in the afternoon. The central playground was jammed and both water spray facilities heavily used. Business at the Petting Farm was booming. The parking lot and every space along internal roads was full.

The charity fund-raising event Wheels in Motion was staged at Ogden Point instead of Beacon Hill Park. (Times Colonist, May 19, 2004, B 1) Ogden Point was an excellent alternate venue, with ample space and no restrictions on advertising. Beginning and ending a walk, run or wheelchair event at Ogden Point and going through the nearby Park on asphalt roads is a sensible choice. The breast cancer Run for the Cure was staged at Ogden Point on October 3. Called “Weaving a Ribbon of Hope,” the 5 K run or 1 K walk started at Pier A and wound through the Park.

Cooper’s hawk nest rescue

High nest rescue

A dramatic bird rescue took place in Beacon Hill Park on June 15, 2004. After a windstorm the night before, two local birders discovered a dead Cooper’s Hawk chick on the ground in the morning. It lay under a poorly constructed nest built in a conifer a few feet north of the Park wading pool at Douglas and Simcoe. The men could see another chick--still too young to be out of the nest--precariously perched on a branch beside the partially collapsed nest. They alerted wildlife biologist Andy Stewart.

Andy building a nest

Stewart was the right man to call. He has banded more than 1,000 Cooper’s Hawks in Greater Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula as part of a study of the breeding ecology of urban-nesting Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii). Stewart arranged for a Saanich Parks “cherry picker” truck to help rescue the chicks and rebuild the nest. While the mother Hawk wheeled overhead, John Lee took the bucket up and brought down two chicks and the disintegrating nest. (Nest rescue photos are by Brian Hepburn)

Stewart collected additional material to add to the nest. Lee carried the pile up the tree and secured it on top of a chicken wire cradle held in place by a board.

High nest replacement
Banding and weighing of hawk chicks

Before replacing the two chicks in the nest, Stewart banded and measured them. The photo on the right shows one of the chicks being weighed on a scale. Both chicks wore an aluminum band on the right leg and a coloured band on the left. The female chick received a red band with identification H over Z. The male chick received a black band with identification D over M.

Though the reconstructed nest was located about two metres lower than the original, Stewart was confident the parents would accept the new arrangement. Nearby residents monitoring the nest afterward reported the female was soon back to her usual guard post on a nearby cottonwood branch. When her mate arrived with a freshly killed bird, she fed the chicks. The nest rescue was a success.

Tragedy struck the newly fledged female when it flew into a window at the Childrens’ Petting Farm the end of July. A “finch aviary” building near the entrance to the Petting Farm exhibited small birds which fly and perch behind eight large glass windows. Small birds are the usual prey of Cooper's Hawks, so those conditions created a deathtrap. Stewart said: "If I wanted to kill hawks, I would build that structure. I can guarantee it will happen again. It is the worst situation I have seen. It is an unacceptable situation in a public park." (Telephone conversation, August 4, 2004)

40% of the Cooper's Hawk deaths Stewart has investigated were the result of impacts with windows. Changes at the Petting Farm were urgently needed to avoid future Hawk accidents. Farmyard operators, Lynda and Dennis Koender, agreed to meet with Andrew Stewart and the author on Thursday, August 5. Stewart explained that Hawks do not recognize glass as a barrier so it is important to make it clear that a barrier exists. He suggested placing a cedar lattice in front, above or behind the windows to establish a grid pattern. Streamers can be helpful in large quantities but Stewart said decals on windows are "totally ineffective."

Mr. Koender covered five of the most dangerous windows in the “Finch Aviary” building with wire mesh that evening, including the south facing window next to the entrance door into which the hawk crashed.

The injured hawk was taken to WildARC in Metchosin, a rehabilitation facility for wildlife run by the SPCA. Stewart was not optimistic it would recover enough to live in the wild. In addition to the injury itself, the young Cooper’s Hawk was missing an essential “apprenticeship period.” The time spent in the rehabilitation facility was time it would normally have been fed by the parents while it developed hunting skills. If it were returned to the Park later, it is doubtful the parent would be around to feed it.

