During the weekend of May 16-17, 2007 an estimated 142 adult Great blue herons abandoned 71 nests in the Beacon Hill Park colony. For the first time in more than two decades, treetops above Douglas Street near the Avalon Street crosswalk were silent and deserted at the peak of the nesting season. Bald eagle predation, sustained for seven straight weeks, drove herons away. (Heron photo on left by Ms. V. Ross Johnson and Shahn Torontow; eagle photo on right courtesy of USFWS)
Bald eagles swooped into the heron nests again and again to eat eggs and chicks. In previous years, the huge predators feasted in the colony for a time, but then moved on, giving herons the chance to lay replacement eggs and rear replacement chicks undisturbed. There was no respite in 2007. Eagle attacks continued, week after week. Zero heron chicks survived.
The city did its part to protect the herons this year by reducing the chance of human disturbances in the nest area and keeping dogs away. Dead trees and dangerous branches were removed before the herons returned in February and March to build their apartment-style nests. Yellow metal barriers were erected to block cars from parking in the area under the nest trees. Permanent metal signs prohibiting dogs in the area were erected in 2006. Parks Department Environmental Technician Fred Hook added new temporary signs in 2007, shown here, near the colony. The city could do nothing to protect heron nests from eagles.
For more than two years, three Bald eagles--two adults and one juvenile--have perched together regularly in the park. Their most frequent perch locations are in tall trees in the park's southeast corner at Cook Street and Dallas Road. Cornelia and Kerry Lange have a good view of those trees from their front porch; they recorded eagle sightings and took photographs at that location in 2005, 2006 and 2007. None of the eagles is banded so individuals cannot be positively identified, but it is likely the same three birds were present in the park during the last two years and that all three preyed on the heron colony.
All three eagles are visible in this Kerry Lange photo, taken on May 16, 2005. The adult in the upper right stands out clearly. A second adult, far left, is facing away from the camera, tail in the foreground. The juvenile eagle in the middle does not yet have the distinctive white head and white tail of the adults--that requires four to five years--but it is the same size as the adults.
On March 25, two mature eagles were seen circling over the heron nest trees, driving adult herons away from their nests in alarm. The large nests made of sticks have little or no screening; eagles had a good view of any light blue heron eggs or chicks present in the nests.
On April 5, the ground under the nest trees was littered with pieces of at least twenty-three eggs, results of the first devastating attack. This photo of three largely intact eggshells by Norm Ringuette shows the size and colour of heron eggs. The large holes punched in the eggs are evidence of predation. When chicks hatch normally, eggs are split around the equator.
Three eagles continued to be sighted in the park that month. On April 14, a juvenile eagle swooped over the colony and perched east of the Stone Bridge. On the same day, two adult eagles flew low over the Finlayson Point dog exercise area. On April 30, three eagles--two adults and a juvenile--perched together for hours near the old eagle nest on Bridge Way near the heron colony.
The morning of May 5, a group of walkers in the park watched a juvenile eagle eating eggs in heron nests while egg contents spilled down to the ground. On May 9, 11 and 12 an adult eagle perched in the colony for long periods, from two to five hours each time. Eagles returned so frequently and predictably to feast on the heron chick buffet that the “A Channel” local television news was able to film an adult eagle in a nest on May 10. The Times Colonist printed a photo of two mature eagles, one clutching a heron chick, on a small rocky island off Dallas Road on May 11.
When the huge predators swooped low over the colony, heron parents responded with thunderous cries of alarm and mass flights. Eagles weigh a hefty 4.3 kg. (9.5 lbs.), almost twice the weight of an adult heron; they are strong and aggressive, with thick legs and razor-sharp talons. (Eagle photo above courtesy of Ms. V. Ross Johnson and Shahn Torontow.) Herons have no effective way to defend their nests; they circle the area emitting deafening howls and screams. Though impressive to human observers, the heron cries are completely ignored by eagles. If the eagle flies off, herons return to their nests; if the eagle perches in or near the colony, herons land to wait on top of the Goodacre Towers apartment buildings across Douglas Street and on adjacent trees.
When an eagle remains for hours in the colony, some wary but desperate herons return to their nests. On May 9, an adult heron stood in its nest just a metre from a mature eagle; the heron squawked and made repeated lunging head motions toward the predator. Another heron in a nest on the branch above squawked in the eagle’s direction as well. The eagle ignored them. The unusual photo on the right, taken by Ms. V. Ross Johnson and Shahn Torontow in Beacon Hill Park, shows a heron with its bill wide open revealing an extremely long tongue.
After the herons abandoned the colony during the weekend of May 16-17, Times Colonist articles and photo captions claimed one adult female eagle was to blame. Rhiannon Hamdi, who has observed the colony for eight years from her apartment across the street, told the newspaper there was one eagle predator, nicknamed “Birdzilla.” The photo immediately below, showing an adult eagle in a heron nest with a heron egg, was taken by Hamdi and posted on the City of Victoria heron website. Hamdi estimated that one adult female eagle ate 39 heron chicks and at least 187 heron eggs. (Times Colonist, May 23, 2007, A3)
Observations prove one juvenile and at least one adult attacked the colony in 2007. Juvenile plumage clearly distinguished that eagle from the others; the juvenile was recorded eating eggs on May 5. It is not possible to identify individual adult eagles unless they are banded, so it cannot be proven that two adults attacked the colony, but that is likely.
Dismayed observers often identify with the prey more than the predator. “Every year, [people] call the Ministry of Environment to shoot eagles, but the eagle has to live, too,” Rhiannon Hamdi told reporter Carolyn Heiman. (Times Colonist, March 25, 2007, A3.) Victoria resident William Tate wanted the eagles killed to save the herons. “It’s too bad the authorities didn’t kill or otherwise remove the eagle,” he wrote the newspaper. (Times Colonist, June 8, 2007, A17) Jacqueline Dimic agrees. “It is criminal what the eagles do to the herons. I don’t like anybody to be eaten!” she says. Dimic implored the city to “do something” but was told both eagles and herons are protected by law. Dimic, who lives across the street from Goodacre Lake and looks down on the heron nests, says she becomes physically ill if she witnesses an eagle attack. “I love those herons. They are beautiful! I didn’t know nature is so hard.”
Researcher Ross Vennesland points out both eagles and herons have existed since the ice age. “We should not put herons higher than eagles in value just because they are the ones getting eaten.” Local resident Bob Clarke wrote in a letter to the editor, “Robbing nests is what eagles and other birds of prey do for a living.” (Times Colonist, May 30, 2007, A15) Mary Andrews wrote, “Those who advocate doing in the eagle that consumed baby herons...should be reminded that predator-prey relations are the foundation of nature.” She blamed humans for the problem: “When we clean up our act by treating our sewage, cutting back on greenhouse gases and stopping clear-cutting forests, both eagles and herons should flourish.” (Times Colonist, June 14, 2007, A14)
B.C. Ministry of Environment endangered species biologist Trudy Chatwin said it was possible the Beacon Hill Park herons might attempt to begin again elsewhere. She asked people to report any herons starting a new colony or joining an existing colony, like those in Saanichton or Cadboro Bay. (Times Colonist, May 23, 2007, A3) She was flooded with more than 60 calls. In July, Chatwin said several late nesters in Cadboro Bay and Tillicum Mall areas could be park birds. However, none are banded and identification of individuals is not possible. (Times Colonist, July 28, 2007, A1)
If some birds did move from Beacon Hill Park to Cuthbert Holmes Park near Tillicum Mall, local birder Roy Pryor pointed out the reverse was probably true in 1984. From his home overlooking a heron colony at the Cuthbert Holmes Park/Tillicum Mall location, Pryor watched "three or four" eagles relentlessly prey on 25 heron nests until the site was abandoned. It is likely some of those birds moved to Beacon Hill Park.
Will Beacon Hill Park herons return? “I don’t know what will happen next year,” Chatwin said. “But [herons] tend to sustain predation one year and maybe the next year, but then they abandon the area completely.” She would be sorry to see the urban Victoria colony disappear. “That’s a flagship colony because it offers such a great opportunity for people to see them.” (Times Colonist, May 23, 2007, A3)
Researcher Ross Vennesland said in 2001, “We’re quite worried about the future. The Beacon Hill colony is, generally, getting attacked pretty heavily by eagles, so nest productivity is pretty low. The number of chicks is low because of eagle attacks and that pretty much goes for all Vancouver Island colonies.” (Times Colonist, May 8, 2001, A 1, A 2)
“Many heron colonies have been abandoned following eagle attacks,” researcher Robert W. Butler wrote in his book The Great Blue Heron. Butler cited data indicating the British Columbia eagle population continues to grow. “The consequence of more eagles is increased disturbance at heron colonies,” he stated. (The Great Blue Heron, UBC Press, Vancouver, 1997, p. 118, 124)
Vennesland said the increase in eagle predation might be caused by the ten-fold increase in eagle populations in B. C. since the 1960's. Eagle populations were previously at an artificially low number because of human poisons. Since pesticides like DDT were banned and hunters were required to use steel shot instead of toxic lead shot, eagle populations could be back up to normal levels.
More open nest sites in Beacon Hill Park could have been a factor in the carnage. Three branch trimming and tree cutting work sessions in and near colony trees, carried out in January 2005, January, 2006 and December, 2006, significantly reduced cover for the nests, leaving eggs and chicks more vulnerable. It is also possible eagles are targeting herons more often because of decreased salmon and other fish stocks. Biologist Ann Eissinger believes the collapse of in-shore fish stocks is affecting Eagle behaviour, especially that of juveniles.
Some scientists have suggested an active eagle nest--eagles have not nested in Beacon Hill Park since 2002--would keep other eagles away, at least reducing the number of predators to two. Nesting eagles are less likely to tolerate a juvenile in the area and they drive away other adults. Wildlife biologist Trudy Chatwin suggested building an osprey nesting pad in the heron colony with the hope a nesting osprey pair might drive eagles away but research has not yet proved that is effective. (Times Colonist, May 23, 2007, A3)
Chatwin said the entire Vancouver Island heron population is in decline, especially north of Nanaimo. Though the number of nests on eastern Vancouver Island has been stable, the number of chicks per nest has been below average. (Cowichan Valley Citizen, February 28, 2007, p. 12) Researcher Robert W. Butler 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. Herons are on a blue list provincially and listed as a species of concern federally. On the plus side, herons can live at least 23 years.
The first heron nest in Beacon Hill Park was reported in 1982 by birder Harold Hosford, author of a weekly column titled “Stray Feathers” which ran in the Times Colonist for almost twenty years. Hosford said the nest was in "the area near the bird cage at Goodacre Lake” and noted it was highly unusual to find a single nest because herons are colony nesters. He recorded a heron pair, perhaps the same one, nesting in the Park in 1983, as well. (Times Colonist, March 31, 1983, p. A 5) Unnoticed by most Victorians, nests increased sporadically through the 1980's and 1990's. When 65 active nests were counted in 2000, the colony was no longer a secret shared by birders. The city began promoting the colony as a positive feature; information signs were posted near nest trees. More than 90 nests were recorded each year from 2001-2006.
[More information on the heron colony can be found in many chapters in this history. In Chapter 16, the first recorded nest in the park is described in 1982 and nest totals are provided for 1988 and 1989. In Chapter 17, nest counts are listed for 1990, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 and semi-tame heron Henry is profiled in 1996. In Chapter 18, nesting data is listed for each year; a heron overview and behaviours are presented in 2000; eagle attacks described in 2001. In Chapter 19, interpretative signs are described in 2003 and more heron photos are provided in 2004. In Chapter 20, the rearing of chicks is described.]
The fifty-nine year old Cameron Bandshell got a facelift in 2007. A three-tone green paint job and the logo “Stage in the Park” painted on the rear wall provided a dramatic new look. To add festive colour, temporary pennants were hung above the stage. Banners celebrating the 125th year of city management were displayed on both sides of the structure. Before the changes, the bandshell was plain white and gray, as shown in the 2004 photo below.
Huge black speakers in the middle of the roof line, which loomed over and dominated the stage for decades, were removed in 2007. Those speakers were not part of the original 1948 design of architects Birley Wade and Stockdill. “The central speakers are a much later addition and disturb the purity of the structure,” City of Victoria Heritage Planner Richard Linzey said. “I want to remove the accretions to reveal the original design.” Linzey was the key figure in the upgrade; he researched the history of the structure and created the graphic design.
The “Cameron Bandshell Upgrades” cost $21,517, according to Joe Daly, Parks Department Manager Research Planning and Design. In a report to City Council, Daly described “Stage in the Park”--the words painted on the back wall of the stage--as a “logo” and “new branding.” (Committee of the Whole Report, June 26, 2007, TAB 27, p. 462) That intentional new branding was evident in the 2007 concert schedule brochure. The words “Stage in the Park” dominated the cover, downgrading “Cameron Bandshell” as the site designation.
When it was first constructed in 1948, the Cameron Bandshell looked very different than either of the above photos. For the first ten years, the stage ceiling was much higher and the sides of the stage were open. In 1958, the Park Administrator Herb Warren reported, “The bandshell was improved acoustically by construction of a false ceiling and enclosure of sides of the stage.” (CRS 108, 12 F 5, file 4, “Report of the Park Administrator, 1958). It took many more years for the tall cedar hedges which currently flank the building to grow.
The first new roof was required in 1959. Warren advised the Park Committee “the cedar shake roof on the [bandstand] had cracked in many places and had caused leaks on the piano and other equipment stored thereunder.” (CRS 107, 12 F 5)
The stage front was open year-round for 54 years. That changed in 2002. Because of vandalism and overnight camping problems on the stage, the Beacon Hill Park Annual Report stated: “A metal screen was installed to control access to the stage area” (Beacon Hill Park Annual Report, Section 3, 2002) That metal fence has closed off the stage between performances ever since.
