Fierce wind and rain storms downed trees and littered Beacon Hill Park with broken branches in January. A series of even worse storms blasted the park in December. The loss of many mature trees and countless branches reduced the forest canopy; the park became noticeably more open in 2006. Despite the hard work of city crews, daunting cleanup and replanting challenges remained at the end of the year. Thousands of branches littered the ground; chainsawed tree segments waited for pickup all over the park. The photo above, taken in January, shows city workers bucking up a giant Garry oak blown down along Chestnut Row, near the Burns Monument. (Times Colonist, January 29, 2006, B1, Ray Smith photo. Used with permission.)
December's wind, rain and snow storms damaged trees in every area of the park. Mature willows near the central washrooms were hard hit. At the south edge of the Goodacre Lake near Arbutus Way, a venerable old willow which Parks Environmental Technician Fred Hook suspects was planted about 1890, completely disintegrated. Two photos below, taken by Norm Ringuette, show what was left.
As heavy rains soaked the soil, wind uprooted trees in the northwest and southwest corners of the park. Other damaged trees became safety hazards and had to be removed, including one near the Goodacre Lake sign at Douglas Street. A park bench near the heron colony was smashed by a falling tree.
Many trees in the heron colony, at Douglas and Avalon streets, were damaged. Cory Manton, Tree Preservation Officer, City of Victoria Parks Division explained: “The recent snow and wind storms have damaged over one-half the Douglas fir trees inside the western portion of the rookery. Climbers will be removing broken limbs and hangers that pose a risk to Parks staff and the public.” Workers from Davey Tree Care Experts were contracted to do that work December 27 to 29. More heron colony trees were lost to disease, Manton explained: “...six dead Lawson Cypress trees” had to be removed and “a significant Douglas fir tree which has canker enveloping the trunk...was deemed an extreme risk tree.” He explained native trees--Douglas fir, Big Leaf Maple and Red Alder--would be planted in the heron colony to replace trees lost.
Many park trees had already been removed during the year because of aging and disease. In February, the James Bay Beacon reported the disappearance of “huge ash, fir and cypress...one and two generations old...” from the park. Manton told the newspaper, “The majority of the trees...had either root or truck rotting diseases.” They were removed because they were a danger to the public.
Many more Beacon Hill Park trees were lost than replaced in 2006, according to Parks Manager Mike Leskiw. The Times Colonist reported more than 200 trees in city parks and boulevards were lost and over 1500 damaged by December storms. The city-wide cleanup cost estimate was $250,000, money not in the Parks Department budget. Replacing lost trees is expensive: each small tree costs $150-175, larger trees cost $250. There are also heavy costs in caring for new trees. (Times Colonist, January 18, 2007, A1) A donation campaign to raise money for replacement trees was organized the end of January. By February 15, 2007, only $10,000 had been collected, far below the target of $220,000. (Times Colonist, February 15, 2007, B1)
To meet future city requirements for replacement trees, the City of Victoria established a tree nursery in 2005. After 2006 storms dramatically increased the need for replacement trees across the region, that nursery is even more valuable. The site--six acres in Saanich leased from the Capital Regional District (CRD)--has been planted with 350 Garry oaks, 100 Red cedar and 100 Douglas fir so far, according to Parks Manager Mike Leskiw, and there is room for hundreds more trees. Seedlings are started in the Beacon Hill Park nursery. A special effort is made to match the original tree with a replacement from the same gene pool. Leskiw explained a Garry oak purchased from Washington State is not genetically identical to a Garry oak from southern Vancouver Island.
In particular, the city needs Garry oaks, Pacific dogwood and arbutus trees, native species which are in short supply from commercial nurseries. Demand for native trees increased when Victoria and other municipalities enacted new tree-protection bylaws. Property owners are now required to replant when removal permits are issued to cut protected trees. The City of Victoria is also planning a major replacement of aging boulevard trees with disease resistant species. (Times Colonist, May 4, 2006, B1)
The Great blue heron colony, located in tall trees near the Avalon Street crosswalk at Douglas Street, is one of Beacon Hill Park’s outstanding features. (Gavin Hanke photos) The colony began with a single pair in 1982. The unconfirmed number of active heron nests in 2006 appeared to be about 100, similar to the previous year.
The nest tree area was significantly changed by extensive branch trimming and tree cutting in three recent work sessions--January 2005, January, 2006 and December, 2006. The work was planned to take place “prior to return of the herons,” and no heron nests were removed, according to arborist Cory Manton. Dead Lawson cypress located in the heron area were removed, but one dead cypress was left standing on Warren Island, close to the heron colony, as a source of nest sticks. Herons break off dead twigs and branches from standing trees to build their nests and also gather sticks from the ground. In 2007, a large number of sticks were placed on the ground under colony trees by park staff. Within a day or two, Environmental Technician Fred Hook explained, herons had used every stick for nest construction.
After spending the winter looking for food along the coast, herons returned to Beacon Hill Park in January and February, 2007, apparently undeterred by more open nest sites. Heron observer Rhiannon Hamdi told newspaper reporter Carolyn Heiman the first male herons returned to the site January 23. As of March 25, 2007, herons occupied 87 nests, according to Hamdi. Though ten nests were destroyed in winter windstorms, seven new nests were constructed, she said. Nanaimo Ministry of Environment wildlife biologist Trudy Chatwin planned to count the nests in April. (Times Colonist, March 25, 2007, A1, A3)
Robert W. Butler, author of The Great Blue Heron, estimates each heron pair must rear an average of 1.5 young to maintain the current heron population. It appears the Beacon Hill Park colony has not achieved that in recent years. Trudy Chatwin believes heron numbers are declining throughout eastern Vancouver Island, especially north of Nanaimo. Though the number of nests has remained steady, with about 450 mating pairs, the number of chicks per nest has been below average. Chatwin warned, “There is a possibility the Vancouver Island population could crash, as it did on the Sunshine Coast, due to such factors as decreasing habitat and marine pollution.” (Cowichan Valley Citizen, January 28, 2007, p. 12) Other factors adversely affecting nest success could be eagle predation and fewer available fish.