Catching and banding juvenile hawks

On August 20, 2004, Andy Stewart caught and banded two male juveniles in the Heywood Meadow area of Beacon Hill Park. Each spring, Stewart tries to find every Hawk nest in the region so that he can band nestlings. If a nest-tree is impossible to climb or a nest isn’t discovered, some go unbanded. A different method must be used to band older birds.

Bal-chatri hawk trap

For unbanded adult Hawks near their nest site, Stewart sets up a stuffed owl and a mist net. Adults dive at their enemy and get caught in the net. For juvenile birds, however, a “bal-chatri” trap (photo on the right) is best. It is baited with a live bird such as a sparrow or Cowbird and is covered with nylon nooses. When the young Hawks fly down to investigate, their feet get entangled.

There were three unbanded juveniles in the Heywood meadow in August. Stewart put out two bal chatri traps with one sparrow in each. After quite a wait, a young Hawk was snared and Stewart hurried to disentangle it.

Hawk calmer in a tube Hawk in hand ready for release

He slid the Hawk head first into a tube made from two cans held together with duct tape. The bird became quiet in the tube and was held firmly with only the tail sticking out. Stewart pulled the bird out just enough to measure and band the legs. The photo on the left shows Stewart counting bands on the tail; the rest of the bird remains inside the can. The can size just fits the bird. Females are larger than males so they require two one-pound coffee cans taped together. For smaller males, 19 fluid oz. cans are the right size.

After the first measurements were recorded, Stewart pulled the hawk out of the can to note eye colour and measure the bill. The hawk was then released with an overhand throw, similar to a baseball throw, aiming toward the meadow. The Hawk flew quickly out of sight.

You can contribute to the hawk study by reporting all sightings of banded Cooper’s Hawks to Andy Stewart. If possible, record the band colour and code, date, time and location. Even if you are unable to determine the band code, band colour in itself provides very useful data. Contact: Andy Stewart, Wildlife Biologist, 3932 Telegraph Bay Road, Victoria, B. C. V8N 4H7; Phone: (250) 477-1328; Email:

[More detailed information and photos of Cooper’s hawks can be found in several sections of this history. Hawk nests are described in Chapter 20, 2005 and Chapter 21, 2006. Chapter 23, 2008, includes photos and descriptions of adult hawks captured using a live owl decoy. For a detailed description of Andy Stewart’s research project, including photos and a map of nests in the region, click on the Articles section on the Beacon Hill Park History homepage, then on the first article listed under Wildlife titled “Passion for Hawks”.]

Another High-Rise Tower proposed next to Beacon Hill Park

A 16 story high-rise rental apartment building was proposed at the corner of Toronto and Douglas Streets, a few feet from the Beacon Hill Park boundary line. Quadra Pacific Properties Corporation proposed constructing the tower on the parking lot of the company’s two 12 story rental apartment buildings called Goodacre Towers.

An Open House was held February 25 at the James Bay New Horizons to present the plan. The developers described the meeting as “only the beginning of a dialog with the community,” but said they expected to take the plan to City Hall before the end of March. Coun. Rob Fleming explained the proposal “must be reviewed and commented on by the James Bay Neighbourhood Environment Association (JBNEA), the City’s planning department, advisory groups and then finally at Council and a public hearing.” The developers needed a zoning change because the proposed building on Douglas Street as well as another high-rise the company proposed for Michigan Street were over the allowed height and did not include the currently required number of parking spaces for residents.

Some attending the Open House pointed out another high-rise would increase density and congestion in the James Bay area and have negative impacts on the Park. Several were concerned that construction noise would disturb the Park’s heron colony during nesting season. (James Bay Beacon, April, 2004, p. 1, 2)

At a JBNEA meeting in May, attended by 120, all but three people voted to inform Victoria City Council they were opposed to the project. (Times Colonist, May 14, 2004, p. B 2)

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park wrote:

There is great fear that one or more new high-rise towers will be built on Douglas Street or near the Park. There is concern that this will disrupt the herons. It is believed that the herons came to the Park from other areas due to disturbances elsewhere. They need quiet to raise their families. There are close to 100 nests bordering on the Douglas Street side of the Park. Not only will be herons be affected but also more high-density buildings in this area will compromise the ambiance of the Park. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, September, 2004, p. 7)

Five high-rises stand along the Park’s western perimeter in 2004. They form a visual wall, in effect shrinking the Park. Just south of the two Goodacre Towers buildings is a 13 story condo building, also on Douglas Street. Two taller condominiums--22 and 21 stories high--stand on adjacent streets close to the Park boundary. If the new tower proposal is accepted by the City, the building would be the sixth high-rise on the Park’s western border, further reducing the quality of the Park experience.