The 1948 Cameron Bandshell was the third bandstand constructed in Beacon Hill Park. The first park bandstand was built in 1888. That date is confirmed in the “Report of Park Committee” submitted on January 10, 1889, for the year ending December 31, 1888: “We have removed the old pine stumps and levelled the ground, and erected a substantial and elegant band stand, which we trust will be used much more during the present year than in the past.” (City of Victoria Archives, CRS 16, “Report of the Park Committee,” Annual Reports of the City of Victoria, B.C., 1884-1892, p.51) That structure was moved in 1900, according to John G. Thomson’s “Report of the Park Keeper”: "The band stand has been removed to a more favorable part, repaired and repainted, and two dozen new chairs for same.” (CRS 16, AR, 1900, p. 96-97)
The construction of a second bandshell was begun in the fall of 1926 and completed in 1927. The location of the second bandstand is not certain. In 1948, when the 1927 bandstand was being replaced by the current Cameron Bandshell, the Chairman of the Parks Committee said “the new bandstand will be located about 100 yards south of the present stand.” (Daily Colonist, April 16, 1948, p.1) That “present stand,” which was demolished in 1948, could have stood where Arbour Lake--a shallow, concrete-lined pond constructed in 1962-63--is now.
It is certain that the second Park bandstand, constructed in 1926-1927, was demolished when the Cameron Bandstand was opened in 1948. Park Superintendent W. H. Warren clearly stated in his 1948 Park Administrator’s Report: “Following construction of the Cameron Memorial Pavilion, the old bandstand erected in 1926 was demolished.” (CRS 108, 12 F 5, file 3, “Report of the Park Administrator,” 1948)
The first bandstand, built in 1888, was converted into an aviary in 1927. What happened after that is not clear. The derelict aviary now standing southwest of the Stone Bridge, shown in this Jamie Drouin photo, could be that same building or a replacement structure with a similar design. Displaying interpretative material about the park in the centrally located old aviary has been suggested until a planned interpretative centre is established. Other existing structures available for park displays are the kiosk boards on Arbutus Way and by the Farm.
Once again, the City of Victoria produced an excellent brochure listing free activities at the bandshell, titled “Summer 2007 Stage in the Park, Outdoor Concerts and Events.” The cover, shown here, featured an illustration of the newly refurbished bandshell and part of the new Beacon Hill Park map was printed on the back. “Stage in the Park,” painted on the back wall of the stage, was a new “logo” and “new branding” for the structure. Those words-- printed in large red letters--dominated the cover of the schedule brochure. “Cameron Bandshell,” the only site name used from 1948-2006, was reduced to smaller white letters in a subordinate position.
The season began June 3 and ended October 6. One of the first events held on the refurbished stage was the ceremony celebrating Beacon Hill Park’s 125th Anniversary, on June 16. (See next section for details.) Sunday, June 17, continued the official anniversary celebration with the usual Fathers Day entertainment called Ceilidh in the Park. Daniel Lapp and the B.C. Fiddle Orchestra, which performed to huge crowds in the Celtic Music Celebration at the bandshell in both 2005 and 2006, were back in 2007.
Three popular weekly concert series--Sunday in the Park Concerts, Saturday Jazz Concerts and Friday afternoon Seniors Concerts in the Park--continued. Luminara, held on a rainy July 21, still had the largest attendance of any park event. (See Luminara photos and description in a separate section below.)
The “Free B Film Festival” attendance reached blow-out proportions in 2007. A grand total of over 2500 attended the six films presented in August, according to the Victoria Film Festival website. More than 700 people came to the screening of “Yellow Submarine” on August 4--the first Saturday film--for an all-time record attendance. The next Saturday night featured the Japanese film “Gamera Vs. Gao,” described by the Victoria Film Festival website as “giant rubber monsters...devastating balsa wood buildings.” The free films were shown at the Cameron Bandshell every Saturday night in August, beginning at 9 p.m. or as soon as it was dark enough. Those attending brought snacks, flashlights, blankets and sleeping bags. The projection from behind the screen provided an excellent image; the sound system was also excellent. The event was very well organized by the Victoria Film Festival and presented in cooperation with the City of Victoria. Donovan Aikman, programmer for the Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival, said “We try to focus on the kind of movies that are goofy, campy and weird, and that are friendly to everyone.”
For the first time ever, 3-D films were added on two Friday nights. 1000 free 3-D Glasses were distributed. More than 600 people attended the first film, “Shark Boy and Lava Girl,” on August 3. The above photo of the happy crowd is courtesy of Amy Aikman.
On Saturday, June 16, hundreds of residents attended a ceremony at the Cameron Bandshell to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the date the Province of British Columbia granted Beacon Hill Park to the City of Victoria. Since February 21, 1882, the city has administered the park under a Trust agreement with the province. The last time the event was celebrated was in 1982, the 100th anniversary of city control.
Cloth banners with the words “Beacon Hill Park, Since 1882, Celebrating 125 Years,” were hung on both sides of the Cameron Bandshell with eighteen more on lamp standards along internal park roads. The attractive design by Richard Linzey included the historic Stone Bridge, three Mute swans in Goodacre Lake, and a former bandshell. The same design was used on the new park walking map and on metal buttons passed out at the ceremony and at City Hall. The attractive design is not meant to be a realistic presentation of the current park; there are no swans and no past bandshell was painted orange.
An impressive lineup of government representatives--local, regional, provincial, federal government and First Nations--lined the newly painted stage on June 16. Mayor Alan Lowe was joined by councillors Pamela Madoff, Dean Fortin, Geoff Young and (off stage) Chris Coleman. MP Denise Savoie attended, as did B.C. Community Services Minister Ida Chong and CRD chairperson Denise Blackwell. Three First Nations representatives were on stage: Esquimalt Nation Chief Andy Thomas, Songhees Band elder Elmer George and Songhees Band artist Bradley Dick.
After the speeches, cake was served by park staff and the new walking map of the park was handed out for the first time. Some of the crowd walked to Heywood Meadow to witness the first tree planting in Mayors Grove since 1985.
Bradley Dick led dignitaries to Mayors Grove, east of Arbutus Way, beating his drum. Dan Marzocco, Supervisor of Arboriculture for the city, was well prepared with three shovels painted gold, three Garry oak trees, three pre-dug holes and three piles of soil piled neatly on plywood circles next to the holes. Mayor Lowe and other dignitaries shoveled dirt around the new trees as Marzocco held them in place. The oaks were staked up after the ceremony and would be watered periodically by park staff until they were well established.
Joe Daly, Manager of Research, Planning & Design in the Parks, Recreation & Community Development Department, told Mayor Lowe that the Mayors Grove sign would be modified to include the 2007 tree plantings. However, no change had been made by December 31, 2007. The last entry listed on the old green sign was 1985 when Mayor Peter Pollen planted a tree.
Eight tree species, including oaks, have been planted since the tradition began in 1937. There was no effort to plant native trees until 2007. Garry oaks with genetic material from this same area were selected this time, Marzocco explained.
In a report to City Council after the event, Daly declared the celebration a success. The event was “attended by approximately 1,000 people,” he said, and was “accomplished within existing 2007 city operating budgets.” The occasion “afforded an opportunity for the city to build upon our positive relationship with the First Nations community, make improvements to the park, host a well attended public celebration... and produce a good quality map of the park.” (Committee of the Whole Report, June 26, 2007, TAB 27, p. 459) He reported costs included $5,647 for the June 16 and 17 celebration and $2,666 for banners. The largest cost was the bandshell upgrade: $21,517. (COW Report, p. 462)
A Media Release on February 20 had listed the unveiling of a Coast Salish Art installation, “Signs of Lekwungen” on top of Beacon Hill as another planned 125th anniversary highlight. City workers did their part in April by installing a concrete circle on top of Beacon Hill overlooking the burial cairns but nothing was installed on that concrete in 2007. (See later section for more details.) Not mentioned in the February news release at all--it was already clear it would not be ready--was the expensive new water play area. Mayor Alan Lowe had hoped to open the “Watering Garden” during the anniversary celebration but the installation of the 15 ft. high stainless steel watering can was delayed. It was officially opened by the Mayor in a special ceremony on July 17. (See later section for photos and a full report.)
A new Beacon Hill Park map was distributed at the 125th anniversary ceremony. Daly described it as a “fold-out colour map of Beacon Hill Park and the Dallas Road waterfront, between Clover Point and Holland Point.” At the time of his report, “almost all copies...[had] been distributed,” so Daly planned a reprint with “minor revisions.” (Committee of the Whole Report, June 26, 2007, TAB 27, p. 462)
Developing and printing 5,000 copies of the new map cost $8,978 and "was funded from a bequest from the estate of Mr. George Stone," according to Daly’s report. (COW, p. 462) Mr. Stone gave $200,000 to the City of Victoria to help pay for an interpretive centre in the Park in 1996. At that time, Coun. David McLean thought “It could be up to a year or so before we have detailed plans and location finalized.” That turned out to be a wildly optimistic statement: in 2007, not even the location has been chosen. Mr. Stone donated an additional $200,000 in 2002, also earmarked for an “interpretive center/pavilion” in the park. Some of that money was tapped for the park map.
Daly noted city staff were “producing a larger format and weather proof version of the map to be placed at existing kiosks in the park.” (COW, p. 462.) The new walking map identifies a display board east of Goodacre Lake on Arbutus Way as an information site with an “i” logo. However, for decades nothing has been posted on that board except dog leash rules and a sign about not feeding wildlife. It is an ideal place for a park map and other information on the park. Another existing kiosk stands on Circle Drive by the entrance to the Children’s Farm. General information about migratory birds has been on display on that kiosk but nothing specific to Beacon Hill Park. The promised new park maps were not posted by the end of 2007.
The new “way-finding map” distributed by city would be easier to read if all names, numbers and letters were in dark black print; unfortunately, white, gray or pastel colours were chosen. The only black on the map are buildings and an incredible number of long spikes, chosen to indicate steep slopes. The spikes are justified for the Dallas Road cliffs but not for Beacon Hill. The map’s array of black spikes surround the hill, falsely indicates the gentle slopes are precipices.
The first printing of the map contained at least two errors. Most important was the incorrect date given for the construction of Fountain Lake. The date listed on the timeline--1898--is ten years after the lake was created. The correct date--1888--is significant because it predates John Blair’s 1889 development plan for the park. The first lake was dug by the Park Keeper; Blair had nothing to do with it. The second error on the map was labeling “Chestnut Row,” a one-way road off Circle Drive passing the Burns Memorial, as “Chester Row.”
The map’s list of 35 “Points of Interest” missed a major feature: aboriginal burial cairns. The cairns are not only a significant park feature, they mark an ancient First Nations burial ground. The second major omission on the map was a key date on the Timeline: Feb. 23, 1859. Before that date, Beacon Hill Park was known as a “public park” but had no legal protection. Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Factor James Douglas pushed London to officially establish the park before he retired and his son-in-law, A. G. Dallas, took over as head of the company. Dallas planned to sell park land for the benefit of the company. Douglas was successful and by the time Dallas assumed control in May, 1859, the park was protected. In an email on June 19, Daly stated he would add “the 1859 official proclamation as a park” to the next edition of the map and would “correct the Chestnut Row typo and the 1888 date for Fountain lake.” The second printing of the map was not completed in 2007.
A “Watering Garden” play area for children in Beacon Hill Park was officially opened July 17, 2007 on a damp, cool day. Six rainy days followed, discouraging use of the new facility, but on July 24 the sun shone and the weather was ideal for children cavorting under cold spray in swim suits. The water play area saw heavy use every sunny day in August; a few stalwart users even showed up on cold cloudy days. (All photos of the “Watering Garden” are by Norm Ringuette)
The centrepiece of the $350,000 installation at Douglas Street and Circle Drive is a 15 foot high silver stainless steel watering can with a working spout and decorative handle. A wide variety of water sprays rain down on surprised onlookers and running children, including mist, a shower-like downpour and large squirts into the air from the top of the structure. According to city worker Pete Baldini, “There is a computer inside the watering can that allows random spray patterns to evolve, which in turn increases the play value of the spray park for the users by keeping them guessing where the next blast of water will come from!”
Children can push four large coloured buttons--blue, green, red and yellow--set into the concrete wall on the north side to start different water sequences. More cautious young children can choose small buttons installed low on the can itself which deliver single low-key streams of water aimed at the pusher.
Decorative copper strips ring the can. They will discolor naturally to green, according to designer Bill Pechet, like the copper roof of the Empress Hotel. He expects colour to drip down on the stainless steel as well, making it appear older. His Vancouver-based company, Pechet and Robb Studio, Ltd., submitted the winning design for the water play area; it also has a design contract with the city for work at Ross Bay Cemetery.
The gently sloping concrete floor surrounding the watering can directs all water into a drain emptying into nearby Fountain Lake. From there, it flows down into Goodacre Lake. In summer, especially on hot days, a great deal of water evaporates from the lake system and must be replaced. The watering can will add needed water at those times. The water is not recycled but it is reused in what Coun. Chris Coleman calls “wise water use/re-use.” A second pipe leads from the watering can to the storm sewer on Douglas Street in case it is needed, but Baldini said all play area water went into the lakes this summer. (There is no stream or spring adding fresh water to the lakes. The water is constantly recirculated: a pump forces water from Goodacre Lake back up through the fountain in Fountain Lake. In winter, rain helps fill the lake. Well water is pumped into Goodacre Lake from an outlet at Arbutus Way, as well.)
Stepping stones made of old concrete create a path to the new play area from Circle Drive. A circle of blue and white tiles containing the letter “K” from the original 1926 Kiwanis wading pool was retained and placed at the drinking fountain along that path. A second set of concrete stepping-stones enter the play area from the north side path near Douglas Street.