All dogs--unleashed and leashed--are excluded from the area near the heron colony. The new sign posted in 2006 shows a map of the restricted area and features the same friendly dog picture used on Dallas Road dog signs and in the city’s “Paws in Parks” brochures. (Norm Ringuette photo)
Though Bald eagles have not nested in the Beacon Hill Park for four years, in 2006 they were observed soaring overhead, eating gulls and fish while perched in park trees, swooping over the heron colony on the hunt for vulnerable heron chicks and, to the delight of photographers, posing on top of the totem pole, as shown in the right photo. On one very unusual winter day, two eagles attempted to catch a small dog along Dallas Road.
Tall trees located at Dallas Road and Cook Street, in the Southeast Woods area of Beacon Hill Park, are favourite eagle perches. The trees are visible from the Cook Street home of Cornelia and Kerry Lange; they record eagle sightings and document behaviours. On the left is an outstanding photo of two adult eagles taken at that location by Kerry Lange. Though the Langes observed eagles mating in January, no active nest was found in the park or nearby this year.
In February, two eagles made the news by attempting to scoop up a small dog near Finlayson Point. The astonished dog-owner said the first eagle swooped low, narrowly missing her dog, followed by a second eagle. After that experience, she wanted a warning sign for pet owners erected along Dallas Road. Asst. Supervisor Al Cunningham responded that eagle attacks were too rare for the city to put up a sign. (A Channel, 5 p.m. news, February 7, 2006) Eagles will seek out any available food if fish are in short supply, including gulls, heron chicks and ducks. Small dogs are not usually on the menu.
An eagle was electrocuted when it landed on power lines at the Fairfield Plaza in January, 2007. It was not one of the Beacon Hill Park eagles, according to Helen Oldershaw, Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Chairperson. The dead eagle could be positively identified as a bird from an Oak Bay nest because it was banded.
The last active eagle nest in Beacon Hill Park was recorded in 2002, when two young birds were successfully reared in a large fir south of the Stone Bridge on the west side of Bridge Way. That nest remains in place. The park eagles’ second huge nest (eagles often alternate between two nests within their territory) was located in a cottonwood tree on Douglas Street near Fountain Lake until its collapse in January, 2005. Local birder Roy Prior recorded successful nesting at the Douglas Street location four consecutive years, from 1997 through 2000. The eagles did not nest in the park in 2001.
Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii), like the magnificent unbanded adult hawk in this photo, can be seen year-round in Beacon Hill Park. The red eye, black cap and slate grey back shown here is typical of males. The Cooper’s hawk is Greater Victoria’s most abundant year-round bird of prey. The fast, secretive birds are crow size with powerful wings and very long tails. Their long tails, easily seen in flight and when the bird is perched, enable them to outmaneuver prey doing their utmost to escape. They eat small and medium size birds, especially robins, sparrows, starlings, pigeons, and the occasional rat, all species which thrive in urban environments. (Andy Stewart photo)
In March, 2006, Cooper’s hawk researcher Andy Stewart reported a banded female (Red 4 over G) building a nest with an unbanded male in an arbutus tree in the north end of Beacon Hill Park east of Arbutus Way. The plot thickened in April, when Stewart suspected the female was going back and forth between that nest and male and a second nest and male located near the old wading pool. This was confirmed when he placed observers in both locations at the same time. Eventually, the female settled on the arbutus tree male and nest location and laid her eggs there. An arborists conference taking place in Beacon Hill Park in July inadvertently disturbed the nesting hawks, putting the chicks in danger. Arborists sent roped climbers up nearby trees to cut limbs, driving the female hawk off the nest. Luckily, she returned after the arborists left. By July 3, she was observed feeding chicks.
Wildlife biologist Andy Stewart, shown in the photo on the left, has personally banded over 1,200 Cooper’s hawks in an on-going study of the breeding ecology of urban-nesting Cooper’s Hawks in Greater Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula. He attempts to track banded birds throughout their lives and this year reported the demise of several park hawks. On April 11, 2006, Stewart reported a male hawk (Black 9 over Z) who had nested near the Beacon Hill Park wading pool for five years was killed when he hit a glass panel at the Canoe Brew Pub Marina on Swift Street while chasing after a starling. “His former mate (Red 5 over P) met a similar fate when she hit a glass barrier at the Hotel Grand Pacific,” Stewart said. Glass sundecks are the number one killer of urban Cooper’s hawks. Hawks see a bird through the glass, fly at high speed to capture that prey, only to end up dead on someone’s deck. A full 40% of hawk deaths Stewart investigated were the result of impacts with glass.
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: email@example.com
[More detailed information and photos of Cooper’s hawks can be found in several sections of this history. For more on the 2004 chick rescue, see Chapter 19. Hawk nests are described in Chapter 20, 2005 and Chapter 22, 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”.]
Lilies bloomed as usual in two locations in Beacon Hill Park. Lilies, first planted in Fountain Lake in 1905, completely cover the surface of that lake each summer. In 2006, they spread under the little footbridge. (Norm Ringuette photos) A smaller area of lilies can be found east of the Stone Bridge in Goodacre Lake. Only Goodacre Lake and Fountain Lake have soil bottoms and deep water; all other park lakes are lined with concrete and extremely shallow.
Until the summer of 2006, rampant algae (left photo below) was the dominant vegetation in Goodacre Lake. In a dramatic change, that growth was replaced this year by an overgrowth of Elodea (Elodea canadensis), also known as Canadian waterweed or Canadian pondweed. The photo by Gavin Hanke, below right, shows turtles floating in Elodea. The change appears to be a good thing, evidence of improved water quality after years of effort by the city. Though the lake appeared to have too much of a good thing in 2006, the quantity of Elodea could lessen over time.