“The unique character of Beacon Hill Park deteriorates each time a high rise apartment goes up on its perimeter,” former Park Administrator W. H. Warren noted in 1967. Ten years later, Warren remarked: “Certainly the construction of high rise apartments around the perimeter of the park has in effect shrunk the park. A fellow can no longer kiss his girl friend on a bench by Goodacre Lake without being spied upon by a hundred residents in the high rise towers.”

Before high-rise buildings blocked the sky, people enjoyed watching sunsets from Beacon Hill Park. In 1941, a writer asked in wonder: “Have you ever sat at sunset time, on a bench facing west, looking over the smooth waters of Goodacre Lake, to the fading light?” Those sunset views disappeared when the Goodacre Towers buildings were constructed at the western edge of the Park in 1964. They loom high above the Lake and Park trees. Sunset views once accessible to anyone sitting on a bench or standing on the Stone Bridge are now restricted to renters on the west side of the apartment buildings. A new tower would block the last small piece of sky visible between tall buildings.

Fifth Annual Luminara Lantern Festival

Luminara Japanese lantern figure

The theme of the Fifth Luminara Lantern Festival held in Beacon Hill Park on July 24 was “Transforming Our Community and Ourselves.” Alice Baker, the festival organizer, explained:

This is probably our most exciting year ever. This year, we have organized more costuming and performance. It is going to be more theatrical, and we’ve worked with all the artists so there will be continuity to all of their contributions. Each motif will produce different moods for people to experience as they move through the event.(Times Colonist, July 22, 2004, p. D12)

Sixty-seven Lantern installations and 69 performances were set up in seven areas of the Park: “Celebration” was the motif at St. Ann’s Academy, where the night began at 5 p.m. with acrobatic and dance performances. Near Goodacre Lake the motif was “Transcendence,” so fairies cavorted. The Cameron Bandshell motif was “Community,” with Daniel Lapp’s fiddlers and a gospel choir performing. Fountain Lake featured a “Nature” motif. A “Heritage” motif included Chinese lanterns and the Japanese woman lantern in the photo above. The “Vision” motif along Circle Drive featured futuristic themes. On the Cricket Field was the “Wonder” motif, with Primal Fire and Discovery Dance.

Gardener Margaret Marsden lighting candles.

Two experienced Park staff, Paul LeComte and Margaret Marsden, worked with event organizers throughout the day and into the night, assuring care of the grounds and providing assistance. This photo shows Park gardener Margaret Marsden wading into Willow Lake, one of the small shallow lakes near Circle Drive, to light a floating lantern display.

The event drew a huge crowd. The Times Colonist estimated 15,000 attended; parking anywhere near the Park was difficult. Monday Magazine wrote:

Now in its fifth year, Luminara is finding itself as much a victim of its own success as both Splash and Paint-In--that is, the crowds of people who make it such a success are also starting to keep people away; there were moments last year when it was hard to move because there were so many people. (Monday Magazine, July 22-28, 2004, p. 13)

The planning and execution of Luminara was outstanding. Organizers set a gold standard for any event in the Park. Care was taken to funnel people to the developed areas of the Park and away from more natural areas. The crowd was concentrated in the central area around the Cameron Bandshell, walking on Arbutus Way and Bridge Way as far as the Cricket Pitch, mostly staying on asphalt and cultivated lawns.

In both 2003 and 2004, no installations or activity were planned for the western part of Goodacre Lake in order not to disturb the Heron colony. Paths are narrow in that section, as well, and too near busy Douglas Street.