A short concrete wall displays a marble plaque honouring the largest donor, Harborside Rotary Club of Victoria. A second adjacent plaque lists Kidsport, Victoria Foundation, Parks and Recreation Foundation and Keg Spirit Foundation. At the bottom, in smaller print, is a list of business donors. A four-stanza poem, written by Carla Funk, the City of Victoria's first Poet Laureate, is also installed on the north side of the play area, part of the “public art” component of the installation.
The only vegetation in the “Watering Garden” is grass and a row of shrubs on the north side of concrete wall and grass. Lawn encircles the facility and is ideal for family blankets; two benches provide additional seating. According to a press report, the water park has a capacity of 50 to 75 children.
A temporary portable toilet was positioned near the watering can north of the Circle Drive hedge. A permanent new toilet building is planned nearby to serve not only the water play area but also the Children’s Farm, players from the nearby Douglas sports field and others attending events on the field. There are three park washrooms readily accessible to the public in 2007. The largest washroom facility is next to the central playground east of the Cameron Bandshell, a second washroom stands by the tennis courts on Cook Street and the third is a very small building located at the corner of Dallas Road and Cook Street. Other washrooms not generally accessible to the public include facilities in the cricket and lawn bowling clubhouses, the maintenance building and the service building.
Every stage of the complicated construction was observed with interest by passers-by and nearby residents. Many city crews and contractors were involved as landscaping, pipe laying, concrete and electrical work proceeded. According to Coun. Chris Coleman, Rob Kelbough deserves recognition for his work in bringing “9 contractors to the table with $31,000 worth of ‘in kind’ support.” Joe Daly, Manager of Research, Planning & Design, was a key manager from start to finish. Crew foreman Pete Baldini worked with the fabricators of the can and oversaw the installation process. All are valued staff of the Parks, Recreation & Community Development Department. Observers looked forward to the Big Day when the giant watering can would arrive.
The “Watering Garden” was constructed on the site of the eighty-year old Kiwanis wading pool. When the concrete of the 1926 pool was jack-hammered and hauled away in October, 2006, one piece was carefully saved and inserted into the new installation. The original circle of blue and white tiles with the “K,” installed as part of the new path in June,2007, can be seen in the foreground of the photo on the left. The upright pipe next to the K became the new water fountain.
In February, city workers dug up the path leading from the construction site south to Fountain Lake to lay the drain pipe and construct a six by four foot concrete box underground next to the lake. Davey Tree Care arrived to trim branches on three pines looming over the watering can site on April 30. On May 1, major action began as city workers arrived with a front end loader and roller. Ten workers plus Joe Daly were on site on May 3. The site was prepared and concrete was poured in several stages in May with more concrete delivered on June 1. On June 7, a city crew trimmed even more branches on the tree overhanging the water play area previously trimmed by Davey. Rolls of turf were delivered and rolled onto the prepared topsoil by city workers on June 27 while another crew scraped up old path asphalt along the north side of the water play area and hauled it off for recycling. Gravel was dumped and spread on the path quickly and new asphalt laid down. Another crew installed sprinklers for lawns on June 29 and new topsoil was brought in. More pallets piled with rolls of turf were delivered July 11.
A great deal of work remained to be done when invitations were sent to dignitaries, the media and members of the public on June 29 by Gail Price-Douglas. She invited everyone to the “Official Opening of the Harbourside Rotary Watering Garden” on July 17. Price-Douglas even told the press children might be able to try the water spray out a few days before that date. The pressure was on. Baldini’s scheduled holiday was postponed. There was still no sign of the giant watering can. Delivery had been postponed several times.
At last, the giant watering can was delivered July 11, one week before the official opening. A huge flat-bed truck equipped with a crane transported the can--laid flat and strapped tight--from Abbotsford to the B.C. ferry and then down Douglas Street to Beacon Hill Park. The truck parked on Circle Drive, the can was lifted by crane over the hedge, then pushed and pulled into position by a team from Accent Stainless Steel Manufacturing, can fabricators. The above photos show that process.
The spout and handle were fabricated separately, fitted together in the shop for testing, then taken apart to transport. These two photos show the spout hoisted by crane and then fitted into the can.
The handle is shown being lifted and then reattached on site.
The artistic watering can was a huge challenge for Accent to make, company spokesperson Ken Bryant explained. The complex can had to be modeled first on a computer since the stainless steel pieces were manufactured flat, then bent and welded together. Every part had to fit perfectly. The company usually makes stainless steel tanks and equipment for the dairy industry, brew houses and agricultural customers.
Assessments of the completed water play area varied. Coun. Chris Coleman, a long-time supporter of the project, was pleased. He predicted “The Rotary Watering Can will be as well placed in the hearts of Victorians as the Kiwanis Wading Pool was for 75 years previously.” Reporter Russ Francis of Monday Magazine called the giant watering can design tacky and “hideous” in 2006; after completion, he still didn’t like it. It isn’t even the biggest watering can in the world, he wrote, only the third biggest. (Monday Magazine, July 12-18, 2007, p. 9)
In a letter responding to Francis, Michael Barnes praised the can: “...this is a public art project in a public park for the benefit of the city’s children. Thousands of Victoria kids...will enjoy it...and many of those will be under-privileged kids whose parents can’t afford a trip to the lake or even the pool.” (Monday Magazine, July 26-August 1, 2007, p. 4) Another resident, Alan Wilkinson, agreed with Francis, writing, “Alas, the watering can fails as both a public art project and...as something for children to enjoy...Did anyone ask children what they would like to see in a water park? Apparently not.” (Monday Magazine, August 2-8, 2007, p. 4)
The high-tech Watering Can quit working during the long B.C. weekend. Disappointed families at the site called the city Sunday, August 5, asking for the water to be turned on, assuming it was turned off because of a few patches of mud in the nearby grass. A sign was soon posted by the city on the lonely, dry can, shown in the left photo, which stated: “Due to technical malfunction, the Watering Can is not operational.” The sign suggested parents take children to the central playground, where a low-tech water play area was working fine.
The can remained water-less during the sunny Monday holiday and the following cool and cloudy two days. Two city employees with key project responsibilities--Pete Baldini and Joe Day--were on holiday. Staff had not yet been trained to handle glitches in complex can electronics. It seemed possible a technician from Vancouver might have to be dispatched. On Thursday, a city irrigation crew figured out the problem was a simple blown fuse and the can was spouting water again on August 9. The “technical malfunction” prompted this comment by Russ Francis: “Can’t the city do anything right? For $350,000, you’d think they could at least get a watering can to work. But no.” He wondered if some of the sponsors might want their names removed from the plaque and called Victoria taxpayers “proud owners of the world’s largest non-functioning watering can.” His suggested “Jack-hammering the damn thing up and replacing it with Douglas firs.” (Monday Magazine, August 9-15, 2007, p. 5) A letter in response came from C. Thompson. His four year old son and friends “love the stainless steel watering can.” He said Francis should “think of the children” because “there are few explicitly child-friendly places” in the James Bay neighbourhood. (Monday Magazine, August 16-22, 2007, p. 4)
That wasn't the only weekend without water at the new play area. The second outage was three weeks after the first. Saturday, August 25, was rainy and cold with no families interested in water play, but Sunday, August 26, was sunny with many families pushing watering can control buttons in vain. No sign was posted at the site telling residents which number to call to report malfunctions. Calls on Monday morning to the Cook Street Parks Department offices were answered by an automated message system and parents could not be certain the message got through, but the can was back in operation that afternoon. There was no water again at the watering can on the hot, sunny weekend of September 9-10, though the central playground low-tech water play area was operating as usual. On Monday morning, it appeared staff were unaware that the can was not operating.
“Maintenance and repair will be performed in house by our repair & maintenance crew; there will be several staff members trained for this function as soon as we receive the various operational manuals,” Baldini said after the first stoppage. Though an electrical box installed outside the watering can near the hedge is easy to reach, “The computer, clock and timer are enclosed inside the can and are accessed through a maintenance hatch on the top of the watering can.” according to Baldini. Workers will need those manuals, plus a tall ladder.
Graffiti was another challenge. The same day the can began working again after the first malfunction--August 9--designs in black paint were sprayed on the north side of the can about chest high. A city crew tried unsuccessfully to remove the graffiti with solvent. Sandblasting finally removed it on August 15 but left an odd white residue. A worried Douglas Street resident with a view of the watering can wrote the city suggesting a spotlight be trained on the can all night to deter vandals.
Possible future problems include deep scratches, theft of the copper strips, skateboarders and climbers on the watering can. The city has viable solutions for the first three problems, should they arise. Scratches on the can shouldn’t be a problem, according to designer Bill Pechet: the stainless steel is thick so even deep scratches can be sandblasted away. Coun. Chris Coleman said copper strips on the can are welded every six inches to foil stealers. A thief working to pry a strip off the watering can would get a very small reward. (High copper prices have resulted in the theft of thousands of dollars of copper wire and other copper materials in the area.) City staff consulted with skateboarders before construction to make sure the new water play area would not be attractive for skateboarding. The City maintains a city skateboard park and in exchange receives input from participants in the sport on how to discourage boarders elsewhere. Climbers could become a headache and an insurance worry if standing on the summit of the watering can catches on as a popular goal. Any strong person could throw a rope over the spout and climb up. Rock climbers won’t need a rope. Hanging on to the copper strips with fingers and toes would be a fine challenge. The can angles out from the base and that overhang could provide an extra attraction to skilled climbers.
In an end-of-the-year edition in the mode of a supermarket tabloid, the Monday Inquirer provided the last word on the watering can in 2007. "Rather than just a bad idea of ridiculous proportions, it turns out the watering can was left behind following a visit by the notorious 50-foot woman," the newspaper reported. A photo showed the giant, Nancy Fowler Archer of Arizona, retrieving her lost watering can from the park. (Monday Magazine, December 27, 2007-January 2, 2008, p. 10)
For the first time--after seven straight years of perfect weather-- rain fell on the Luminara Victoria Lantern Festival. The 8th annual event was held on a soggy Saturday night, July 21, 2007. Half the usual crowd, about 8,000 people, came to enjoy sixty-two separate candle-lit lantern installations, thirty costumed characters, and performances by musicians, dancers and stilt walkers. Wise spectators brought umbrellas. (All Luminara photos are by Norm Ringuette)
Producer Alice Bacon told the Times Colonist before the festival, “There is no opportunity for us to reschedule...We recommend people tape a flashlight on the inside of their umbrella over the lantern and come anyway.” (Times Colonist, July 21, 2007, D5)
Rain was a threat to fragile paper constructions, too. Water resistant coating was applied to many before the event. Bacon said warmth from burning candles inside kept some paper creations dry.
Luminara is presented each year by the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA). According to the Programme Guide distributed in the park, this year’s theme was “The Five Directions.” In addition to north-south-east-west was a fifth direction acknowledged in many cultures, “here” or “centre.” The chosen theme loosely inspired lantern creations and entertainments in each of five zones laid out in the park. North reflected ice; south was Carnivale, East was Silk Road, West focused on pop culture and Centre was Ancient Civilizations and indigenous cultures.
Luminara is extremely well planned and organized. Starting Saturday morning, everything is set up in one day. After the event, that same night, everything must be taken down and carted away and the grounds cleaned up by flashlight in the dark. That means 20-plus hour days for 250 volunteers, Bacon explained. Timing is especially tight on the cricket pitch because cricket is played Saturday afternoons. Installations there must wait to set up until after the game. (Monday Magazine, July 19-25, 2007, p. 12)
As in previous years, the free open-air festival took place at two venues. From 5 to 7:30 p.m., there were performances on the grounds of St. Ann’s Academy, where sales and sponsor banners and signs are allowed. When the action moves to Beacon Hill Park from 7 to 10 p.m., non-commercial restrictions apply. Though much criticism in past years blamed those restrictions for lowering Luminara revenues, Producer Alice Bacon offered a fresh positive perspective: “It’s a non-commercial venue and Luminara as a result remains quite a pure and clean and otherworldly event...If we were advertising, ‘This feature is brought to you by X sponsor,’ that would really change the nature of what Luminara is really about,” Bacon told Amanda Farrell of Monday Magazine. Bacon couldn’t imagine the event happening anywhere but Beacon Hill Park. “It’s a natural gathering place and it’s an event that does benefit from being in a natural setting.” (Monday Magazine, July 19-25, 2007, p. 12)
The 2007 Programme Guide explained the ICA “received public support for Luminara for approximately one-quarter of what the festival costs to present. All other costs must be covered by self-generated income: through the sale of lanterns, lantern-kits, glow ropes and with workshop registration.” People were asked to donate at kiosks set up at St. Ann’s Academy and in Beacon Hill Park. Five sponsor groups were listed on the inside back page of the Programme Guide. “A Channel” was the sole Gold Sponsor; Silver Sponsors included Mayfair Shopping Centre, Wilson’s Transportation, KOOL 107.3, Black Press, and C-FAX 1070; Bronze Sponsor was Thrifty Foods. There were eleven Community Spirit Sponsors including the City of Victoria, B.C. Ferries, Government of Canada, Island Blue and Rogers Chocolates. Three businesses and a private individual were listed in a separate category called “Friends of Luminara.”
Lower attendance because of rain meant reduced donations in 2007. With a budget of $100,000 and a low turnout of 8,000, Luminara could not hope to break even. Jean McRae, ICA Executive Director, told the Times Colonist that Luminara’s future would be more secure if public funding was increased. (Times Colonist, July 24, 2007, B1) A Victoria News editorial wrote McRae hoped the CRD arts fund and neighbouring municipalities would support the event in the future. (Victoria News, July 27, 2007, p. A8)
Wildlife biologist Andy Stewart banded two Cooper’s hawk chicks in Beacon Hill Park on July 13 in front of a crowd of passers-by and park employees. The two fluffy white chicks shown here were lowered from the top of a Norway spruce near the water play area at Douglas Street and Circle Drive to be measured and banded, then replaced in the nest. At about eighteen days old, they were unable to stand and completely docile. They remained where they were placed like little beanbags. (Andy Stewart photo)
As chicks mature, white feathers are replaced with adult plumage. This photo of a Beacon Hill Park adult taken in 2005 by Kerry Lange shows the red eye, black cap and slate grey back of an adult male Cooper's hawk. The Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is the region’s most abundant year-round bird of prey. The fast, secretive hawks are crow-size with powerful wings and very long tails.