Elodea is an aquatic perennial native to North America, important in lake ecosystems and widely used as aquarium vegetation. It grows completely submerged beneath the water with the exception of small white flowers which bloom at the surface and are attached to the plant by delicate stalks. It loves nutrient rich lakes, can grow in shallow or deep water, and can even continue to grow unrooted, as floating fragments. According to internet sources, Elodea provides good habitat for many aquatic invertebrates; waterfowl eat it. Dr. Gavin Hanke, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Royal B.C. Museum, said the vegetation is a source of food and a basking site for turtles and “Elodea overgrowth also benefits introduced fishes as it provides more foraging ground and is cover from herons and gulls.” (Email communications, January 2, 2006)
Park staff has worked hard to improve water quality in Goodacre Lake, especially during the last three years. Since 2002, aerators, pumps and bubblers have operated twenty-four hours a day to increase the oxygen level. Beneficial bacteria, powdered microbes, and aluminum sulfate were added to reduce nutrients, algae growth, pH and alkalinity, to consume sediment and improve water clarity. In 2006, the Parks Department leased a new green technology called Coherent Water Resonator for testing in the lake and powdered microbes were spread by hand over the algae masses, according to Asst. Supervisor Al Cunningham. The well drilled near Arbutus Way at the north end of the park has pumped water to replace evaporation loss into Goodacre Lake at the east end since 2004. Cunningham explained on May 23, 2006 that “well water input” has helped stabilize the water level in the lake as well as “adding to the clarity of the pond water. The flow is around 22 gallons per minute.” A solar panel was installed on McTavish Island in December, 2006 near the green electrical box to help power the pumps.
Another source of water for the Goodacre Lake system (which includes Fountain Lake and Arbour Lake) is planned for 2007. Water will be recycled after use from the new water play area to be constructed at the old wading pool site at Circle Drive and Douglas Street. To set up this system, a water line was dug under the path from the old wading pool site to Fountain Lake in February, 2007, and a concrete box installed underground.
A significant effort was made to remove debris in the winter of 2006 "anywhere that could be reached by hand from the edges" of Goodacre Lake, Cunningham explained. “Debris included years of built up branches and litter from the shallow water... A total of 7 truck loads were removed. It appears this clean up will be a long term ongoing effort but I'm optimistic we're on the right track.” The last major lake cleanup was in 1934, when “Relief workers drained the lake and dug out sediment of 44 years,” according to Park Superintendent W. H. Warren’s Annual Report. A similar cleanup is impossible today because Capital Regional District (CRD) regulations exclude lake water from storm sewers. Sediment has been accumulating for seventy-two years, decades of leaves, branches, dust, pollen, seeds, insects, feathers, beer bottles and pop cans, shoes, frisbees and the occasional dead rat.
During the summer of 2006, the number of Red-eared slider turtles (Trachemyss scripta elegans) visible in and near Goodacre Lake plummeted. Large numbers were a common sight 1998 through 2005 when 30 to 35 turtles could be counted basking in the sun most warm weather days. The two photos above were taken by Tim Campbell at the northwest edge of Goodacre Lake before the population decline. In August, 2006, fewer than ten were visible. What happened to the turtles?
Though an explosion of Elodea vegetation replaced algae about the same time turtle numbers dropped, the two events appear unrelated. Elodea is good for turtles; they eat, hide and rest in it. In Gavin Hanke's photo on the left, a turtle floats serenely in Elodea.
The most likely explanation for the drop in the turtle population is that one or more raccoons ate them. Dr. Hanke, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Royal B.C. Museum, witnessed a raccoon capture a turtle on the west edge of McTavish Island, east of the Stone Bridge. The scene of the ambush is shown in his photo on the right. The rocks along the edge of the island were a favourite turtle sunning location, easily visible from the bridge. Hanke said the raccoon seemed to have “perfected the technique of ambushing turtles basking on land. The raccoon lunges from cover and drags turtles up into the bush--and presumably eats them--or at least the parts of them that it can get a hold of.” Hanke speculated “that raccoon may be responsible for some of the drop in turtle numbers.”
Beacon Hill Park’s Red-eared slider turtles are not native turtles. They are exotic pet store turtles transported to the lake by Victoria residents. It is therefore likely that more reject pet turtles will be dumped in the lake in the future, Hanke says, because “pet shops still sell turtles” and “captive turtles out-grow their owner's interest...” Red-eared slider populations in other lakes on Vancouver Island are dominated by females, so it is likely Beacon Hill Park’s turtle population is also overwhelming female. “Smaller males are easier to house and so get dumped less often,” Hanke speculated. In the larger lake environment, pet store turtles grow up to 12 inches (30 cm.).
Mature turtles do not produce young in Goodacre Lake, according to Hanke. Beacon Hill Park has “no breeding habitat, so the few females that may mate with the males that are present, will not find anywhere to lay their eggs. These females may get egg-bound and die, or may dump their eggs in the water, as I have seen captive turtles do.” However, Hanke says, “In some places on the island and lower mainland, red eared turtles are nesting. Whether or not their eggs hatch in our climate is the big question. At least elsewhere in Canada the red eared turtles do not survive winter.” (Email correspondence, January 2, 2007) In Beacon Hill Park, turtles overwinter by disappearing under the surface of the water in Goodacre Lake and Fountain Lake--the only park lakes with deep water and soil bottoms--as the temperature cools in the fall. They are able to absorb oxygen through their skin underwater.
Dr. Hanke discovered and collected “one yellowbelly slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) in 2005...[which] is now in the museum collection as the first record of the subspecies in BC.” It is also an exotic turtle reared on turtle farms and sold in pet stores. The Yellowbelly slider’s most distinguishing characteristic is a yellow blotch behind the eye.
The fish in Goodacre Lake, identified as “pumpkinseeds” (Lipomis gibbosus) by Dr. Hanke, were also introduced by humans. The pumpkinseed is only native east of the Red River in Canada, he says, and fish such as “stickleback from a native population” would be preferable in the park lake. Nevertheless, the pumpkinseeds appear here to stay and they attract a long list of predators. In Goodacre Lake, the fish are eaten by a variety of birds, including gulls, herons, hooded merganzers, kingfishers and cormorants. A river otter was seen gobbling park fish at least five times in 2006: January 2, January 12, April 24, May 7 and June 18.
It is possible pumpinseeds were dumped into the lake inadvertently when trying to stock the lakes with another, larger fish species. “Pumpkinseeds have been scattered all over southern BC with other transplanted fishes (probably with smallmouth and largemouth bass),” Dr. Hanke explained. “Pumpkinseeds are common in Thetis Lake and other small lakes on Vancouver Island as a result of introductions, and are all over the lower Fraser system, and in the lower Columbia, lower Kootenay, Kettle, and Okanagan river systems (McPhail and Carveth 1994).”