The danger of fire was reduced by mowing and watering the site ahead of time, having fire crews on duty, stationing buckets of water throughout the venue and posting signs asking the public to keep away from the dry natural areas. An army of volunteers wearing Luminara t-shirts helped with every aspect of the event, including installation, crowd control and clean-up.

Deanna Storey, dressed as the Queen of Hearts, said: “It’s a beautiful, magical evening...This started out lovely, but now it’s bigger and better.” (Times Colonist, July 25, 2004, p. 2)

Cameron Bandshell events

The City of Victoria published a “Summer 2004 Cameron Bandshell Outdoor Concerts and Events” schedule for June, July, August and September. Regular events listed included Sunday in the Park concerts, Saturday Jazz Concerts, Friday afternoon Seniors Concerts in the Park Series, Scottish Dancing, Folk Dancing and church services.

A “Free B Film” showing was held at the Cameron Band Shell every Saturday night in August. Judging from the high attendance at the August 14 film “Time Bandits,” the film series was a hit. A wide range of ages and types of people appeared at dusk walking in from all directions. Many brought their own chairs and blankets. Some watched the film from a prone position in sleeping bags. The smells of home-made popcorn and marijuana mingled in the air. The event was very well organized. Portable lights were stationed at the ends of bench rows; the projection from behind the screen provided an excellent image and the sound system was also excellent.

A regular event not listed on the published City schedule was a pot smokers gathering every Wednesday evening at 5 p.m. near the bandshell. As many as fifty young people have gathered for several years on Wednesdays to smoke and listen to speeches on a bullhorn about marijuana issues.

Pipe laid through camas meadow

Early Monday morning on August 9, 2004, equipment was parked on the Heywood Meadow next to the water well drilled in 2003. A Houle Electric van, a large truck loaded with pipe, a pickup with a large concrete culvert, Wellmaster Pumps and Water Systems vehicles and a front-end loader/digger crowded onto the camas meadow west of the Heywood ball diamond and north of the Mayor’s Grove sign. By noon, the digger had a deep trench dug from the well head about 200 feet south across the meadow. (Author observations)

According to an article titled “The Water Well” by Roy Fletcher, the pipe carrying well water was routed through an “unused storm drain that runs almost due east from Goodacre Lake.” Fletcher explained:

The water line and electrical connections then run westward in the drainpipe to a manhole at the eastern end of Goodacre Lake. From there, the water line dumps into the lake through a hole that was pushed through the side of the manhole. The electrical servicing also passes through this hole, but continues underwater westward past the Stone Bridge. Then it exits the lake and passes through a trench southward to the aviary, which already contains electrical servicing. There is a float installed under the Stone Bridge that acts as a water-level sensor.

Currently, the pump is discharging about 125 litres a minute (roughly equivalent to five or six garden hoses on full) into the lake...It is hoped that some money can be found to extend the water line further west into the deep part of the lake to provide better mixing of the fresh water and the stagnant lake water. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, September, 2004 p. 10)

Unfortunately, a dark coloured pipe was not used for the water-sensor under the Stone Bridge. The bright white pipe sticking above the water under the Bridge is very noticeable and detracts from the scene. When water is flowing into the Lake from the well through another white pipe at the east end of Goodacre Lake, it is clear the slow water flow would be inadequate to fight fires in the Park as Coun. Chris Coleman had anticipated.

Sixty-two trees planted

Twenty-two Douglas firs, sixteen Western Red cedars, two Big-leaf maples and twenty-two Garry oaks were planted in Beacon Hill Park in 2004, according to Michelle Gorman, IPM Coordinator for the Parks Department. The trees were selected by Parks staff after consultation with Provincial Rare and Endangered Species biologists to replace trees in the Park infected with disease. Two diseases--Phytophthora sp. and Phellinus weirrii--are transmitted through the roots. The diseases killed thirty-one Lawson cypress, most in the vicinity of the Heron colony, and twelve Douglas firs located on the east side of Goodacre Lake. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, September, 2004, pp. 5, 6)

Noisy Park machines

In a Monday Magazine article, Russ Francis criticized the noise level in Beacon Hill Park: “one can’t help but feel nostalgic for the days before leaf blowers and all-terrain vehicles replaced rakes and wheelbarrows. At times, the din is deafening.”