Stewart enlisted the help of a professional Saanich arborist to climb the nest tree. Using a huge slingshot attached to the end of a long pole, the arborist shot a rope over a high branch, then climbed hand over foot, branch by branch, attached to the rope for safety. He placed the nest contents--one unhatched egg and two chicks--into a small backpack and lowered it on a separate line, remaining in the tree while Stewart processed the chicks.
Stewart took leg and upper beak measurements and weighed each chick on a small portable scale, shown above left, while wife Irene Stewart carefully recorded the data. He attached a U.S. Fish and Wildlife aluminum band on the right leg of each chick; that number can only be read when the bird is in hand. On the left leg, he placed a special coloured band with easy-to-read large letters and numbers which can be seen from a distance.
Those coded colour bands are essential for Stewart’s study of urban-nesting Cooper’s hawks in Greater Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula. To track hawk movements, he must be able to identify individuals. Each band is uniquely coded with a combination of letters and numbers which is repeated three times around the band so it can be read from all angles. Females receive red bands and males wear black bands. The colour-band shown in the drawing would be recorded as "Red B over 6." The Beacon Hill Park female chick’s permanent new band identification was “Red 8 over U.” The male was banded “Black 1 over E.”
After the two chicks were hauled back up to the nest, the empty backpack was lowered again for an unusual additional step. Stewart had brought another chick, shown here, to transplant into the Beacon Hill Park nest. (Photo by Andy Stewart) The transplant chick was about a week older than the park chicks. It had fallen from a crowded nest of five chicks. Irene Stewart explained it is likely he was pushed out as siblings scrambled for food dropped into the nest by the parent.
Stewart knew the park’s adult hawks, with only two hatched chicks of their own, could easily feed one more. Hawks can’t count, so the foster parents would not notice the increase. All three chicks were seen being fed later that day so the transplant was a success. In the next two weeks, they matured enough to move out of the nest to perch on adjacent branches and then to fly short distances. The three were last observed near the nest on August 3 and August 5.
Then tragedy struck. On August 9, Stewart reported: “One of the fledglings from the Beacon Hill nest site was found on the ground injured. The female (Red 8 over U) was taken to WILDARC but died overnight. I talked to the finder and she reported that it was found roughly half way between the giant watering can and Douglas Rd. I suspect a collision of some sort - likely with a vehicle.” There was more bad news on August 12 when Stewart played a recording of “chick begging calls” at the site but got no response. Fledglings should have been nearby, still receiving prey caught and delivered by the male adult. Stewart suspected the male adult had been injured or killed, forcing the fledglings out on their own too early and away from the nest area. Stewart explained: "The females usually abandon the site before the young disperse which leaves the brood vulnerable should something happen to the male.” Stewart guessed the foster chick, being a week or so older, had a better chance of surviving than the younger male. For over a month, neither of the two remaining chicks--the young original male and the slightly older transplant male--were sighted. At last, on September 23, the excellent photo shown below, taken by Ms. V. Ross Johnson and Shahn Torontow, proved the youngest male was alive and well.
The young hawk's band "Black 1 over E" was visible as he stood on a log eating a rodent. At first, Andy Stewart thought the rodent might be a small Norway rat because of the size and diameter of the tail visible in the hawk's bill. Rats are drawn to Clover Point because people feed pigeons. Cooper's hawks like to eat both pigeons and rats. After examining closeup photos of the intact prey species provided by Ms. V. Ross Johnson and Shahn Torontow, an expert identified the rodent as a House Mouse (Mus musculus). The common House Mouse "is probably the second most populous mammalian species on Earth (after humans)," according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, but for Stewart, it was "a new exotic prey species for my database." House mice have been spread to all parts of the globe by humans and usually live in or around houses.
Cooper's hawks are surprisingly tolerant of human disturbance. The Beacon Hill Park nesting pair had been unfazed during the construction of the new water play area taking place a few metres south of the nest tree. A series of machines--front-end loaders, pickups, concrete trucks--came and went and on June 7, a noisy chainsaw up a tree nearby trimmed branches and an even noisier chipper chewed up the wood.
The same Norway spruce tree had been used before by nesting hawks. A dramatic rescue was required at the site in June, 2004 when that year's nest, located near the top of the tree, disintegrated in a windstorm. One chick fell to its death; two remaining chicks were in precarious positions. Stewart arranged for a Saanich Parks “cherry picker” truck and operator to bring down the chicks and what remained of the nest. He used the sticks to reconstruct a replacement nest located about two metres lower than the original, supported by a board and chicken wire. The "artificial" nest is still visible on the tree but the 2007 hawk pair did not use it. Instead, they reused a nest near the top of the tree. They nested late after rejecting several other locations, so that nest was the last on Stewart's banding schedule.
In 2002, hawks nested in a tree, since cut, just metres from the current spruce nest. In 2003, hawks nested across Circle Drive to the south in a tall fir. In 2004 and 2007, hawks chose the spruce. In 2006, chicks were reared in an Arbutus tree along the east side of Arbutus Way in the north end of the park, a favourite nest location. Other park locations chosen by hawks for nesting in the past were behind the Service Building and in the Southeast Woods.
You can contribute to Andy Stewart’s hawk study by reporting any sightings of banded Cooper’s hawks. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
[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 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”.]
Though the image of Mute swans floating next to the Stone Bridge, shown above left, was emblazoned on banners, maps and buttons in 2007, visitors looking for real live swans in the park were disappointed. The last park swan died in 1997 when an off-leash dog attacked and broke its neck. Gleaming white, awesomely large Mute swans were present in the park more than a hundred years. Richard Linzey, the image designer, referenced that history for the composite scene. Though Linzey knew there were no longer any swans in the park, several short Beacon Hill Park histories posted on the internet do not. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia and at least one local website (which should know better) continue to state there are Mute swans at Goodacre Lake, sending tourists on fruitless searches. The only large waterfowl seen near the bridge this summer were Canada geese, shown above right. (All geese photos by Norm Ringuette)
In 2007, city staff worried some Canada geese might stop migrating and live year-round in the ideal habitat developed by humans in Beacon Hill Park. In the past, the birds visited the park briefly in spring on their way north to nest, returned in small numbers the end of July and flew away about the end of August. This year, thirty geese were counted in the park on July 30, sixty on August 6. A dramatically higher number than usual--between 100-200 geese--were common in the developed areas of the park the rest of August. Many stayed through September.
For the first time, the city hired professional dog handler Dianna Jasinski to urge lingering Canada geese to fly out of the park. A sign was posted asking people not to feed the geese and explaining the birds would be moved "in a humane and environmentally sensitive manner." Jasinski, who also rousts geese on two local golf courses, travelled around the park on her special "Goose Patrol" tricycle powered by battery and pedals. Two trained Belgian shepherds--Tizer (short for "chastizer"), with the brown coat, and her black companion Pearl--enjoy making geese fly. Many North American parks have been overwhelmed with the quantity of feces produced by thousands of resident geese. Other problems include turf damage and nesting geese attacking humans. (City of Victoria photos taken Oct. 4, 2007)
In Beacon Hill Park, geese feed on manicured grass near the lakes, by the bandshell and near the watering can play area. They prefer short, green grass to tall, dry, grass because it is easier to eat and the birds feel safer when they have an unobstructed view of approaching predators. Grass is not very nutritious, so geese must eat constantly and excrete often. It is estimated each goose produces a pound of feces per day, creating an unpleasant, slippery mess on paths and lawns.
Geese also eat vegetation growing in Goodacre Lake called Elodea (Elodea canadensis), known as Canadian waterweed or Canadian pondweed. This photo shows geese upended to reach Elodea under the surface. Though algae dominated at first in spring this year, turning lake water putrid green, by April 30 Elodea was visible in deeper water by the Stone Bridge and it increased steadily--while algae decreased--until Elodea was dominant in August.
Mallards are the only year-round resident waterfowl in the park and the only waterfowl nesting in the park. Groups of ducklings appear in April--the first ducklings were seen this year on April 20-- and continue through August. The mothers begin with 9 to 12 ducklings and are lucky to end up with one to four as gulls, herons and Cooper’s hawks happily pick them off. The only other duck present in large numbers in the park is the migratory American wigeon. Wigeons spend the winter eating grass near Goodacre Lake and the Circle Drive small lakes. They fly further north to nest by the end of April and begin returning to Beacon Hill Park the end of September.
A new surface vegetation was noticeable in Goodacre Lake in July. Patches of tiny floating green plants called Duckweed (Family Lemnaceae) appeared first in the northwest corner of the lake at Douglas Street and in the northeast corner near Arbutus Way near the well-water outflow pipe. Gradually, wind blew it to many other parts of the lake; by September, it was widespread. Duckweed forms a bright green layer on water surfaces and has no roots or flowers. The growth helps minimize water loss through evaporation and to keep water cool. It absorbs nutrients and shuts out sunlight from the water as it grows, thus performing a useful role in controlling the growth of algae. It is an important food for wild waterfowl, fish and microscopic water animals. Both Elodia and Duckweed are preferable to algae.
Rampant algae was a major problem in Goodacre Lake from 1995 through 2005. Algae absorbs oxygen and as it decays, further reduces oxygen levels. Algal blooms severely affect aquatic life. It is also ugly. There was a dramatic change in 2006 when the dominant vegetation changed from algae to Elodia. Ten years of concerted effort by the city to improve water quality had paid off at last.
The first Red-eared slider turtles sunning on the north edge of Goodacre Lake were sighted on March 29. The highest turtle count for 2007 in that lake was 21, on April 22, compared to 30-35 turtles in previous years. The count included three very small turtles likely to have been dumped in the lake recently by homeowners. As pointed out by Dr. Gavin Hanke of the Royal B.C. Museum (see Chapter 21), people soon tire of pet store turtles when they outgrow their small plastic dishes. All turtles in the park are introduced. (The photos above and to the right were taken by Ms. V. Ross Johnson and Shahn Torontow on March 29, 2007 on the north edge of Goodacre Lake.)
In May and June, turtles were concentrated at the west edge of the lake by Douglas Street, floating in the Elodia. One turtle could be seen every sunny day on a low cedar branch extending over the water at the southwest part of the lake. Few turtles were seen on the west edge of McTavish Island this year, previously a favorite sunning location. A raccoon learned to hunt them there in 2006 (see Chapter 21). Another deterrent at that location this year was high grass which bent over the rocky edge blocking the sun.
In 2007, River otters dove for fish in Goodacre Lake on at least four occasions. Two otters were fishing together on July 6, diving down through the Elodea to catch the small introduced fish called “pumpkinseeds” hiding underneath. A single otter dove in the very shallow--12 to 18 inches deep--southwest section of Goodacre Lake next to Douglas Street and Avalon Way on June 7 and 8. Completely unconcerned about the presence of humans, he provided onlookers with a great show, coming within a metre of people on the path at the edge of the lake. Swimming below the layer of algae, the otter stirred up mud but repeatedly came up munching. There was a good reason for the otter to focus on that area of the lake: hundreds of small pumpkinseeds were concentrated there in the warm water. An otter was also seen fishing in Goodacre Lake on April 15.
The Beacon Hill Park Children’s Farm opened earlier than usual this year, on February 23, 2007. The number of open hours per day was increased and the “suggested donation” raised to $3 for adults and $2 for children. More than 120,000 visitors go through the facility each year, according to Best of the City. (Black Press, Summer, 2007, p. 70)
Baby animals are most popular and many were provided. There was a new baby Sicilian miniature donkey named Jack, above left, potbellied piglets, above right, lambs and a calf named Cocoa. The miniature horse named Peanut Butter, below right, was not a baby but small enough to seem like one. (Horse photo courtesy of Ms. V. Ross Johnson and Shahn Torontow)
There were more goat kids--the all-time favourite animals--than ever before. By mid-May, there were 46 kids at the farm. Manager Linda Koenders told Best of the City that she anticipated a high of 70-80 kids for the season. The goats were split into morning and afternoon shifts; four “goat stampedes” a day were held to move groups back and forth from a resting pen to the petting area. Betty Gibbens, who has long opposed allowing a farm business to operate in Beacon Hill Park, said the huge number of goats “resembles a breeding farm.” She pointed out goats available for sale were “listed on a wall in the petting area.” (Victoria News, June 6, 2007, A11) In a presentation to City Council on May 10, 2007, Gibbens reminded council the Park Trust prohibits the park being used “for profit or utility.” The farm--a family business thinly disguised as a non-profit society--should not be allowed to carry on “a rent-free enterprise” on public park land, she said.
In 2007, the Farm was negotiating a new three year contract with the City of Victoria which would allow the Farm to take over the former city police horse barn, shown below left, plus a large portion of the former police horse paddock. The council decision enlarged Farm boundaries maintained since 1985 when the Koenders first took over the Farm.
The decision ignored an agreement made in 1990 when the barn was first constructed and the paddock carved out of Garry oak habitat. The land was taken out of the park for the sole purpose of housing city police horses with the understanding that the land would be returned to open parkland when it was no longer used by city police for that purpose. It was expressly agreed that the Farm could not take over the area. Police horses were stabled at the site about four months a year from 1990 through 2001. The program was canceled in 2002.
Instead of returning the police horse area to attractive Garry oak parkland open to public use as agreed, it remained fenced for the next five years. A thick, tall plantation of Scotch broom-- a destructive invasive species which disperses thousands of seeds per plant every year--was allowed to grow unchecked behind the chain-link fence, as shown in the left photo.
At City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on May 3, 2007, city staff recommended allowing the Children’s Farm to take over the former police horse barn and more than half of the former police horse paddock. The public was not informed or consulted before the meeting that a major change was planned.