The full-grown male North American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) in the photo on the right was caught and removed from Goodacre Lake by Dr. Gavin Hanke, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Royal B.C. Museum. It was definitely good riddance. The non-native bullfrog is a damaging invasive species spreading through lakes and ponds in lower Vancouver Island. The huge creatures eat everything in sight--insects, fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals, birds, native frogs and other bullfrogs. They also carry the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis which can wipe out native amphibians. (Gavin Hanke photo)
Hanke obtained a permit to remove Goodacre Lake’s lone bullfrog, but catching it was a challenge. Hanke described the all-day hunt: “I had a large net and just waded into the muck (there is a lot of leaf/twig debris on the bottom of the pond). The frog would head underwater and then surface 5 or so minutes later somewhere else, and so I'd slowly make my way over to it and try to get it as it went under. It stayed under cover of some of the shrubs near shore so that I could not get the net on him. But patience paid off, and after chasing it for most of a day, I got it up against the shoreline...”
There is no chance that bullfrog hopped to Goodacre Lake by itself. “People put them in a bucket and move them in a car,” explained Dr. Purnima Govindarajulu of the University of Victoria, who has been studying the frogs since 1997. She wishes people would stop transporting them to new areas. “Their range on the Island is expanding by about 5 kms a year, mainly near urban areas,” Govindarajulu said in 2000. (The Ring, University of Victoria, July 14, 2000) By 2006, she had tracked them to several dozen local lakes and ponds around Victoria, Duncan, Nanaimo and Parksville. Bullfrogs are established in Elk Lake, Beaver Lake, Florence Lake and Langford Lake. (Times Colonist, June 14, 2006, B1) Bullfrogs were originally brought to Vancouver Island in the 1930s and 1940s to be farmed for frogs’ legs. Apparently released when business plans failed, the frogs have been spreading ever since.
American bullfrogs are the largest frogs in North America, “measuring up to 20 centimetres in length (not including legs) and tipping the scales at up to three quarters of a kilogram. The photo on the left of a bullfrog held by Dr. Govindarajulu gives an idea of its size. “Tadpoles can grow up to 15 cm long, with heads as big as golf balls,” she said.
In January, 2006, the dreaded invasive plant, Carpet Burweed (Soliva sessilis) was discovered in central Beacon Hill Park by the same eagle-eyed Ranger from Saltspring who spotted the first Burweed infestation at Finlayson Point, near Dallas Road in November, 2005. The second Burweed area, near the park’s central playground and the Sports Hut, was even larger than the first. Only two inches high and six inches in diameter, Burweed can cover the ground like a carpet, threatening native plant species. Mature Burweed seeds have sharp pointed spines that easily pierce human skin. The seeds are dispersed by attaching to socks, shoes, pants and the fur of animals (such as dogs). It is a major nuisance on golf courses, playing fields, lawns and in parks in Texas and other southwest U.S. states. It was discovered at Ruckle Park on Saltspring Island in 1997.
When Carpet Burweed was first discovered along Dallas Road, City of Victoria’s Fred Hook, Environment Technician and Dr. Michelle Gorman, Integrated Pest Management Coordinator, took immediate action. They burned visible plants with gas torches, as demonstrated in the two photos below.
In December, 2005, a circular area south of Dallas Road and west of Finlayson Point was surrounded by an orange plastic fence with the sign: "Aggressive invasive weed removal in progress." The orange plastic fence was soon replaced with a more permanent cedar fence surrounding a larger area. When Hook and Gorman realized the area inside was being used as a playpen--parents lifted their children over the fence to play inside--a higher, second wire fence was erected inside the cedar fence. Throughout 2006, that area below Beacon Hill and west of Finlayson Point remained fenced, as shown in the Norm Ringuette photo below.
When the larger infestation near the park’s central playground was discovered, hand-held gas torches no longer seemed an adequate weapon. Hook explained on January 24: “Its so big we thought it more efficient to bring in the roads burner and then we'll try some different management techniques.” A very large area near the Sport Hut and central playground was double-fenced similar to the Dallas Road area. Excellent signs were posted on the fences explaining the problem of Carpet Burweed to the public. The last day of February, Hook and Gorman were back burning what weed was left in the dog-off-leash area on Dallas Road but there were still patches to be burned in the central area. Michelle Gorman explained the invasive plant can ruin recreational areas, take over lawns and “mow right over” rare native plants. She said, “Carpet Burweed likes sun, really disturbed sites, high-traffic areas and compacted soil.” (Times Colonist, February 13, 2006, p. C1)
The Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter reported the Dallas Road fenced area was “over-seeded with Kentucky blue grass, which will be left to grow long and hopefully smother the short-growing weed.” (“Annual General Meeting,” Agnes Lynn, Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, October, 2006, p. 12)
The condition of the meadow at Finlayson Point south of Beacon Hill is “just awful,” the James Bay Neighbourhood Environment Association (JBNEA) agreed at a January 10, 2007 meeting. They voted to support a proposal asking the City of Victoria to fence and restore about 200 metres near the point. The area used to be a verdant meadow of grass and native wildflowers, as shown above left. The photo above right, taken by Norm Ringuette in January, 2007, shows it has been degraded to bare soil, mudholes and weeds.
The Friends of Beacon Hill Park brought the restoration proposal forward based on information and recommendations by noted botanist Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw. In December, 2006, Brayshaw had presented his report titled “Effect of Unleashed Dogs and Carpet Burweed Infestation in Beacon Hill Park,” to Gary Darrah, Manager, Park Development. The Friends hope support from the JBNEA will help move the proposal forward.