Parks Manager Mike Leskiw told Francis that noisy ATVs used by staff would be replaced by electric “Gators”. The change-over would be lengthy, but the first machine would arrive in 2004. Leskiw said quieter leaf-blowers were also planned.(Monday Magazine, July 22-28, 2004, pp. 9, 10)

Minutes of the Parks, Recreation and Community Development Advisory Committee meeting of November 1, 2004 stated: “An electric gator (small utility vehicle) was purchased for staff usage in Beacon Hill Park.”

Homeless people sleeping in the Park

Reporter Russ Francis discussed homeless people sleeping in Beacon Hill Park with Parks Manager Mike Leskiw and provided this assessment:

On a typical night, somewhere between six and twelve people camp out [in the Park]--even in mid-winter, when densely-foliated trees provide shelter against even heavy rain. Before starting work each morning, Park staff attempt to clear out the campers, who often leave piles of garbage. “It’s a sad thing, with homeless people,” Leskiw said. (Monday Magazine, July 22-28, 2004, p. 10)

Homeless people sleeping on the north side of Goodacre Lake in 2003 told resident Roy Fletcher that rats ran over them in the night after grass areas were mowed.

Park workers lament

Budget cuts have forced fewer workers to attempt the same amount of work in Beacon Hill Park. During dry summer months, watering exotic trees, flowers and shrubs consumes a huge amount of staff time. Native plants are adapted to dry Victoria summers, but the exotic species planted in the Park since 1889 are not.

Dragging heavy hoses around and setting up sprinklers is labour intensive and keeps workers from other tasks. One conscientious worker lamented: “Things that need doing aren’t getting done. We’re spending all our time dragging hoses around. Sprinkler systems should have been put in years ago.”

Bridge Way flower bed no longer exists

The flower bed on the east side of Bridge Way shown above was photographed in the summer of 2004. The bed was removed and replaced by grass in the Fall. One way to reduce the heavy burden on overworked staff is to eliminate some exotic flower beds.

The Friends Newsletter recognized staff is overworked:

...there is not enough staff in the Park. We do work with the Parks staff and they provide what assistance they can but budget constraints limit what they can do for us. This year they put up signs to warn the public to stay off the wildflower areas. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, September, 2004, p. 7)

Children's Petting Zoo

The April issue of the Friends Newsletter noted the Beacon Hill Park Children’s Farm Society, operated by the Koenders family, had been given a new three-year contract. It is the position of the Friends that the Trust prohibits such operations. Distributing brochures is also not permitted. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2004, p. 5)

In the September issue, The Friends wrote:

The Petting Zoo continues to be problematic. It is now being run as a “non-profit society but admission is by cash donation. There is therefore no control over what is done with the money coming in. Although the names on the “non-profit” society documents are different, the same people will be running it as they have been for the past twenty years. They also distribute brochures with advertising on them. First of all, no leaflets are to be distributed in the Park and, secondly, no advertising is to take place in the Park. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, September, 2004, pp. 7, 8)

The focus was on hand-washing at the Petting Zoo after news spread of an E. coli outbreak affecting six children on the Lower Mainland who had visited two different petting zoos. Petting zoo animals have feces in their fur. After petting an animal, a child could put her fingers in her mouth or eat lunch and the bacteria would be spread.

Kids petting the baby goats

“The most common contact is plain old petting where there’s fecal matter on the hide. You wouldn’t necessarily see it. It doesn’t have to be visible,” said Dr. Richard Stanwich, chief medical officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

Marcia Koenders, manager of the Park zoo, said “I’ve been kissing goats for many years and I’ve never gotten [E. Coli]. And I scoop lots of poop.” The zoo has a sign posted reminding visitors to wash their hands and a washing station near the entrance. A second washing station is planned, at a cost of about $5,000. The zoo is open seven days a week from mid-March to mid-October and exhibits emus, pygmy goats, rabbits, guinea pigs and ducks. (Times Colonist, August 20, 2004, C 1)

The “Beacon Hill Children’s Farm Ltd.” began publishing a newsletter in June called "The Goat Whisperer Farm News." Created by Marcia Koenders and Geneveve Primeau, an issue is one 11 inch x 14 inch single sheet, printed on both sides. The top states: “Victoria Edition Issued Monthy [sic]”. Ads are sold for $69 a month.