At the May 10 City Council meeting, three people spoke against the farm expansion. They advocated the entire police horse area be returned to open park land, according to the original agreement. One community organization had time to respond within the week time-frame before the vote. The night before, on May 9, the James Bay Neighbourhood Association (JBNA) voted to inform council of their opposition to expanding the Farm. The group wanted the police barn removed from the site and all space formerly allotted to the police horses be restored to open Garry oak parkland. After being excluded from that area for sixteen years, the JBNA wanted public use of that park land restored.
It was moved by Coun. Helen Hughes and seconded by Coun. Chris Coleman that the agreement between the city and the Farm be amended to include use of the police barn and a portion of the paddock. Before the vote, Coun. Geoff Young acknowledged the value of keeping as many areas of the park open for general use as possible and he claimed a good portion of the horse area would be restored to open Garry oak parkland. Councillor Chris Coleman spoke in favour of giving the barn and more of the area to the farm. He called it a “good compromise.” As of December 31, 2007, no fencing had been removed and none of the area was open to the public.
A Children’s Farm has been in operation in Beacon Hill Park for 34 years. For the first twelve years, Parks Department staff operated the farm. There was no admission charge or suggested donation during that time. As run by the city, the Farm was not in conflict with the Park Trust which prohibits any commercialization, advertising, banners, sales or fees. Since the Farm was privatized in 1985, “donations” have been collected at the entrance. A strict interpretation of B. C. Supreme Court Justice R. D. Wilson’s landmark decision of October 8, 1998, in which he laid out what was and was not allowed in Beacon Hill Park, suggests the Farm is an illegal business in violation of the Trust. The city encouraged the Koenders family to set up a non-profit society with the ruling in mind. [See Chapter 15 for more background on the Farm; See Chapter 17 for the court decision.]
Twenty-seven Blue Indian peafowl (males are called peacocks, females are peahens) lived free in Beacon Hill Park, according to a reliable count in 2005. The sighting of three young with a female adult on October 17, 2007 could mean the total has increased to thirty, if no adult peafowl has died recently. Beacon Hill Park’s peafowl wander out into nearby fields, fly up on farm building roofs, perch in tall trees and even cross Douglas Street into the James Bay neighbourhood. Because the birds are usually widely dispersed, it is not often an accurate count is possible. A frigid Christmas Day in 2005 provided the best opportunity in years: peafowl gathered inside the Children’s Farm fence as the early morning sun warmed the area. A reliable count of 27 birds was taken on that day. Previously, park staff estimated the total to be between 20-25. The city provides food in an open fenced area behind the Children’s Farm. That area offers some protection for eggs and young, if peahens choose to nest there. Dogs, raccoons and human activity destroy most eggs and young outside the fenced area.
The park’s only albino peacock, seen above left, provides a startling contrast to the brilliantly coloured peacock on the right. The albino has a permanent limp after the amputation of an infected toe two years ago. In July, 2005, gardener Margaret Marsden drove him to Metchosin’s WildArc for surgery and then back to a Children’s Farm building where he received a regimen of antibiotics and painkillers. A news story at the time stated he was “almost 20 years old.” (Peacock photos courtesy of Ms. V. Ross Johnson and Shahn Torontow)
The first exotic peacock in Beacon Hill Park was purchased for the new zoo in 1891. The number of peafowl in the park usually ranged from zero to five in the next four decades, but by 1940 the number had increased to over 40. After receiving strenuous complaints about “screeching peacocks” from neighbours that year, some peafowl were sold. In 1946, park peafowl were still being sold “since no one else is in the peacock-raising business and no interference with private enterprise is involved,” according to a Parks Department spokesperson. (Daily Colonist, May 26, 1946, p. 1)
Hundreds of wild orchids bloomed in the grassy meadows of Beacon Hill Park in 2007. The bumper crop amazed sharp-eyed visitors and pleased native plant enthusiasts. Tall, slender Ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) orchids, shown above, grew in abundance in the tall dry grass of early August. The orchid’s white to greenish-white blossoms grow in spiral fashion, tightly packed on a spike. That distinctive spiral, which somewhat resembles braided hair, inspired the plant’s name. (All plant photos by Norm Ringuette)
“Most of the plants haven't bloomed for the last ten years,” explained Roy Fletcher, a long-time Victoria resident and Friends of Beacon Hill Park board member. On August 6, he noted a “very large crop” of Ladies’ tresses south of the Heywood Avenue sports field. More Ladies’ tresses grew in the grassy field south of the totem pole. According to Fred Hook, Parks Environmental Technician, the smaller size of orchids in that location “may be because the field is dryer in the deep soil layers than the rest of its range in the park” and because the soil is more compacted. Though tourists taking photographs of the totem pole tramp through the grass, squashing orchids in the process, in Heywood meadow, most walkers keep to the paths and are less likely to crush orchids.
Another tall slender orchid species--the Elegant rein orchid (Piperia elegans)--shown above, bloomed by the third week of July in the tall grasses of Heywood meadow and also west of Arbutus Drive near Southgate. The beautiful design of the tiny white blossoms on each stalk can best be appreciated with a magnifier. These endangered plants produce a strong perfume, but many people can’t smell them at all. According to Fred Hook, the ability to smell orchids might be determined genetically. Hook is one of the lucky ones; he can locate rein orchids in the field by smell, especially in the heat of the afternoon when the odor is strongest.
Fred Hook has managed mowing schedules in city parks since he was appointed the city's first Parks Environment Technician in October, 2005. One of his goals is to allow native plants to complete their cycles before fields are cut. Timing varies year to year, according to weather conditions and plant variations. “Orchids tend to take rest years,” he explained, “and in those cases, mowing earlier is appropriate.” If orchids ripen early, he will schedule mowing those fields shortly after Labour Day. Previous park managers routinely mowed too early. Hook’s knowledgeable, careful management is exactly what botanists called for in past decades, but rarely got.
“A good plan for managing the park would be to delay mowing of those meadows until the wildflowers have finished flowering and seeding,” Dr. Robert Ogilvie, curator of botany at the Royal B. C. Museum, advocated in 1989. “If we want to have these flower meadows flourish and increase and do better, the simple way to do it would be to delay mowing. Cutting too soon weakens the plant, because it chops off green tops and doesn’t allow them to manufacture more food to go down to the bulbs.” (Times Colonist, July 6, 1989, p. B1) At the time, Dr. Ogilvie worried that Harvest brodiaea (shown below left) was being destroyed. “Harvest brodeia is a very attractive, very striking flower. It grows in the wild grassy areas of Beacon Hill Park...It is just coming into flower now,” he explained in July. In the 1990's, botanist Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw and the Friends of Beacon Hill Park developed specific mowing schedules and maps for the city's Parks Department which would allow the park's native plants to complete their cycles. Most of Beacon Hill Park’s mowing continues to follow those guidelines today, Hook said.
In 2007, the purple-blossomed Harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria) and white-blossomed Fool’s onion (Brodiaea hyacinthina), shown above left and centre, were plentiful by mid-June. Both Brodiaeas grew along the northwest ridge gravel footpath. Fool’s onions by the hundreds could be seen in the grass south of the chip path near the Mayors Grove sign in Heywood meadow. The northwest ridge was also a good location to see Hooker’s onion (Allium acuminatum), shown above right.
Early blooming wildflowers, like camas and White fawn lilies, have a better chance to complete their cycles before mowing machines arrive. By mid-April, 2007, the corner at Southgate and Arbutus was a solid blaze of White fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum).
By the end of April, blue fields of Common camas (Camassia quamash) were spectacular on the north side of the Hill and in the meadow east of the hill, shown below. Camas was sparse again on the much-trampled south side of Beacon Hill.
Large White trilliums (Trillium ovatum) were in full bloom by March 20 in a hidden glade of ferns and cedars northwest of the Cameron Bandshell. By April 15, the blossoms were turning pink with age, as shown in the photo to the right.
Most surviving Chocolate lilies (Fritillaria lanceolata), below left, grow tucked against shrub oaks in Beacon Hill Park. They are difficult to find compared to bright red Shootingstars (Dodecatheon hendersonii), below right, in open meadows.
Gairdner's yampah (Perideridia gairdneri), shown below, is a tall, slender perennial with small white flowers. This member of the carrot family blooms even later in the summer than park orchids, so delayed mowing is essential to its survival. In mid August, yampah could be seen in the dry grass near Japanese Sakura trees planted along the west edge of Circle Drive by the totem pole. More yampah plants bloomed in the northwest corner of the park, west of Arbutus Way near Southgate Street. A few were found in the grassy field east of the Children’s Farm. Straits Salish aboriginal people pounded the root, known as yampah, to make flour, according to a popular plant field guide. Explorers Lewis and Clark described the flavour of yampah as similar to anise seed. The plant was named after Meredith Gairdner, a Hudson’s Bay Company surgeon and plant collector. (Plants of Coastal British Columbia, Pojar and MacKinnon, p. 221)
Not everyone is happy with unmowed fields. Some residents want tall grass cut for easier walking; others think brown fields look messy and ugly. A more serious concern is the danger of fire. The City of Victoria’s Fire Department wants tall grass mowed when meadows are very dry. Those two different priorities--mowing to reduce fire danger and not mowing to allow native plants to finish their cycle--have often been difficult to reconcile in the past.
A compromise is sometimes possible. At nearby Holland Point Park, though the fields were mowed in August, two key patches of tall grass were left standing. One of the unmowed patches is shown above left. The mower went around those areas to allow continued growth of purple asters and white yampah, shown in the closeup above right. Though the asters might or might not be native Douglas asters, Fred Hook preserves them “because they are a major food source for some of the butterfly larva, particularly the crescents and the checkerspots. On hot, sunny days you'll find them full of little yellow butterflies.”
Wet, cool weather in July and August reduced the fire danger in key Beacon Hill Park fields this year. Mowing was delayed until after Labour Day and a banner year for orchids, yampah and other late blooming wildflowers was the result.
The Chocolate tips (Lomatium dissectum) plant, shown above with Parks Department Environmental Technician Fred Hook, was one of only two growing in Beacon Hill Park in 2007. The native perennial has impressive fern-like foliage. Unique purplish-chocolate flowers bloomed by early May, as seen in the closeup below. (The first photo was taken by Debra Brash for the Times Colonist. and is used with permission. Other photos in this section are by Norm Ringuette.)
It was the same story in 2006: there were only two Chocolate tips plants in the entire park. Chocolate tips are officially a species at risk in British Columbia with the status of S1 Red as listed by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
In contrast to the relatively plentiful native wildflowers featured in the previous section, the focus here is on native plant species in the park which have been severely reduced in numbers. Only one Purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida) plant could be found in Beacon Hill Park in 2007, a species with the COSEWIC federal status “Threatened” and the provincial status “S2 Red.” There was only one Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) plant discovered this year. It has the highest risk COSEWIC federal status, “Endangered,” and the provincial status S1 Red.
One or two individual plants are extremely vulnerable. An action as simple as a child picking a bouquet of flowers can eliminate a park species. The Friends of Beacon Hill Park worried that might be the fate of one of the two Chocolate tips plants because it is a “very attractive flower...close to a well-traveled path,” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, October, 2006, p. 6) Many adults are unaware picking flowers in any public park is prohibited and there is no sign informing visitors.
There are many other ways human visitors unintentionally damage special plants. Walkers leaving paths to cut across meadows crush them. Flying a kite, throwing a stick for a dog or playing a ball game in wildflower areas causes damage. Two popular new sports--golf frizbee and geocaching--encourage players to run off trails into native plant areas. Homeless campers bed down in more secluded areas where native plants have survived until recently. Organized high school and university cross-country run competitions have thundered across Beacon Hill meadows for years.
Native plant thieves pose a very real and different kind of threat. The thieves are knowledgeable, their actions intentional. They search out rare plants and dig them up. The location of the two Chocolate tips plants is not provided in this chapter because the information could help stealers find them. Like the unscrupulous orchid collectors described in Susan Orleans’ book The Orchid Thief, native plant collectors steal specimens from public lands all over British Columbia. In Beacon Hill Park, some native species planted in October, 2006 were stolen from the southeast woods restoration area. Every year, thieves dig ornamental plants out of the beds in the developed areas of the park, as well, but at least those species are not at risk and the city can grow replacements in the nursery.
It is against the law to steal endangered plants. “It is an offence, federally and provincially to possess endangered plant species or parts of them including seeds,” Fred Hook explained. If offenders are caught, plant thieves are charged in the same way as those caught with eagle feathers or bear paws and gall bladders. Authorities monitoring the internet have tracked sales of endangered animals and plants and gotten convictions.
Some native plant species numbering up to one hundred individuals remain extremely vulnerable because all individuals are grouped in one small location. A carelessly placed picnic blanket could easily wipe them out. One of only two patches of Howell’s triteliea (Triteleia howellii), a species at risk with a provincial status of S2 Red, was crushed last year by a school group sitting on them. Ironically, the students were visiting Beacon Hill Park to study ecosystems.
About 100 Satin flower (Sisyrinchium douglasii) plants are grouped in one vulnerable patch close to a path. The Satin flower, shown on the right, is not at risk provincially or federally, but in Beacon Hill Park, the only known specimens are in that one group. They bloom very early in the spring, even before White fawn lilies, according to Fred Hook, and “each flower lasts only one day and the whole blooming period is only about a week.” It is difficult to gather Satin flower seeds because they are very tiny and are expelled explosively far from the plant.
Cumulative human activities over the last hundred years have entirely eliminated many native plant species in the park. In 1990, botanist Dr. Robert T. Ogilvie recorded thirty-three native plant species judged to be rare still existing in the park. By July, 2001, Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw reported fourteen of those could no longer be found. Just in the last decade, six more native plant species have disappeared from Beacon Hill Park. (Times Colonist, April 16, 2007 B1)
Golden paintbrush ((Castilleya levisecta), shown in the photo on the left, “disappeared from Beacon Hill Park about 1993,” according to botanist Dr. Adolf Ceska and by 2000, Golden paintbrush was known to exist in only nine locations worldwide. (Times Colonist, January 30, 2000, “Islander,” p. 14) Listed federally as Endangered, the B.C. status of Golden paintbrush is Red.