Brayshaw linked the problem of invasive Carpet Burweed, discussed in the previous section, to dog activity in the off-leash area. The damaged area is not only ugly, it is “a welcoming port-of-entry for exotic nuisance weeds,” he said, predicting the “infested site” at Finlayson Point “will become a nucleus for the dispersal of the Carpet Burweed...” Carpet Burweed flourishes in degraded areas and spreads easily because “Dogs carry the tiny burs in their fur” and humans “carry them on our clothes.” (“Effect of Unleashed Dogs and Carpet Burweed Infestation in Beacon Hill Park,” Report for the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, T. C. Brayshaw, November 14, 2006, p. 3)
The extensive off-leash area south of Dallas Road, stretching from Douglas Street to Clover Point, is coloured green in the sign shown below. The restoration proposal applies to a 200 metre portion of that area, located below Beacon Hill and west of Finlayson Point, including the current Carpet Burweed enclosure.
Until 2005, the Dallas Road area was the only off-leash dog area in Victoria. Extreme overuse caused habitat destruction in a portion of the area when it became a meeting place for dogs and their owners from the city and around the region. Brayshaw noted “The situation in the Finlayson Point area should not have been allowed to proceed to its current deplorable state.” ("Effects," p. 3) Six additional city parks were opened to off-leash dogs last year--Oswald, Arbutus, Victoria West, Alexander, Redfern and Gonzales Beach--and some observers claim dog numbers have declined on Dallas Road. It is still, however, the most popular off-leash dog area.
“The degraded area should be isolated from use for however long it will take to recover to its former condition,” Brayshaw recommended. “Recovery may take several years and require surrounding the damaged area with dog-proof temporary fencing,” while dogs continue to use the rest of the off-leash area. He suggested a “system of rotation of designated heavy use areas through the overall extent of the dogs off-leash area.” ("Effect," p. 4)
Off-leash areas have been controversial, especially since 2003. The modest proposal to fence and restore a small area on Finlayson Point could ignite another round of heated discussion. At issue in the future will be whether or not the restored area is rotated back into the off-leash zone. (See Chapter 19: 2003, “Off-leash dogs an emotional and an environmental issue” and Chapter 19, 2004, “Off-leash controversy continues.”)
A December flurry of letters to the Times Colonist indicates dog owners are ever alert to defend their pets' right to run over this prime Victoria oceanfront viewscape. When a letter titled “Memo to dog owners: clean up your act” complained about dogs running free and dog poop left on the Dallas Road path, three responses were printed. (Times Colonist, Dec 14, 2006, p. A.11) The first explained “Dallas Road, between Clover Point and Douglas Street, has 24 hour offleash access for dogs...[so] the writer might as well get used to the offleash dogs...” (Times Colonist, Dec 15, 2006, p. A.19) The third response, from dog trainer Ben Kersen, explained the value of “complete” exercise for dogs and noted “Dallas Road people seem to be quite conscientious about their scooping duties...” (Times Colonist, Dec 20, 2006, p. A.15)
In July, 2006, the City of Victoria announced Coast Salish artist Butch Dick had been commissioned to create seven original disc-shaped spindle whorl cedar carvings called “Signs of the Lekwungen.” One of the carvings will be erected on Beacon Hill along with an interpretative marker. The other six cedar carvings and interpretative signs will become part of the “Inner Harbour First Nations Interpretative Walkway.” (“City gives a whorl to First Nations art,” Brennan Clarke, Victoria News, July 14, 2006, A2)
All seven sites--Beacon Hill, Songhees Point, the foot of Broughton Street, City Hall, Lower Causeway, Royal B.C. Museum and Laurel Point--are significant in First Nations history. They will be marked with original place names and explain traditional aboriginal uses of the land. Installation is planned in “spring of 2007.” (City of Victoria, “Arts, Heritage and Culture Guide, January to April, 2007.”) More details were provided in a December Times Colonist article: “The city has commissioned artist Betty Meyers to paint aerial images of Victoria as it might have looked before contact with white settlers, and after. The images will be reproduced in interpretive brochures outlining the significance of the seven markers." (Times Colonist, Dec 19, 2006, p. B 2)
Recognition of First Nations is long overdue in Beacon Hill Park. Though thirty-six Beacon Hill Park monuments, markers and plaques focus on the white culture’s 162 year presence, only one sentence in the entire park refers to over 1,000 years of aboriginal occupation and use of the area. That sentence is engraved on a Finlayson Point monument, sandwiched between information about Roderick Finlayson and a gun emplacement.
In July, six hidden illegal camps were discovered built into the hillside at Finlayson Point. The camps were the largest, most complex and permanent constructions ever discovered in the park. When an estimated 35 campers were evicted from the area, city workers were stuck with truck-loads of garbage and a gigantic mess. In the above photo, Jeff Francis and Mike Kruschinske haul a mattress out of a deep bunker dug into the cliff. (Times Colonist, Ray Smith photo used with permission, July 14, 2006, A1)
Numbers of illegal campsites, already a major problem in 2005, grew in 2006. One park worker estimated between 50 to 100 illegal campers were sleeping in the park every night. That represents an eight to ten-fold increase since 2004, when Parks Manager Mike Leskiw thought six to twelve campers bedded down in the park on a typical night.