Sixteen business ads were included in the August issue. Another category was "Farm Supporters." Four businesses were listed; families can contribute in this category as well. The August “News” called for help to raise $5,000 to fix the main barn roof. They were giving away free peacock tail feathers which had molted. "One per family--While supplies last!" The “News” is distributed at several business locations, including the Market on Yates.

Drought conditions affect the Park

Prolific year for horsechestnuts

A noticeable increase in the number of Garry oak acorns and horse chestnuts produced by Park and boulevard trees was a direct and visible result of weather conditions. A warm dry spring helped with pollination and drought conditions induced the trees to produce more seeds, said Rob Hughes, Asst. Supervisor of arbori-culture for the City of Victoria. (Times Colonist, October 21, 2004, D 1)

Victoria received heavy rains in August, but some trees had already been killed off by a whole series of long, hot, dry summers. Trees less tolerant of dry conditions are cedars, grand firs, western hemlock, birches and maples. Nigel Livingston, head of the Centre for Forest Biology at the University of Victoria said the very dry summers created “an enormous amount of stress” for trees and other plants. He noted trees around Victoria were producing cones and seeds earlier because of the drought as a survival mechanism. The tree puts energy into making seeds to carry on the species. Drought also means trees are more susceptible to insect pests and diseases

August rains came too late for many trees but some trees can survive droughts. Poplar can drop all leaves and look dead, but will put out new leaves in the spring. Garry oaks are native to the area and adapted long ago to dry summers. Richard Hebda of the Royal B. C. Museum stated that climate change will produce a different forest in Victoria. Planting more Garry oaks and fewer exotic trees in Beacon Hill Park is a logical plan. (Times Colonist, August 27, 2004, A 2)

Northeast Ridge: bike damage and native plant restoration

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter reported “a large number of kids on bicycles making a mess on the Northwest Ridge rocks...there seems to be no enforcement.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2004, p. 6)

Agnes Lynn presented an update on the Northwest Ridge plant restoration project in the April Newsletter. The project began in February, 2000, with the planting of native plant species in an area near Southgate Street degraded by mountain bikers. The hope was that flourishing native plants would keep bicycles away and would also eliminate a number of cross-paths. Lynn cited “bad luck” as Park staff accidentally mowed the small plants. It was determined a temporary fence would be needed to protect them. “It is a common mistake to expect native plants to survive the first year or so without water,” Lynn noted, so the plants were watered by a volunteer. “Despite the mistreatment, several Nootka Roses, Snowberry and Garry oaks are struggling along, only a couple of inches high. In addition, Camas and Fawn Lilies...are doing well.”

New plants were added in 2004 from the Park Nursery, including Nootka Roses, Oregon grape and Garry oaks. Scotch Broom seedlings were pulled out and replaced by Shooting Stars, Satin Flowers and Larkspur, salvaged from a construction site.

Some salvage plants were planted further south in the Vancouver Island Rock and Alpine Garden. These plants needed the shade provided in that area. Shade has increased in the Garden since it was planted in 1967, so it is “becoming more of a woodland garden than a rock and alpine garden.” More native plants will be included as a result. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2004, p. 7)

Vehicles damage Beacon Hill

The Newsletter noted four wheel drive vehicles drive from the all-weather playing field on Douglas Street up Beacon Hill, forming ruts which widen and deepen with winter rains. “The police will not go up the hill at night as the gate is locked.”(Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2004, p. 6)

Water Spray Pool

On September 1, Joe Daly, Manager Research, Planning and Design, sent an information letter about the “Beacon Hill Park Water Play Area” proposal to selected parties with a request for comments by September 30. Daly noted the following City Council motion passed on March 13, 2003. Agreed:

1. Support be given to replacement of the wading pool in Beacon Hill Park with a water spray facility.

2. Staff be requested to undertake further consultation to finalize options for location, size and design principles.

The letter stated staff, after considering three locations for a new water spray facility, recommended the centre of the Park because that location was near parking, washrooms and the playground. Staff considered the Kiwanis wading pool site too shady and it was without a washroom. The third area considered, on Cook Street near the playground, was not centrally located and too near the Park service road.