Fred Hook would like to reintroduce Golden paintbrush into the park. That is one of his many goals. When he was appointed the city's first Parks Environment Technician in October, 2005, Hook took on the gigantic task of attempting to preserve native plants and the remaining fragments of native ecosystems in the city’s parks. Among other accomplishments in his short tenure, he has worked with volunteer groups to clear invasive species, adjusted mowing schedules to benefit native plants, attacked invasive Carpet burweed and provided valuable information for staff and the public. He hopes to do more to control invasive species like Scotch broom.
Hook checks areas before park maintenance work is carried out, looking for native plants which might need protection. In the past, park workers doing regular maintenance and special installations have inadvertently done a great deal of damage. One disastrous example took place in 1990 when a monument was installed right on top of the last specimens of Nuttall’s quillwort (Isoetes nuttallii) in Beacon Hill Park.
The monument, shown on the right, is located on the west side of Circle Drive near the totem pole. Dr. Adolf Ceska calls the monument commemorating the gift of Japanese Sakura trees planted along the road, “a tombstone of the Nuttall’s quillwort which was buried underneath.” Ceska commented, “One of the major causes of disappearing plant species is the accidental destruction of a site or a whole locality.” (See article on this website “A tombstone for rare plants.”)
Before white settlers arrived, First Nations people worked to promote the health of native plants they used for food. They set fires to stimulate plant growth and loosened and aerated the soil as they harvested camas bulbs. Europeans halted those practices. Banning fires for more than one hundred years has allowed shrubs to encroach on meadows and contributed to the declining vigour and quantity of native plants; foot and vehicle traffic has cumulatively compacted the soil. Though setting fires is unlikely to be allowed today, Fred Hook hopes First Nations people might harvest camas bulbs in the park once again. Death camas, allowed to flourish unchecked for decades, must be weeded out first. (Times Colonist, April 16, 2007 B1)
Homeless people camping illegally in Beacon Hill Park continued to be a major problem in 2007. Most chose less developed areas, hiding under trees and behind vegetation, but some bedded down out in the open in the ornamental, well-used areas of the park. The man and woman sleeping in front of the Cameron Bandshell shown in the left photo surrounded their sleeping bags and four grocery carts full of possessions with park benches and picnic tables. Another camp, with a large bright blue tarp covering an impressive stash of gear including a folding metal bed and a Thrifty grocery cart, was set up behind a park bench between Goodacre Lake and Douglas Street, a metre from a major footpath. It remained at that obvious site for five full days, from July 4 through July 8. A hundred metres south, a tarp over sofa cushions under the famous 118 year-old Fraser Rhododendrons next to Fountain Lake was another camper's home for several days. Garbage, discarded blankets and clothes were strewn through the park, and during the day, possessions were stashed behind vegetation.
In 2004, Parks Manager Mike Leskiw estimated six to twelve campers bedded down in Beacon Hill Park on a typical night. In 2006, a park worker estimated between 50 to 100 illegal campers were sleeping in the park. "That number seems far too high," Al Cunningham, Asst. Supervisor, Operations, Parks Division, said on September 4, 2007. "I don't think more than 20 individuals are responsible for all the attempts to live in our parks." Gord Smith, Acting Manager of Parks Operations, told reporter Jody Paterson in November that an average of 14 people set up camps in Beacon Hill Park every night. He said staff gathered 77 grocery carts and spent $400,000 cleaning up camps in the city. (Times Colonist, November 11, 2007, p. D7)
A nearby resident who walks in Beacon Hill Park early every morning believes the number of campers is much higher than staff estimates. "People who are good at hiding probably aren't being counted," she said. "They come in after dark and I see them leaving about 6 a.m. when I walk in from Douglas Street." Homeless advocate Rose Henry knows three long-term homeless campers in Beacon Hill Park. Undetected by authorities, they have slept near the Cameron Bandshell for four years, she says. “Nobody knows about them because they are quiet and don’t leave a trace.” Henry told a Climate Action Day audience gathered at the bandshell on September 15 that it is important to realize not all homeless campers leave garbage and cause problems.
For the last three years, Cunningham has spent countless hours dealing with homeless campers in city parks. He points out his estimate of twenty campers in parks might seem like a low number but the impacts are great. "The assault to public safety continues to be our greatest concern along with the constant struggle to keep the mess cleaned up after these individuals have trashed the sites," he said. When camps are discovered, Cunningham is called to assess the situation and decide on what action is needed. "We have been forced to engage the help of police on a daily basis to attempt to get the point across to these individuals that their behavior will not be tolerated,” he explained. “We try to be compassionate in our handling of this issue but at the same time our first responsibility is to our tax-paying citizens who want to continue to have clean safe parkland.”
One park gardener explained staff must discourage camping and move campers on “...or every homeless person in the area would end up in Beacon Hill Park.” In 2005, during a seven month period when staff did not patrol the park each morning, the number and size of illegal squatter camps did increase dramatically and so did the damage. Staff in other city parks must move people on, too. “There are no parks in the city, large or small, that do not have some overnight camping now,” one city staff person lamented. Cunningham said, “Only eight of our parks seem to regularly have this problem." Beacon Hill Park is certainly one of them. Whatever the number of campers, all agree they have a huge negative impact on parks and there is a huge cost in staff time.
City of Victoria police asked the Parks Department to clear shrubs and vegetation and limb trees to open up secluded areas to view. In ornamental areas, gardeners trimmed lower branches of exotic trees and shrubs for that reason. In undeveloped areas, however, clearing can conflict with protecting native plants. This year, for example, park staff cleared exotic vegetation like orchard grass from under a chestnut tree near the totem pole to discourage campers, but took care to leave native plants. Native plants which have survived in out of the way places have been heavily trampled by campers the last two years.
One amenity available to campers in the north end of Beacon Hill Park until the third week of July was a portable toilet at the Heywood sports field. That changed on July 23, when a high chain-link fence and padlocked gate, shown in this photo, was erected. The toilet was unlocked only for scheduled ball games and removed entirely the end of August. Two permanent washroom buildings in Beacon Hill Park--a large one near the central playground and a smaller toilet at the corner of Cook Street and Dallas Road--are locked every night. A portable toilet stationed by the central playground water play area was padlocked at night, too. A case could be made that providing a toilet for homeless people would be a humane and more sanitary choice in a public park.
There is one park feature at odds with the policy of discouraging campers. A campsite established for the Boy Scouts in 1970 in the northwest corner of the park, a few meters south of Southgate Street and west of Arbutus Way, has never been dismantled. The photo on the left shows the original logs on concrete footings grouped around a ten foot concrete circle with a firepit in the centre. Wording on the plaque identifies the area as an official campsite: "Boy Scouts of Canada. Diamond Jubilee, 1910-1970. To commemorate the occasion this campsite was erected by Fort Victoria District Scouts... The first fire was kindled by W. Herb Warren, City Parks Administrator. February 22, 1970." In 2007, homeless people continued to use the area as an active campsite; large rocks circled ashes from recent fires and broken bottles and debris littered the area. The site was mowed, cleaned up and new sitting logs installed a few days prior to a scouting event held in the park on October 6, 2007. The scouts, armed with a permit from the Victoria Fire Department, kindled the first legal fire on the spot since 1970.
Cunningham hopes residents understand “the true complexity" of the homeless issue. People sleeping in city parks are just one aspect of a huge societal problem. Rev. Al Tysick explained the real problems are "...the high cost of housing and the challenges of maintaining housing if you are mentally ill, head injured or battling a debilitating disease such as an addiction or disability." The City of Victoria needs more affordable housing, subsidized housing, small group homes for those with mental illness and head injuries, special housing for alcoholics, more detox centres and other support services. The cost of providing those facilities is large but the cost of not providing them is even larger. Tysick cited B.C. government research which concluded "it cost $12,000 more a year to keep someone on the street than to provide them with a modest home and some support." (Times Colonist, September 24, 2007, A11) Homeless problems will cost the City of Victoria an estimated $1.4 million next year, according to the combined estimates of the parks, engineering, police and fire departments. (Times Colonist, September 7, 2007, A1) That estimate did not include costs of health care, including hospital emergency services and hospital stays, justice system expenses and business losses.
A recent survey concluded there were about 1,200 homeless people in the Capital Regional District. Despite the increase in homeless people, "the number of shelter beds hasn't increased," according to Victoria lawyer Irene Faulkner. (Monday Magazine, September 6-12, 2007, p. 9) The Streetlink Emergency Shelter at Swift and Store streets accommodated 95 men every night but had to regularly turn away over 30, according to Manager Don McTavish. Those turned away joined large numbers not allowed in shelters at all, such as alcoholics and dog owners, and those who can’t handle being in crowded shelters. According to a 2005 report, 41% of Victoria’s homeless adults have a mental illness. Shelley Morris, CEO of the Cridge Centre for the Family, believes many homeless people suffer from brain injuries. Her organization runs a head-injury program and would like to use that expertise to help “significant portions of the homeless population who have acquired a brain injury.” (Times Colonist, September 17, 2007, B1)
The City of Victoria’s application for a permanent injunction against camping activities (damaging turf or trees, leaving garbage) in city parks was dismissed by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Johnston on August 13, 2007. Though unwanted homeless activities were already covered by other bylaws, the penalties for people breaking those local bylaws are not effective: tickets and fines don’t work for penniless homeless people. Violating an injunction, on the other hand, can result in a contempt of court charge and jail. The city had been granted a one-year injunction to help clear squatters from Cridge Park, at Blanshard and Belleville streets, after a tent city of 70 people lived there three weeks in 2005. Defense lawyers argued the city’s bylaw making it illegal to sleep overnight in parks violated homeless people’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Because the city lacks shelter spaces, there was nowhere the people could legally go and therefore they should allow sleeping outside. The constitutionality of Victoria’s anti-camping bylaws was to be determined in B.C. Supreme Court in September. The city applied to stop the case. Bruce Jordan, lawyer for the city, said if the city lost, "Potentially camping would be allowed in city parks at any time by anyone." A loss would set a precedent across Canada, as well, reporter Andrew MacLeod commented. (Monday Magazine, September 6-12, 2007, p. 8) Defendants wanted the case to proceed in order to test the constitutionality of the city bylaw and 2005 injunction. The court denied the city’s request to discontinue the lawsuit but granted an adjournment to give “the province time to decide if it will join the city in fighting the Charter of Rights challenge.” (Times Colonist, September 11, 2007, B2) The case was not heard in 2007.
Carpet burweed (Soliva sessilis), is an extremely aggressive invasive weed from South America. Because of its small size, this plant is very difficult to see and identify. To provide a sense of scale, the photo above left includes the enlarged thumb of Michelle Gorman, City of Victoria Insect Pest Management Coordinator, and the photo above right includes a dime. (City of Victoria photos, used with permission) Burweed seeds germinate in the fall. Green plants, visible in January and February, die off in summer, leaving bare soil and spiny weeds. (City of Victoria 2007 Parks Department brochure) Because the plant “is able to invade some of B.C.’s most sensitive ecosystems, directly out competing some of our rarest plants,” it is a major threat to native plants, according to “Carpet Burweed Update, March 2007.” (Dave Polster, Carpet Burweed Response Team)
A mature burweed seed is shown much enlarged above left. The pile of seeds above right reveals their true size compared to a dime. (City of Victoria photos) Each burweed head produces about thirty seeds. The spine on the seed tip is only 1.5 mm long but so sharp it can penetrate bare feet and dog paws. Seeds are readily dispersed by attaching to socks, pants, the fur of animals, and footgear. Patches of new growth often match the size and shape of human footprints, demonstrating that seeds are transferred on the soles of boots and shoes. Burweed has been found in over-used areas like the dog run area along Dallas Road and in many Vancouver Island parks, including Cattle Point, Thetis Lake, Rathtrevor, Ruckle and Beacon Hill Park.
“With continued vigilance and prompt action we may be able to stop this pest from becoming the Scotch broom of turf areas,” Hook wrote in an article titled “Carpet burweed is still with us in Beacon Hill Park.” Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, April, 2007, p. 4) Ecologist Dave Polster is still hopeful. He sees a window of opportunity to stop burweed that was not recognized with invasive Scotch broom. “We couldn’t hope to get rid of Scotch broom now,” he said. “If you tackle the problem when it is small, you might get rid of it. If we don’t try, we will fail for sure.” Forestry consultant Sally John thinks it is already too late. “The best we’ll be able to do is to slow the spread,” she said. (Times Colonist, June 10, 2007, D1)
The first discovery of the invasive species in Beacon Hill Park was in November, 2005, south of Dallas Road. The area was burned but more burweed was discovered in the same area in 2006 along with a second patch near the central playground. Both areas were burned, seeded with Kentucky bluegrass, left unmown and fenced. A small patch was found by the alpine garden (north of Goodacre Lake) in 2006 as well. In spring, 2007, in addition to substantial regrowth of burweed near the playground area by the Sports Hut, burweed was found and torched in more locations, including the walking track north of Dallas Road near the original infestation, at the junction of Circle Drive and Heywood, and near the rocks northwest of Goodacre Lake.
About half of the twenty-three known Carpet burweed sites in B.C. are located in private RV parks, according to “Carpet Burweed Update, March 2007.” Because campgrounds are frequently infested with burweed, tent floors are suspected of transporting seeds. Though municipal, regional and provincial authorities are aware of the problem and have mobilized to take action, most RV Parks owners, private golfcourses and homeowners have not realized burweed could destroy their lawns. “My worst fear is that it will get widespread into residential lawns,” Hook told the Times Colonist. “It will be beyond us to do anything about it then.” (Times Colonist, June 10, 2007, D6) If Victoria residents find plants they suspect are burweed, Hook will come to check the site. [For more on Carpet burweed in this history, see Chapter 20 (2005) and Chapter 21 (2006).]