In March, 2006, City Council considered a proposal to extend the powers of three animal control officers to deal with illegal campers, cycling in prohibited areas, lighting campfires, littering and picking park flowers. The officers, employed by Victoria Animal Control Services (VACS), were on contract with the city. Parks Manager Mike Leskiw spoke for the change, saying VACS workers would fill a security vacuum, particularly in Beacon Hill Park, where park staff refused to enforce regulations after a worker was stabbed in the stomach with a pitchfork by an illegal camper. [See Chapter 20 for details] (Times Colonist, March 10, 2006, B1) When council finally approved the plan in May, Leskiw explained animal-control officers would give campers a card outlining the locations of emergency shelters and food services and would call police if trouble escalated or stolen property was suspected. Coun. Sonya Chandler thought it was “insensitive” for people wearing animal-control badges to deal with the homeless. (Times Colonist, May 12, 2006, B1)
City worker Jeff Francis lamented his work days were spent hauling away garbage from illegal camps. In July, he called the cleanups “a nightmare.” Asst. Supervisor Al Cunningham, standing near the six Finlayson Point camps, said “I hate these campsites. We have to physically pick up every piece of garbage, put it on tarps or in buckets and haul it up the stairs.” Police Const. Joan Elliott accompanied park workers down a narrow trail on the hill behind Horseshoe Bay to an area strewn with bicycle parts, tarps and blankets. “There’s human excrement and rotting garbage,” she said. “It becomes a health and safety issue, not just for the campers, but for people using the park as well.” And, of course for the unlucky city employees hauling it out. (Times Colonist, July 14, 2006, B1)
A newspaper editorial pointed out additional problems: “The squatters do environmental damage, increase the risk of fires and discourage the use of the park by others.” (Times Colonist, July 17, 2006, A 6)
Agnes Lynn noted a large patch of about 35 Chocolate lilies (Fritillaria lanceolata) “were trampled completely” just before Camas Day. She also pointed out a large group of “very rare [Wild Hyacinth] Triteleia howellii was destroyed over the last two years by campers trampling them on their way to a camping spot.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, October, 2006, p. 9)
A small number of individuals have always slept clandestinely in Beacon Hill Park. In the summer of 2006, many more individuals were hiding in the park. The photo on the right shows a man sleeping in the doorway of the Sports Hut near the central playground; others could be found under trees in the Heywood Meadow, on the northwest ridge and on the Hill. Homeless people were camped in doorways, on benches and under trees downtown, too. Victoria Police Inspector John Ducker and Sgt. Darren Laur reported at least 163 homeless people slept in downtown doorways and parks each night. (Times Colonist, January 14, 2007, C.1) A “Homeless Needs Survey” was conducted February 5-9, 2007 to reach a more accurate count. What should be done? Homeless advocate Rev. Al Tysick says, “If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can put a man in a room.” So far, our society has not managed that. Until more social housing is available in Greater Victoria and treatment facilities for people with alcohol and drug addictions and adequate care facilities for those with mental illness, desperate people will end up sleeping in parks.
Richard Walters was, without doubt, the longest resident in park history. Richard had no tent or sleeping bag and no shopping cart filled with possessions. He sat quietly for hours during the day on his favourite bench near the heron colony, as shown in this 2004 photo, wearing the same heavy jacket winter and summer. After sleeping in Beacon Hill Park year-round for at least 20 years, he died in 2006 on his bench, age 54.
Twenty one-metre square plots were set up on the northwest slope of Beacon Hill in June, 2006 by Travis Marsico, a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. He will track the growth of three Lomatium species, native plants found in Garry Oak ecosystems.
Marisco planted the plots “using seeds collected from the park and from other Vancouver Island sites, individually marked so individual plants can be tracked over time.” Two of the species, Spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum) and Indian consumption plant (Lomatium nudicaule), are shown below.
Plots received a variety of surface treatments. Some were fenced in “raised cages...to protect the new shoots from predation by herbivores such as peacocks,” while some were left unprotected. Marsico explained the three test species, as well as many other plants within the Garry oak ecosystem, “reach their northern boundaries on Southeast Vancouver Island.” He hopes to track effects of global warming on these species. “Populations at the leading edge of a range are likely to provide the colonists for species shifts.” (“Herbaceous species’ northern range margins,” by Travis Marsico, Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, October, 2006)
Spring gold and Indian consumption plant are found at many sites in the park, but the third species in Marsico's plots, shown on the right, are rare in the park and in British Columbia. Chocolate tips (Lomatium dissectum) are red-listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, according to the Friends Newsletter, and there are currently only “two specimens” left in the park, one of which is dangerously close to a well-traveled path. (FBHP Newsletter, October, 2006, p. 6)
Children enjoyed the Kiwanis wading pool at the corner of Douglas Street and Circle Drive for the last time in 2006. It was jack-hammered out of existence in the fall, eighty years after it opened in 1926. The pool was constructed in 1925 near Douglas Street in order to connect to the pipe pumping salt water from the ocean to the Crystal Pool downtown. Photos above show the old pool before it was demolished and the resulting dirt hole in October after the concrete was removed. On December 31, the last day of 2006, the hole remained fenced, awaiting the construction of a new water play facility featuring a giant “Watering Can,” as shown in the designer’s sketch below.
The Times Colonist printed the above sketch on July 6, stating “Public art will be merged with play...” Pechet and Robb Studio, Ltd., a Vancouver firm “with a background in fine art and architecture,” submitted the winning design for the $350,000 project. (Times Colonist, July 6, 2006, A 1)
Not everyone was pleased about the process or the giant can. Some members of the Water Play Facility Implementation Committee, which was formed to help select an appropriate water play area location and design, complained they had no part in the design selection. The Committee was sidelined after one meeting, held on November 9, 2005. A “subcommittee” of three people, not selected by the larger committee, chose the design which was approved by City Council.
“Just what Beacon Hill Park needs! A giant watering can 14 feet 9 inches tall...”Monday Magazine reporter Russ Francis wrote, calling the project a “$351,000 piece of tackiness.” Though a Parks Department report claimed the watering can would “contribute to a strong sense of place,” Francis suggested “a giant urinal or a 100-foot statue of Mickey Mouse” would accomplish that, too. The Parks Department report stated the can would be “visually interesting,” but Francis said it was “hideous.” (Monday Magazine, July 13-19, 2006, p. 8) “The Monday List” suggested six other giant features “we’d like to see” in Beacon Hill Park including “The world’s largest poop scoop” and “A 40' tall statue of Emily Carr’s monkey, Woo.” (Monday Magazine, July 13-19, 2006, p. 4)
Joe Daly, Manager of Research, Planning & Design, gave this progress report on the new water plan area on January 4, 2007: “A few test pits to assess soil conditions will be dug today. Final construction drawings are being completed now. The fabrication of the spray feature (watering can) will take place off site. Construction of the new splash pad will take place between March and May.” On February 8, 2007, a system to transport used water from the pond to Fountain Lake was being installed by city workers. The path from the old pool area south to the lake was dug up, a pipe laid and a six by four foot concrete box installed underground near Fountain Lake.
The new playground equipment shown in this photo was installed near the central washroom in September, followed by fresh piles of wood chips delivered to the play area on October 3. Happily, the chip delivery occurred without a repeat of the nightmarish events of 2003, when the chips were mixed with countless sharp metal pieces resulting in the closure of Beacon Hill’s playgrounds as well as others in the city. (See Chapter 19)
In 2006, the privately operated Children’s Farm opened February 24, the earliest date on record. (In 2005, the opening day was March 12.) Once again, the Farm stayed open late into the night on July 22 to take advantage of the crowds attending the Luminara Festival.