Daly said potential impacts of the spray pool on Garry oaks in the central location were addressed by hiring an arborist to map critical roots and in discussions with the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team (GOERT). The Friends of Beacon Hill Park were not included in this consultation. After this process, the water spray area was moved slightly south away from the trees and the size of the facility reduced. The Garry oak area was to be restored and a split rail fence would separate the trees from the play area. A sketch was included with the letter showing the general “potential water play area” but no square footage or measurements were stated.

A Steering Committee was intended to “finalize design principles and review terms of reference for selection of a team to design and build the water spray area.” Staff recommended the Committee be composed of representatives from nine sectors: Parks staff, Recreation staff, Advisory Design Panel, Fairfield Community Association, Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team, James Bay Neighbourhood Environment Committee, Out of School Care Coordinator, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Advisory Committee, and Public Art Advisory Committee. The Friends of Beacon Hill Park were not on the list.

Cornelia Lange, a representative to the Steering Committee from the Fairfield Community Association, responded to Daly’s letter with detailed measurements of all three possible spray area locations. Her organization disagreed with the central location recommended by staff and indicated a more comprehensive report should be given to City Council on the other two options. Lange also suggested adding a representative from the Heritage Advisory Committee to the Steering Committee.

The September, 2004 Friends Newsletter provided an update on the Water Spray Pool. The Friends were originally not included on the Steering Committee list but upon request, were added. The Newsletter noted the Parks Department and the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) conferred for several months about the location of the water spray facility. The original location was near a large Garry oak stand north of the Central Playground until a compromise was reached to move the facility south and reduce it in size. The Newsletter commented it ‘would likely involve cutting down two Douglas firs and a Garry oak to make room for the spray park.” Preliminary trenches dug by a contractor hired by the City went beyond the critical zone boundary, according to “a concerned GOERT member... exposing the Garry oaks’ crucial feeder roots.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, September, 2004, p. 6)

Meetings of the Steering Committee would commence in January, 2005. Members on the new Committee planned to express concerns about the location, size and design of the facility as well questioning the use of a bequest meant to enhance natural areas. There were at least four other points of contention to be raised by members of the Steering Committee:

1. The installation of a large water-spray facility appears incompatible with water conservation measures increasingly necessary with climate warming and drier conditions. If Victoria continues to experience frequent drought conditions, a larger water-spray facility would not qualify as responsible water use. Recycling the water would require expensive treatment. Draining the water-spray facility into Goodacre Lake was a possibility.

2. The number of days of use for any outdoor water facility for young children in Victoria is limited. Beacon Hill Park is located at 48 degrees 25 minutes North Latitude; it is cool most of the year. Days suitable for water spray use might vary from 20 to 40 days per year. The smaller scale and cost of the two present water spray facilities in the Park are more suitable to Victoria’s northern location.

3. Children ages four to nine are the most frequent users of water spray facilities. This age group represents a small proportion of the population and yet the concrete would be in place year-round, excluding a section of the Park from general use.

4. The nearly $500,000 figure could be used to build several “pocket playgrounds” in areas of the City which need more facilities for young children instead of concentrating all funds into one large project. Irving Park in James Bay is a neighbourhood park needing more facilities, as pointed out by Tim Van Alstine of the James Bay Neighbourhood Environment Association

Horse-drawn wagons and carriages

Tally Ho Wagon in 2004

Though the last Park workhorse retired in 1963, working horses still pass through the Park daily in 2004. Tally-Ho horse-drawn wagons began pulling loads of tourists through the Park in 1903 and continue today, though other carriage companies now take a share of the business. In the photo above, a Tally-Ho sightseeing wagon pauses to admire the flowerbed at Park Way and Circle Drive. In the photo below, a “white horse drawn Cinderella carriage” owned by Victoria Carriage Tours travels along Arbutus Way.