Two park workers were assigned to remove invasive species in early summer. They removed several truckloads of Scotch broom from the northwest corner, then cut broom along the road up Beacon Hill and down the slope to the east. They cut fairly high broom stumps and planned to return to “scarify” them later. Because of injury, the crew was soon reduced to one. As well as clearing broom, invasive Purple oyster weed, Garlic mustard, Daphne, Poison hemlock and blackberry were removed, according to Fred Hook, Environmental Technician. Hook hoped workers could be assigned to invasive species work again in September and continued through the winter.
Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) were discovered in the southeast woods and in the field east of the Children’s Farm in the summer of 2007. This is not cause for jubilation. The rabbits are not native to the park and will be destructive to habitat if the population is allowed to increase. They did not hop to Beacon Hill Park on their own. People transported and dumped them, adding another invasive species headache for park staff.
Small and brown, the rabbits have red-brown patches between the ears and shoulders and a “cotton” tail that flashes white when the rabbit runs. They appear more like “wild” rabbits than the larger, multi-coloured former pet rabbits famously overrunning the University of Victoria and Victoria General Hospital grounds.
Other areas of Vancouver Island are already plagued with invasive Eastern cottontails. The article “Cottontails Invade Valley,” published in the Comox Valley Naturalists Society newsletter, warns: “Once established, they are difficult to remove...rabbits can alter ecosystems by over-grazing. This is particularly evident in the sensitive Garry Oak meadows of southern Vancouver Island, where cottontails pose a threat to rare plant species.” The article traces how the exotic animals reached Vancouver Island: “...the rabbits were introduced for hunting purposes to western Washington in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s... It wasn’t until 1964 that cottontails were introduced to Sooke, on southern Vancouver Island. Since then, the rabbits, which can reproduce rapidly and emigrate long distances, have moved northward along eastern Vancouver Island...cottontails are now common in Campbell River, and have been seen as far north as Sayward.” (Comox Valley Naturalists website, “Cottontails Invade Valley,” December, 2004, Jocie Ingram)
City of Victoria Environmental Technician Fred Hook points out Beacon Hill Park has a better chance to eradicate rabbits than areas like the Comox Valley, which is surrounded by habitat containing more rabbits. Beacon Hill Park is “an isolated fragment of an ecosystem," he said, and "pests don’t usually get there by themselves...if we can eradicate a pest before it gets entrenched there isn’t the danger of immediate and constant re-introduction.” He plans to hire a company to trap them before numbers explode and damage ecosystems.
The Eastern cottontail rabbit is the newest in a long series of invasive exotic animals introduced by residents into Beacon Hill Park. Discarded pets and injured wildlife were dumped, as were rats, squirrels and raccoons trapped on private land. Some introductions, like Red-eared slider turtles and the small fish called pumpkinseeds, did not create problems and many, especially pet birds, died. Other introductions, such as catfish, a species someone imagined would be an asset to the park, were disastrous. In 1952, authorities decided to poison the water of Goodacre Lake, killing everything in it, to get rid of voracious catfish. In 2005, a full-grown male North American bullfrog was dumped into Goodacre Lake. The invasive non-native bullfrog eats everything in sight--insects, fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals, birds, native frogs--and is spreading through lakes and ponds in lower Vancouver Island. Luckily, it was quickly captured and removed by Dr. Gavin Hanke, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Royal B.C. Museum. Introducing any animal or plant into public parks is a mistake and staff asks residents not to do it.
September rains triggered the growth of bright-green, eye-catching Licorice ferns (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) on mossy rocks in the park's northwest corner. Licorice ferns stay green all winter but disappear in the summer. Wild Licorice ferns seldom grow directly in the soil. In more moist coastal forests, they grow on mossy logs and tree branches as well as on rocks. This photo was taken September 26, west of Arbutus Way and south of Southgate Street.
Bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum), the world’s most widespread fern species, can be found on Beacon Hill and in the Southeast Woods. Bracken fern fiddleheads appear in the spring (below left). The mature Bracken fern in the middle photo grew tall along the edge of the Southeast Woods' asphalt path. The photo below right shows a Bracken fern's dying colours in fall. (Centre photo, Norm Ringuette; small photos, City of Victoria) Bracken ferns were an important food source for aboriginal people. Some groups boiled and ate the fiddleheads and most groups processed the rhizomes for food. According to ethnobotanist Nancy J. Turner, “The Straits Salish people made a type of bread by pounding the roasted rhizomes into flour, mixing this with water and forming the dough into flat cakes, which were roasted.” Fern patches were “owned” by Vancouver Island Salish individuals or families, much like camas patches and clam beds, an indication of their importance. (Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples, p. 30-31)
Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum pedatum) can be found planted along the artificial stream flowing from Fountain Lake to Goodacre Lake near the black metal foot bridge. This delicate, small fern, shown below left, prefers shady and moist locations.
The lush, fully mature Sword fern, above right, also grew along the stream flowing from Fountain Lake. Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) are the most common fern on Vancouver Island and a favorite of flower-arrangers and home gardeners. These magnificent native evergreen plants grow wild in many areas of Beacon Hill Park, especially in the Southeast Woods, and are prominently featured in many developed areas. In ideal conditions, with shade and moisture, Sword ferns can grow 1.5 metres tall in massive clumps of up to 100 fronds. The leaves were used by First Nations people to line pit ovens, in food baskets, on drying racks, and as flooring and bedding. Rhizomes were roasted and steamed.
A large Sword fern area planted under Douglas firs next to Chestnut Row in 2005 was greatly expanded in 2007. Thick composted leaf mulch was laid down over more lawn, many ferns and a few Red currents were planted and large rocks strategically placed for effect. Two other areas of ferns and compost replaced grass under fir trees on the other side of Chestnut Row, east of the junction of Arbutus Way and Bridge Way, near the central playground. On November 29, a vast new area of mulch and Sword ferns was established on the west edge of the park under the heron colony nest trees at Douglas Street and Avalon Road and to the south. In the photo above right, a flock of crows dug enthusiastically in the mulch for small worm-like rewards.
There were good reasons to switch from grass to mulched ferns. Grass grew poorly under the firs and lawn mowing could be reduced. Eliminating the grass solved other problems as well. Arborists had noted "weed-whacker" damage to bark when staff hit trees while cutting grass and weeds. Arborists also spotted fungus growth at the bases of some trees, the result of lawn sprinklers keeping bark unnaturally wet all year. Mulch and fern areas are not maintenance free, however: gardeners must plant ferns, weed regularly, add more mulch yearly and water young trees until they can survive on their own. [Note: The process of transforming shaded areas in this way continued from 2005 through 2012. Native plants such as salal, Oregon grape and Red currant were planted as well as Sword ferns. Boulders were added for effect. The result was a major positive change in the centre park area.]
Cuttings from the Fraser Rhododendron collection were planted in May, after the bed was piped for irrigation. Two R. Frasers Pink, two R. Mrs. Jamie Fraser and four R. Fiona Christie plants can be seen in a raised planter on Park Way. The former road, now a path, leads from the bandshell south to Circle Drive. George Fraser, foreman in the 1889 development of Beacon Hill Park, is credited with planting a grove of five Rhododendron ‘Cynthia’ near Fountain Lake that year. Those plants are still alive and are now 118 years old. Fraser later established a well-known nursery at Ucluelet.
Parks Director Donna Atkinson and Parks Manager Mike Leskiw, the top two Parks Department managers, “departed” in July, according to reporter Russ Francis, who broke the story. Atkinson, who made $131,000 a year, was hired when Don Roughley was city manager in the late 1990s. Leskiw made $109,000 a year and was hired in 2002. (Monday Magazine, July 19-25, 2007, p. 8) Lesliw was the hands-on parks operations person with an office in Beacon Hill Park. Atkinson’s downtown office had little connection with on the ground workers or maintenance issues.
The two parks managers left “under unclear circumstances, both involving an undisclosed amount of severance,” Times Colonist reporter Carolyn Heiman wrote. The departures were called resignations and nobody was talking. Leskiw wrote staff and community members: “My efforts have recently met with unfortunate resistance and lack of support, making it impossible for me to do my job properly.” Among accomplishments he claimed while on the job were establishing a tree farm and opening the new water play area in Beacon Hill Park. (Times Colonist, July 25, 2007, B1)
Neither Francis or Heiman was able to pry details from city administrators before or after a severance agreement was in place and it was not clear what issues were involved. James Bay Neighbourhood Association Chairperson Tim Van Alstine told Francis the department needed a shake-up and that too much park space was used for organized sports teams. “People are tired of having their parks chewed up for fat ball players from Saanich,” he said. (Monday Magazine, July 19-25, 2007, p. 8) It is known that new city manager Penny Ballantyne scrutinized the department immediately before the changes. She would not discuss the sudden departures of the parks top two managers but mentioned she expected 30% of the aging city staff to be eligible for retirement in the next five years. Atkinson and Leskiw were nowhere near retirement age. The speed of the personnel changes had some park workers anxious, uncertain if a fair process had been followed. They said every employee should be informed of problems and given a chance to fix them before being squeezed out.
A job posting for Parks General Manager--Leskiw’s former position--was placed on the city website July 25 with the closing date for applications August 15. In the posting, a minimum of 15 years experience with 10 at the management level was required, a Masters Degree preferred. The usual statements desiring a strong leader, great communicator, knowledge of city operations, skill at building relationships and ability to resolve conflicts were listed as needed to lead about “80 full-time and seasonal park employees.” Leskiw's replacement was announced in early November. Times Colonist business columnist Darron Kloster reported: “David Speed, who resigned from the Township of Esquimalt earlier this year...has been named general manager of parks, recreation and community development for the City of Victoria. Speed had been director of parks and recreation in Esquimalt for seven years before turning in his resignation last August. He also spent several years developing parks and recreation programs in the Nanaimo and Parksville areas.” (Times Colonist, Nov. 3, 2007, D15.) Speed was to begin his duties on November 14, 2007.
In December, the appointment of Kate Friars as Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Development was announced. Friars served as director of Burnaby's parks department for ten years, according to reporter Carolyn Heiman. The City of Victoria Parks Department "has been adrift for more than four months after two of the top managers were nudged out and two other senior managers either quit or retired," Heiman wrote. (Times Colonist, December 28, 2007, p. D3) According to a city news release, "Kate Friars will start in the position on Monday, January 14, 2008."
Gord Smith accepted the position of Manager of Parks Operations before the end of 2007 but still to be hired is a replacement for Joe Daly, Manager of Research, Planning & Design. Daly resigned in December after being away on medical leave, leaving many projects incomplete. In Beacon Hill Park, these include updating the Mayors Grove sign, placing maps on kiosks, removing a portion of the Children's Farm fence to make more open Garry oak parkland available to the public, completing the second printing of the park map and installing an aboriginal interpretative sign and carving on Beacon Hill.
Parks Department workers and public service employees belonging to Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 50 signed a new contract with the City of Victoria the beginning of August, 2007 giving them a 12% wage hike over the next four years plus improvements to dental benefits, an increase in long-term disability payments and premium pay for “dirty” jobs. (Victoria News, August 8, 2007, p. 3) CUPE has 739 regular and auxiliary workers. About 80 are full-time or seasonal Parks Department employees. (Times Colonist, August 3, 2007, B2)
Scouting's 100th Anniversary Celebration was held in Beacon Hill Park on October 6, a cold, damp day. Display booths and stations were set up near the Cameron Bandshell to showcase Scouting activities and skills, including orienteering, rope making and knot tying. Three of the well supervised obstacle course activities are shown above. Children navigated vertical cargo netting strung between trees in the left photo. In the right photo, the challenge was to crawl between a double layer of cargo netting suspended above the ground. Rubber inner-tube padding, visible in the first photo, was placed under each rope to protect tree bark from damage.
The celebration ended with a campfire in the northwest corner of the park, where a campsite south of Southgate Street and west of Arbutus Way was established in 1970 for a previous Boy Scout celebration. It had never been dismantled. In preparation for the 2007 event, garbage was cleaned up and the thirty-seven-year-old campfire circle sitting logs were replaced with fresh cedar logs. A wide path was mowed from Southgate Street to the fire circle, making the old campsite much more visible. The scouts received a permit from the Victoria Fire Department for their one-time bonfire. After the scouting event, the new sitting logs and half-burned firewood in the pit were left in place. Within a week, homeless campers kindled unauthorized fires and littered the site with empty beer cartons and other debris.
Installation of the First Nations carving and interpretative marker planned for the top of Beacon Hill in “spring of 2007” was delayed. One of seven original cedar spindle whorls carved by Coast Salish artist Butch Dick called “Signs of the Lekwungen” will be placed overlooking the aboriginal burial ground. The other six cedar carvings and interpretative signs will become part of the “Inner Harbour First Nations Interpretative Walkway.” The year ended with bare concrete circles ready in the seven locations. The delay came about when City Council realized how quickly the wooden carvings would deteriorate outdoors.
“The estimated life expectancy of the original wood carvings, in an outdoor environment, is approximately 20 years,” Joe Daly Manager, Research, Planning and Design, reported. Council decided to store or exhibit the original carvings inside and cast bronze replicas to display at the seven outside locations. The Songhees and Esquimalt Nations preferred that choice, as well. That decision meant more funding was needed. The City received a fee quotation from Jack Gibson Studio, Vancouver, of $86,400 to make moulds and cast reproductions of the seven original carvings in bronze. Council agreed to allocate $44,777 from a Community Tourism Grant and city staff was directed to seek additional funding. (City of Victoria “Committee of the Whole Report,” Joseph Daly, April 23, 2007, p. 193-196.