In October, 2006, a five foot by six foot “crevice” garden, shown above left, was added to the Vancouver Island Rock and Alpine Garden, located north of Goodacre Lake northwest of the Stone Bridge. Twelve volunteers from the Vancouver Island Rock and Alpine Garden Society were hard at work October 7 digging a huge hole and screening dirt. Large rocks were dug in deep, filling spaces left between the rocks with soil and alpine plants. The plants will send roots straight down and get moisture from condensation off the rocks. Several plants, like the one above right, were soon growing in the crevices. Jacqueline Bradbury, president of the Society, told reporter Jeff Bell that volunteers hammered little splinters of rock into the soil so it “looks like a scree area.” (Times Colonist, October 30, 2006, B1)
The new area is small but has a unique appearance, complimenting the nearby woodland garden area, shown above, which was first planted by the Society in 1967 as a Canadian Centennial project. The rock garden has been maintained by the same volunteer group for thirty-nine years. In 2006, volunteers continued the tradition in Saturday morning work sessions. The Society’s website states: “The garden is designed around natural rock out-croppings and planted for year-round interest, though it is most colourful in spring with a succession of blooms from rock plants and small bulbs.”
Over 800 new native plants were placed in the soil in a cooperative effort by more than 60 volunteers and city staff on October 21, 2006. The giant Planting Party was another step toward restoring an area next to Circle Drive and south of the cricket which was formerly a parking lot. The plants were purchased with a $4,000 grant from Evergreen, a national non-profit environmental organization with a mandate “to bring nature to our cities through naturalization projects.” (Evergreen.ca). Cornelia Lange, who submitted the successful grant proposal, explained Evergreen connects with “sponsors who are willing to support financially towards projects like ours.” Wal-Mart Canada donated the money through Evergreen for the Beacon Hill Park restoration project.
The planting party was the result of hard work and perseverance by a volunteer group called the South-east Woods Ecological Restoration Project (SWERP), led by Jeff Ralph and Cornelia Lange. They had valuable help from park staff, the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, the Fairfield Community Association and University of Victoria students. Fred Hook, Parks Environment Technician, selected the native plants, bulbs and seeds to be planted. The photos below, taken by Kerry Lange, show volunteers of all ages at work.
SWERP volunteers, who met for their first Saturday morning work party on April 2, 2005, are still at it. SWERP is a long-term community project to remove invasive species from the Southeast Woods initiated by Jeff Ralph, a Masters Degree candidate in the University of Victoria’s Restoration of Natural Systems Program. The group has proved it is difficult but not impossible to eradicate invasive plants.
When SWERP began, invasive English Ivy (Hedera helix) overwhelmed the Southeast Woods. Most of the forest floor was covered in dense ivy growth; ivy climbed every tree to reach sunlight, then produced countless seeds which were spread far and wide by birds. Other invasive species such as Daphne, English holly and Himalayan blackberry were on the volunteer’s hit list, too, but ivy was clearly the biggest problem. Ivy is a spectacularly successful plant. Most trees and other plants lose their leaves in winter, but ivy grows all year, smothering everything in its path. With no natural controls, the botanic predator had crowded out Southeast Woods native plants to dominate the landscape. (Ivy photos by Norm Ringuette) Since that first Saturday morning work party in 2005, SWERP volunteers have pulled piles and piles of ivy. Six-foot tall Jeff Ralph throws more vines on another high heap in the left photo below.
Little by little, week after week, steady work paid off. By the end of December, 2006, every tree and a good portion of the forest floor was clear of ivy, as shown in the right photo above, giving native plants a chance to grow again. Unfortunately, ivy will regrow and volunteers will need to return again and again to the same locations.
There was zero invasive species removal in Beacon Hill Park funded by the city in 2006. The only invasive plant removal was by unpaid volunteers pulling English ivy in the Southeast Woods (see previous section) and by a workshop group removing a small amount of Scotch broom on Beacon Hill.
Until the City of Victoria and paid staff agree on the use of volunteer labour in parks, workers will be unhappy and volunteers stuck in the middle. In 2006, John Burrows, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 50, which represents Parks Department workers, stated: "Volunteers are doing our work for free and what they are doing is harming wage-earners." As of March, 2007, there was no resolution of the union's grievance. Parks Manager Mike Leskiw stated, "We are working on it." Until the late 1990s, city workers were paid to maintain the more natural areas of the park by cutting back invasive species. Since the 1990's, Beacon Hill Park gardeners have been reduced from 12 to 4 and little staff time has been assigned to control invasive species.
The number of park trees officially preserved for wildlife use increased dramatically in October, 2006, when Supervisor of Arboriculture Dan Marzocco posted sixteen new yellow “Wildlife Tree” signs. The first Wildlife Tree sign in Beacon Hill Park was nailed on a venerable old “bee tree” standing near Southgate Street, west of the Heywood sports field, seven years ago. Marzocco retained that original sign, shown on the left, on the south side of the "bee tree" and nailed a new round metal tag, I.D. #7 above it. He added a new-style sign--without the woodpecker--on the north side, shown in the right photo.
When the bee tree and four others were posted in 1999, there was no formal process or record-keeping. In 2006, each wildlife tree is evaluated, assigned an identification number, photographed, entered on a spreadsheet and marked on a map.
The magnificent broken oak stump shown below is now tagged #9. It stands between the central playground and Heywood Avenue. Dead trees are not only beautiful; they are important in the lives of many birds. Great blue herons break off dead twigs and branches to build their nests. Some birds hollow out nest holes in dead branches and trees. Warblers, brown creepers, woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees eat insects living on and in decaying wood.
Wildlife signs provide an interesting new focus for a walking tour through the park. A good starting point is the old bee tree. It is situated west of the grass playing field about 30 metres from Southgate Street.[See “Wildlife Trees” article in the Articles section on this website for a more complete description of the numbered trees and the walk.]