White horse drawn Cinderella carriage

Heritage Landscape Management Plan

The $45,000 consultant report titled Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan was officially presented to City Council in October, 2004 by Commonwealth Historic Resource Management Limited. Reporter Malcolm Curtis called the 111 page report "a roadmap to manage the park's resources in the future."

Joe Daly, Manager of Research, Planning and Design, said the report “fills a gap in planning that has been missing for a number of years.” Coun. Pamela Madoff praised the report, which provided an inventory and evaluation of the Park’s 124 historical features, as “an extraordinary piece of work, very thorough." (Times Colonist, October 19, B 1, B 2)

A newspaper editorial noted:

"The report recommends...that the city designate the park as a municipal heritage site and seek to have it designated a national historic site. Getting the appropriate designation would be a key step in the preservation of the park’s rich history." (Times Colonist, October 23, 2004, A 10)

Betty Gibbens, a defender of the Park Trust for more than twenty years, wrote a letter to the newspaper concerning the heritage report:

There might be less unease regarding the intent of the city-financed “Beacon Hill Park Landscape Heritage Management Plan” had the author’s representative not subsequently spoken of looking for ways to “exploit the resources."

Heritage designation ought not to be the primary consideration to justify appropriate use. The trustee’s duty established by the 1998 B. C. Supreme Court decision is to preserve Beacon Hill Park’s character, namely, “a nature park with ornamental garden and playing fields.” Benchmarks include, “not for profit or utility...” (Times Colonist, November 1, 2004, p. A 7)

Helen Oldershaw, President of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, presented an astute analysis of the heritage report in the September Friends Newsletter:

The evaluator shows a decided bias toward the stylized garden landscape rather than toward a landscape modified by the ingenuity of a people dependent on the land for their livelihood...The Lake District Sector is rated highest in heritage value with eight excellent scores on built objects and features of the Blair Plan...The many First nations sites (also rated excellent) are spread among several sectors and lumped in with unrelated features which give the separate sectors a lower heritage value...

There was only a cursory reference to the legal documents (the Trust and the rulings of Judge Begbie and Justice Wilson of the B. C. Supreme Court) which protect the Park from commercialism and misuse. Such documents are the underpinnings of a people’s heritage and, indeed, in themselves are historical artifacts.

This nicely-bound report was originally supposed to be a draft, with the public’s comments aired at the Open House along with subsequent reports of people’s concerns and counter-arguments incorporated into the final version. However, unfortunately, this seems not to be happening: the consultants appear to have the last word. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, September, 2004, pp. 4, 5)

Oldershaw was quite correct that public input was curtailed during the heritage report process. A memo to Mayor and Council from Joe Daly, dated October 29, 2003, stated:

A draft report will be distributed to stakeholders and interested members of the public in early January. Following receipt of public comment on the draft report an Open House will be scheduled to present final consultant findings and recommendations.

The “Heritage Landscape Management Plan” was issued in May, 2004 on expensive, thick paper, printed on one side only with a colour cover. It had every appearance of a “final” report, though the word “draft” was mentioned once inside. The previous “draft” was available only “in-house” according to both Hal Kalman and Joe Daly, and the public was not allowed to see it.

The Open House was not advertised in newspapers or on radio or television. For that reason, only those with inside knowledge knew about the public meeting. A total of only six people came to the all-day event.

Not exactly an “Annual Report”

A tiny booklet issued by the Parks Department in 2004 titled “Highlights of 2003” covered all City parks, recreation and community programs in twelve small format pages.

Page one, however, declared the booklet was “the first edition of Parks, Recreation and Community Development’s Annual Report.” Beacon Hill Park content was almost zero. The “Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan” was mentioned in one paragraph on page six. The booklet was definitely not a Beacon Hill Park Annual Report, despite that annual requirement being a specific Round Table goal.

Number 30 of the “Round Table’s Goals for Beacon Hill Park” stated: “Prepare an annual public report on park use and management impacts.” (Summary Report, Beacon Hill Park Management Plan Phase 1, July 2001, p. 8 and inside back cover)

In 2002, the “Beacon Hill Park Annual Report” was produced to comply with that goal. In 2003, however, all that emerged was the “Highlights of 2003" booklet.