“A Burning Ceremony was held in honour of First Nations ancestors who are buried on Beacon Hill Park land,” Joe Daly, Manager, Research, Planning and Design wrote in a “Committee of the Whole Report” dated June 26, 2007. The ceremony was the result of a meeting between Mayor Alan Lowe, Songhees Nation Chief Robert Sam and Esquimalt Nation Chief Andy Thomas before the park’s 125th anniversary celebration. Because the Burning Ceremony is considered sacred, public observation, participation and photography were not allowed. No appropriate location was available in the park, so the ceremony was held in the Esquimalt Bighouse on June 8.
A burning ceremony is part of the First Nations tradition of caring and showing respect for ancestors. None had taken place to honour the ancestors buried in Beacon Hill Park in the last 125 years, the period the City of Victoria has been caretaker of the aboriginal burial cairns. Following the ceremony, which was attended by eighteen people, the guests were invited to a feast in the Bighouse. Daly concluded: “Through the City’s participation in this ritual, a greater understanding of First Nations culture, traditional foods and ways in which they interact and care for each other was fostered.” (City of Victoria, “Committee of the Whole Report,” Joseph Daly, June 26, 2007, p. 461)
Recent research by graduate student Darcy Mathews provides valuable data about aboriginal burial cairn construction in the Greater Victoria region and also provides a more enlightened perspective of the reconstructed Beacon Hill burial cairns shown in the above photo. At the time the four cairns were reconstructed in 1986, little was known about how First Nations people arranged cairn boulders hundreds of years before.
After studying more than four hundred relatively undisturbed cairns in the region, Mathews said he has never seen any like the reconstructed cairns on Beacon Hill. In a question and answer session after a talk titled “The Late Prehistoric Mortuary Landscape of Southern Vancouver Island,” he said the Beacon Hill Park cairn reconstructions appeared “European.” (November 8, 2005, Natural History Presentation)
The photo above left is a closeup of a reconstructed Beacon Hill Park cairn, while on the right, for contrast, is an original cairn configuration, one of at least eight burial cairns dating to about 500 A.D. on Great Race Rock Island. Not all original cairns are rectangular; there are a variety of cairn shapes and sizes. But apparently, no original aboriginal cairn studied has a design similar to the reconstructed cairns which feature prominent high piles of boulders in the centres encircled by a metre or more of open space and completed with outer rings of boulders.
Mathews does not dig up or disturb the ancient graves. He clears away surface vegetation at each burial site in order to measure, assess and photograph configurations. He documents boulder choices, placement and size, records centre fill used and maps all cairn locations. For this work, he has earned a M.A. from the Anthropology Dept at University of Victoria; he is continuing this research to earn a PhD.
Many original cairns remain on Beacon Hill, Mathews said. They are not visible because bushes and shrub oaks have grown up around and within the cairns. With his trained eye, Mathews can immediately spot those likely locations on the Hill and recognize the configurations of stones indicating a cairn.
There are thousands of aboriginal burial cairns in the Victoria region, according to Mathews. Though housing, roads and other developments have obliterated many cairns and those on private property are inaccessible to the public, there are many cairns still in place in the regions public parks. Anyone walking the point west of Alyard Farm in Sooke Park can see cairns, for example. Shown below is a cairn next to the trail in Metchosin’s Devonian Park.
This photograph illustrates why most people walk by without recognizing cairns. Hard labour is required to clear away thick layers of moss, grass, shrubs and other growth and debris before precise measurements and clear photographs are possible. It is likely the growth of vegetation occurred mainly after Europeans arrived in the mid 1800s. First Nations people set regular fires for centuries to maintain the open grasslands which promoted the growth of native plants used for food. That practice would have kept cairns free of brush and trees. Once whites prohibited setting fires, shrubs and trees increased.
Mathews has concentrated his study at Rocky Point, near Race Rocks, on the extreme end of Vancouver Island along Juan de Fuca Strait in Metchosin. Because the shoreline is largely undeveloped, a great number of original burial cairns are undisturbed and accessible. The Department of National Defence (DND) appropriated the point in 1951; it maintains and operates the Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot at Rocky Point. Access to the grounds has been given for many scientific studies, including Garry oak ecosystems, birds (an observatory has operated on the grounds since 1994), as well as for Matthews’ burial cairns research.
He has found two pattern types: cairns with large rocks around the outside and cairns without large rocks. Smaller rocks are piled in the middle. Some cairns have soil fill and some no soil. 95% of the Rocky Point cairns have soil fill. Some large cairns incorporated glacial erratics and a small cairn can be built against an erratic or against bedrock. Trees have grown up in some cairns and there has been other natural disturbances, but in general they hold their shapes well. The cairns with external large rocks last better. After 1000 years, rectangular shapes are still visible.
Aboriginal burial cairns are a short-lived and localized phenomenon of the Late Prehistoric Period, occurring between 1500-1000 years before the present, according to Mathews. From one to three hundred cairns can be grouped in an area. People built them not in a village, but nearby. They were built to endure as memorials or monuments, which indicates stability, and specific choices were made about material, shape and size that probably reflected something about the person, Mathews thinks. He has never found evidence of a marker above ground; he suspects people would forget over time who was buried where.
Before Mathews began his work, almost no examination of cairns had been done since the 1800's, when Europeans immigrants--believing objects of value could have been buried with bodies--dug up many local sites. The Beacon Hill burial grounds, and many other cemeteries sacred to First Nations people, were dug up, desecrated and destroyed, but no “treasure” was found. In 1858, white settlers excavated the largest grave, located at the top of Beacon Hill near the base of the present flagpole, revealing human remains wrapped in a cedar bark mat.
Though reconstructed, the Beacon Hill boulder circles are historically important because they are remnants of prehistoric burial cairns which originally extended from the top of the Hill down the south-east slope. The Coast Salish ancestors of the Songhees (Lekwungen) people constructed the cairns entirely by hand. Enormous effort and teamwork were required to move and position boulders weighing up to a ton. Dr. Grant Keddie, Curator of Archaeology at the Royal B. C. Museum, suggested the cairns could have been constructed during the 18th century to bury victims of smallpox epidemics. If so, the cairns have been prominent features on the Hill for about three hundred years. However, Mathews research suggests they are much older. He believes Greater Victoria area burial cairns were constructed between 1500 and 1000 years ago.
When Keddie directed the 1986 cairn reconstructions, he noted: “We know almost nothing about these things because the tradition of burying people that way had stopped by the time the Europeans arrived in the 1840's.” No mention of cairns was found in First Nations oral history either. Now, thanks to Mathews, we know more.
The old aviary was temporarily repopulated with forty-eight life-size papier-mache birds in 2007. In a project created by artist Christine Clark called “Still in the Aviary,” eight birds were placed in the long-empty building by the Stone Bridge on October 15; eight more were to be added each week until the total of forty-eight was reached. According to the proposal, birds would then be removed in groups of eight each of the following weeks until the aviary stood empty again on January 15, 2008. “Still in the Aviary” was part of a City of Victoria public art program called “Artist First,” which included poetry reading, murals and interactive street performances. ( Times Colonist), October 14, 2007, C3)
The number of papier mache birds created by Clark matched the number of live birds massacred in 1981 by an unknown assailant who entered the aviary to club, stab, disembowel and decapitate ringneck doves, budgies, canaries, a cockatiel and other birds on display. After the massacre, an alarm system, lighting and heating were installed and the cages filled once again. The shaded, damp outdoor location was not ideal for exotic birds, however, and it was closed in 1991. The bird slaughter inspired a previous aviary art display in 2005, when University of Victoria fine arts graduate Jamie Drouin created a temporary sound installation titled “lucid dreams of 48 birds.” [See Chapter 16, 1981, for more details on the massacre. See Chapter 20, 2005, for details on the sound installation.]
A second Southeast Woods planting party took place on October 27, part of an ongoing restoration project begun in 2005. The first planting party in October, 2006 concentrated on the northeast and northwest ends of the asphalt path. This year, the planting occurred a few metres south on the west side of the path in an area newly cleared of invasive English ivy. In the photo above left, Environmental Technician Fred Hook stands by a load of native plants ready for planting. Two Sword ferns were planted by the large rock, above right, which was covered for decades by invasive ivy until volunteer Cornelia Lange cleared the area. Fifty native species, purchased with a 2006 Evergreen/Walmart grant, were planted in the area behind the temporary orange fencing visible in the left photo, among them Salal, Salmonberry, Tiger Lily, Wild Ginger, Western Trillium, Wild Gooseberry, Dwarf Dogwood, Pacific Crabapple and Red Flowering Currant.
Temporary orange fencing was erected this year to reestablish major paths and close the large number of small paths which recently appeared. Keeping walkers to main paths will save native plants from being trampled and reduce compaction of the soil. Before the orange fencing went up around the area planted in 2006, new plants were damaged by walkers and maintenance vehicles. An interpretative sign and a more permanent low wood-rail fence, made from recycled poles B.C. Hydro and telephone poles, is planned for that area.
The City of Victoria invited the public to help plant tree seedlings in Beacon Hill Park and Summit Park on November 4, the city's Second Annual Tree Appreciation Day. Over 250 trees were lost in Victoria last year during severe winter storms, according to a City of Victoria press release. To replace them, 50 Garry oak trees were planted at Summit Park and about 175 in Beacon Hill Park.
People gathered at the Cameron Bandshell to view displays on the stage and to hear the planting plans outlined by Gary Darrah, City of Victoria’s Manager of Park Development, before the digging began. A remarkable number of park staff were on hand to make the Sunday morning event a success. Before the public arrived, staff positioned tree seedlings next to paint marks on the grass indicating where each hole was to be dug, as seen in the second photo, and they were present to assist in placing trees throughout the morning.
To replace Garry oaks lost to storms and disease over the last several years, twenty-five young oaks were planted near the Cameron Bandshell and another twenty-five in the northwest corner. Seventy-five “fast-growing understory trees,” including Broadleaf maple, Red alder, Cascara and Douglas fir, were planted under the Great blue heron nest trees “to generate some quick cover... and to provide more tall forest trees for the long run,” according to Environmental Technician Fred Hook. Branch trimming and removal of dead cedar trees in and near colony trees had reduced cover for the nests, a possible factor in the devastating attacks by eagles on heron eggs and chicks during the 2007 nesting season.
Tree Appreciation Day signs posted in the park included Shell and Tree Canada logos. A grant from “Tree Canada-Shell Coastal Releaf Partnership” was acknowledged on published notices and at the event, along with other government and non-profit society sponsors. The editor of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter expressed appreciation to event organizers but stated the group preferred funding from government sources instead of “corporate sponsors who want advertising in return.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, October, 2007, p. 6) A strict interpretation of the Park Trust by B. C. Supreme Court Justice R. D. Wilson in 1998 concluded the trust prohibits any commercialization, including advertising, banners, sales or fees.
A large cross-country running event was staged on sensitive camas meadows November 10. Hundreds of runners representing twenty-three Canadian universities followed a course criss-crossing every important native plant meadow on Beacon Hill. Pounding feet compacted soil and damaged native plant areas on the east, south, west and north meadows, the same areas the City of Victoria is committed to protect.
During the CIS Cross-Country National Championship races, women ran the circuit twice to reach the total distance of 5 km. and men ran four times around the same course for a total of 10 km. Damage was not restricted to the day of the races. Teams from across Canada arrived early in the week to practice running on the meadows. Setting up the course further impacted meadows as did the large crowd of spectators swarming the hill. After the event, University of Victoria coach Brent Fougner told Channel 12 television he planned to host the championships again on the same course.
Damage to native plant areas is cumulative, as botanists have explained for years, and is especially severe after fall rains soak and soften the soil. Runners could be required to stay on existing chip paths and well-established dirt paths. If that is unacceptable to organizers, competitions can take place at an alternate venue such as Beaver Lake, the site of two successful high school championship cross-country meets this year.
For decades, those who value remnant native ecosystems have requested the city not allow fall cross-country races to be held on sensitive park areas. After runners trampled rare native plants on and around Beacon Hill during a November province-wide high school cross-country championship competition in 1990, Dr. Adolf Ceska, then curator of botany at the Royal B. C. Museum, stated, “They trampled it like a herd of elephants.” Kay Lines, a horticulturist and Victoria school trustee, asked the Greater Victoria school board to look for alternate sites for school cross-country meets. She said, “It is mandatory that we don’t have hordes of children going round and round and round in that area, especially on wet days... It’s very destructive. I don’t think any intelligent person could deny that we should not destroy endangered species in Victoria.” Unfortunately, the same quotes are appropriate in 2007.
Another event took place on Beacon Hill’s camas meadows on October 17, 2007. Eight Search and Rescue teams from across Canada, the U.S. and Ireland conducted exercises on sensitive meadows on the east and north sides of the Hill. Search and Rescue tents were set up at the edge of the meadow east of the Hill across from the totem pole; participants and vehicles traversed the meadow up the hill where simulated plane crash victims were tended. On the north side of the hill, fires were lit in overturned garbage can lids set directly on the ground; people and vehicles drove on the meadow. Dog exercises took place in the Southeast Woods. The exercises could have been located in developed areas of the park or at another venue such as Ogden Point.
Special events, even large ones, can be held in Beacon Hill Park without damaging sensitive areas. The key is where events are located. For eight years, Luminara organizers have demonstrated how this can be accomplished successfully. They placed all installations in developed areas and directed visitor traffic away from native plant areas. Other 2007 events, including the October 6 scouting celebration, were responsibly located in the developed areas of the park with no damage to sensitive areas.
The City of Victoria is committed to caring for the remaining fragments of native ecosystems in parks and has spent money and effort to protect and restore sensitive native plant areas. It makes no sense to allow events to take place on top of the same areas. Special restrictions are needed to consistently protect the sensitive areas of Beacon Hill Park. The same restrictions are not necessary in developed areas of the park; events can be welcomed to those areas.