In a letter to the Times Colonist, Betty Gibbens wrote: “It’s a good time to remove the maintenance yard in Beacon Hill Park...which reduces the park by one acre, and purchase a new location. The many parked vehicles, motorized equipment, gas pumps, work shops, storage sheds, offices, etc. are an eyesore, inappropriate on land meant to be park environment. Similarly, the space taken up by the house-size police horse barn is no longer needed. It, too, should be relocated, or alternatively, demolished and returned for increasingly needed, bona fide park use.” (Times Colonist, Sept. 25, 2006, p. A9) In a letter to Monday Magazine in March, she opposed a planned new toilet facility near the old wading pool site in Beacon Hill Park. (Monday Magazine, March 16-22, 2006, p. 3)
For more than twenty years, Betty Gibbens has been a strong independent voice defending the park. She urges the City of Victoria, as Trustees of the park, to follow the letter and the spirit of the 1882 Park Trust and the two judicial rulings clarifying restrictions on use of Beacon Hill Park. She points out the two private sport clubhouses, the maintenance yard and the Children’s Farm are in violation of the legal right of public access: “The public is supposed to have free access to every part of the Park.” She opposes development proposals such as an interpretative centre and the new water spray facility. She is against erecting monuments or signs.
Beacon Hill Park was blanketed with snow on November 26, 2006, providing a rare opportunity for winter fun. Families flocked to the hill with snowboards and sleds while others slid on pieces of cardboard, sheets of plastic or even slippery jackets. Victoria photographer Jim Chapman captured the action in the photo below. (More of his high quality park photos can be viewed at www.beaconhillphotos.com)
After the heavy snowstorm, workers cleared snow from streets and roads and piled it on the back third of the main Circle Drive parking lot, shown below left. Amazingly, much of it, covered by a layer of gooey dirt and oil, remained unmelted through February, 2007.
Snow piled on top of the Queen Elizabeth marble plaque left a residue of grime after it melted. The plaque, still mounted on what is now an ugly planter, is all that is left of the concrete statue of the Queen created to commemorate her June, 1959 visit to Victoria. A garbage dumpster is often parked in front of the plaque and sometimes piles of wood. The statue and plaque were installed in 1960 at the south edge of the park’s main parking lot on Circle Drive on a concrete semi-circle in front of a 7.6 metre (25 foot) wall with stone facing. Visible directly in line to the north was the Burns Monument; Queen Elizabeth and Robbie Burns were to gaze forever at one another over parked cars and passing Circle Drive traffic. However, in less than a month, the Queen’s concrete nose was knocked off. Later, the statue was decapitated and the Queen’s head thrown into the Inner Harbour. The statue was replaced in 1962 by a new bronze bust at the southeast corner of Queen’s Lake on Circle Drive. [For full details on the Queen’s bust fiasco, see the Articles section, “The Short and Eventful Life of the First Royal Bust,” and/or Chapter 14.]
The 22nd annual Fathers Day British Car and Motorcycle Picnic took place in Beacon Hill Park on June 18. Once again, Victoria City Council set aside park policy prohibiting vehicles from driving and parking on grass, allowing cars in the show to drive and park on the grassy field south of the cricket pitch. Following that example, hundreds of visitors parked their cars on the grass, too. Though the event is all about cars, not food, billing the event as a “picnic” instead of a car show seems to be the key to receiving permission. A supporter of the show’s Beacon Hill Park venue told council: “We can’t have a picnic on a parking lot.” Promoted by the British Motor Car Club and Bristol Motors, the car show draws huge crowds. A previous effort in 2005 to relocate the cars to a more sensible venue, such as Ogden Point or another location with plenty of asphalt, failed. Victoria resident Betty Gibbens tried again in 2006. She told council in May that the event harms park grass. She suggested holding the even on the city’s new artificial turf playing field in Topaz Park, at the University of Victoria or on another asphalt surface. (Times Colonist, May 27, 2006, B2)
Columnist Les Leyne and “avowed fan of Sir Winston Churchill,” invited people to gather once again around a hawthorne tree Churchill planted in 1929 in Mayors Grove (east of Arbutus Way and south of Southgate Street) at 2 p.m, January 22 to “mark the anniversary of Churchill’s death in 1965.” Leyne began the tradition in 1999. The seven previous invitations mentioned “toasting” the Great Man, but this year, Leyne promised to “give away some Churchill memorabilia.” (Times Colonist, January 21, 2006, A14)
Luminara took place July 22, 2006. The event has been previously described in this history in the years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. The most detailed information appeared in 2005, when Luminara was canceled, then reinstated, making Luminara the top park news story of the year, with 16 articles, 30 letters and 11 photos in the Times Colonist alone.
The routes of the Times Colonist 10 K Run, the Royal Victoria Marathon and the 10K Bay Run traveled through Beacon Hill Park again in 2006.
The 15th annual Camas Day took place on May 6, 2006. Jointly sponsored by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society and the Victoria Natural History Society, walks featuring wildflowers, birds and archaeology are led by experts.
Cameron Bandshell summer concerts and events began on May 19, 2006. The last scheduled concert listed on the city’s brochure was September 17. Films were shown every Saturday in August in a “Free B Film Festival.” The big Father’s Day event at the Cameron Bandshell as “Ceilidh in the Park.”
In previous decades, detailed written material on Beacon Hill Park was available from many sources, including weekly, monthly and annual reports by the superintendent, foremen and other city workers. Those documents were valuable sources for previous chapters in this history and were essential in researching heritage features for a 2004 city-funded heritage report. Staff reports have not been available in recent years. It is now much more difficult to access information from the Parks Department about any park activities, including installations, repairs, improvements and plans.
The last Beacon Hill Park Annual Report distributed was for the year 2002. A staff person is still working on the annual reports for 2004, 2005 and 2006, according to Parks Manager Mike Leskiw.
Beacon Hill Park is mentioned in the Parks Department city-wide booklet called “Highlights” every year but few details are included. The park was allotted six sentences in "Highlights 2003," five sentences in "Highlights 2004," and seven sentences in "Highlights 2005." Information on two topics--the new children's playground equipment and the new water play area--is included in “Highlights 2006."